This week in Europe: 17-20 December…

EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed

Catherine Bearder, the Liberal Democrat European spokesperson on international trade, has welcomed the EU trade deal with Singapore as a potential gateway for the UK’s insurance and banking sector into the Asian market.

This free trade deal with Singapore will bring huge benefits to the UK’s financial services sector in particular. Negotiating as a block of 27 countries with the biggest single market in the world has given Brussels the necessary weight to insist that European banks will enjoy a level playing field with US competitors. Britain on its own would have struggled to achieve such a great result. The deal is also a benchmark in promoting green growth as it will simplify trade and investment in environmental technologies.

The Agreement with Singapore follows in the steps of the successful EU-South Korea FTA which came into force in July 2011. Negotiations on a FTA between the EU and Japan were given the green light last month.

Latvia continues progress towards joining Euro

In an interview with Reuters, Latvian Finance Minister, Andris Vilks, said that his country would ask for a European Commission assessment of its euro readiness in February, the start of the membership process, meaning that EU leaders might vote on their accession to the Euro as early as June.

Blow for eurosceptic ‘Britzerland’ solution

The EU’s 27 Member States yesterday expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the bloc’s relationship with Switzerland calling on the country to enter into a mutual arrangement similar to the Norwegian model. Every two years, the Council assesses its relations with the four countries countries that are part of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA). This year Member States declared the Swiss option as completely unsatisfactory.

Swiss participation in the single market has stalled for years as EU Member States demand a new Norway type arrangement of automatically adopting nearly all EU laws without having any say on their creation.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats in Europe, Fiona Hall MEP, commented on the Council’s report:

The ‘Swiss option’ is dead. Europhobes must get real – there is no Britzerland solution on the table for the UK. The EU is refusing to allow Switzerland further integration into the EU single market in lucrative sectors like energy unless it gives up the complex system of bilateral agreements which govern EU-Swiss relations. In any case – Switzerland’s model is not an example that the UK should aspire to. Switzerland has access to only 60-70% of the EU’s internal market, and misses out completely on agricultural products and most service industries. This includes financial services where the UK has a £17.6 billion trade surplus with the EU. In exchange, the Swiss have to adopt many EU laws and rules without having any say.

Britzerland is cloud cuckoo land, no more real than a chocolate Santa.

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