Brexit Vote Update #2: May Secures Changes to Withdrawal Deal

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It would appear Theresa May has managed to secure new assurances from the European Union. Officially, May and the EU have agreed upon “legally binding changes” to the withdrawal agreement. The changes will not affect the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal. It will instead serve as legal assurances preventing the UK from being trapped indefinitely in a customs union.

Now comes the hard part. Between now and tomorrow morning May has to determine if the latest changes will be enough to push her agreement through a very skeptical Parliament on Tuesday. Her main target will be the 100 or so Tory MPs who voted down her seal last month. If she can sway a majority of these votes in her favor, the agreement has at least a fair chance of passing.

The date for the UK leaving the EU is 29 March. If necessary, Brussels has indicated that a one-time extension can be applied. This route is not one which the EU wants to see become reality because it could very well interfere with the EU Parliament elections set to take place in late May. If the UK is still an EU member when that date arrives there are significant legal obstacles that need to be hurdled beforehand.

Come tomorrow the fate of the agreement, and perhaps of Brexit entirely, will be in the hands of the MPs in London.

Brexit Vote Update: May and Junckers Meet in Strasbourg

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has arrived in Strasbourg to conduct eleventh-hour talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The PM is hoping the discussion will produce a resolution which leads to enough support for her Brexit withdrawal deal to pass through parliament. The second vote on the deal will come tomorrow. There has been speculation today that the vote could be postponed, or its status altered to ‘provisional.’ A final decision on this will be dependent upon the end result of the Strasbourg talks.

According to the BBC, EU member states have been given details about a package that May and Juncker are considering. British cabinet officials have also been made aware of this and are being kept up to date on the discussions now taking place in Strasbourg.

Monday 8 May, 2017 Update: Macron Wins In France

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The French people have spoken. Emanuel Macron will be the Republic of France’s next president. Marine Le Pen’s bid to win the presidency fell well short of the expectations of her and her party. Whereas Le Pen rode a wave of Brexit and Donald Trump inspired populism, Macron’s own political position was made up of a pseudo-socialist cloak that differs little in substance from the current president’s own positions.

What does this mean for France? Macron is portrayed as a centrist and political outsider by the European media. In reality, nothing is farther from the truth. He has held government positions in the past and is an avowed globalist. His policies as president will reflect his pro-European Union slant. He will attempt to bring France closer to the EU and its sphere. At a time when other European nation-states are rethinking their relationships with the EU, expect France to go all in, for lack of a better term. France’s future economic and trade policies will fall in line with what favors the financial policies dictated in Brussels, and, to a lesser extent, Berlin. Macron will also do everything possible to throw a wrench into Brexit negotiations. He’s very much opposed to Britain’s departure from the EU and his position there will have a very negative effect on UK-French relations in the future.

In the security and refugee realm, France will attempt to reach a compromise of sorts between continuing to accept large numbers of refugees and strengthening the borders of France. Francois Hollande made a similar attempt and it ended in near disaster for the Republic. France became no more secure and ISIS-inspired attackers were emboldened by the lack of effective defenses put up by the French government. The string of attacks across France in recent years contributed greatly to Hollande’s plummeting popularity. Marcon needs to accept and understand that his own political fortunes are inextricably tied to his ability to combat terrorism in France.

The aftereffects of the French election will take some time to materialize. It is fair to assume that France and Germany will spearhead an effort to rally the European Union. Despite the recent victories by pro-EU candidates across the continent, the future of the European Union continues to remain unclear.  Europe’s populist movement is by no means dead, however, it has suffered a powerful setback. For the moment, Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel, and Jean Claude Juncker can breath a bit easier.

Friday 2 December, 2016 Update: Austria Votes (Again) This Weekend

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Come Sunday, Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and company will likely be in need of a heavyweight infusion of Xanax to calm their jangled nerves. Italy is facing a critical political moment this weekend. As fate would have it, Italy is not alone. Austria is in a similar situation. The primary difference between the two EU members is that Italian voters will be going to the polls to decide on a constitutional referendum while Austrians will be selecting a new president. The results of both events hold potentially far-reaching consequences for the European Union. We discussed Italy yesterday, so this update will be, in large part, a summary of the upcoming election in Austria.

Sunday is a second chance for the Freedom Party and its candidate Norbert Hofer to capture the presidency. He was defeated in a second round runoff by Alexander Van der Bellen, former head of the Green Party, by a razor thin margin. Hofer and the Freedom Party challenged the results and because absentee ballots had been mishandled, Austria’s Constitutional Court decided that the entire election had to be held again. And so it will be on Sunday.

