The PanEuropean reports from Stratford-upon-Avon, where a breakaway movement wants its own, localised Brexit. Or as they’re calling it, Strexit.
A campaign group in a British market town believes that Brexit does not go far enough. Or rather, come close enough. They want to implement Brexit locally, so that the townsfolk can enjoy the advantages in advance of the national negotiations, without being held back by delays or transition periods.
John King and Richard Vos, leaders of the new movement in the West Midlands town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, see no reason why the principles behind Brexit cannot be rolled out immediately to benefit everyone in the town. The group they have founded, dubbed STRIP (Stratford Independence for the People), has expanded from a founding nucleus of 6 to a present total of 28.
“We are hoping the public will not refer to us as strippers, like they call UKIP voters kippers”, says King. “So far this doesn’t seem to have happened; I think people recognise that we have a perfectly serious point to make, which deserves to be respected”.
The aim of the group is to let locals take back control of their own affairs, without interference from bureaucrats in London who do not understand the town’s history and special status.
“Stratford was a great place in Shakespeare’s day, and we want to make it great again”, explains Vos, “but we must cut the red tape that has tied our hands for so long. Give the town back to those who actually live here, not the ones who are just passing through, taking advantage of all our facilities”.
Thousands of foreign tourists invade Stratford every year, who STRIP say traipse through Shakespeare’s birthplace, causing damage for which locals must foot the bill, not to mention the traffic congestion and additional road repairs needed. Some group member have suggested building a wall for security, following the example of York and other famous English towns and cities in the past. But King plays the idea down.
“Of course that is not practicable. We will settle for border points on the main roads, where documents can be checked. Anyone not from Warwickshire will be required to pay a small tariff, which will help the town’s finances enormously”.
“People from London will probably require a visa”, adds King. “It’s not that we don’t like Londoners, but there’s plenty of room for them in the great metropolis”.
So how would Stratford look if the group achieves its aims?
“Shall I compare it to a summer’s day?” quips Sophie West, another founder member. “Seriously, those sunlit uplands the Government talks about would suit Stratford very well. I can’t think of a better place to showcase the new era that the country is looking forward to”.
But the group’s vision does not stop at Stratford-upon-Avon. There are hundreds of towns all over England which could be liberated to realise their true identities, claim the campaigners.
“If we can strike a blow for freedom here, there will be no stopping us,” says an ebullient West. “Strexit will serve as a model for the rest of the country. We’ve started something big and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can go whistle”.
We spoke to Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, to discuss Brexit, citizens’ rights and Phase Two of negotiations.
What’s the EP’s agenda regarding citizens’ rights in the second phase of the negotiations?
‘There are many outstanding issues that the European Parliament will continue to clarify, from the administrative procedures that will apply for EU citizens in the UK, to the free movement rights of UK citizens in the EU. We need the initial agreement on citizens’ rights to now be put into a legally cast iron treaty and presented for review by MEPs. We will insist that the implementation date of the withdrawal treaty starts at the end of any transition period requested by the British Government. Both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU need clarity as soon as possible and we are committed to ensuring the minimum disruption to people’s lives.
Is the coming negotiation on citizens’ rights going to be limited to the EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit or will it be extended to those applying for residency after Brexit? Same question about the British residents in the EU.
‘A number of outstanding issues remain for both groups of citizens, from free movement for UK citizens in the EU, to the governance of the rights of EU nationals in the UK.‘
Do you still support a version of the proposal for Associate Citizenship for UK citizens? What would this entail?
‘I will continue to push for recognition that millions of UK citizens are having their European rights taken away from them against their will. Europe should recognise this, in my opinion.’
Recent YouGov polls suggest a growing number of Brits have ‘buyers remorse’ about Brexit. What do you make of this? Do you think Brexit will actually happen?
‘The British Government, on behalf of the British people, has submitted its intentions to leave the European Union and of course we have to implement this, but we do not do so with glee. The British people must take responsibility for their own destiny.’
If Britain changed its mind, how likely would it be that the EU27 would rescind article 50 and welcome them back?
‘President Juncker, Tusk and Macron have all said the door remains open, but this would require the agreement of all EU member states and the European Parliament.’
Some say the EU cannot officially negotiate with the UK on a trade deal as long as they are a member state. Britain would need to first revert to third country status under Article 218. Do you foresee any problems there?
‘The ongoing Brexit talks will aim to secure a political declaration outlining a possible future framework for trade negotiations, once Britain becomes a third country after “Brexit day”.’
Does anyone in Brussels regret Jean-Claude Juncker not giving concessions to David Cameron before he called the referendum?
‘The European Union offered David Cameron unprecedented concessions, including an opt-out of “ever closer union”. In the end, the renegotiation hardly featured in the referendum debate.’
What has the EU done to remedy the underlying issues that partly led to Brexit?
‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit. Support for the European project has increased profoundly since the referendum. However, I agree the European Union needs to reform if it is to survive; fixing the eurozone, doing less but better, building a real defence union so people feel safe, securing Europe’s external borders and delivering fairer globalisation are our priorities. Too many communities have been “left behind”, but the reasons for this are complex, multi-faceted and in most cases the result of a lack of investment by national governments.’
