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Posts tagged ‘Decline of the European Union’

Skeptical EU leaders to hear May’s plea for a Brexit delay

March 21, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May was trying to persuade European Union leaders on Thursday to delay Brexit by up to three months, with her plans to leave the bloc in chaos just eight days before Britain’s scheduled departure.

May will meet the 27 national other EU leaders in Brussels, a day after she wrote requesting an extension to the Brexit deadline until June 30. The bloc is weary of Britain’s political soap opera over Brexit. EU Council chief Donald Tusk, who is overseeing the summit, said a short delay should be possible, but only if Britain’s Parliament approves May’s divorce deal with the EU before the scheduled March 29 departure date.

That is a tall order. The deal has twice been rejected twice by hefty margins in Britain’s Parliament, amid opposition from pro-Brexit and pro-EU lawmakers. May said lawmakers now face a “final choice” between her deal, a no-deal departure that could hammer the economy, and cancelling Brexit.

But the prime minister angered many legislators with a televised speech late Wednesday blaming Parliament for the Brexit impasse. May told voters weary of a Brexit saga that has dragged on for almost three years: “You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”

She didn’t accept a role in causing the impasse, but blamed Parliament and warned that if lawmakers didn’t back her deal it would cause “irreparable damage to public trust.” Pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Sam Gyimah called May’s comments “toxic.”

“Resorting to the ‘blame game’ as the PM is doing is a low blow,” he said. Main U.K. opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is also meeting senior EU officials in Brussels, trying to persuade them that Parliament can find an alternative to May’s rejected plan.

“I believe it should be possible to agree a deal with the EU that secures a close economic relationship before the European Parliament elections,” Corbyn said.

UK’s May asks a wary EU to delay Brexit until June 30

March 20, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May formally asked the European Union on Wednesday to postpone Britain’s departure from the bloc — due in nine days — until June 30. But an exasperated EU said Britain would have to accept either a shorter delay or a much longer one.

In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, May said the Brexit process “clearly will not be completed before 29 March, 2019” — the date fixed in law two years ago for Britain’s departure. She asked for a delay until June 30, and said she wanted to set out her reasons to EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Opposition politicians, and pro-EU members of May’s Conservative government, had urged a longer extension, saying a delay of just a few months could leave Britain once again facing a cliff-edge “no-deal” Brexit this summer. Withdrawing without a deal could mean huge disruption for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries.

But a long extension would infuriate the pro-Brexit wing of May’s divided party, and would require Britain to participate in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament. May said that would be unacceptable.

“As prime minister I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30,” she said in the House of Commons. May said a longer delay would result in Parliament spending “endless hours contemplating its navel on Brexit.”

Any delay that required Britain to take part in European parliamentary elections would be a major headache for the bloc. Britain believes it would not have to participate if it got a three-month delay, because the newly elected European parliament is not due to convene until July.

But a leading European Commission official said a June 30 extension would cause “legal uncertainty” for the bloc. The official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told May in a telephone call that “the withdrawal has to be complete before May 23,” the first day of the European elections.

The alternative would be for Britain to participate in the elections and accept a much longer delay, to the end of 2019 or beyond. Britain voted in June 2016 to quit the EU, but almost three years later, its politicians are deadlocked over how — and even whether — to leave.

The only thing divided pro-Brexit and pro-EU politicians agree on is that they hate the Brexit deal May has struck with the bloc. Nor were they impressed by her move to delay. Brexit-backing Conservative lawmaker Peter Bone said delaying Brexit would be “betraying the British people.”

“If you continue to apply for an extension to Article 50 you will be betraying the British people. Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Angela Eagle said May should “stop banging her head against the brick wall of her defeated deal” and seek cross-party support for a new Brexit strategy.

May’s troubles deepened when the speaker of the House of Commons ruled earlier this week that she can’t ask Parliament to vote on the deal again unless it is substantially changed. That scuttled May’s plan to try a third time this week to get the agreement approved.

May told Tusk that despite the ruling “it remains my intention to bring the deal back to the House.” If it is approved, she plans to use the extension until June 30 in order for Parliament to pass the necessary legislation for Britain’s departure.

A delay to Britain’s withdrawal requires the approval of all 27 remaining EU countries, who are fed up with British political crisis. Juncker said EU leaders are unlikely to agree to a delay at this week’s summit.

“My impression is … that this week at the European Council there will be no decision, but that we will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs. May doesn’t have agreement to anything, either in her Cabinet or in Parliament,” Juncker told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio.

“As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t reach a decision.” Britain’s political chaos has drawn reactions ranging from sympathy to scorn at home and around the world. On its front page Wednesday, the Brexit-backing Daily Mail newspaper bemoaned the time since the referendum as”1,000 lost days.”

