On November 25, leaders of the EU member states approved an agreement on the withdrawal of Great Britain from the Union. The last objections, voiced by Spain, were lifted after Madrid received “assurances from the British government concerning Gibraltar.” Now the British Prime Minister Theresa May will have to secure the approval of the country’s parliament. This may prove to be more difficult than reaching agreement on Brexit with member of the European Union. According to commentators, few, if any in the UK, endorse the agreement in its present version. If backed by the British Parliament, the deal will then have to be favored by a simple majority of the European Parliament. Afterwards, the EU Council will hold a vote, in which the support of at least 20 member countries is required, representing at least 65% of the Union’s population. No endorsement by national parliaments is required. Should the decision receive the approval of all parties involved, the exit procedure will start on March 29, 2019. The transition period will last at least 18 months.
Last week, the text of the Brexit agreement, which is nearly six hundred pages long, was finally approved. Next, British Prime Minister Teresa May eventually succeeded in winning the support of most Cabinet members. At the same time, a number of ministers, including Dominic Raab, who is in charge of exiting the EU, resigned in protest against the final version. Now, the British Parliament is to vote on the bill to achieve agreement with the EU on the terms of the exit in early December. In addition to the text of the Agreement, a Political Declaration has been drafted which briefly describes the main principles of further relations between the UK and the EU, including the positions of the two parties in future negotiations on a trade agreement.
The 17-month negotiations marathon was extremely difficult. Triggered largely by discontent about the so-called “uncontrolled” influx of migrants, Britain’s exit from the EU quickly turned from a “technical” issue into one of the main challenges to the future of the Union. The EU’s position of late has been to “minimize the damage from Brexit”. In early September, when the third round of negotiations between London and Brussels came to a close, most observers said, it fell through. It was only by mid-November that the parties had harmonized their positions on the financial conditions of the exit, the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and the British in Europe, as well as on the “consistency of talks about the future”.
At present, the outcome for the EU looks fairly beneficial. According to The Economist, the British authorities have failed to achieve more than half of their original goals. London’s independence from the EU in matters of trade and customs regulation has been postponed at least until 2021. Until then, the UK will remain within the regulatory procedures of the EU Customs Union and will continue to live by the standards of the EU’s common market and their interpretation by the European Court of Justice. The UK will pay the EU about £ 39 billion in a one-off payment and there might be additional payments in the future. Instead of signing a comprehensive free trade agreement by March 2019, which London had sought to secure so much, a Political Declaration was approved which states the parties’ intention to conclude such an agreement “in the future.”
What can be seen as success for the UK is the cessation of the free movement of people between the UK and the EU. However, the approved version of the Brexit agreement envisages visa-free travel for both Europeans and the British “for tourist or business purposes.” Finally, London managed to secure the preservation of the “transparent” land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. At the same time, it had to be paid for with the de facto retention of Northern Ireland within the EU’s jurisdiction, pending “further arrangements” to be reached during the transition period – that is, until December 2020 at the earliest.
The two leading EU countries – Germany and France – have managed to demonstrate the Union’s strong unity in the face of outgoing Britain. The Brexit Agreement was clinched on Brussels’ terms, which imply de facto payment, in the literal and figurative sense of the word, of a sort of indemnities. Meanwhile, it may turn out that the tough stance of Paris and Berlin on Great Britain will not bring any special political dividends either to Macron, whose reformist ideas are garnering less and less support in the EU, or to Merkel, who announced her intention to resign as chancellor by 2021. Finally, the mounting friction between Brussels and Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna, and now, Rome, shows that the deep-seated causes that underlie Britain’s choice of two years ago to vote for leaving the EU, are still there. And the position of Britain’s opponents who are trying, in the name of deepening EU integration, to turn a blind eye to problems for which there can be no politically correct solutions, is triggering ever more irritation on the part of European voters. Meanwhile, there is only 6 months to go before elections to the European Parliament are due to take place.
