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Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first official trip to Brussels is a big moment made even bigger by President Donald Trump.
The premier’s landmark visit on Monday comes just days after Washington dismayed the EU by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The city’s status is another sensitive matter to add to an already bulging EU docket for Israel, which wants European countries to do more to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Mr Netanyahu is due to meet union foreign ministers gathered for one of their regular meetings, turbocharging an already busy day of year-end international diplomacy in Brussels.
While Mr Netanyahu has paid bilateral trips to European countries since he returned to the premiership in 2009, relations with the EU have been mutually frosty in recent years. This Jerusalem Post headline captures the Israeli mood: "Defiant Netanyahu travels to 'Lion's Den'".
The union has called for greater progress in the peace process with the Palestinians; the Israeli government insists that it is not responsible for the hold-up. Other sources of tension include movements in some European countries to boycott Israeli products.
An Israeli priority now is to urge the EU to put more pressure on Iran over military installations and transport hubs it accuses Tehran of building near Syria’s border with Israel. Iran is a strong backer of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus and has helped him push back rebels in a devastating civil conflict now almost seven years old. The wider proxy conflict in the region between Shia Muslim Tehran and Sunni Arab capitals also rages in Yemen, where Ali Abdullah Saleh, the autocratic former president, was killed last week.
Leading EU member states share some of Mr Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and involvement in Middle Eastern wars. But the union is also anxious to avoid upsetting efforts to safeguard a hard-won nuclear deal between international powers and Iran, which has been shaken by President Trump’s decision in October to decertify it.
Mr Trump’s Jerusalem announcement may yet turn out to be double-edged so far as Mr Netanyahu’s maiden Brussels parley goes. While it has given him a welcome political boost, it has also created a further flashpoint in an already tricky relationship.
REACH out and touch . . . Brexit
The FT’s George Parker reports on the latest development in the battle between British business and Tory hardliners over the contours of Brexit.
With talks on the EU and UK’s future relationship about to start, Britain’s large chemical and pharmaceutical industries are urging the government to stay in line with the EU’s REACH legislation for the sector.
The EU regime is seen as a global standard, and sticking to it is key for future UK market access opportunities. But leading Brexiters have set great store in the opportunities that might be opened up for strategic UK businesses by junking “overburdensome” regulations, or amending them to fit future trade deals with other countries.
Steve Elliott, the association’s chief executive, said leaving the EU framework “would seriously bring into question 10 years of investment, as registrations and authorisations that permit access to the EU single market would suddenly become ‘non-existent’ on exit day”.
What did he mean?
Another Anglo-Irish storm is brewing over David Davis’s insistence that Friday’s agreement was merely a non-binding “statement of intent”. This set alarm bells off in Brussels and Dublin. While nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the EU is unwilling to reopen the first phase negotiation, and will hold up substantial talks on trade if they see the UK backsliding. Simon Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister, resorted to tweeting a helpful reminder from the joint text.
Missed opportunities on free movement?
In an interview in The Sunday Times, former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg says that Theresa May missed an opportunity to negotiate a deal on free movement of people that would have avoided a hard Brexit.
“Theresa May, unforgivably in my view, made no attempt whatsoever in the wake of the referendum to reach out privately to European power brokers and see whether there was some way she could finesse this.”
Britain’s strawberry ultimatum
Speaking of Belgium — remember when the country’s regional parliament in Wallonia almost derailed the EU’s free trade with Canada? Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, UK transport minister Chris Grayling has what he believes to be a killer argument for why Britain won’t have such difficulties after Brexit: they need us to eat their fruit.
“We all eat their strawberries each summer,” he writes, noting that the British are “the Walloon farmers’ biggest customers”. So that’s sorted then.
In through the out door
Wolfgang Munchau writes in the FT that last week’s Brexit deal amounts to an attempt by Theresa May to “sneak into the single market through the back door”. The next phase of talks, he writes, should be about building a trade relationship that would bridge the gap until “the bloc is ready to offer a formal association agreement that would be anchored in European law and allow the EU to go beyond what it can currently offer to any outsiders”.
To do list
Chris Giles of the FT runs through a Brexit to-do list for corporate Britain, from VAT cash flow to auditing international agreements that are unlikely to be covered by a transition.
What we’re reading in Europe
Back In the USOE
German centre-left leader Martin Schulz’s ambitious call last week for the creation of a United States of Europe by 2025 has prompted a backlash from his potential Christian Democratic coalition partners in Berlin. Holger Steltzner of FAZ is also unimpressed.
Saving trade from Trump
The EU and other World Trade Organization members seek to use talks this week in Buenos Aires to protect the organisation’s dispute settlement system from attacks by Trump.
Wauquiez . . . he’s so right
Source : https://www.ft.com/content/929305e2-de57-11e7-a8a4-0a1e63a52f9c