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Posts tagged ‘Decline of the European Union’

A year after Brexit vote, more people view EU favorably

June 15, 2017

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — A wide-ranging survey shows that public approval of the European Union has rebounded strongly compared with a year ago but that many people nonetheless think their own national governments — and not the EU — should have the say over trade and immigration.

The poll results from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center show that majorities in nine of 10 EU member countries surveyed now hold a favorable view of the 28-country economic and political bloc. The research center says the upswing is the latest shift in an up-and-down cycle over the past decade. The more favorable view comes as Europe enjoys a broadening economic recovery and falling unemployment.

Results show 74 percent approval in Poland, 68 percent in Germany, 67 percent in Hungary, and 65 percent in Sweden. There were sharp swings from last year, with approval of the EU up 18 percentage points in Germany, 15 points in Spain, 13 points in the Netherlands, and 10 points in the U.K.

The overall median breakdown across the countries was 63 percent favorable, 34 percent unfavorable. Last year the median figures were 51 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable. The only dissenter was Greece, which has been subjected to severe budget austerity measures imposed by fellow EU states, at 33 percent favorable. Yet even there, when asked if they wanted to leave the European Union, 54 percent said they would rather stay, to 35 percent who favored leaving.

Italy was the other country surveyed where leaving the EU was supported by a substantial minority of 35 percent. Italy has shown weak economic growth since joining the euro currency in 1999 and remains burdened with high government debt, excessive bureaucracy and red tape, and poor prospects of permanent jobs for young people leaving school.

In the U.K., where a year ago voters chose narrowly to leave the EU, 54 percent had a positive view of the EU compared with 40 percent who had a negative view. Asked if leaving was a good or a bad thing for the U.K., people in Britain were broadly divided. Slightly more — 48 percent — said leaving was a bad thing, while 44 percent said leaving was a good thing.

In the June 2016 referendum, 52 percent of voters supported leaving the EU to 48 percent for remaining. On Monday, the country will officially start talks to leave the bloc. The EU is an economic and political union that is now the world’s largest single market, where products can move freely across borders without tariffs. People can travel from one country to another without border controls and it has become easier for people to live, work, study or retire in another member country.

The Pew Research Center compiled responses from 9,935 people in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom from March 2 to April 17, 2017. Margins of error ranged from 3.7 percent plus or minus to 5.2 percent plus or minus. The questions were asked face to face in several countries and by calling mobile and landline numbers in others.

The results pre-date last week’s parliamentary election in Britain, which resulted in a setback for pro-Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives. They lost their majority and must form a coalition with the small Democratic Unionist Party based in Northern Ireland.

The numbers indicated many people wanted national governments, not the EU, to determine immigration and trade policy. Yet 66 percent wanted their own governments to decide who could come in from other EU countries, while 27 favored the EU making decisions. In 2015, 1.4 million people migrated from one EU state to another.

EU leaders show firm united front ahead of Brexit talks

April 29, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders vowed Saturday to stand shoulder-to-shoulder behind their negotiating team during the divorce proceedings with Britain and warned that demands from British Prime Minister Theresa May will be dealt with “firmly.”

The 27 EU leaders in Brussels finalized the cornerstones of their negotiating stance within minutes of starting a short summit, a month after the British leader triggered two years of exit talks on March 29. The negotiations themselves are to open shortly after Britain holds an early election on June 8.

“Guidelines adopted unanimously. EU27 firm and fair political mandate for the #Brexit talks is ready,” EU Council President Donald Tusk tweeted. The leaders say there can’t be any discussions on the future relationship between the EU and Britain before some key issues are settled. Those include how much Britain owes the bloc, what to do about the Irish land border with Britain and, Tusk said, making sure the welfare of citizens and families living in each other’s nations will be a priority.

The guidelines halted British hopes of having future trade relations being discussed concurrently all through the talks. Tusk said “before discussing the future, we have to sort out our past. We will handle it with genuine care — but firmly.”