March 4th is coming. If this otherwise innocuous date doesn’t sound troubling to you, think again.
On that bright day of early spring, more than 51.000.000 Italians will be called to the urns to cast a vote that will determine the country’s political equilibrium for the next five years. And the consequence of their choice will certainly not stop at the Alps. The election at a glance
The latest polls have seen the centre-right coalition leading with 36% of the vote. This numerous group is a melting pot of various parties, which includes Berlusconi’s apparently immortal Forza Italia (FI), Matteo Salvini’s freshly-repackaged Lega Nord (LN), the conservatives of Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) and Christian-democratic Noi con l’Italia (NCL). In second place with 28% of the projected vote is the centre-left governing party, Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico (PD), which features a number of smaller parties, ranging from greens to socialists and Emma Bonino’s brand new, pro-EU “+ Europa”.
In third place is the anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S), which now counts 88 MPs in the Italian lower chamber and 35 representatives in the Senate, and is currently projected to gain 27% of the vote.
Liberi e Uguali, freshly created by two prominent ex-members of the Democratic Party, currently stands at 6%. The remaining 9% is contended by a number of predominantly extremist parties – including the growing neo-fascist movement Casa Pound, which derives its name from the poet Ezra Pound, paying tribute to his Cantons, in which the American poet harshly criticises both capitalism and Marxism.
So what does this all mean for the European Union?
While just 34% of Italians believe their country should leave the European union, up to 57% would support holding a national referendum on Italy’s membership.
Italy has been strongly tied to the EU since its foundation, and remains the third biggest economy of the eurozone, despite ongoing economic difficulties and slow growth.
On the other hand, discontent around the EU’s insufficient help with an unprecedented migration wave, coupled with ceaseless economic insecurity have taken a toll on Italian’s positions towards the Union.
In its post-Brexit report on member countries’ disposition towards the EU, Pew Research Center showed that, while just 34% of Italians believe their country should leave the European union, up to 57% would support holding a national referendum on Italy’s membership. The prospect of an “Italeave” is unlikely, but where do the main parties that are fighting for a slice of sweet Parliamentary cake stand on Europe?
A confused right-wing bloc
If the big FI-LN-FdI-NCL team might make sense on paper, it would be an understatement to say that the parties’ programs tend to clash in practise. And they definitely need to come up with a catchier name.
It’s no secret that the new Italian President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani – who has held increasingly prestigious positions in Brussels and Strasbourg in the past 10 years– has been a prominent member of Berlusconi’s party since its early years. But even though Berlusconi once threatened to exit the Eurozone, he never actually considered a divorce between Rome and Brussels, instead pointing out that diplomacy and moderation is the only way to have your voice heard within the rooms of the European institutions.
That’s more the case now than ever. Berlusconi, who ruled Italy for 20 years and actually served as European MP between 1999 and 2001, is working hard to rebrand himself as a moderate, centrist alternative to the populist M5S. For Forza Italia, therefore, leaving the EU – or even the Eurozone – is out of the question. At most, an FI-lead government would work to safeguard Italian interests on a European level, fighting for less constraints on Italian businesses and “passing from the Europe of bureaucrats to the Europe of the peoples”.
Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord (LN), on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Salvini has attempted to broaden his appeal by toning down his anti-European rhetoric.
Since becoming party leader in 2013, Salvini has worked hard to align himself to other right-wing European parties in harshly critiquing the European Union’s every step, in any possible field, and promising multiple times to do the best he could to get the country out of the Eurozone, if not of the Union entirely.
However, since allying with Berlusconi, LN has toned down its more Eurosceptic edges. That the majority of Salvini’s support base remains anti-European is not lost on him, but with the elections looming he has attempted to broaden his appeal by toning down his anti-European rhetoric, even publicly stating that returning to the previous currency is not a viable option.
A recent article published about Berlusconi’s recent visit to Brussels on Italian national newspaper Repubblica casts a dark shadow on the agreement. While LN explicitly aims to renegotiate the infamous deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3% (which hinders public investment), Repubblica stated that Berlusconi, visiting several European institutions, assured that his government would respect the 3% limit. The article also implies that Berlusconi might have struck a deal with the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, promising that – were his coalition to win – both Lega Nord and Movimento Cinque Stelle would not be awarded any relevant position in the future government. Salvini immediately called it fake news.
Fratelli d’Italia, led by self-proclaimed patriot Giorgia Meloni, is less extreme but still highly critical of the European project. “We believe in a Europe that works for its people, not for oligarchies and finance,” reads their program, which alludes to the scarce democracy behind European law and excessive German influence. Noi con l’Italia programme regarding the future of Italy’s role in the EU mostly mirrors that of Forza Italia.