From Washington, Donald Trump Jr. said May should have listened to his father, who urged her last year to sue the EU in order to secure better departure terms. The U.S. president has criticized May for not taking his advice.

The president’s multimillionaire son blamed “elites” in London and Brussels for scuttling Brexit. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Trump Jr. said “democracy in the U.K. is all but dead.” The gridlock is also causing increasing exasperation among EU leaders.

Juncker said that “in all probability” Britain won’t leave on March 29, but he underlined the EU’s insistence that it will not reopen the painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement that British lawmakers have snubbed.

“There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations and no additional assurances on top of the additional assurances we have already given,” he said. Juncker said Britain’s Parliament needed to decide whether it would approve the deal that is on the table.

“If that doesn’t happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God,” he said. “And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience.”

Cook reported from Brussels. Raf Casert also contributed from Brussels. Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.

EU official floats 2-stage delay to Brexit

March 16, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — A senior European Union official is floating the possibility of a two-step delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc, currently scheduled for March 29. Britain is expected to seek a short delay if lawmakers finally pass a twice-rejected EU withdrawal deal, or a longer one if they don’t.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told Germany’s Funke newspaper group in comments published Saturday that Britain must know why it needs a delay. He added that “as long as this isn’t clear, Brexit can only be delayed for a few weeks, solely to avoid a chaotic withdrawal March 29.”

Timmermans said: “During this time, the British must tell us what they want: new elections? A new referendum? Only after that can we talk about a several-month extension.”

Brextension: UK lawmakers vote to seek delay of EU departure

March 15, 2019

LONDON (AP) — In a stalemate over Brexit, British politicians have chosen to delay it. After weeks of political gridlock, Parliament voted Thursday to seek to postpone the country’s departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29.

With Brexit due in 15 days and no divorce deal yet approved, the House of Commons voted 413-202 to ask the bloc to put off Britain’s exit until at least June 30. The official result was initially announced as 412-202, but was later amended to 413 in the official voting list.

The vote gives Prime Minister Theresa May some breathing space, but is still humbling for a leader who has spent two years telling Britons they were leaving the bloc on March 29. Power to approve or reject the extension lies with the EU, which has signaled that it will only allow a delay if Britain either approves a divorce deal or makes a fundamental shift in its approach to Brexit. In a historic irony, almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, its future is now in the bloc’s hands.

May is likely to ask EU leaders for an extension at a March 21-22 summit of the bloc in Brussels. The European Commission said the bloc would consider any request, “taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.”

May was forced to consider a Brexit delay after lawmakers twice rejected her EU divorce deal and also ruled out, in principle, leaving the bloc without an agreement. Withdrawing without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining countries.

By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay. Thursday could have been worse for May. Lawmakers rejected an attempt to strip her of control over the Brexit agenda. They defeated by the narrowest of margins — 314-312 — an opposition attempt let Parliament choose an alternative to May’s rejected divorce deal and force the government to negotiate it with the EU.

Lawmakers also voted against holding a second Brexit referendum — at least for now. By a decisive 334-85 vote, they defeated a motion that called for another vote by the public on whether to stay in the EU or leave. Campaigners for a new referendum are divided over whether the time is right to push for a second Brexit vote. The vote doesn’t prevent lawmakers from trying again later to get Parliament’s support for another referendum.

Despite the rebuffs and the political chaos that have weakened her authority, May has signaled she will try a third time to get backing for her agreement next week. She is seeking to win over Brexit-backing opponents in her own party and its Northern Irish political ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, who fear the deal keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU.

Alan Wager, a researcher at the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, said May faced a struggle to overturn a 149-vote margin of defeat in Parliament this week. “It’s still really difficult to see how the numbers stack up for Theresa May, but she’s giving it one more go,” he said.

If May’s deal is approved, she hopes to use a delay until June 30 to enact legislation needed for Britain’s departure. She has warned Brexit supporters who oppose her deal that if no withdrawal agreement is passed in the coming days, the only option will be to seek a long extension that could mean Brexit never happens.

Any delay in the Brexit process would require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states — and leaders in the bloc are exasperated at the events in London. They have said they will approve an extension if there is a specific reason, but don’t want to provide more time for political bickering in Britain.

“Under no circumstances an extension in the dark!” tweeted the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt. “Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on a prolongation.”

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the EU needed “more decisions” from London. The EU is also reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the late May elections for the European Parliament, because that would mean Britain taking part even as it prepares to leave.

The bloc is more open to a long delay to allow Britain to radically change course — an idea favored by pro-EU British lawmakers who want to maintain close ties with the EU. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he will appeal to EU leaders “to be open to a long extension if the U.K. finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it.”