Some at the summit were already considering how to deal with possible British negotiating tactics. “Maybe the British government will do its utmost to split the 27 nations and it is trap we need to avoid,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Ever since the June 23 referendum last year in which Britons narrowly voted to leave the bloc, the remaining 27 EU nations have shown a rare exceptional unity. In contrast, citizens in Britain have been divided because of the momentous event looming.

Now, the EU is also intent on making Britain pay the divorce bill, which some EU officials have put as high as 60 billion euros ($65 billion). “If you are no longer part of a club, it has consequences. A Brexit for free is not possible,” Michel said.

To kick off the negotiations, Tusk wants to center on the millions of people living in each other’s nations who would be immediately affected. All sides “need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides. This must be the No. 1 priority,” Tusk said. Some 3 million citizens from the 27 nations live in Britain while up to 2 million Britons live on the continent, all facing massive uncertainly on such issues as health benefits, pensions, taxes, employment and education.

Tusk said the sustained unity of the 27 will help May since she will have political certainty throughout the talks. “Our unity is also in the U.K.’s interest,” he said. “I feel strong support from all the EU institutions, including the European Parliament, as well as all the 27 member states. I know this is something unique and I am confident it will not change.”

Over the past years, the bloc has often been bitterly divided over issues like the financial crisis, the euro debt crisis, bailouts to financially-strapped members like Greece, and how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of migrants entering the bloc.

The 27 EU leaders also acknowledged that Northern Ireland could join the bloc in the future if its people vote to unite with EU member state Ireland. The two share the same island, and the difficulties of re-establishing a land border once Britain leaves are immense and politically fraught.

Ireland’s Europe Minister Dara Murphy told The Associated Press that a statement on the Northern Ireland issue was added to the minutes of the summit, which is being held without Prime Minister Theresa May.

Future relations between Ireland and Britain, including how the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would work with the U.K. outside the bloc, have emerged as a key problem to be addressed during the Brexit talks.

European court rules against Russia over 2004 school siege

April 13, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Russia failed to adequately protect victims of a 2004 school siege in the city of Beslan that left more than 330 people dead, a verdict that Moscow said it would appeal.

The France-based court said authorities did not take necessary preventive measures to save lives. It said the security forces’ use of tank cannon, grenade launchers and flame-throwers contributed to casualties among the hostages. It also noted failures to increase security before the attack despite imminent threats against schools in the area.

A group of 32 heavily armed radical Islamic militants seized the school on the first day of class on Sept. 1, 2004, herding more than 1,000 people into the gymnasium and holding them hostage for nearly three days. The siege ended in gunfire and explosions, leaving 334 dead, more than half of them children. Over 800 people were wounded.

The court ordered that Russia pay nearly 3 million euros ($3.2 million) in total compensation to the 409 Russians who brought the case to the ECHR; they include people who were taken hostage, or injured or are relatives of the hostages or those killed and injured.

The Russian Justice Ministry, announcing its intention to appeal, contended that the judges failed to grasp the gravity of the situation during the siege and specifics of efforts taken to free the hostages.

The ministry said the court’s assessment of indiscriminate use of weapons by Russian special forces was groundless, citing results of an official Russian probe into the siege. Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, also rejected the court’s view of disproportionate use of force by the government, saying that “such hypothetical assessment is hardly acceptable.”

He told reporters in a conference call that Russia, as a country that came under numerous terror attacks, can’t accept the ruling. “Such wording is absolutely unacceptable for a country that came under attack,” Peskov said.

“All the necessary legal action regarding this ruling will be taken,” he added. The head of the Mothers of Beslan group, Aneta Gadieva, said the payment ordered was meager. “Somebody will get 5,000 euro, somebody will get 20,000 euro. That’s a small sum in compensation for moral damages,” she was quoted as telling state news agency Tass.

Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for organizing the school siege. It came amid a particularly violent period in the Islamist insurgency that was connected with the fight between Russian forces and Chechen separatists. A week before the seizure, suicide bombers downed two Russian airliners on the same night, killing a total of 90 people, and another suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a Moscow subway station.

