The EU formed a compensation fund in preparation for Brexit, aimed at softening the blow for nations such as Ireland and France. Ireland had been forecast to be the worst affected in the EU, and was therefore hoping to get the majority of the fund. However, disagreements over fishing between member states resulted in tension during negotiations over the £4.2billion pot. One EU diplomat told the Irish Times: “Certain member states began to see this whole fund as a sort of fish compensation fund. “Almost exclusively for fish, and almost exclusively for France.”
The apparent swipe at French President Emmanuel Macron came as he was aiming to boost French fishermen’s interests, perhaps with his 2022 election contest with Marine Le Pen in mind.
The Commission official claimed that the likes of Mr Macron and France had their eye on dipping into the fund.
A senior EU Commission official said: “Lots of countries are eyeing up that fund.
“France are looking to dip into the fund. It will be a lively debate between member states and the Commission.”
The Commission official described Ireland’s claim to the Brexit fund as “muscular” as many diplomats agreed Dublin would be entitled to most of the cash
Another diplomat said: “The French have their eye on it, and the fund isn’t that big.”
Ireland was eventually given 20 percent of the fund as Dublin’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney warned of the impact Brexit could have on the nation.
He said: “Ireland is certainly going to be first in line for that in the levels of disruption we have to deal with.
“There are many other areas being disrupted that will need financial support to actually help us get through that disruption, to reconfigure, and reshape certain sectors of our economy linked to Brexit.”
Last week, the fund came under fresh scrutiny as Ireland was warned by the European Court of Auditors it may end up having to pay some money back.
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In a bid to get money out to member states quickly, some 80 percent of the fund will be provided to governments up front without the details of the projects it will pay for needing to be provided, compared to the usual level of just 13 percent of EU budget funds.
Governments will only later have to justify how they spent the money, by submitting claims in 2023, something that the auditors warned carries risks.
Member states could spend the money on sub-optimal projects that do not offer the best value for money, the auditors pointed out.
While Ireland received £860million, the Netherlands is to get £613million in pre-financing, Germany £368million, France £340million and Belgium £261million, reflecting the impact of Britain’s departure and the disruption to trade and the fishing industry.
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French and British fishermen have been impacted by increased bureaucracy since the trade deal was implemented on January 1.
The EU has restricted UK exports of shellfish, leaving some businesses in the UK in chaos.
Environment Secretary George Eustice wrote to the EU Commissioner for food safety Stella Kyriakides last month, arguing that the ban was “legally wrong” and “unjustified”.
However, the Shellfish Association of Great Britain told PoliticsHome that they were told by Mr Eustice’s department that the EU were within their rights to enforce the ban.