EU gives upbeat assessment of state of Brexit trade talks

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a news conference following an EU Summit video conference at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. European Union leaders made no progress Thursday toward resolving a diplomatic dispute with EU members Poland and Hungary to unlock a 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) budget and recovery package aimed at putting the bloc's economy back on track after the pandemic. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, Pool)

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Friday issued one of its most upbeat assessments of the state of post-Brexit trade negotiations, as the talks face an ever tighter deadline for a deal to enter into force for the start of the new year.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “we've seen in the last days better progress, more movement on important files."

“This is good," von der Leyen told reporters, in comments that contrast sharply with previous statements over the talks that have dragged on with little progress for months.

Her comment came a day after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for the coronavirus, which led to the high-level talks being suspended. She said that because work on legal texts had made such progress, further discussions by video over the next days could progress too “since there is now substance where you can go through line by line."

Over the past few months, the talks have failed to make much headway on some key issues, notably over fishing rights, business regulations and state aid.

“Progress ... has been made on the question of state aid,” von der Leyen said, in reference to a key EU demand that the U.K. does not excessively subsidize products that could undercut local EU products.

Despite the upbeat assessment, von der Leyen sought to temper any excessive optimism that may be generated.

“There are quite some meters to the finish line," she said. “Indeed, time pressure is high without any question at the moment."