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

EU’s Tusk, Britain’s May seek smooth start to Brexit talks

April 06, 2017

LONDON (AP) — European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister Theresa May met Thursday to seek a smooth start to the U.K.’s EU departure, a day after the European Parliament laid out tough guidelines for the divorce negotiations.

The talks came as both sides are settling on their negotiating positions, and after some strong tabloid headlines in Britain about the bloc’s exit bill for Britain and the status of the British territory of Gibraltar.

The two politicians smiled on the doorstep of May’s 10 Downing St. office before a meeting in London that lasted two hours. Afterward, May’s office praised the “constructive approach” of the EU leadership and said “the tone of discussions had been positive on both sides.”

Tusk said the pair had agreed to stay in regular contact throughout the Brexit process. British voters in June chose to leave the 28-nation European Union and last week May triggered the mechanism that starts a two-year countdown on Britain’s departure.

The European Parliament on Wednesday backed the bloc’s chief negotiator in demanding that Britain pay as much as 60 billion euros ($64 billion) for outstanding commitments. EU lawmakers also called for phased negotiations, in which divorce terms are settled before a new trade deal is secured. Britain wants the two strands to go hand-in-hand.

Draft negotiating guidelines drawn up by the EU also said no future agreement between Britain and the bloc would apply to Gibraltar unless both the U.K. and Spain agreed. That raised hackles in Britain, where some saw it as a bid by Madrid to assert control over the future of an enclave that has been British since 1713.

May told Tusk Thursday that “there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of its people,” Downing St. said. May began a two-year countdown to Brexit last week by invoking Article 50 of the EU’s key treaty. But she has acknowledged that getting a final deal may take longer. She says there will be an “implementation” phase once a deal is hammered out so businesses and government can adjust to the new rules.

Full negotiations are expected to start in late May once the negotiating guidelines of the EU’s 27 remaining nations have been sealed in a mandate for the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. The foreign ministers of Portugal and Denmark said Thursday they want a negotiated settlement that serves the interests of both Britain and the rest of the EU.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said he hoped for what he called a “good transition” as Britain departs the bloc. “We both hope to find a good solution with the U.K,” Samuelsen said after talks with his Portuguese counterpart, Augusto Santos Silva.

Barry Hatton contributed reporting from Lisbon.

It’s not EU, it’s me: UK files for EU divorce after 44 years

March 30, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Britain filed for divorce from the European Union on Wednesday, with fond words and promises of friendship that could not disguise the historic nature of the schism — or the years of argument and hard-nosed bargaining ahead as the U.K. leaves the embrace of the bloc for an uncertain future as “global Britain.”

Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the two-year divorce process in a six-page letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, vowing that Britain will maintain a “deep and special partnership” with its neighbors in the bloc. In response, Tusk told Britain: “We already miss you.”

May’s invocation of Article 50 of the EU’s key treaty sets the clock ticking on two years of negotiations until Britain becomes the first major nation to leave the union — as Big Ben bongs midnight on March 29, 2019.

The U.K. joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1973. Its departure could not come at a worse time for the EU, which has grown from six founding members six decades ago to a largely borderless span of 28 nations and a half billion people. Nationalist and populist parties are on the march across the continent in revolt against the bloc’s mission of “ever-closer union.” And in Washington, President Donald Trump has derided the EU, NATO and other pillars of Western order built up since World War II.

“This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back,” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons, moments after her letter was hand-delivered to Tusk in Brussels by Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow.

In the letter, May said the two sides should “engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation.” But for all the warmth, the next two years will be a tough test of the notion that divorcees can remain good friends.

May is under pressure from her Conservative Party and Britain’s largely Euroskeptic press not to concede too much in exchange for a good trade deal with the EU. For their part, the other 27 members of the bloc will need to stick together and stand firm as they ride out the biggest threat in the union’s history.

Brexit has been hailed by populists across Europe — including French far-right leader Marine Le Pen — who hope the U.K. is only the first in a series of departures. EU leaders are determined to stop that happening.