In turn, Theresa May is convinced that she has succeeded in achieving “the best deal possible.” Finance minister Philip Hammond has described the deal with the EU as “the best option for the British economy.” Meanwhile, this agreement has cost May a lot politically. In addition to resignations among Cabinet members, a number of parliamentarians from the Conservative Party persist in their attempts to raise the issue of confidence in the prime minister. The final document is subject to serious criticism, both by opponents and supporters of Brexit, including a considerable number of outspoken representatives of the Conservative Party. For example, Boris Johnson, one of the trailblazers of Brexit, a former foreign minister, and a favorite in the so far unofficial campaign for the post of prime minister, has voted the version of the Agreement signed with the EU as “a huge mistake.” According to Johnson, by approving the current text of the agreement “Britain will become a satellite state.” In this regard, experts anticipate serious difficulties, up to the rejection of the Agreement, or, at least, a significant delay in terms of passing the text through the British Parliament. A negative result will require the government to submit a new action plan within three weeks, but no later than January 21 of next year.
Teresa May’s major problem is that for success she needs more than the votes of her party. A small majority in parliament is provided by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). However, many DUP members are extremely dissatisfied with the de facto preservation of EU regulation in Northern Ireland, which is enshrined in the Brexit Agreement. In their opinion, such a “compromise” “undermines the unity of Britain.” In addition, a week ago, not only the majority of opposition MPs, but also several dozen Conservatives came out against the May plan. According to critics, the deal agreed by May forces the UK to continue to follow EU regulations for an unspecified period of time. While doing so, London will not be able to influence decisions taken in Brussels, nor will it be able to withdraw from the Agreement unilaterally. Thus, the likelihood of a negative vote in the House of Commons is estimated as fairly high. Besides, the mounting contradictions within the ruling circles of Great Britain may provoke a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister May before the agreement is submitted to parliament. The loss of confidence in the prime minister would lead either to the arrival at Downing Street of a supporter of a tougher course on the EU, or to early elections. In both cases, the chances of Britain exiting the EU without any agreement will increase significantly.
According to the Times, members of the House of Commons will have to choose between a “bad deal” and two alternatives, which are likely to be even worse. If parliamentarians vote against the May plan, Britain will either leave the EU without any agreement at all – “tough Brexit”, or will hold a second referendum, in the hope that this time the people will vote to maintain membership in the European Union. Both options are extremely risky. ‘Tough Brexit’ can trigger a massive political and socio-economic crisis. “Another referendum will further divide the already divided country, make the population angry over the need for another voting, will further complicate relations with Brussels, and on top of that, it does not guarantee that the result will be different”.
It cannot be ruled out that there are quite a few in Europe who, deep in their hearts, hope for such a development of events. Brexit without an agreement would mean that Britain would have to build legal relations with continental Europe almost from scratch, that is, in such a way which will demonstrate to all potentially “hesitant” members of the EU that attempts to undermine the Union will bring them only huge losses and damages. And another referendum as such would deal a substantial blow to euro-skeptics and “populists” of every description. An even greater effect would be London’s rejection of Brexit. This would seriously strengthen the position of supporters of European integration in the context of their struggle for the posts in the EU executive and legislative branches in 2019.
Thus, chances are still high that London, with or without a “deal”, will have to pay the highest possible price for independence. Against this background, the incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May is rapidly losing popularity, both among voters and within her own party. As the voices of supporters of the “re-referendum” on EU membership are getting louder, the question that arises is whether the success, albeit a compromise, which Downing Street has achieved so far, will be just another Pyrrhic victory, of which the British history has seen so many. Or will Brexit give a new impetus to the development of the United Kingdom? No one can predict now.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Albanian question in the Balkans
The Greater Albania project, which dates back to the 19th century is an idea of the unification of all Albanians into one state. Namely, the Prizren League then demanded the recognition of the national identity of Albanians and the autonomy of Albania within the Ottoman Empire. Today, Albanians live in two countries Albania and Kosovo and in neighboring countries Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Greece. The scenario of Great Albania includes separation of Western Macedonia (Struga, Kucevo, Debar, Tetovo, Gostivar, Kumanovo, part of capital Skopje) and then the other parts in the Balkans with the Albanian population, cities in southern Serbia (Presevo, Bujanovac and part of Medvedja), southern and eastern parts of Montenegro (the municipality of Ulcinj, and parts of the municipalities of Bar, Plav, Rozaje, Gusinje and Tuzi), as well as Greek southern Epirus. If necessary, these borders can be reduced if it turns out that it is impossible to create them in this form. Since the fall of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Albanian factor is among the main actor of instability in the Balkans. At the same time, Albanian political elite is the most loyal servant of the United States interests in the Balkans.
