An article by the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator which was published today does not signal any shift in the EU position or offer anything new to the UK, an EU source has told RTÉ.

The op-ed by Michel Barnier appeared to signal a willingness to be flexible in negotiations around the border on the island of Ireland.

Fears of a return to violence have been raised if the Good Friday Agreement is damaged by the imposition of a hard border after Brexit.

The EU's suggested solution to the problem - a common regulatory area for goods and customs with the rest of the EU - has so far been rejected by the UK as "annexing" Northern Ireland.

Calling the issue "the biggest risk" caused by Brexit, Mr Barnier said he was "ready to improve" the EU's proposal.

He said: "Since we will not know what the future relationship will bring by autumn 2018, we need to have a backstop solution in the withdrawal agreement.

"The UK agrees with this, and both the EU and the UK have said that a better solution in the future relationship could replace the backstop.

"What the EU has proposed is that Northern Ireland remains in a common regulatory area for goods and customs with the rest of the EU.

"We are ready to improve the text of our proposal with the UK."

Mr Barnier was also positive about reaching a deal "unprecedented in scope and depth" around free trade.

He warned that UK proposals must not "undermine" the four pillars of the single market - free movement of goods, capital, services and labour, which he called "one of the EU's biggest achievements" - by seeking freedom only for goods.

"But I remain confident that the negotiations can reach a good outcome," he said.

"It is possible to respect EU principles and create a new and ambitious partnership."

The EU source told RTÉ that this reflects what has been said on previous occasions by Mr Barnier and that he had "nothing concrete in mind".

Asked about the timing the source said the piece, which was released targeted at 26 EU member states other than the UK and Ireland, was "an exercise in bringing all other member states up to speed on the state of play" and "was not drafted in any way to signal a change".

"We are saying we are not intransigent, we are willing to listen, we will consider innovative solutions within the clear legal limits. But if [the UK] is not flexible, then there's no room for flexibility".

The article was described as an effort to "capture the mood rather than say anything new".

Additional reporting: PA