The significance of this election cannot be undervalued. The president of Austria is mainly a ceremonial post lacking the responsibility of running the day-to-day operations of the government. Yet many Europeans remain very concerned about what a Hofer victory will bring about though. To them Hofer is a far-right wing, anti-establishment candidate cast in the same mold as Donald Trump. Should he win the election on Sunday, it will further solidify the ascendancy of Trump-like politicians across the continent. But a victory by Van der Bellen will not be a sign that the populist, anti-establishment wave has reached its high-water mark. At the most, a Van der Bellen win gives the EU and politicians around Europe time to fortify their positions in preparation for the next electoral swing towards populist candidates.

One year ago, the prospect of a right wing candidate becoming president of a Western European nation-state was nearly impossible to fathom. Now, following Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory, the prospect is becoming quite plausible in places like France and Austria. The world is watching and waiting to see how this weekend’s drama plays out. And right now in Brussels, the EU leadership has to be wondering incessantly about what Europe will look like come Monday morning.

Embattled Europe: The Staggered EU

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The European Union, as it stands in July of 2016, resembles a boxer entering the final round of a long, arduous championship fight. He is tired, unsteady, and has endured flurries of vicious blows to the body and head. He is still standing, yet it is unclear how much more punishment he will be able to endure. Brexit was a haymaker but will turn out to be the knockout blow? If the EU is going to emerge victorious it needs to make some late round adjustments or perhaps even adopt a new overall strategy.

Across Europe right now supporters of the European project are wondering if the EU will adapt to the emerging geopolitical realities on the continent and beyond. The question is not whether the EU can adapt. It is entirely capable of doing so. However, the political will to make the needed changes does not exist at the present time. A divide concerning the appropriate response to the British vote is widening across Europe. The Euro-Federalists and progressives, championed by Jean-Paul Juncker, the President of the European Commission, support using the Brexit negotiations as an instrument to solidify European integration while its opponents prefer to repatriate more power to national capitals and adopt a practical and realistic approach to Britain as it prepares to leave the EU.

Brexit, more than any other crisis, has shaken the EU to its core and spurred concerns about the future of the supranational body. Juncker and other supporters of a more federal Europe are deeply worried that Brexit could halt or reverse EU integration. The economic, political and social integration of European states is the raison d’être of the European Union, in their view. A stronger push for a deeper assimilation now will reduce the likelihood of future exits from the EU. The ties that bind Europe together are stronger than those that would tear them apart.

Opponents to Juncker’s ideas of deeper integration cite Brexit as a prime example of integration gone bad. Britons were not opposed to the concept of the European Union per se. The majority of Britons voted to leave the EU in large part because they viewed integration as eroding their national sovereignty. In short, Britons want control of their borders, immigration and economic policies and such to rest with London and not Brussels.

The issues at the heart of the Brexit argument are fueling a wave of populist movements and Euroskeptic sentiment across the continent. We’ve discussed it on this blog quite often. A European government is perfect in theory. In reality, on the other hand, it has been a decrepit instrument. The lack of effective EU leadership has weakened Europe while simultaneously undermining the body’s institutions and mandates. Public confidence in the EU has fallen drastically in the largest European nations. Tension has always existed between those who want a more integrated union and those who want safeguards in place to protect national sovereignty, however, now that the deficiencies of the EU have been laid bare and a sovereign nation has opted to leave, the stakes have become far greater.

Europe cannot travel down two roads simultaneously. Even though many EU officials and politicians prefer the integration pathway, it is becoming clear that a sizeable fraction of Europe’s citizens are leaning towards a road where the EU has the role of an intergovernmental agency that does not encroach on national sovereignty. Regrettably, the two positions are so divergent there is little chance of a compromise. Europe’s continuing crisis of representation is only one factor preventing collective action by the European Union. High unemployment, sluggish economic growth, uneven development, and welfare-state retrenchment all hold varying degrees of responsibility for the situation the EU is in at present.

The writing is on the wall. Unless the EU can maneuver the dangerous waters it is currently in, the results will not be favorable for the prospects of a united continent. Until EU leadership acknowledges the problems facing it and comes up with solid, realistic solutions there is no reason to believe that the EU’s standing will improve at any point in the foreseeable future.