The left asks for more Europe
Five gruelling years in power and three different prime ministers later, the Italian Democratic Party (PD) is probably going to be punished at the polls for its unbroken Europeism and for its consistent trust in the European system. Although the past 5 years have seen an improvement in the country’s economy and employment, many feel they have not benefited from such betterment and the refugee issue has slowly polarized the country’s public opinion.
PD knows this, and its answer is…more Europe. More Europe when it comes to the issue of immigration, as Italy is incapable of controlling its southern sea, fighting human trafficking and improving the reception and welcome system on its own. More Europe and more involvement in Africa as a strategic and long-term foreign policy focus. More Europe for a greater dialogue between institutions to develop a political project that sometimes seems to have been forgotten in favour of a merely financial one.
“More Europe” is actually the name of one of the parties in Renzi’s bloc. Both economically and socially liberal, it was created by Emma Bonino – best known as the leader of the Italian Radicals and former Minister of Foreign Affairs – to channel the voices of those who believe it’s time for the United States of Europe.
Its programme includes the creation of a European border police and a European army, as well as the direct election of the president of the European Commission. Some accuse Bonino’s party of bending too much to the EU, particularly because of its promises to continue austerity measures. Although an official government pact with the Democratic Party hasn’t been announced yet, Bonino herself called it “a civic duty” to fight together against the populist and racist front.
Movimento Cinque Stelle feeds on chaos
Debuting on the political scene in 2009, the self-proclaimed “rabid populist” Movimento Cinque Stelle – the lovechild of comedian Beppe Grillo and web businessman Gianroberto Casaleggio’s – has never been able, or willing, to formulate a coherent stance on foreign policy issues. Between confusing appeals to an Italian referendum on EU membership to embarrassing videos on the necessity of leaving the Eurozone and last-minute denials, the movement just can’t keep a clear head on the matter.
The fact that in 2014 M5S formed a parliamentary group alongside Ukip – the two parties share 27.1% of their political ideas, according to VoteWatch Europe – points to the fact that Grillo’s movement, that has now been handed down to young leader Luigi di Maio, is far from being pro-European.
Instead, its program calls for a retreat from the 2012 Fiscal Compact pact (and the aforementioned 3% rule), a referendum on the euro, and a warmer approach to Vladimir Putin – with the stated aim of lifting the sanctions on Russia.
Second in the polls even if running alone, Movimento 5 Stelle is beloved by its supporters for its strong and often controversial opinions. In the run-up to March 4th, its candidates have voiced several critical views of the EU, especially on the dangers of “EU anti-Russian propaganda” and the possibility of Italy soon becoming “Europe’s refugee camp”. On the possibility of a common defence policy, they warned against such a project becoming “an instrument for military operations that only pursue the interests of some member states”.
The Italian menace
Since the Brexit referendum, national elections in major EU states have felt like a game of Russian roulette with the future of the Union. This time in Italy, it feels like the stakes are higher than ever. With a minority government in Spain struggling with the Catalan crisis, a fractious and uncertain coalition in Germany, and a new Austrian chancellor tempting the German minority in the Italian Sudtirol, it’s easy to see how different parliamentary majorities would transform the way in which the Italian government collaborates and communicates with the EU – and vice-versa.
Whatever the outcome of this election, growing Eurosceptic parties like Lega Nord and Movimento 5 Stelle are highly likely to play a more prominent role in the Italian parliament. As is always the case with Italian elections, it feels like the right moment to dig out Dante’s good old VI canto, from the Purgatorio:
It is not just the populist right who clash ideologically with the European Union.
In 2013, a senior Conservative politician was overheard referring to Eurosceptic activists as “swivel-eyed loons.” Intended as a disparaging remark, some traditionalists wore the label proudly. Michael Fabricant, the party’s former vice-chairman, uploaded a picture of the late bulbous-eyed comedian, Marty Feldman, as his Twitter avatar.
The comments came after 116 Tory MPs defied the ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, by voting for an amendment to protest his lack commitment to a referendum on EU membership before 2015. Those on the right of the Conservative party were appalled by the delay.
Hard Brexiteers continue to be stereotyped as demented, frothy-mouthed, “swivel-eyed” monsters. Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that climate change minister, Claire Perry, had used the term in a group WhatsApp conversation with other Tory MPs.
But often overlooked is euroscepticism on the left – with Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn providing an obvious starting point.
Corbyn voted to leave the EEC in the 1975 referendum and has railed against European institutions consistently since becoming an MP in 1983. In parliament, he voted against the 1993 Maastricht Treaty and the 2008 Lisbon Treaty.
During the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the Labour leader was lukewarm in his support of remain. In one chat-show appearance, Corbyn claimed to be “seven out of ten” on the EU, and was conspicuously absent throughout the Brexit campaigning period.
Corbyn is not isolated amongst left-wing intellectuals over the question of the Europe. The New Left Review, one of the most influential political science journals in the world, had been hankering for ‘Lexit’, a handy – if a little ungainly – neologism of ‘left wing’ and ‘Brexit’, for some time.
The journal’s former editor, Perry Anderson, argued that the EU was an authoritarian and neoliberal project, bent on “enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”
A right wing institution?
