View of Brussels: Less than harmonious


Brexit has taken place and now the UK and the EU must live side by side. But there are already signs that relations will not be harmonious, especially when it comes to the interoperability of some fairly important issues.

The number of vaccines continues to rise across Europe, and to promote safe travel to countries in desperate need of an injection of tourist euros, the EU has put in place a sort of ‘passport for tourists. vaccines ”.

The certificate system is accepted in each of the 27 EU member countries, meaning doubly vaccinated travelers, for the most part, can skip quarantine and testing. It also allows recording of Covid recovery tests and certificates.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose executive arm designed the program, is so proud of the initiative that she has taken a grand tour of every EU capital to show that it works.

This week, the EU agreed that Switzerland’s parallel system should be granted full equivalence by the system. This means that Swiss travelers have the same travel rights and benefits as travelers from the EU, and vice versa.

But the UK is not yet willing to give the reciprocity needed to get the same deal, meaning that (for now) EU travelers cannot enter the UK without needing to quarantine and get tested.

The same is true across the Channel, depending on which country the British travel to and how different governments choose to manage the risk posed by the delta variant of the virus.

This lack of harmonious policy making was always going to be a symptom of Brexit. Indeed, the EU has yet to approve certain batches of the AstraZeneca jab, which further complicates the problem.

Switzerland was able to get rapid approval for its certificates as it designed its system with the link with the EU in mind. This allowed the Commission to pull the trigger before the start of the summer holiday season.

The UK, however, only accepts vaccines administered by the NHS and therefore connected to the health service app or available as a physical copy from a GP.

According to the government, this is the only way to validate vaccination status at the moment, but it is working on a solution that will expand the number of recognized jabs. Discussions with the Commission are also reportedly underway.

This puts your correspondent in a rather awkward position, having received the first dose of vaccine in Wales and the second about a month later in Belgium. This only adds to the unfortunate ‘citizen of nowhere’ complex that Brexit has already sparked.

Vaccination passports will hopefully be a moot point in the medium to long term, given the logic that if the vast majority of people are stung, there will be no need for proof of vaccination. New variations, of course, could dig a hole in this line of thinking.

But there are also longer-term factors that could be compromised by the failure of the EU and UK to commit to interoperability. In climate policy, for example, the issue of emissions trading could also be a victim.

When the UK withdrew from the EU, it also canceled its participation in the Emissions Trading System (ETS), the block’s cap-and-trade carbon market, which is the area of ​​foundation of its Green Deal.

The UK has since set up its own system and started to negotiate. The price of carbon is supposed to be equivalent to that of the EU ETS and the sectors covered are largely the same. So far all has been going well for the two neighbors who, when the wind blows well, literally share the emissions.

But the EU also plans to deploy its “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” (CBAM), a carbon border tax that will tax certain imports that are not produced sustainably. It could be operational by 2023 and is expected to target steel, iron and other energy-intensive materials

If the UK carbon price is the same or at least comparable to that in the EU, there should be no problem, as the charges will be calculated taking into account national HTA systems. The idea is that this will force countries to clean up their actions at home or see their exports decrease.

As the Center for European Reform points out, even if the UK ETS works well by the time the CBAM is in place, there will still be a heavy administrative burden on businesses to demonstrate how environmentally friendly their products are.

If the two systems were linked, this burden would likely be lightened and the associated costs would not need to be borne. Indeed, Switzerland has joined its carbon market to that of the EU and, despite some start-up difficulties, trade should be fluid by the end of the year.

The issue of interoperability is fairly easy to resolve on paper. It just requires adults to be in a room, examining the technicalities of whatever they want to be recognized.

Unfortunately, as Brexit has shown too clearly, this is not always possible due to the politicization of UK-EU relations. The pessimist would say the prospects for improving links are rather slim.

It is likely that in the years to come, we will see many more cases where both parties work towards the same goals but refuse to recognize each other, to the detriment of business, industry, researchers and ordinary citizens.

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