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#Brexit and the joys of starting over



Anniversaries are special moments. They can be sombre affairs, such as the first anniversary of the Brussels terror attacks, an occasion made even grimmer by the 22 March tragedy in London.

Anniversaries can also be a time for reflection and sober deliberation. The European Union’s celebration of its 60th anniversary on 25 March was just such a moment, writes Shada Islam, Director of Europe and Geopolitics at Friends of Europe.

And then there is 29 March. History is being made today as Britain triggers Article 50 and starts negotiations on its divorce from (sorry, its ‘new relationship’ with) the EU.

Brexiteers are in celebratory mood. After all, it’s not every day that a nation takes back control of its destiny, unshackles itself from 44 years of EU domination and morphs magically into an independent and intrepid world power (also known as ‘Global Britain’).

But pro-EU demonstrations in London are proof that not everyone is dancing with joy. Many share European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s description of Britain’s departure from the EU as a “tragedy”.

Not to be forgotten amid the Brexit focus is a simple fact: it’s not just Britain that is starting over.

29 March will also be remembered as the formal birthday of the new ‘EU-27’. Having renewed their vows in Rome, EU leaders embark on a new journey together, without Britain.

It will be a difficult voyage. Far-right populism, increased polarisation of minorities and unending economic problems are not going away anytime soon. Refugees and migrants will continue to knock on Europe’s doors, creating divisions and challenging EU solidarity. Difficult elections lie ahead in France, Germany and possibly Italy.

The American and Russian presidents, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, now joined by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have made no secret of their dislike of the EU and all it stands for.

But the conversation is changing. Thankfully last year’s talk of a ‘collective depression’ and ‘existential crisis’ is no longer making headlines. Instead, as Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian premier and host for the Rome celebrations underlined, “the EU is choosing to start again”.

This is good news. Starting over, as John Lennon sang to us all those years ago, can be exciting and exhilarating. EU-27 leaders would do well to take Lennon’s advice and put more poetry, emotion and imagination into their courtship of EU citizens.

The thousand-word Rome declaration is good enough, but won’t really do the trick. If Europeans are to fall in love again with the EU, leaders, ministers, politicians, even EU officials, must – as Lennon sings – “spread their wings and fly”.

Perhaps for the first time in recent history, the public in many parts of Europe wants the EU to soar.

Brexit, Trump’s election and just plain common sense about the need to work together in a difficult world have galvanised many Europeans into supporting the EU.

Importantly, there are European politicians who are passionate about countering the anti-EU message of xenophobic far-right politicians.

Jesse Klaver, the charismatic young leader of the Dutch GreenLeft party, Emmanuel Macron in France, and Martin Schulz of the German Social Democrats are upfront about their support for the EU, embracing the vision of an open and diverse Europe.

Klaver, who increased his party’s seats in the Dutch parliament by a factor of four, has shown that being Dutch-Moroccan-Indonesian is not a barrier to success.  His advice to young people is to “never give up” in the face of challenges.

Others need to have a similarly positive message of inclusion and participation.  A safe and secure Europe must also be an inclusive one, not one that fears diversity.

The EU in the 21st century may be ‘multi-speed’, with less being done in Brussels and more in capitals. It may or may not be able to become a more powerful global player and may or may not have a real common defence and security policy.

But what’s important is that the conversation about Europe’s future has started.

Indian author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor pointed recently to the “shambles of that original Brexit” when the British departed from India in 1947, leaving behind chaos and violence – and the birth of independent India and Pakistan.

This time it’s different. We will miss Britain – some of us very much. But we can also make sure that the heartbreak of Brexit goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a reinvigorated European Union.


Brexit tensions are a test for Europe, says French minister




French Junior Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune speaks during a press conference to outline France's strategy for the deployment of future COVID-19 vaccines, in Paris as the coronavirus disease outbreak continues in France, December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool

French European Affairs Junior Minister Clement Beaune (pictured) said on Monday (14 June) that current tensions over Brexit between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government and the European Union were "a test" for Europe, Reuters.

The tensions between Britain and the EU threatened to overshadow the Group of Seven summit's conclusion on Sunday, with London accusing France of "offensive" remarks that Northern Ireland was not part of the United Kingdom. Read more.

"Mr Johnson thinks that you can sign deals with the Europeans and not respect them and that Europe will not react. It is a test for Europe," Beaune told Europe 1 radio.

"I am telling the British people, (Brexit) commitments must be respected... If it is not the case, retaliatory measures could be taken," Beaune added.

During talks with Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit, Johnson queried how the French president would react if Toulouse sausages could not be sold in Paris markets, echoing London's accusation that the EU is preventing sales of British chilled meats in Northern Ireland.

"In Northern Ireland there are sausage import problems... Why? Because when you leave the European Union, you have necessarily some (trade) barriers," Beaune said.

"I cannot tell the French or the Europeans that Britain can export via (EU member) Ireland some products such as meat without any control... That is what it is all about. Brexit has consequences."

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Ex-EU Brexit negotiator Barnier: UK reputation at stake in Brexit row




Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier attendsthe debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 27, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

Michel Barnier, the European Union's former Brexit negotiator, said on Monday (14 June) that the reputation of the United Kingdom was at stake regarding tensions over Brexit.

EU politicians have accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of not respecting engagements made regarding Brexit. Growing tensions between Britain and the EU threatened to overshadow the Group of Seven summit on Sunday, with London accusing France of "offensive" remarks that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK. Read more

"The United Kingdom needs to pay attention to its reputation," Barnier told France Info radio. "I want Mr Johnson to respect his signature," he added.

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Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland




German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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