At the core of the European project is dogmatic commitment to the free-market. Since the 1970s, European markets have becoming increasingly integrated. The creation of a single currency, Masastricht and Lisbon Treaties, the Stability and Growth pact have driven this trend. Directives at the European Central Bank and the European Commission have now all but banned the Keynesian economic model – the very bedrock of social democracy.
With increased integration comes increased competition. EU states are now forced to compete for investment from multinationals more than ever before. In order to gain a competitive edge, states are forced to lower corporation tax, cut labour costs, weaken unions and compromise on environmental and social regulations. The result is spiralling inequality.
Some intellectual voices on the left, including Alan Johnson, have also argued that the failure of the EU to work democratically, in the interests of the majority, has created a “breeding ground for the far right.” In the US, many analysts have attributed the election of Donald Trump to anger at the unequal impact of globalization in some disaffected caucuses. The unequal spread of Economic integration benefits is perhaps a source of discontent here too.
Despite his long held opposition to the EU, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to announce a major policy shift next month. He is reported to be holding a meeting in early February with Labour bigwigs, in which he will discuss the prospect of remaining part of some sort of customs union.
For Corbyn this would draw clear battle lines to fight a Conservative party, currently floundering in chaos. It would appease pro-Europe sections of the Labour party. But such a policy shift would also represent a sacrifice of values for the Labour leader and some of his comrades.
One view of our divided country is that it was always a land of potential Leavers and Remainers, the rift being merely exposed by the referendum. On this theory, Remainers were born rather than made and Leavers, like leopards, will never change their spots.
Yet the truth is that Leavers comprise all sorts of people, as do Remainers. They are not a different species.
I am coming round to the view that our current turmoil is not the fault of the people themselves, so much as the power of a virulent ideology that has flooded the country like a tsunami, sweeping away common sense, but which is now slowly evaporating.
It has happened before: ideas have taken hold with a force disproportionate to their merit, and caused mayhem.
Brexit and other cults
Remember the Moonies? If you were around in the 1960’s like me, you probably will. So called after the founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Moonies, or the Unification Church to give it its official title, were said to be a sinister cult who seduced people away from their families, promising salvation through sex and free love.
The nearest I got to that was driving around in a flower power van, but more impressionable youngsters were turned against their families andbrainwashed by the cult’s teachings, whilst being fleeced of any money and possessions. Desperate parents, grieving for the loss of their loved ones, attempted to locate and “deprogram” their sons and daughters, often with limited success.
What the cult of the Moonies had in common with Brexit Britain was the isolation and impoverishment of its victims. It was dressed up as a spiritual movement, but its ulterior purpose was the amassment of huge wealth by its founder. In the same way, Brexit has been dressed up as a patriotic protest, but its true purpose,as Nick Clegg made clear, is to make the very rich very much richer, by removing the protections and regulations of the EU.
Today, our continental neighbours are doubtful whether they can persuade us to remain within our European family. And with some justification, for to deprogram people like Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May or Jacob Rees-Mogg would be a challenge indeed. Nevertheless, they would welcome us back with open arms if we turned up on their doorstep.
So what happened to the Moonies? They faded from the limelight amid scandal and disillusion, though the Reverend Moon retained considerable political power and influence until he died in 2012. These cults are no fleeting fads or fashions, they can last quite a long time.
How long will the Brexit fad last?
Brexit is an edifice of fantasy resting on no solid foundation, which is already crumbling at the approach of reality. The game is up on this expired idea, which is just waiting to buried. The earliest time for another vote will be December 2018 – not too long to wait.
Some fear that even if we win, a second referendum will inflame the divisions further, leading to a civil war between Brexiters and Remainers. However, it is more likely in my view that the situation will stabilise, and instead of the armies of Brexiters, there will be just normal people again, like before David Cameron’s ill-advised referendum.
When the Second World War put the final nail in fascism, an improbable number of French people claimed they had been fighters in the resistance. And when Brexit is finally nailed, a fair few soft Leavers will discover they had been Remainers all along, because everyone likes to be on the winning side.
Brexit negotiations are due to move onto ‘Phase 2’ in the next few weeks, after EU leaders finally signed off on a painful first round on the 15th December 2017. Here are five things we expect to see in the second round:
“They say it takes two to tango,’ said British Chancellor Philip Hammond to the BBC in January. “Both sides need to be clear about what they want.”
Which is exactly what the other side is asking for (clarity, not doing the tango with Phil). “The first big step is for the U.K. to say very clearly what it wants in clear terms,” stated Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the EU summit in December. A sentiment echoed by Michel Barnier: “There must be a precise negotiating position of the U.K. government.”
Unfortunately, neither side is dancing in reality. During Phase One, the EU repeatedly told the U.K. to clarify its position on citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and the Northern Irish border. The bloc remained united, and eventually the U.K. yielded, agreeing to a bill of up to €39 billion, a fairly weak citizens’ rights agreement, and a “seamless and frictionless” Irish border.
