Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Decline of the European Union’

Britain, EU in Brexit breakthrough; eye talks on future ties

December 08, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain and the European Union made a significant step forward Friday in Brexit talks, officials said, after a flurry of overnight diplomacy by phone bridged differences over the Irish border.

“I believe that we have now made the breakthrough that we needed,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

But the agreement doesn’t give details of how the thorny border issue will be solved, noting that much depends on the outcome of trade talks between Britain and the EU. Its crucial passages promise that whatever happens, the U.K. will maintain “full regulatory alignment” with the bloc on issues affecting Ireland.

Exactly what that means will be fought over by politicians and negotiators in the months to come. Juncker said that he would recommend to European Union leaders that “sufficient progress has been achieved” on the terms of the divorce to starting talking about issues like future relations and trade.

EU leaders meet in Brussels on Dec. 14 and are likely to endorse the assessment that enough progress has been made on the terms of Britain’s financial settlement, the status of Irish borders and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit.

“I am hopeful, sure, confident, sure, that they will share our appraisal and allow us to move on the next phase of the negotiations,” Juncker said. May said: “I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase, to talk about trade and security and to discuss the positive and ambitious future relationship that is in all of our interests,”

“I hope and expect we will be able to get the endorsement of the 27,” she said, referring to the other EU countries. Juncker repeated that he didn’t want Britain to leave the EU — the first time a member country has ever done so — saying “I will always be sad about this development but now we must start looking for the future.”

Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, but negotiations must be wrapped up within a year to leave time for parliaments to endorse any deal. Business leaders warn further delays will hurt companies as they plan for the future.

Existing rules allow people and goods to pass freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with no border checks. Ireland wants to preserve the current arrangement, which has eased tensions along the border. May is struggling to balance those demands against the concerns of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which she relies on to support her government in Parliament.

May said that Northern Ireland has “a set of unique circumstances” because it has the U.K.’s only land border with an EU country. The border issue has been threatening to derail the divorce talks. Earlier this week, the DUP scuttled a deal between the U.K and the bloc, prompting the frantic diplomacy.

May said Friday that the agreement would maintain an open border while preserving the constitutional and economic integrity of the U.K. DUP leader Arlene Foster appeared satisfied Friday, saying that the agreement gave “very clear confirmation that the entirety of the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.”

May also met with European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair next Thursday’s summit, and Tusk said the EU and London must now start negotiating a transition period to ease Britain’s way out of the bloc during a time of legal uncertainty after in 2019.

Tusk noted that Britain has asked for a two-year bridging period, he laid out conditions for that to happen. “I propose that during this period the U.K. will respect the whole of EU law, including new law, it will respect budget commitments, it will respect judicial oversight and of course all related obligations,” he told reporters.

Tusk also said he has sent guidelines to EU leaders on how he thinks phase two of the Brexit talks should be handled. Meanwhile, British business groups were expressing relief that Brexit talks finally look set to start discussing the future shape of trade and economic relations.

Stephen Martin, who heads U.K. business group the Institute of Directors, said “it went right down to the wire, but businesses will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.” Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that “after the noise and political brinksmanship of recent days, news of a breakthrough in the negotiations will be warmly welcomed by companies across the U.K.”

Jill Lawless reported from London.


EU officials say UK Brexit stance chaotic in leaked document

November 23, 2017

LONDON (AP) — A leaked Irish government document says European officials see Britain’s performance in Brexit negotiations as confused and chaotic. Irish broadcaster RTE published details Thursday of a confidential document from Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs compiling reports from Irish diplomats across the European Union.

One quoted Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jakub Durr as saying “he felt sorry for British ambassadors around the EU trying to communicate a coherent message when there is political confusion at home.” Latvian government officials are cited as saying “the biggest problem is the chaotic political situation in the U.K. government.”

Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019 but divorce talks have stalled on issues including the size of the U.K.’s Brexit bill. Ireland’s foreign affairs ministry declined to comment on the report.

European cities battle fiercely for top agencies leaving UK

November 19, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Brexit is still well over year away but two European cities on Monday will already be celebrating Britain’s departure from the European Union. Two major EU agencies now in London — the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority — must move to a new EU city because Britain is leaving the bloc. The two prizes are being hotly fought over by most of the EU’s other 27 nations.

Despite all the rigid rules and conditions the bloc imposed to try to make it a fair, objective decision, the process has turned into a deeply political beauty contest — part Olympic host city bidding, part Eurovision Song Contest.