What makes Albanian politics in the Balkans recognizable is manipulation with their demography. One of the main weapons of Albanians is their birth rate. That is, the figures for which they claim to be the only accurate. With the support of United States, the number of Albanians in the region is is constantly adjusted, in line with the geopolitical interests of the West . It is therefore necessary to look at the real situation with the number of Albanians in the region. After decades of increasing the number of Albanians in Serbia, under the blessing of Yugoslav communists and the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, in 2011 census was carried out in Kosovo*. Final results for 2011 census showed that Kosovo (excluding North Kosovo) has 1, 739, 825 inhabitants. North Kosovo is dominantly populated by Serbs. Prior to the census, in the West was estimated that Kosovo had a population of about 2, 200, 000 inhabitants. The latest US Central Intelligence Agency estimate is that on Kosovo in July 2016 lived 1, 883, 018 inhabitants. However, in reality, all these data are artificially increased. According to the expert estimates, in Kosovo there are fewer than 1, 300, 000 inhabitants, including at least 150,000 inhabitants which are not Albanians. This assessment was based on the analysis of telephone traffic and mobile telephone connections per capita in Kosovo. However, what everyone agrees with is the fact that number of Albanians is rapidly decreasing in Kosovo. The main reason for that is high poverty and corruption. According to the information provided by the Kosovo secret service in the Kosovo parliament, just in December 2015 and January 2016, Kosovo has left more than 50,000 Albanians, including 6,000 elementary school students. Some media, however, stated that more than 100,000 people have fled from Kosovo since August 2015 until February 2016, but that officials hide this information, while others claim that this number is significantly higher, and that it exceeds 6% of the total population of the province. In that period the emigration reached a peak, but in smaller numbers was continued to this day. The situation is similar in Albania.
Officialy Albania is one of the most homogeneous countries in the Balkans, but in reality things look different. According to the 2011 census, Albanians made 2, 312, 356 (82.6%) of Albanian population, Greeks 24, 243 (0.9%), Macedonians 5, 512 (0.2%), Montenegrins 366 (0.01%), Aromanians 8, 266 (0.30%), Romani 8, 301 (0.3%), Balkan Egyptians 3, 368 (0.1%), and others 2, 644 (0.1%). Around 14% or 390,938 did not declared ethnicity and 44, 144 (1.6%) were not relevant. The census was accompanied by numerous complaints about irregularities.
According to estimates of Serbian organizations, in Albania lives more than 30, 000 Serbs, mostly in northern Albania. Most manipulations Albanian Government is doing about the number of Greeks. The real figure of the Greeks in Albania is 200, 000, and neutral Western experts also agree with that number. It should be pointed out that the Greek Government claims 300, 000 Greeks live in Albania. Unfortunately for Greek population, the US Government considers that 1.17% of Greeks live in Albania, although they know that number is inaccurate. In Albania also there is also a lot of emigration due to crime, corruption, and poor governance of the state. Since the fall of communism in early nineties until 2015, one million inhabitants has left Albania.
In southern Serbia, on the 2002 census, the Presevo municipality had 31, 098 Albanians and something below 4, 000 non-Albanians, the municipality of Bujanovac – 23, 681 Albanians and 19, 000 of non-Albanians, and the municipality of Medvedja something below 8, 000 Serbs and 2, 816 Albanians. The Albanians boycotted the population census in 2011 because over 30, 000 Albanians migrated from Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities to the West, which means that the ethnic structure changed. Representatives of Serbian associations from these 3 municipalities point out that the data, taken as official, are forged and that in this 3 municipalities live only half Albanians from official data. Local Serbs claim that under the municipality of Bujanovac there are currently under 12, 000 Albanians, which is twice as low as the 2002 census, which is only relevant to Albanians.