Now that those issues have (at least partly) been put to bed, the real misunderstandings can begin. The first round, as difficult as it was, was at least centred around three tangible issues. The second-round focuses on a much vaguer outcome: the framework of the future relationship.
All these factors are going to make Phase Two extremely difficult. In comparison, Phase One will look like negotiating the sale of a second-hand Volkswagen, or a timeshare in Skiathos.
Already disagreements have emerged over the wording: the EU wishes to focus on the ‘framework’ whereas the U.K. accentuates the ‘future relationship’.
It’s no secret that Theresa May wants a transition deal to be agreed quickly: uncertainty is bad for business. But Michel Barnier has set a deadline of October 2018 to negotiate a transition deal, which is far later than the U.K.’s preferred deadline of March 2018. This transition deal will require the approval of the European Parliament, which will have its own requirements for the second phase of talks.
Not only will they need to agree on a transitional deal, but also a framework for future EU-U.K. trade. Again, this will require approval from European leaders, who will each have differing opinions on how quickly to advance trade talks.
All these factors are going to make Phase Two extremely difficult. In comparison, Phase One will look like negotiating the sale of second-hand Volkswagen, or a timeshare in Skiathos. How do you negotiate a trade deal with someone you’re already trading with? Until 2019, the U.K. it is still a full member of the EU. Politico reported that a senior EU official stated: “We cannot officially negotiate with the U.K. on a trade deal as long as they are a member state.”
Essentially, the U.K invoked Article 50, and will returned to third-country status under Article 218, whilst trying to agree a deal on trade. Good thing Poland is busy logging away their forests – a lot of paperwork is going to be needed.
A lot of talk about trade
Trade is going to feature heavily in Phase Two, because both sides want to know how much cash is at stake.
Expect disagreements here too. Brussels has repeatedly stated that the trade deal will consist of two options: Norway-style, or a Canada-style. Conversely, the UK wants a tailored deal, which would include “ongoing access to the EU market, the freedom to diverge from the bloc on certain rules, and ongoing cooperation with some EU agencies, such as Europol.”
Talks will need to cover all the main sectors of trade: financial services, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, aerospace, agriculture… These industries are massive and complex, each with their own subset of legalities. To date, businesses have largely been left in the dark, with the various captains of industry becoming increasingly agitated. In a joint statement, leaders of five U.K business groups stated: “the transition period must now be agreed as soon as possible…further delays to discussions on an EU-UK trade deal could have damaging consequences for business investment and trade”.
Two fractured sides of the table
Brexit has created its own political dividing lines, and Left and Right continue to find themselves, perhaps unwittingly, on the same side.
…a far-right coalition in Austria, a leaderless Germany and a recalcitrant Hungary and Poland, one thing is for certain: realpolitik is alive and well in the minds of European leaders.
Resultantly, the UK government – in particular the cabinet – is anything but united. Tango Master/Chancellor Philip Hammond represents a faction fighting for a soft-Brexit, placing him in opposition to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who seems to want to bring back the 18th century swashbuckling Britannia of old. Throw some Tory rebels into the mix and you have yourself a collection of fiefdoms, in disagreement over everything from the length of the transition period to the retention of single market membership.
The disunity isn’t limited to the UK, mind you. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned against the EU 27 acting in their own interests in the next phase: “That’s what the prisoner’s dilemma is all about,’ he said. ‘Everyone can have an interest in negotiation on their own and think they can negotiate better than their neighbour.” These comments were echoed by Donald Tusk, who said he had “no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of the Brexit talks.”
With Norway threatening to rip up their current deal with the EU, a crisis in Catalonia, an election looming in Italy, a far-right coalition in Austria, a leaderless Germany and a recalcitrant Hungary and Poland, one thing is for certain: realpolitik is alive and well in the minds of European leaders.
Come back, wayward son
The European Union will continue to tell the UK it can re-join the club at any point before Brexit happens.
Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker have both expressed their desire to retain Britain as a member of the EU. The former even said that Britain could reapply for EU membership post-Brexit, which will most likely turn British politics into one, never ending discussion about EU membership. Think M.C Escher.
The spectre of citizens’ rights
Lingering issues about citizens’ rights will crop up in the second round of negotiations. Several citizens’ rights groups – such as the3million and Bremain in Spain– have made their dissatisfaction clear, and will continue to lobby against the loss of freedom of movement. Even small groups of expats have started to take legal action: British citizens living in Holland went to court earlier this year in a bid to retain freedom of movement.
We believethere are still a number of questions about citizens’ rights to which neither the EU Commission or UK parliament have provided a satisfactory answer. Certainly, trade will dominate the discussions, and it is vital that grass-roots movements and individuals maintain the pressure for greater clarity over citizens’ rights.
The Brexit deadlock was finally broken last Friday, when the EU agreed that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the divorce settlement. But has the deal on citizens’ rights provided enough clarity to the millions of UK and EU immigrants affected by it?