“The European Union is a historically unique success story,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin. “It remains one even after Britain’s withdrawal. We will take care of that.” Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent in favor of leaving the bloc in a referendum nine months ago, and they remain deeply divided over Brexit.

In the pro-Brexit heartland of Dover on England’s south coast — whose white cliffs face toward France — some were jubilant as May pulled the trigger. “I’m a local church minister, and I said to my wife, ‘All I want to do before I die is see my country free from the shackles of Europe,'” said 70-year-old Mike Piper, buying a copy of the Sun tabloid with the front-page headline “Dover and Out.”

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who campaigned for years to take Brexit from a fringe cause to a reality, said Britain had passed “the point of no return.” “I can still, to be honest with you, scarcely believe today has come,” he said.

But many young Britons who have grown up in the EU and voted overwhelmingly for Britain to remain a member worry about how much they could lose. “I’m really anxious about it. It was a bad idea,” said Elaine Morrison, an 18-year-old who was traveling to Barcelona with friends. “I like traveling to other countries And it will be a trouble now. The pound is weaker so it will cost more to buy the euros, and the costs of travel will be more expensive. And there will be red tape.”

People in London’s financial district, the City, are anxious about the uncertainty. “No one knows how this is going to go,” said City worker Nicola Gibson. “It’s a gamble, it’s a risk.” May’s six-page letter to Tusk was conciliatory, stressing that Britons want to remain “committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.”

But there was a hint of steel in May’s assertion that without a good deal, “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.” That could be seen by some in Europe as a threat to withdraw British security cooperation if the U.K. does not get its way.

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt responded diplomatically: “I cannot, as a gentleman, even imagine that a lady as Mrs. May is using blackmail, is thinking of blackmail.” Tusk said he will respond by Friday with draft negotiating guidelines for the remaining 27 member states to consider. They’ll meet April 29 to finalize their platform. Talks between the EU’s chief negotiator, French diplomat Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart, Brexit Secretary David Davis, are likely to start in the second half of May.

As in many divorces, the first area of conflict is likely to be money. The EU wants Britain to pay a bill of as much as 50 billion euros ($63 billion) to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments the U.K. has agreed to.

Britain acknowledges it will have to pay something, but is sure to quibble over the size of the tab. May did not indicate Wednesday how much Britain would be willing to pay, saying only that it will no longer pay “significant sums of money on an annual basis” to the EU.

But, May added: “We’re a law-abiding nation. We will meet obligations that we have.” Negotiations will also soon hit a major contraction: Britain wants to strike “a bold and ambitious free trade agreement” with the bloc of some 500 million people, but says it will restore control of immigration, ending the right of EU citizens to live and work in Britain. The EU says Britain can’t have full access to the single market if it doesn’t accept free movement, one of the bloc’s key principles.

Both Britain and the EU say a top priority will be guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, and 1 million Britons living elsewhere in the bloc. In her letter, May said “we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights” — but for now they remain in limbo.

The two sides also appear to disagree on how the talks will unfold. EU officials say the divorce terms must be settled before negotiators can turn to the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc, while Britain wants the two things discussed simultaneously.

Britain wants to seal a new trade deal within two years, but Verhofstadt told The Associated Press there would have to be a further transition period of “no more than three years to discuss, to detail the content of this future.”

A final deal must be approved by both the British and European parliaments — and Verhofstadt said EU lawmakers “will use our veto power” if they do not like the outcome. Brexit has profound implications for Britain’s economy, society and even unity. The divisive decision has given new impetus to the drive for Scottish independence and shaken the foundations of Northern Ireland’s peace settlement. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who says the Brexit vote means Scotland should get a referendum on independence, accused May of making “a reckless gamble.”

But anti-EU politicians saluted Wednesday as the day Britain regained its sovereignty from Brussels bureaucrats. “If you’ve been locked inside a dark and cramped dungeon and you step out into sunlight, it’s going to be a bit intimidating,” pro-Brexit lawmaker Douglas Carswell said. “We as a country have got to rediscover the art of self-governance.”