President of the Coordination Body for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities Zoran Stankovic said that the state is considering a new census, but that it is still early for the date of its maintenance, because it is necessary to prepare everything well. Mr. Stankovic stated this in 2013, but to this day, nothing has been done on this issue. The Serbs from Bujanovac claim that political discrimination in on the scene by playing with the number of Albanian inhabitants, which is why they have become citizens of the second order in their own country and expect the state to regulate the voters lists, which, they say, are filled with falsified names and non existent citizens.”We ask the government to adopt a program to stop the forced eviction of the non-Albanian population from Bujanovac – said Svetislav Velickovic from the Bujanovac Committee on Human Rights. – Of the total of 12 management functions in the city, 11 are occupied by Albanians. The Cyrillic alphabet is expelled, as is the Serbian language in communication with the local self-government. The toponyms are a special story, since in 2014 a decision was made to expel the giants of Serbian history from street signs and to replace them with terrorists from Kosovo Liberation Army. At the same time, such claims have been blackmailed in Macedonia also, where Albanians have territorial pretensions.
According to the 2002 census in Macedonia, Albanians account for 25% of the population. The census from 2011, Albanians boycotted after ten days of enumeration. Macedonian law forbids that citizens living abroad more than a year can be enumerated . Since a significant number of Albanians left Macedonia and went to the West, the real number of Albanians living in Macedonia would be shown. In that time ruling national-conservative Macedonian party VMRO-DPMNE drawn attention that there was manipulation in the census at that time. According to their data, 120, 000 Albanians who have not lived in Macedonia for long time were enumerated. And that is a significant problem. The Ohrid Agreement from 2001, which ended the armed conflict between Albanian separatists and armed forces of the Macedonian state has basis in the 2002 census. Under that agreement members of national minorities, primarily Albanian, are guaranteed greater political influence, both at the state and local levels. In places where they account for more than 20 % of the population, Albanians had received more rights in local government. There has also been an artificial increase of Albanians in Macedonia. After the NATO aggression against Serbia and Montenegro, a large number of Albanians from Kosovo went to Macedonia. According to some estimates of the UN and others organizations, about 300,000 Albanians went to Macedonia. Permanent refuge in Macedonia, from then until now, has found about 150,000 Albanians who received Macedonian citizenship. This also significantly influenced the ethnic structure of Macedonia.
According to the 2011 census, 30, 439 Albanians live in Montenegro. And they make up 4.91% of the Montenegrin population. In Montenegro, the Albanians complain that they are discriminated, although they have all rights. As in neighboring countries, they have also tried to cause problems in Montenegro. In anti – terrorist operation “Eagle`s flight” which was conducted by the Montenegrin police, was arrested a group of Albanians who planned terrorist attacs and an armed conflict in Albanian – inhabited parts of Montenegro. The group which was arrested in 2006 was sentenced on 51 year in prison. The group main goal was to “violate the constitutional order and security of Montenegro”, “cause instability, religious and national intolerance” and “endanger lives, property, religious and cultural facilities” stated Montenegrin Government.
Since US geopolitically conquered the Balkans, the Albanian question has again become open. The history of Albanian activity from the end of the 20th century is important because it shows us all the hypocrisy of Western powers. And if West officially stands for democracy, justice and protection of all religious and ethnic communities, on example of their allies in the Balkans, we can see that things do not work that way. When NATO carried out the aggression against Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999, and after the signing of a military technical agreement in city of Kumanovo, the Serbian Army withdrew from Kosovo. And there we could see all the essence of US and NATO. Everything what happen later was with the approval of US. And in Kosovo, under NATO control happened terrible things.
