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Brussels and the UK will soon be embarking on a new chapter, after a free trade agreement was signed by the pair in a Christmas Eve announcement. The deal has been approved by 27 EU ambassadors, and now just needs to pass through Parliament for the pact to be adopted. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had earlier this month warned businesses to prepare for no deal, said the agreement represents a “new starting point for our relationship, between sovereign equals”.
He added: “We looked forward to the formal ratification of the agreement and to working together on shared priorities, such as tackling climate change.”
Negotiations had become stuck on issues such as the level playing field, as well as fishing rights – which sparked anger among British and EU fishermen.
After the deal was announced Galicia, a regional government within Spain, expressed its outrage with the EU over the trade deal – which it argued could see the area lose €190million (£172million).
It argued that losses will be incurred on its regional fleet, telling the EU the deal was “extremely negative” for Galicia.
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As part of the deal, the EU will hand back 25 percent of the value of fish it catches in British waters over a five-and-a-half-year transition period.
The UK had initially demanded that the EU hand back 35 percent, signalling a late concession.
Prior to the announcement, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, President of the north Spanish area, warned policymakers in Madrid to make sure there was “not a repeat of the situation” when Spain became an EU member in the Eighties.
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They argued that back then, the fishing industry became a bargaining chip within negotiations of its entry, which saw major losses for Galicia.
In a statement last month, the regional government said Galicia had “always planned and expected” that a deal would permit a status quo situation, arguing “access of the EU fleet to British waters was compensated by UK goods entering the common market free of tariffs and quotas”.
It added: “A win-win situation, Europe and its fleet could operate and catch in UK waters and the EU became the main market for UK fish produce.”
Previously, fears Galicia had were calmed by Spain’s Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas, who said in 2018 that fishing would remain a key issue for the nation as talks continued over trade deals with the UK and EU.
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Mr Planas said the Spanish Parliament would react to “any negotiations outcome”, but assured Galicia it would not be affected.
Galicia had argued it could lose €500million (£454million) if it lost access to the UK’s waters two years ago.
The minister argued that he was “optimistic” that a deal would not harm the area, adding: “If there’s no access to their waters, there’s no access to products.”
But this latest outburst by the fishing region could spark a new wave of anger towards the EU, after a tumultuous year for Spain.
Spain and Italy were among the worst-hit nations for coronavirus, and saw pleas for extra money to help combat the economic impact of Covid-19 rebuffed by countries such as the Netherlands.
Dutch leaders were accused by some inside the bloc of “going against the principles of solidarity” with states including Spain, after refusing to “give gifts” to other member states to support them through the pandemic.
In April, the Netherlands joined Austria, Denmark and Sweden in refusing support for Madrid and Rome – two capitals that were initially at the centre of mass Covid-19 outbreaks.
Those against the move included the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was caught on camera telling Dutch workers the country would not give financial support to Italy or Spain.
A recent poll of 6,000 people by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that around 37 percent of Spanish respondents would favour a move to quit the EU if Brexit showed the UK prospering.
The poll also revealed that in Italy, 45 percent of people also agreed.
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