Associated Press writer Jill Lawless reported this story in London and AP writer Raf Casert reported from Brussels. AP writers Danica Kirka, Siobhan Starrs and Jonathan Shenfield in London, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.

Poles celebrate EU on bloc’s 60th anniversary with march

March 25, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poles marched through Warsaw on Saturday, waving European Union and Polish flags in a show of support for the troubled European project as leaders in Rome marked the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty.

The rally in Warsaw, which was held under the slogan “I Love You, Europe,” was also a strong expression of disapproval for the nationalist and Euroskeptic government in Warsaw, which was recently involved in a bitter standoff with the bloc.

Thousands of people began their demonstration by singing European anthem “Ode to Joy” followed by the Polish national anthem before marching to the Royal Castle in historic town center. Government critics fear that the government policies could ultimately result in Poland leaving the EU.

“We will not let ourselves be led out of Europe,” Ryszard Petru, the head of the opposition Modern party, told those gathered. He also said that the ruling Law and Justice party’s stance on Europe doesn’t reflect the will of the nation, which is overwhelmingly pro-EU. Recent opinion polls put support for the EU by Poles at around 80 percent.

The Polish government denies that leaving the EU is its aim and insists that it instead simply wants reforms and wants to keep the bulk of power with national governments, not in Brussels. The recent tensions centered around stiff opposition by the conservative Polish government to the re-election of Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, as head of the European Council. Tusk has long been a bitter political rival of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party and the most powerful politician in Poland.

Before the EU meeting in Rome, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had also threatened not to endorse the declaration. But on the eve of the summit she backed away from the position and signed it on Saturday.

EU puts pen to paper on unity pledge during 60th anniversary

March 25, 2017

ROME (AP) — With Britain already heading out the door, the 27 remaining European Union nations on Saturday sought to keep the bloc moving forward by enshrining a pledge to give member nations more freedom to form partial alliances and set policy when unanimity is out of reach.

They marked the 60th anniversary of their founding treaty as a turning point in their history in the knowledge that British Prime Minister Theresa May will officially trigger divorce proceedings from the bloc next week, a fact that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called “a tragedy.”

Desperately trying to portray that sustained unity is the only way ahead in a globalized world, being able to walk away from a summit without acrimony was already a sort of victory. “We didn’t have a major clash or conflict, contrary to what many thought,” Juncker said.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said that sustained unity was the only way for the EU to survive. “Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all,” he told EU leaders at a solemn session in precisely the same ornate hall on the ancient Capitoline Hill where the Treaty of Rome founding the EU was signed on March 25, 1957.

To move ahead though, the leaders recognized that full unity on all things will be unworkable. “We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction,” said the Rome Declaration signed by the 27 nations.

The EU has often done that in practice in the past, with only 19 nations in the eurozone and not all members participating in the Schengen zone of borderless travel. It has already extended to social legislation and even divorce rules among EU nationals.

So German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to assuage fears that it would lead to a further unraveling of unity. “The Europe of different speeds does not in any way mean that it is not a common Europe,” Merkel said after the ceremonies. “We are saying here very clearly that we want to go in a common direction. And there are things that are not negotiable,” highlighting the EU freedom of movement, goods, people and services.

In a series of speeches, EU leaders also acknowledged how the bloc had strayed into a complicated structure that had slowly lost touch with its citizens, compounded by the severe financial crisis that struck several member nations over the past decade.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who was hosting the summit, said that over the past dozen years the EU’s development had stalled. “Unfortunately, we stopped” he said, and “it triggered a crisis of rejection.”

At the same time though, the summit in sun-splashed springtime Rome, where new civilizations were built on old ruins time and again, there also was a message of optimism. “Yes, we have problems, yes there are difficulties, yes there will be crisis in the future, but we stand together and we move forward,” Gentiloni said. “We have the strength to start out again.”

At the end of the session, all 27 leaders signed the Rome Declaration saying that “European unity is a bold, farsighted endeavor.” “We have united for the better. Europe is our common future,” the declaration said.

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