Since the arrival of NATO in Kosovo, more than 250,000 non-Albanians have been expelled. In other words, ethnic cleansing was carried out. On 17 March 2004, under the eyes of NATO troops, Kosovo Albanians started attack against Kosovo Serbs. That was the largest unrest since war on Kosovo 1998 – 1999. The official reason for unrest was the drowning of two Albanian children in a river in the village of Cabra, for whose death the Albanian media and politicians blamed Serbs from a neighboring village Zupca. In fact, it was just an exuse for ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Everything was done with the tacit approval of the West. During the unrest it is estimated that some 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes throughout Kosovo. During the pogrom, 28 people were killed, 35 Orthodox monasteries were destroyed or desecrated, and about 930 Serbian homes were burned and destroyed. In addition to public condemnations of all international actors, many participants have remained unpunished to this date. A small group that was punished, was punished with a smashingly low penalties.
The same thing happened in Macedonia. On August 31, 2001, Aleksandar Damovski, director of the most circulating Macedonian daily Dnevnik, gave the following information for the portal “BH Dani”: ”Currently in Macedonia there are 60,000 Macedonians outside their homes, not with their own will. They were expelled from their own homes by Albanian extremists operating in the territory of Macedonia. The pressure on Macedonians, on the territory where the Albanian minority is in the majority, is getting bigger and bigger every day. Macedonians in Tetovo and Gostivar are locked in their homes, they can not get out…”
Basically, the Albanian question is artificially imposed. Today, the Greater Albania project is not just an extremist idea, but a project that enjoys the support of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and can count on the support of some Islamic circles. So far, US has invested heavily in the project of Greater Albania, so it is not realistic to expect changes on this issue in US policy. Namely, the US project of the creation of a large Albania has entered in the active phase after the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since than to the present days has been implemented by military and diplomatic means.
Of course, there is a history of US and NATO engagement in the Balkans and should be payed attention to several key points:
1. The role of US and NATO in civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia, active fight against Serbs as well as sanctions against Serbia, which significantly weakened Serbia.
2. NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, and occupation of Kosovo.
3. A colour revolution that took place in Serbia on 5th October 2000, that meant a quiet occupation of Serbia, with wich started the destruction of powerful Serbian army, that in the war had embarrassed NATO.
4. A short war in Macedonia and Ohrid Agreement which was imposed to Macedonians, as a US project that began the process of “political” reforms in Macedonia through constitutional changes and the adoption of a number of new laws that provided much greater power to Albanians in Macedonia.
5. The US support of Montenegrin independence, which has weakened Serbia. With the separation of Montenegro from Serbia, Serbia has lost its access to the sea.
6. US played a key role in the declaration of Kosovo`s independence in 2008, although that was contrary to international law.
In both Albanian states today as earlier, there is a rule of crime and corruption. The logical question is why so much interest has US and some other Western powers in supporting the creation of a Greater Albania. The answer is in geopolitics and history. Great Albania is needed by the West as another whip against the Serbs. Because, Serbs in the eyes of Western historians and geopoliticians are the Balkan Russians. Far in 1876, during the time of the Serbian-Turkish war, Benjamin Disraeli, the president of the British government, accused Serbia of leading “a cold and criminal war against all the principles of public moral and honor.” He called the Serbian national liberation struggle “a Serbian conspiracy which is helped by Russian money and Russian soldiers”. He rejoiced at every Serbian defeat, and in the autumn of 1877 he suggested to the Austrians to occupy Serbia. Serbophobia, which prevails almost two centuries in the minds of strategists in London, occurred for one reason – the fear that the Serbs are “the main drivers of Russian Cossacks in the warm waters of the Mediterranean”. That is why since the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising the main direction of British foreign policy was to preserve the territorial integrity of Turkey.
In achieving this goal, Great Britain today has the absolute support of the United States of America. The West, first of all United States and Great Britain, pursuses its policy in the Balkans, which for aim has a constant weakening of the Serbs. That’s why the West strongly supports Great Albania.