It will culminate in a secret vote Monday at EU headquarters in Brussels that some say could be tainted by vote trading. The move involves tens of millions in annual funding, about 1,000 top jobs with many more indirectly linked, prestige around the world and plenty of bragging rights for whichever leader can bring home the agencies.

“I will throw my full weight behind this,” French President Emmanuel Macron said when he visited Lille, which is seeking to host the EMA once Britain leaves in the EU in March 2019. “Now is the final rush.”

At an EU summit Friday in Goteborg, Sweden, leaders were lobbying each other to get support for their bids. The EMA is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. It has around 890 staff and hosts more than 500 scientific meetings every year, attracting about 36,000 experts.

The EBA, which has around 180 staff, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe’s banking sector. With bids coming in from everywhere — from the newest member states to the EU’s founding nations — who gets what agency will also give an indication of EU’s future outlook.

The EU was created as club of six founding nations some 60 years ago, so it’s logical that a great many key EU institutions are still in nations like Germany, France and Belgium. But as the bloc kept expanded east and south into the 21st century, these new member states see a prime opportunity now to claim one of these cherished EU headquarters, which cover everything from food safety to judicial cooperation to fisheries policy.

Romania and Bulgaria were the last to join the EU in 2007 and have no headquarters. Both now want the EMA — as does the tiny island nation of Malta. “We deserve this. Because as we all know, Romania is an EU member with rights and obligations equal with all the rest of the member states,” said Rodica Nassar of Romania’s Healthcare Ministry.

But personnel at the EMA and EBA are highly skilled professionals, and many could be reluctant to move their careers and families from London to less prestigious locations. “You have to imagine, for example, for the banking authority, which relies on basically 200 very high-level experts in banking regulatory matters to move to another place,” said Karel Lannoo of the CEPS think tank. “First of all, to motivate these people to move elsewhere. And then if you don’t manage to motivate these people, to find competent experts in another city.”

As the vote nears, Milan and Bratislava are the favorites to win the EMA, with Frankfurt, and perhaps Dublin, leading the way for the EBA.

Top EU officials rally behind Spanish PM over Catalan poll

October 04, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Senior European Union officials and lawmakers rallied Wednesday behind embattled Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, condemning the authorities in Catalonia for holding an illegal referendum on independence that has plunged Spain into political crisis.

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans led a chorus of criticism of Sunday’s violence-marred vote in the northern Spanish region. He made no mention of the almost 900 people hurt in the police action to stop the poll.

Wary of interfering in Spain’s domestic affairs, the EU representatives called for talks between the government in Madrid and Catalan authorities, but shied away from suggesting that the bloc could play a peacemaking role, despite appeals from Catalonia for European mediation.

“There is a general consensus that the regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law,” Timmermans told the lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “Respect for the rule of law is not optional, it is fundamental,” he said. “You cannot ignore the law.”

Not all of the lawmakers backed the senior officials’ position, however. A Catalan flag was removed from the plenary at the demand of a Spanish lawmaker, while some parliamentarians displayed signs supporting the referendum or calling for Rajoy to resign.

Urging the pro-European region’s representatives and Rajoy’s government to come to the negotiating table, Timmermans said: “All lines of communication must stay open. It’s time to talk, to find a way out of the impasse.”

The head of the biggest political group in the parliament, Manfred Weber — a Rajoy ally — said he was “very sorry for all those who were hurt,”Catalan citizens and police alike, but warned that demonstrations cannot replace democratic processes.

He saw no European mediation role, saying “the EU has neither the will nor the right to intervene in a true liberal democracy such as Spain.” Weber also had another warning for pro-European Catalonia: “Please keep in mind; who leaves Spain, leaves the European Union.”

Greens group leader Ska Keller was one of the few to condemn the police crackdown against what was, in the main, passive resistance. “This was massive police violence against people and that was beyond any proportionality. Violence so disproportionate cannot be justified. No buts and no excuses, whatever you think about the referendum,” she said.

She said that Rajoy’s strategy of using justice and police means to thwart the poll rather than dialogue has failed. Keller also accused the EU Commission of sitting on the fence and failing in its duty as the enforcer of EU laws.

Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

Catalan official calls for EU support ahead of referendum

September 28, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Catalonia’s foreign affairs chief has appealed for support from the European Union before a disputed referendum calling for independence from Spain. Raul Romeva, speaking to journalists Thursday in Brussels, said that EU institutions need to “understand that this is a big issue.” Romeva spoke a day after Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont accused the EU, in an interview with The Associated Press , of “turning its back” on Catalonia in its conflict with Spain’s central government.

Romeva accused the Spanish government of a “brutal crackdown” on Catalan officials to try to prevent Sunday’s referendum, which Spain considers to be illegal, and that it’s “generated an unprecedented level of shock.”

He said that he doesn’t expect violence, because “it’s not in the Catalan DNA to use violence to solve political problems.”

EU moves ahead faster on new future than on Brexit talks

September 29, 2017

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Twenty-seven European Union nations, excluding Britain, will be coming up with clear options on a more tightly knit future for themselves even before they will allow divorce negotiations with the U.K. to move toward brokering a new relationship.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday he would be presenting “a political agenda in two weeks’ time,” after EU vision statements in recent weeks from French President Emmanuel Macron, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and others on how to the reform the bloc.

That will be just days before the next EU summit, which is expected to reject for now British demands to start negotiating on the country’s future links with the bloc alongside the current talks on how to make the cleanest Brexit possible.

Officials said Tusk will be given the job of reconciling Macron’s vision of how the EU should embrace a joint budget, a shared military and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant with those ideas of EU nations that might not want to grow too closer too quickly.

Tusk said he would seek “real solutions to real problems” and stressed the need to make progress “step-by-step, issue-by-issue.” Macron said the EU had to seize the moment of having an improved economy and increased confidence in the bloc to push through reforms before European elections in 2019.

“2018 is a year of opportunity for Europeans,” he said. “In 5 or 10 years, it will be too late.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned, however, not to set the bar too high, since changes in the bloc of half a billion people have always been tough to achieve.

“Under-promise and over-deliver,” Rutte said. “Don’t promise an elephant and see a mouse show up.” The collegial atmosphere was bolstered by a non-confrontational dinner Thursday night for EU leaders, where few of the usual east-west or north-south fissures spoiled the mood, officials said.

The goodwill has not extended to the issue of Brexit over the past months. EU leaders at their Oct. 19-20 summit have to say whether “sufficient progress” has been achieved on divorce issues with Britain — citizens’ rights, the Irish border and a financial settlement — to grant the U.K. its wish to start talking about a new trade deal with the EU.

Juncker said it will take “a miracle” for there to be sufficient progress by then, despite a round of negotiations in Brussels this week that ended with some progress. Other EU leaders sounded a similar tone. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said despite “a better vibe and a better mood coming out of the negotiations” he questioned whether the time was right to move on to trade issues with Britain.

“It’s still very evident that there’s more work to be done,” he said. For the past week, though, British Prime Minister Theresa May has sounded more conciliatory. In Estonia, she guaranteed her country’s commitment to security even though the nation is leaving the bloc.

May visited troops in Estonia close to the Russian border on Friday and said “the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.” “We will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or man-made disasters,” she vowed.

She also proposed a “new security partnership” to weather the divorce when her country leaves the bloc in March 2019.

Britain hopes for Brexit progress; EU leaders cautious

September 23, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Britain and the European Union are preparing to head back to the Brexit negotiating table after a speech by Prime Minister Theresa May that received a cautious welcome from the bloc’s leaders.

May stressed in her Friday speech that Britain wants to keep closes ties with the bloc and offered to keep paying the EU and following its rules during a two-year transition period after the U.K.’s formal departure in March 2019.

EU leaders welcomed the constructive tone of May’s speech, but called for more detail. French President Emmanuel Macron said clarity still is needed on three big issues: the rights of European citizens affected by Brexit, the amount Britain must pay to settle its obligations to the EU, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

“If those three points are not clarified, then we cannot move forward on the rest,” Macron said. Negotiators are due to start a fourth round of Brexit talks in Brussels on Monday. In a blow for May’s government, credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded Britain a notch to Aa2, the third-highest level, citing the country’s debt burden and uncertainty about Brexit.

The agency said it was not confident Britain “will be able to secure a replacement free trade agreement with the EU which substantially mitigates the negative economic impact of Brexit.” The downgrade decision was made before May’s speech. But Alastair Wilson, head of sovereign ratings at Moody’s, said Saturday that nothing in the speech would have changed the decision.

Tag Cloud