Category Archives: Brexit

A messy divorce, and a constructive way forward

Clive Sneddon, scottish Alde IM give us a point of view about Brexit, ALDE uncertain future for British members and a way to forward

The vision of Europe which resonates for me is the one attributed to two Italian prisoners of war who imagined a Europe in which war is unthinkable as a result of Europeans living and working in each others’ countries and getting to know each other.

Today’s European Union derives, not from the 1946 Monnet Plan to annex the Saar and Ruhr valleys approved by De Gaulle as head of the French provisional Government, but from the Schuman Declaration of 9th May 1950, which envisages concrete steps to be taken by France and Germany and any other state wishing to join them to make war materially impossible.

A vision of individual Europeans getting to know each other is not the same as a vision of states working together. The most powerful institution of the EU today is the Council of Ministers, a set of people elected by their own national voters, with no European remit, who fight for their country’s interests in Brussels. And yet, paradoxically, each major treaty of the EU involves movement towards a United States of Europe, as in Schengen and the Eurozone.

These two differing visions of Europe have led to the messy divorce that is Brexit. Those who were able to study, work, research, marry and retire in other member states agree with the Italian prisoners of war. Those in Britain who were promised economic benefits on joining the then EEC in the 1970s, but feel left behind by the world economy, see no reason to stay in a group of states that from their point of view has not delivered economically, treats other member states such as Greece harshly, and arrives at decisions the European Parliament will then impose whatever national parliaments say.

It is clearly harder to realise a vision of states working together than a vision of people working together. An enterprise begun by France and Germany, whose major decisions all require France and Germany to agree before other states are brought on board, does not feel like a partnership of equals. The 1960s demonstrated this, when De Gaulle twice vetoed British applications to join the EEC, and forced through the Common Agricultural Policy in 1965 by paralysing all decision-making until he got his way. Pompidou then created a Common Fisheries Policy as a pre-condition of entry when four applications were live, and Norway in the end declined to join as a result.

The EU’s reaction to the 2016 Brexit vote fits this history of states pursuing their own self-interest. First the arguments over which state shall get which EU institution from the UK. Then the insistence on only the UK making proposals, and judging every proposal by the EU’s rule book, which had no provision for cherry picking. And now the proposal that after Brexit the UK shall be bound by EU rules on state aid, and shall give over its fishing grounds to France, with President Macron insisting that the UK must accept what the EU offers.

From this messy divorce, there are lessons to be learned on both sides. The UK should for its part not accept something it does not agree with, even for a package it otherwise wants. The Fisheries Policy was a problem from the beginning, while the acceptance as a member of one supra-national element, the pre-eminence of European Parliamentary legislation, was a mistake, ruthlessly exploited by the Leave campaign.

The EU should recognise that its political project has hit the buffers. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty has not so far led to a United States of Europe, and it seems unlikely it ever will. The EU had a future when individual states were queuing up to join. Once one state has left, it cannot achieve Europe-wide union.

I am a convinced European, but Italian prisoner of war style. As an individual member of ALDE, I have subscribed to the Stuttgart declaration. Eligibility to join ALDE ends when the UK’s transition period ends. If ALDE wants to be a wider movement of pro-European individuals, it should accept members of parties belonging to Liberal International from any European country. It should also recognise that the Stuttgart declaration’s institutional building blocks have been achieved but helped bring about Brexit, which means ALDE needs a new founding declaration. What can ALDE do to help Europeans get to know each other better?

I would suggest it could encourage the EU to allow people to work in each other’s countries and get to know each other without their country having to belong to the Single Market. It could also advocate creating a European citizenship, open to any citizen of a European country. After the messy divorce, a constructive approach to working with all European non-member states of the EU would be welcome. Time is now needed for British public opinion to evolve, but a positive evolution will be much easier to achieve if the EU is prepared to extend the hand of friendship now.

AN EXIT… FROM BREXIT

In this contribution, Kevin Mc Namara describes why, also with the Brexit process in course, it is in the interest of both parties that a strong relationship remains. Like Norway, or Switzerland, the United Kingdom could develop a sort of ‘Associate membership’ with some regulations to adopt.

I’m a British Liberal Democrat, and I campaigned vigorously for the United Kingdom (UK) to remain inside the European Union (EU). The result was heartbreaking but – for me – that did not end the fight. In the 2017 General Election, I stood for Parliament on a platform of offering voters an Exit from Brexit, and performed better than expected in a heavily leave-voting area.