EU citizens in the UK
The main takeaway for both sides was that they would keep their current rights: EU citizens who have lawfully lived in the UK for a minimum of five years will be granted ‘settled status.’ The UK government has said this will be a straightforward process and cost no more than a British passport (£72.50). They will retain access to tax credits, universal credit, healthcare, pensions, etc., and can be away from the UK for up to 5 years and still retain this status. Children born in the UK to parents from an EU country will automatically become British citizens. Irish citizens will not have their rights affected by Brexit and will be able to work and travel in the UK without hindrance.
UK citizens in the EU
Likewise, UK nationals that are legally living in one of the 27 member states will be allowed to stay (though some countries will require an application process to secure this). If they have been living in the country for five years they will be entitled to ‘permanent residence’ or the chance to apply for it. Again, they can be away from the host country for 5 years and still retain permanent residence. If they have a pension, it will increase every year just as it would in the UK.
UK nationals will remain eligible for free healthcare in the EU under a continuation of the EHIC scheme, and if working in several European countries, they will maintain the right to work in all of them.
In addition, close family members (spouse/direct ascendants/direct descendants) will be able to join them if their rights are protected under the withdrawal agreement. Children of British nationals are also protected under the withdrawal agreement if the parents are protected or nationals of the host country.
What’s been left out
For those that have no desire to move and meet the requirements for settled status, this agreement is probably satisfactory.
But it is likely that the EU will adopt a constitutive system – meaning that British immigrants will have to apply for a new status (as EU citizens will be expected to do in the UK).
This process is unlikely to be uniform and each country will have slightly different requirements. Individuals will be asked to provide comprehensive documentation to prove they have lived in their respective host country for 5 years, and this may not be easy to find. Besides, bureaucracies can make mistakes, as the UK home office has proved.
Theresa May has made no illusions: the British PM seeks to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented people living in Britain illegally. We have already witnessed the consequences of this draconian policy on European citizens who have lived lawfully in the UK for over 15 years.
‘What will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit?’
The fact that the continuation of free movement was not even discussed is a worrying sign. It may well come up during the next phase of negotiations, but there are no guarantees, thus it is imperative we pressure both British and European parliaments to make sure this issue is not sidelined. Freedom of movement is vital, whether we are officially part of the European Union or not. Associative European citizenship must be made available to those who either wish for or need it.
Furthermore, there are a number of grey areas within the agreement: what will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit? After the UK has regained control of its laws, what safeguards are in place to protect EU citizens?
These questions will be an afterthought in the second round of negotiations, which will focus primarily on the future trading relationship between the two parties. Given that the UK and the EU already have differing interpretations of what that relationship should look like, it is unlikely that we will see further clarification on citizens’ rights in the foreseeable future.
Essentially, we feel that European and British nationals have been largely ignored. Though there have been some assurances made by European leaders, it seems citizens’ rights are more of a hindrance to the UK and the EU to negotiating more important aspects of the deal.
The PanEuropean recently interviewed Charles Goerens, an MEP for Luxembourg and proponent of the Associative Citizenship proposal. We asked Mr. Goerens to explain the European Union’s stance on citizens’ rights, as well as why his Associative Citizenship proposal has been postponed.
Where are we with Brexit and citizens’ rights?
It must be said that much progress has been made on citizens’ rights. The negotiations started from the British immigration law, and the British Government is now ready to concede a special settled status to EU nationals.
The European Parliament’s (EP) only weapon to fight for citizens’ rights is a means of pressure – namely to threaten with a negative vote on the final text of the withdrawal agreement. On the 8th of November, the Brexit Steering Group (BSG) issued a statement outlining its red lines on the latest UK citizens’ rights proposals.
“Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line”
This week, a resolution supported by five political groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens and GUE) has been put to the EP’s vote on a plenary session. The resolution discussed the state of play of the negotiations.
However, major issues still need to be addressed to secure equal and fair treatment for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Our most important concern is the UK proposals for settled status for EU citizens in the UK, including the administrative procedures as set out in a technical note published by the UK Government on the 7th of November. It is our firm view that acquiring settled status:
Must be an automatic process in the form of a simple declaration, not an application which introduces any kind of conditionality (for example a pro-active ‘criminality check’).
Must enable families to make one joint declaration, not separate declarations for each individual family member.
Must place the burden of proof on the UK authorities to challenge the declaration and this only on a case-by-case basis and in line with EU law.
Must be cost-free.
Is a system that can only enter into force after any transition period, if requested and agreed, has concluded. Before that, the freedom of movement should apply.
On family reunification, Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line.
We do not accept that there has to be any status difference between the members of a family born from different relationships or between those born before and those born after Brexit.
On the export of benefits, we insist that this cannot be limited to pensions only, but should include all benefits defined in the EU legislation.
Last but not least, we insist that UK citizens currently living in the European Union continue to benefit from the freedom of movement after Brexit. These are our red lines.
Will there be a difference of treatment between EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit and those applying for residency after Brexit?