To make an end to disastrous US and British politics in the Balkans it is needed a stronger presence of Russia and China in the Balkans, primarily in Serbia. Strong Serbia is the best prevention of Greater Albania. Russia has done a lot in that direction, but still insufficiently. The cooperation of Russia and Serbia in terms of military cooperation has been raised to a much higher level. Today, in the Western Balkans, Serbia has the strongest military. But economic cooperation is not good enough. Russian investments in Serbia are primarily in the energy sector, which is a strategic sector for Russia, but with energy cooperation, investments in Serbian agriculture are needed. With investments in Serbian agriculture, Russia would strategically consolidate its position in Serbia. At the diplomatic field, it is necessary to block any solution for Kosovo, which is not in accordance with UN Resolution 1244. Without independent Kosovo, the project of Greater Albania is impossible.
First published in our partner International Affairs
The European Union and the East Wind
One characteristic trait of modern life is that the key global actors are much more focused on their own domestic problems than on international issues. This propensity for political introspection (some may even call it political autism syndrome) is present, to some extent, in the U.S., Russia, China, and India. However, it is particularly characteristic of the European Union, which currently has to simultaneously deal with Brexit, prepare for the upcoming European Parliament elections, restore financial discipline in the eurozone, and reconcile differing views on migration issues along with many other urgent and extremely important domestic issues. It is clear that Brussels is running out of time to come up with a common pan-European foreign policy.
However, the EU by its very nature is much more dependent on the surrounding world than the U.S., China, or Russia. In this sense, Brussels cannot really afford any manifestations of even selective isolationism. If the EU is not prepared to deal with external forces, then these external forces are quite prepared to deal with the EU. One good example here is China’s increased interest in Europe. In late 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Madrid and Lisbon; rumour has it that he is going to visit Rome and Paris in the near future, and he is speeding up preparations for two multilateral summits in 2019: with the EU as a whole and in the 16+1 format (China plus 16 countries of Central Europe and the Balkans).
“The east wind prevails over the west wind,” Mao Zedong said at a meeting of communist and labour parties in Moscow in November 1957. Sixty years ago, this formula was perceived in Europe as poetic hyperbole. Today, Europe cannot afford to neglect the east wind, which is gaining more strength each year, penetrating all the windows and crevices in the European building, swaying the unstable European structures, slamming doors in the Brussels corridors of power, and forcing European leaders to shiver in the draught and seek reliable shelter.
Experts and politicians in the EU are currently discussing ways to protect Europe from yet another Chinese advance. It is believed that China is going to use the EU’s soft “Mediterranean underbelly” in order to disrupt the already fragile European unity. Beijing apparently is seeking to gain control over European transport and energy infrastructure as well as establish control over the most promising European technology companies. There are fears that China will begin interfering more actively with political processes in European countries.
How justified are these fears? Is Brussels doomed to negotiate with Beijing from a position of weakness? After all, China needs Europe no less than Europe needs China. The EU with its five hundred million consumers remains the world’s largest market. Europe is the ultimate geographic target of China’s flagship Belt and Road project. Europe is the most important source of investment, management models, and social practices for China. Moreover, as Chinese-U.S. trade, economic, and political relations are worsening, the EU has taken on increased importance for China.
China is certainly a difficult and uncompromising partner. Its tactics include the ability to delay negotiations endlessly, return again and again to discussing general provisions, minimise its obligations, leave room for different interpretations of agreements already reached, and so on. The U.S., especially under the current administration, prefers twisting its partners’ arms in a rough and unequivocal manner, whereas China aims to outsit its partners and possibly avoid any unpleasant confrontation. One good example of China’s tactics is the Chinese-EU talks on mutual investments, which have not been particularly successful so far.
Nevertheless, in the current situation Beijing and Brussels are equally interested in attaining a new level of cooperation. Common sense suggests that the parties should demonstrate maximum flexibility, understand each other’s priorities, take into account the partner’s red lines, and be willing to make mutual concessions.
