European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said there is now a “path” to a deal in the post-Brexit trade talks with the UK.
She told MEPs that “as things stand I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not”, but acknowledged a path way that was “very narrow”.
“It is therefore our responsibility to continue trying,” she said.
Von der Leyen indicated that fishing rights remained a major obstacle to a deal but suggested some progress had been made on the so-called “level playing field” issue, the measures aimed at preventing unfair competition between the UK and EU.
For months, the post-Brexit negotiations have been stuck on the issues of fishing rights and the “level playing field” measures to prevent unfair competition.
She said there has been progress on the second of those issues.
“On the level playing field, our aim is simply to ensure fair competition on our own market, very simple,” the European Commission president said.
“And this is why we need to establish robust mechanisms.
“The architecture we’re working on rests on two pillars: state aid and standards.
“On state aid, we have made progress based on common principles, guarantees of domestic enforcement and the possibility to autonomously remedy the situation when needed.
“On standards, we have agreed a strong mechanism of non-regression. That’s a big step forward.”
But there are still difficulties on how to “future proof” fair competition – the UK has strongly resisted attempts to force it to follow EU rules.
She said: “We do not question the UK’s sovereignty on its own waters.
“But we ask for predictability and stability for our fishermen and our fisherwomen.
“And, in all honesty, it sometimes feels that we will not be able to resolve this question.
“But we must continue to try to find a solution and it is the only responsible and right course of action.”
Von der Leyen said “the next days are going to be decisive” with the need for a deal to be in place for January 1.
MEPs are concerned that a deal could be implemented provisionally before they get the chance to vote on it.
Mrs von der Leyen said: “The clock puts us all in a very difficult situation, not least this Parliament and its right to exercise democratic scrutiny and ratification.”