It’s a key question. The status of future EU residents in the UK will be discussed in the second phase of the negotiations, once an agreement on Brexit has been concluded. The current negotiations are exclusively for the benefit of current EU residents in the UK.
Is your proposal on associated citizenship still on the agenda of the EP?
Unfortunately, I had to withdraw my proposal of an associated citizenship, which was fought harshly by those in favour of Brexit as well as by those in favour of strict reciprocity between the UK and the EU in the matter of citizen’s rights. My view as a Luxembourger is that reciprocity is not needed. I can tell you that the associated citizenship remains in the minds and hearts of most of the remainers. We will see in the next phase of the negotiations whether it is appropriate to revive this proposal, possibly on a reciprocal basis.
“C’est une tragédie.” That’s how European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker referred to Brexit in a speech in May.
Tragic or not, there is a silver lining for French speaking politicians like Juncker. “Slowly but surely,” he said, “English is losing importance in Europe.” Although there are currently 24 official languages in the EU, business in Brussels has mainly been conducted in English for more than a decade. To some on the continent, Brexit is an opportunity to change that.
How English usurped French
From the 17th until the mid-20th century, French was the undisputed lingua franca of Europe. It was spoken by European diplomats and elites all over the world. That changed, however, after the United States successfully lobbied to elevate English to a position of diplomatic equality with French at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. By the time the United Nations was founded in 1945, English had definitively overtaken French as the language of diplomacy.
But the French resistance fought on. President Charles de Gaulle famously vetoed (twice) the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community, saying: “L’Angleterre, ce n’est plus grande chose” (“England is not much anymore”). Even when the UK finally did join the EU in 1973, the language of Shakespeare was reluctantly accepted.
Yet English quickly became the most common language of communication for non French-speaking civil servants. That process accelerated when thousands of Eastern European civil servants joined the ranks in Brussels in 2004, whose shared foreign language was often English. Much to the chagrin of French speaking eurocrats, the scales seemed once and for all tilted against them.
Profiting from another’s loss
Brexit, however, has opened a window of opportunity. After Britain exits the EU in 2019, English will be the official language of just two EU member states — Ireland and Malta. Their combined population constitutes less than 1 percent of the EU’s total population. In a ranking of the EU’s most widely spoken mother tongues, English would drop from its current 2nd place to a lowly 17th, coming in behind Finnish, Bulgarian and Slovak. For the pro-French camp, this is proof of the absurdity of conducting EU affairs in the language of a country that will soon turn its back on the bloc for good.
Regardless, re-establishing French as the EU’s lingua franca is easier said than done. Only the Council of the European Union is able to decide, by unanimity, to add or remove a language from the register of official working languages. Ireland, being a nation of native English speakers, would likely nominate English as an official language (alongside Gaelic) and veto the motion, as would Malta. And even if this legal obstacle were avoided, English will by far remain the most widely spoken foreign language in the European Union. With 95% of students in the EU currently studying English at secondary school, it is the language of the future. This will be true after Brexit, whatever language eurocrats in Brussels speak.
The push for greater use of French is acquiring new momentum. Those keen to banish English from Brussels seem willing to risk slowing down the efficiency of a political institution already marred by red tape. Much like the Brexiteers, the pro-French are motivated by national pride, not pragmatism. It is a rivalry not just between two languages but two world views — on the one hand, the Anglo-Saxon model of market-driven globalisation; on the other, the French instinct to preserve culture and tradition.
Granted, reduced British influence will strengthen France’s position on the continent in many ways, but language is unlikely to be one of them. Judging by the prevalence of English, both in Brussels and beyond, the French are facing an uphill battle. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
This guest article was written by Kyrill Hartog. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.
The Pan European recently caught up with Daniel Roeder, a lawyer by trade and co-founder of the Pulse of Europe (PoE), a grassroots initiative started in Germany that aims to promote the European Union at a local level. From Albania to Sweden, the PoE has held rallies across the continent to speak out in favour of the European project.
As you might have heard, coalition talks to form a new German government have so far been unsuccessful. Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was not able to reach an agreement with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party over the refugee crisis and the environment. Daniel told us what the ramifications could be for Germany and Europe.
So, the liberal FDP recently pulled out of coalition talks in Germany. Were you surprised?
Absolutely, what happened was totally unexpected. We still don’t know the exact reasons: progress was made in certain areas, and I haven’t heard anything specific – just very broad, abstract phrases like ‘we were on the wrong path’. It remains to be seen what the real reason was.
What’s next for Merkel?
Well, it’s difficult to guess…there are two options. Either new elections, or she will try a minority government, which is a difficult thing and is probably very unstable. Maybe the Social democrats will change their minds…the situation is new: the parties need to accept their responsibilities, because I don’t think new elections will bring new results.
Which outcome is more likely?
It’s impossible to say right now, but the situation for Merkel is even more difficult than before.
What is the current mood on the ground?
People are shocked and surprised. No one knows why the talks failed – if there had been one topic during negotiations that the Liberals had said, ‘that’s a no-go topic for us and we won’t deal with it,’ it would have been understandable why they walked away. But they had made progress over the last two days – politicians were tweeting that progress had been made, and then the next day it was the opposite.
