EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she sees clear progress in the extended trade talks with the UK, keeping alive slim hopes that a post-Brexit deal could be reached before the 31 December deadline.
Speaking at the European Parliament this Wednesday, Von der Leyen confirmed that the major problems had been reduced to just two – fair competition in the EU market and fishing rights for EU vessels in UK waters.
Even though she still spoke only of a “very narrow" path to a deal, she added that nonetheless “I can tell you that there is a path to an agreement."
It was still far more optimistic than previous comments coming from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and even any assessment of success over the past months.
“This is now a case of being so close and yet being so far," von der Leyen told the EU parliament, which will have to approve any deal brokered with the UK.
Britain left the 27-nation bloc in January but for the rest of this year is still in a transition period that kept all trade ties the same with the EU.
“The clock puts us in a very difficult position," said von der Leyen.
The way forward
Von der Leyen said that EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost had made progress towards resolving rules for state aid to businesses and that the ways the deal will be governed "by now are largely being resolved."
But she remained pessimistic on fish. Britain is insisting that when it leaves the EU single market at the end of the year it will resume full control over access to its waters.
EU member states are holding out to preserve quotas for their crews fishing in UK waters and they want a long-term arrangement to provide stability.
Britain has so far only offered reduced access and annual quota renegotiations.
"On fisheries, the discussion is still very difficult," von der Leyen said.
"And in all honesty, I sometimes feel that we will not be able to resolve this question."