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France to ask EU to take legal action against UK in fishing dispute

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French fishermen repair their nets at Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France, on December 28, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Paris is set to call on the European Union (EU) to take legal action against London over a long-running fishing dispute with the UK, France's European affairs minister says.

Following a meeting between French fishermen, elected representatives of the regions, and President Emmanuel Macron aimed at discussing the fishing obstacles, Clement Beaune, France's secretary of state for European affairs, said on Friday that "in the coming days we will ask the European Commission to launch litigation, a legal procedure, for the licenses we are entitled to."

The development comes on the heels of a warning directed at London from Paris last week to issue licenses to the pending fishing applications.

The two countries are at loggerheads over licensing rules for EU boats seeking to operate in waters around Britain and the Channel Islands.

According to a post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement, the EU can have continued access to British waters until June 30, 2026, and in case of a dispute with Jersey, the EU can take unilateral measures "proportionate to the alleged failure by the respondent party and the economic and societal impact thereof."

France says Britain has refused to grant its fishermen the full number of licenses warranted to operate in British waters. The UK claimes that the rejected French boats have not been able to provide the required documents for obtaining a license.

French Minister for the Sea Annick Girardin said her government would continue to discuss with London and the Channel Islands authorities "to try to obtain" the authorizations "license by license."

The dispute has raised the possibility of a full scale trade war, with French fishermen vowing this week to protest and block British boats from French ports along the Channel coast.

Analysts say relations between Britain and France have been at their lowest point during the past decades due to tensions over a couple of issues such as Brexit, migration and a submarine contract with Australia.

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