If a snap election is called, do you think the far-right AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) will gain an even bigger share of the vote?
Possibly. The CDU haven’t managed to form a government, so obviously that could provide potential support to the AfD. Similarly, if a snap election is called, the FDP may lose votes because they are apparently the ones to blame. However, I expect that the outcome would be similar, maybe a little shift here and there, but I doubt any party would gain significantly more votes than they had in September.
AfD voters are quite heterogeneous: they are not one-of-a-kind. There’s a certain percentage of former CDU voters who wanted to show their party that they are dissatisfied with the policies of the last few years, particularly in regards to the refugee crisis…the Christian Democrats haven’t done enough, simply.
This is why I believe that the parties must try and form a government now: they have to deal with the outcome of the elections. It’s a duty, in my opinion.
Do you feel that the parties have an obligation to making this coalition work?
Yes. To a certain extent I can understand the SPD reaction right after the elections, but there are two ways of looking at the results. Voters expressed that the Grand Coalition should not continue, but on the other hand they [the SPD] gained roughly 20% of the vote: they’re the second strongest party in parliament.
‘I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years.’
All parties want to avoid losing voters, I understand that, but there’s something above party interests…a duty to the people, and that goes for any party. It’s a difficult situation for Germany and Europe.
Many of AfD’s voters come from East Germany. Why is that, and how can the government reconnect with those people?
It’s a very difficult question… it’s not only Eastern Germany, it’s a phenomenon that has in different degrees spread all over the country, but the AfD is particularly strong in East Germany. I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years. This is true not only for Eastern Germany but the whole of Eastern Europe. If you look at Poland or Hungary or other countries where populists and nationalists are regaining power, I think that they are looking for their Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc. identity. Many countries were elated after the Iron Curtain fell, and they then tried to connect with the European Union, but perhaps it was too fast. I think it was still the right decision, but in a way they are still suffering from that experience…they seem to find an answer in nationalism.
What can the government in Germany and the EU do?
Well, they must re-engage with people, and listen more carefully to the problems that they are raising. A large part of this is addressing globalisation: people are overwhelmed by it, and a natural reaction is to withdraw to a smaller unit – the village, the neighbourhood, the nation. Germany and the EU need to provide solutions for creating a world in which globalisation doesn’t leave people feeling lost.
Obviously, Germany is not alone, and this ties into a larger movement of populism sweeping across Europe. Can grassroots organisations such as the Pulse of Europe tackle this?
I hope so, yes. When we started off at the end of last year, the mood was quite dark. Everybody thought that there was no real answer to Brexit, to Trump. But we proved that there are thousands of people who believe in a united Europe, in democracy and the rule of law. The problem now is that many people thought ‘job done’ after the French elections. Yet for me it’s now an even more critical situation – we need to create a new future and there needs to be a quick response to Macron’s suggestions.
I’m not saying Germany or other European countries should exclaim, ‘oh great, Macron, we agree to your catalogue of 40 plus topics.’ No!
The only thing he is saying is, ‘let’s have a serious discussion about Europe,’ yet so far there has been no response. That’s part of the problem with the coalition talks in Germany. There needs to be a quick response, otherwise Macron will have an internal problem in a couple of years.
Do you feel Macron is a lone figure in Europe?
Yes, that’s the problem. He has very much linked his personal success with the European project. Macron knows that he has to undergo a lot of social reforms within France, which is a difficult task. Certainly, he needs success within Europe – but obviously that requires assistance.
The Franco-German relationship is often seen as the heart of Europe. What effect do you think Macron has had on this relationship so far?
I think it’s been quite positive. The perception in Germany is also quite positive. But there are also some voices who raise doubts: the traditional German narrative is that we don’t want to pay for France. But that twists the story around…no one is saying we have to pay them, and if we want to improve and protect the European project, we need to invest money.
This narrative doesn’t consider the counterpoint: what would Germany have to pay if the European Union fails?
What’s on the agenda for the Pulse of Europe in 2018?
Many things. We still believe that Brexit can be avoided, but there needs to be some kind of push from the UK. We would love to interlink with the anti-Brexit movements, but they need to take the first step.
‘We still believe that Brexit can be avoided…’
We are focusing also on Eastern Europe and civilian movements. Macron has said that there should be a civilian participation project in renewing Europe. We’ve made contact with him over that and have asked what exactly is his vision for the project. Maybe we will join in, provided we remain independent.
We also want to help other civilian movements in Eastern Europe to fight for democracy because it’s a serious situation there. I know from our people in Poland and Prague that it is already difficult to assemble demonstrations – freedom of speech is at stake, and that is obviously fundamental for democracy.
Also on the 6th May there will be a Pulse of Europe day in Frankfurt… the City granted us the Paulskirche, which is an honour. We will try to create a huge demonstration for all things Europe, and possibly issue a manifesto.
We will send a message to all European politicians that the European project is moving forward, through the people.