Even though that election ended, that debate rages on – the Prime Minister’s Florence speech now prolongs it. Although light on detail, Theresa May’s speech did elucidate that her government wants a two-year transitional deal to avoid a cliff-edge and also to give her government more space and time, as it has thus far bungled the Brexit negotiations.

There was, however, one thing that I agreed with the Prime Minister on: the EU is stronger with the UK, and the UK is stronger with EU. For this reason, I think it is in the interest of both parties that a strong relationship remains – if I was the Shadow Brexit Secretary of a socialist party that was fudging this issue, I might even say “a progressive relationship” – but we need to decide what this looks like, and fast.

With Macron looking to radically reform the European Union – going as far as to call for a Eurozone Parliament to give democratic accountability to monetary policy – what the British and Northern Irish needs to be thought of in this context, and the UK desperately needs friends to move this along.

 

In the diagram above, other than seeing that Europe is a rather complicated place, you will see that the UK is inside the European Economic Area, the European Union, the Customs Union and the Council of Europe, but is not a member of the Schengen Area or the Eurozone – it has always enjoyed a unique relationship with the EU and related institutions.

Whilst this has always been used to appease the UK’s Euroscepticism, it can be used to keep the UK at Europe’s periphery, even if the UK now decides it no longer wants to be at its core.

Like my party, I believe that Single Market and Customs Union membership are paramount to the UK’s prosperity, and also are important to ensure that Brexit does not adversely affect our European partners either. The Union Jack in that diagram would move a few inches to the left and rest either next to Norway or Switzerland.

I know my government, aided and abetted by our socialist opposition, disagree so we need to prepare Plan C in the event that an exit from Brexit and a soft Brexit are both off the table. We need a Plan B that softens the blow not just for the UK and the EU, but for colleagues in Gibraltar who seek to be hurt most by Brexit. That Plan B also needs to leave clear a re-entry route for the young who voted overwhelmingly to remain,

To recap, the new arrangement needs to leave Bre-entry on the table as a possibility, cement a strong continuing EU-UK relationship without remaining part of the Single Market. In the same way that the EU has rolling accession talks with a number of nations – such as Serbia – it should establish a similar relationship in place for seceding nations too.

You might call it ‘Associate Membership’ of the European Union, a space and a framework in which states can:

  1. Continue to adhere to the Copenhagen principles
  2. Be part of a forum on future regulations and be able to adopt them if they wish to do so
  3. Enjoy trading relationships – short of benefits/obligations of the Single Market – with Member States
  4. Enjoy (optional) membership of entities such as European Atomic Energy Community, if possible.

I am afraid that I will not be able to show you what this looks like on the venn diagram above as I do not have the requisite skills and – sadly – the UK might again cut a rather lonely figure. In his speech to the LSE European Institute on the 28th September, Verhofstadt, ALDE Leader and European Parliament Lead Brexit Negotiatior, signals that he could also accept this as part of a package of broad EU reforms.

The advantage of this would be that it keeps the four freedoms indivisible, keeping the EU strong, it would provide a framework for seceding states to stay in-line with the operations of the EU, and a route to quick return. It would make softer the possibility of a very hard Brexit, and it would create a strong, forward-looking relationship with the EU27 so we can come up with creative solutions for Gibraltar.

And then the fight continues, and then one day, the structure of Europe might look more like this:

Kevin Mc Namara

Wahlkampf-Endspurt im Vereinigten Königreich

Eindrücke von der britischen Südküste

Southampton ist in vielerlei Hinsicht eine absolut durchschnittliche englische Stadt. Durchschnittlich groß (250.000 Einwohner), durchschnittlich reich (das pro-Kopf Einkommen liegt bei etwa 29.500£ im Vergleich zu 32.600£ für UK insgesamt) und durchschnittlich euroskeptisch (eine Mehrheit von 52% der Wähler stimmte für Brexit). Wird Southampton auch wie der britische Durchschnitt wählen? Dieser Frage geht Julie Cantalou, ehemalige Mitarbeitern der Stiftung für die Freiheit und Vorstandsmitglied der Liberal Democrats (LibDems) in Southampton, auf den Grund. Continue reading Wahlkampf-Endspurt im Vereinigten Königreich