In another sting for May, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “surprised at how badly” the Brexit negotiations have been handled. Trump, who sees himself as a deal-maker, said he gave May advice but she didn’t listen to him.

Speaking alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House, Trump said Britain’s debate over leaving the EU was “tearing the country apart.” British businesses expressed relief at the prospect of a delay. Many worry that a no-deal Brexit would cause upheaval, with customs checks causing gridlock at U.K. ports, new tariffs triggering sudden price increases and red tape for everyone from truckers to tourists.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the vote for an extension showed there was “still some common sense in Westminster.” “But without a radically new approach, business fears this is simply a stay of execution,” he said.

Associated Press writers Gregory Katz in London and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

EU official Tusk calls on May to delay Brexit

February 25, 2019

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — European Union official Donald Tusk added pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday to delay the country’s departure from the bloc, saying it would be a “rational solution.”

Tusk said that “all the 27 (member states) will show maximum understanding and goodwill” to make such a postponement possible after two days of talks between May and several European leaders at the EU-Arab League summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh failed to produce a breakthrough in the negotiations.

May met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker early Monday as she sought elusive changes to the U.K.-EU divorce agreement. Britain’s Parliament has rejected the deal once, and May has just over a month to get it approved by lawmakers before the U.K.’s scheduled departure day of March 29.

May says a new vote won’t be held this week and could come as late as March 12. Tusk, the European Council president, said that such a timeframe might get too tight to avoid a chaotic and costly cliff-edge departure.

“I believe that in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution,” Tusk told reporters. At the moment though, and after his talks with her on Sunday, Tusk said that “Prime Minister May still believes that she is able to avoid this scenario” of extending the departure beyond March 29.

Tusk refused to say how long such an extension should be as rumors swirled it should go to anything from two months to almost two years. U.K. lawmakers’ objections to the Brexit deal center on a provision for the border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks along the Irish border until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

May wants to change the deal to reassure British lawmakers that the backstop would only apply temporarily. But EU leaders insist that the legally Brexit binding withdrawal agreement, which took a year and a half to negotiate, can’t be reopened.

A group of British lawmakers will try this week to force the government to delay Brexit rather than see the country crash out of the bloc without a deal. They want Parliament to vote Wednesday to extend the negotiating process.

Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, one of those behind the move, said it was irresponsible of the government that just a few weeks before Brexit “we still don’t know what kind of Brexit we are going to have and we’re not even going to have a vote on it until two weeks before that final deadline.”

“I don’t see how businesses can plan, I don’t see how public services can plan and I think it’s just deeply damaging,” Cooper told the BBC.

Raf Casert reported from Brussels. Jill Lawless contributed from London.

EU chair Croatia votes in tight presidential runoff

January 05, 2020

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Voters in Croatia on Sunday cast ballots to choose a new president in a fiercely contested runoff race, with a liberal opposition candidate challenging the conservative incumbent while the country presides over the European Union during a crucial period.

Croatia took over the EU’s rotating presidency on Jan. 1. for the first time since joining the bloc in 2013. This means that the EU’s newest member state will be tasked with overseeing Britain’s divorce from the union on Jan. 31 and the start of post-Brexit talks.

Sunday’s runoff presidential vote is expected to be a very tight and unpredictable race. It’s being held because none of the candidates won more than half of the votes in the first round on Dec. 22. Current President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic is running for a second term, challenged by leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

Milanovic won slightly more votes than Grabar Kitarovic in the first round but analysts have warned there is no clear favorite in the runoff and that each vote counts. There are 3.8 million voters in Croatia, a country of 4.2 million that is also a member of NATO.

The two candidates represent the two main political options in Croatia: Grabar Kitarovic is backed by the governing, conservative Croatian Democratic Union, a dominating political force since the country split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, while Milanovic enjoys support from the leftist Social Democrats and their liberal allies.

Even though the presidency is largely ceremonial in Croatia, Sunday’s election is important as a test ahead of parliamentary elections expected later this year. Milanovic’s victory over Grabar Kitarovic would rattle the conservative government during the crucial EU presidency and weaken its grip on power in an election year.

While starting out stronger, support for Grabar Kitarovic had been slashed following a series of gaffes in the election campaign. The 51-year-old had a career in diplomacy and in NATO before becoming Croatia’s first female president in 2015. Going into the runoff vote, Grabar Kitarovic evoked the Croatian unity during the 1991-95 war in a bid to attract far-right votes to her side.

The 53-year-old Milanovic is leading the struggling liberals’ bid to regain clout in the predominantly right-leaning nation. Prone to populist outbursts while prime minister, Milanovic lost popularity after the ouster of his government in 2016. He now says he has learned from the experience and matured. