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Perestroika not #Brexit

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brexit-2The vitriol has begun, ever so slightly, to wane but there is an emergent consensus that the Brexit referendum has put the UK in an impossible position, writes EU Reporter founder Chris White.

Fury, while understandable in some part, has poisoned the well of good relations and is inexcusable in both political and diplomatic terms. "Jean Claude Juncker is a man full of hate"; not my words, but those of a young Belgian university graduate whose views are widely held among young people in the EU's 'capital' Brussels.

He went on to explain that he had signed a petition run by a Belgian newspaper which was showing a 68% majority in favour of serious reform or following the example of the U.K. "It had vanished when I tried to check it later", he said adding: "People are reacting to politicians who as grown ups are acting like children."

High on the list of "disgraceful behaviour" is the exchange between Jean Claude Juncker and UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the European Parliament. That the unelected President of the European Commisson was able to vilify an elected MEP in the parliamentary chamber has shocked many observers but not, apparently, the majority of MEPs.

The uncanny resemblance to the former Soviet Union in the way the EU institutions are structured is gaining resonance. But, more importantly the public comments of EU leaders elected and unelected has driven home the fact that the whole of Europe is in a febrile state of political disharmony.

Prime Minister Cameron, leaving his last European Council meeting, said that discussions had been reasonable and constructive. Public statements on that day reflected an opposing view but by Thursday following the meeting of the 27 excluding the UK a hint of rational thinking had begun to creep into statements.

"It could still be that the UK will not leave," was almost a throw-away line from European Policy Centre Senior Analyst Janis Emmanouidis in an Internet Video. And hereby lies the rub: behind all the brouhaha is a rather different picture.

Our young Belgian friend reported that at a meeting of young graduates a unanimous complaint was the misleading nature of media reports. That same day UK Press Gazette reported that 24 newspaper stories published in the run-up to the Brexit vote had "misled the public". Again, as my Belgian contact put it: "The media has misled the public across Europe both during the Brexit campaign and since."

What has not been reported is that the European institutions have been preparing for Brexit for a very long time. Rather than accept that questions about lack of democracy are legitimate the Commissars - sorry Commissioners - have been clearing the 'English' influence from their organization for some two years.

An Irish diplomat told me some six months ago that there was such concern about the way English speaking officials were being outed or sidetracked in favour of French and German that they were, unsuccessfully seeking the support of the British for a plan to reverse the trend.

The same diplomat highlighted that some 1.2 million British citizens living in France and Spain had created a "very large spike in the number applying for French and Spanish citizenship in the light of Brexit". He also reported that there was "a huge spike in the number of EU migrants applying for British passports". More significantly there was "an unprecedented spike in the number of British citizens with Irish ancestry applying for Irish passports". It is unofficially reported by other Irish sources that the latter figure has reached six million.

Then there is the vexed question of migration. The Prime Minister has made much of negotiations to allow the UK to control migration. People should have to wait four years before they get social security and health benefits. The fact is the EU Treaty allows people to seek work for six months at their own expense. Move to France and you must pay into the national scheme for three years, in Belgium unemployment pay requires being employed for at least a year. So how is that?

The UK Is perfectly entitled to change it's laws it is just that they must apply to everyone and not just EU migrants. This appears to provide for a change to the British system that would benefit the NHS and end the global impression that the UK is a soft touch. To quote a migrant interviewed by the BBC at Calais: "If I can get into Britain they will give me a house and money to live while I wait for my paperwork". So why not change UK law, it has little or nothing to do with the EU.

Much has been written lately by former government officials to the effect that the British have failed to apply themselves to their role in the EU. This is a well known critique in the corridors of power in Brussels and has been so for decades.

This brings us back to our Belgian friends who question the legitimacy of withdrawal on the basis of a narrow referendum result influenced by misleading information from politicians and media. There is growing concern about the failure of the EU's information leviathan has failed to communicate with ordinary citizens.

At my last count the press and communications staff of the European Commission alone numbered close to 1,000. That figure outnumbers the current International press corps based in Brussels in the region of 600 and declining. Given that the European Parliament, Council, Committee of the Regions et al have enormous press and communications teams it is worth asking the reason why the EU has so disastrously failed to communicate with the electorate across Europe, let alone the media generally.

My Belgian graduate fraternity speculate that big business has too strong a grip on the European institutions. I point out that there are some 35,000 lobbyists and consultants based in Brussels and they point out that business dominated the Remain campaign in the UK. "There are people all across Europe who are living in poverty and looking at how wealth is going to a small percentage of the population and business people across the world. That is why there have been such huge demonstrations - the largest since the Second World War - against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US," they tell me.

With such a Head Commissar - there I go again, Commission President - as Jean Claude Juncker spitting blood, speaking more and more in German at his press conferences and telling the world such things as the Canada trade agreement "will be EU only" it is clear that not only politicians have lost the plot.

That there is and always has been a hidden or not so hidden Franco-German agenda is a given. That there has been a long standing British reluctance to make Europe work is also a given. That the democratic and political failures that have plagued British membership is due to incompetence is a matter of conjecture, but the evidence is emerging.

What is the answer to this debacle? Confound the postulators, return to the high standards of British democracy and put the question of EU membership to the people in a general election with the final decision taken, as it should be, by Parliament.

Otherwise, as a columnist in The Times once wrote, "learn German". To that I would add French, because that is the way Europe will now go without us.

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President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again

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President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

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EU negotiators expect to resume trade talks with UK, EU sources say

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Negotiators from the European Union travelled to London on Thursday (22 October) to resume talks with Britain, two EU sources said, a move that could mark a new push to protect billions of dollars worth of trade, write and

Both the EU and Britain have spent days calling on the other side to offer more concessions in talks, which have been all but deadlocked since the summer, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson walked away from the negotiations last week.

A no-deal finale to Britain’s five-year Brexit drama would disrupt the operations of manufacturers, retailers, farmers and nearly every other sector - just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Earlier, European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament that time was “very short”.

“We stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, on legal texts. The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice,” Michel said.

He said Britain’s answer would determine its level of access to the EU’s internal market of 450 million consumers. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the parliament an agreement was still “within reach”.

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“Time is of the essence...along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas,” Barnier said in comments that pushed sterling higher.

London has this week refused to continue full negotiations, saying the EU must “fundamentally change” its stance.

The EU sees this as bluff by Prime Minister Boris Johnson but has also extended an olive branch by talking up UK sovereignty, as well as the EU’s readiness to discuss intensively, across the board and on specific legal texts.

A UK spokesman said London noted “with interest” Barnier’s comments that touch “in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks”.

Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost had been due to speak on the phone at 14h GMT on Wednesday (21 October).

Michel stressed the 27 EU members were ready for an abrupt split without a new agreement to avoid tariffs or quotas with three main sticking points in the negotiations: fishing rights, economic fair play and settling disputes.

“We don’t need words, we need guarantees,” he said of fair competition safeguards.

Michel called for a “binding, independent arbitration” to redress market distortions swiftly, adding that London’s draft Internal Market Bill - which would undermine Britain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU - only strengthened the bloc’s resolve to ensure tight policing of any new deal.

The EU’s executive Commission said London must respect its Brexit settlement regardless of the trade talks.

Michel said losing access to British waters would damage the EU’s fishing industry, and the EU therefore wanted to prolong the status-quo just as London sought to keep the EU market open for UK companies.

“But the UK wants access to the single market while at the same time being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them,” Michel said.

Following Brexit last January, Britain’s current EU trading terms expire in 10 weeks and unfettered commerce will end without a new treaty.

Keen to avoid any blame, the bloc is ready to negotiate until mid-November but must then ratify any deal in the European Parliament before time is up.

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EU says Britain must respect withdrawal pact, deal or no deal

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Inter-institutional Relations and Foresight Commissioner Maros Sefcovic addresses lawmakers during a plenary session of Work Programme 2021 at the European Parliament in Brussels. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Britain must implement the Withdrawal Agreement on its exit from the European Union, regardless of the outcome of ongoing trade talks between the two sides, a senior European commissioner said on Wednesday (21 October), writes Kate Abnett.

“Deal or no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (pictured) told the European Parliament.

Sefcovic said the EU is committed to reaching a deal on the trade agreement and other aspects of their future relationship, but that the two sides remain “far apart” on the issues of fisheries and the so-called level playing field of fair competition.

“Our objective is still to reach an agreement that will pave the way for a new fruitful relationship between the EU and UK. We will continue to work for such an agreement, but not at any price,” he said.

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