Both parties must resist obvious temptations. China is tempted to take advantage of the EU’s current problems and weaknesses in order to achieve tactical advantages in its relations with Brussels. Europe is tempted to demonstrate, once again, its unfailing loyalty to Washington by mechanistically replicating the U.S. position in trade and economic negotiations with Beijing.
Of course, it is unlikely that all tension in EU-Chinese relations will be eliminated in the coming months or even years. However, even symbolic positive changes would send an important signal to everyone.
This would be a signal to the Donald Trump administration, which needs to realise that it can no longer dictate the rules of the game in the global economy to the rest of the world.
It would also be a signal to Russian leaders, who need to understand that the idea of the contemporary world as an inevitable confrontation between the “aggregate West” and the “aggregate non-West” is not consistent with reality.
This would also be a signal to the entire international community, which very much needs to receive confirmation that the current fragmenting of the world economy and the rise of protectionism and economic nationalism are not a long-term path for development but merely a temporary, and by no means universal, deviation from the irreversible process of globalisation.
Most importantly, successful negotiations with China would send a very important signal to Europe at a time when such a signal is particularly needed: on the eve of the historic European Parliament elections, when the pressure being applied by Eurosceptics and right-wing populists to mainstream parties is growing every day.
The growing east wind means a new challenge for the European project, but it is not the end of the world. As Mao noted, “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills”.
First published in our partner RIAC
The Problems With Brexit
Does anyone remember Nigel Farage? He led the UK Independence Party and the ‘leave’ EU vote — along with his last minute ally Boris Johnson who hoped to push himself up to prime minister. Farage is still around as a Member of the European Parliament representing south-east England, a job soon to be redundant when Britain leaves the EU. Boris is still in parliament … and still unlikely to be prime minister.
In the meantime, there is no clear majority for any deal in the British parliament. A major sticking point is Northern Ireland, an integral part of the UK. Leaving the European customs union would mean a border in Ireland separating the north from the rest. This is anathema to the Irish who have become used to living with an open border. The Northern Island MPs in Westminster will vote as a block against any deal that does not maintain it.
But the majority of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives want out of the EU customs union. Hence the deal she came up with, which was to make the Irish Sea a border. It meant leaving Northern Ireland in the customs union (i.e. an open border) and the rest of Britain outside. Unfortunately for her, a parliamentary majority including the opposition Labor party were against such a customs division within the UK that might also in the future bring Northern Ireland closer to Europe.
One of the principal motivators for Farage’s UKIP and its allies is seldom discussed. It has much in common with the reason for Donald Trump’s wall, and it was the reason the first British politician meeting the newly minted. President Trump was Nigel Farage. Trump had in mind his prospective wall, and after winning the ‘leave’ vote Farage had the English Channel; both barriers for the unwanted: Escapees from the chaos (often US caused as in Honduras) in Central America in one case; southern and eastern European migrants in the other after the EU embraced these new countries.
The desperation of many of these migrants forced to remain on the Mexico side of the US border was poignantly evident in a documentary broadcast on March 12 by the Public Television network on its evening PBS Newshour program. The processing slowdown engineered by this administration, blamed on lack of staff, has caused waiting times in months. Little children have to beg during the day and single mothers sell themselves at night for families to have food to eat.
After losing the vote on the deal she had negotiated, Ms. May brought forward a vote on a no-deal exit. Amended to a no-deal ever, the motion was defeated, as was a subsequent one on a simple no-deal; this time by an even larger majority. The day following, she actually won a vote: the government won a motion to ask the EU for a Brexit extension from March 29 to June 30, if the May deal passes next week. Otherwise they will have to request a longer delay.
How fractious the issue is, was evident. Half of Mrs. May’s Conservative Party voted against her including eight ministers; a Labor Party amendment for a second Brexit referendum was voted down 85 to 334 after many labor members including some shadow ministers voted against, tendering their resignations as a result. Parliament and the country are split on the issue.
Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the EU Council, announced he is in favor of a long extension and will ask EU leaders to consider it. Also Germany is in favor of a soft Brexit. Perhaps the one million Poles now in Britain and Germany’s exports have something to do with it.
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