As things stand now, there are about ten weeks to go until the United Kingdom will crash out of the EU. There is not much doubt that this will be disruptive—for the EU member countries, especially for Ireland, and for the UK, particularly for Northern Ireland.
The attempts to finally agree on a divorce settlement between the EU and Great Britain were realized. But there is little chance that this settlement will be accepted in the British parliament. The few alternatives—the ‘Norwegian’ option, or a new referendum—face equally dark prospects. To extend the period to allow for additional talks is also not possible. When the EU elections are held in May, everybody has to know whether or not British deputies are to be elected.
So what can we expect to happen in the case of a hard exit?
Tensions in the EU have been simmering for some time. There were ongoing quarrels and contradictions during the Euro crisis, and then, as a consequence of unregulated immigration flows. In addition, the Italian government is planning to seriously run up their debts, violating all relevant stability rules. The EU reactions to Russian assertiveness in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, the poisoning scandal in the UK (with fallout now in Switzerland) and, notorious violations of anti-doping rules also raised different levels of concern. The governments in Hungary, Italy and Cyprus have expressed understanding towards Russian leaders. More relevant, there are serious quarrels over perceived violations of the independence of the media, legal institutions and educational organizations in Poland and Hungary.
Until recently, the EU’s reactions have involved a mixture of talking and admonishing, but not much action. But now, both Poland and Hungary are exposed to different stages or Article 7 procedures which have been initiated by EU bodies. Even the conservative party grouping in the EU parliament is becoming agitated.
What is your expert view on these issues? Should the EU respond to rule violations by members in the same manner that they would when non-, or not-yet member states commit violations? What is the prospect of achieving success through further talks? What is the leverage of the EU? How do we factor-in the broader context of rising populism? Can the EU still defend its credibility against spoilers?
Syria is back in the the headlines (not that it was absent in recent years) and the conflict has returned to the agendas of regional and global stakeholders. With the help of Putin and his regular and private military operations, Assad has regained chunks of the territories ceded in the prior six years.
An attack on the Idlib area seems imminent, which may produce new waves of migrants and possible new gas attacks. At this point in the conflict Russia remains supportive of the regime, Turkey is concerned because of the Kurdish role, and Europe is anxiously wringing its proverbial hands.
This week’s questions are: Do we have to accommodate to a lasting role for the Assad regime, forgetting about his war crimes or not, and accept that he will have a role in Syria’s reconstruction. Or should we deny this, keeping supporting the troubled and fragmented militias, trying to limit Russia’s and/ or Turkey’s influence? We can assume that U.S. and EU interference will be quite limited.
Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.
A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.
The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.
Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?
See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers
The new EU Commission finds itself in the middle of a shooting-out between two increasingly outspoken camps: Should growth be stimulated by quantitative easing, and by state-induced spending programs? Or should austerity policy be continued, accompanied by structural reform in the southern EU countries? This is indeed a question that indicates a divide – mostly between Germany, Finland and the Baltic countries in the second groups, and most of the others in the first. The problems of France and Italy to push their budget deficits below the 3 per cent limit of annual debt against GDP. The southern governments not only encourage themselves, but also Germany to increase spending, forget about balancing the budget (to be reached in Germany in 2015 for the first time in decades), and instead start spending and investing into infrastructure and other goodies. A related fight is going on in the ECB, where a majority supports the line of Mario Draghi to do “whatever it costs” to save the Euro, against some other central bank governors criticizing the lax attitude of the ECB, buying very questionable state bonds ignoring their market value.
(Paco Rivière/Flickr/Creative Commons)
How can we understand – beyond the differences – the similarities of cases like Catalonia, Crimea, Chechnya, the Karen state in Myanmar, Kashmir, Kosovo, the Kurds, Scotland, South Sudan, Xinjiang and Tibet in China, and most recently Venetia?
(Photo: E. Arrott/Voice of America)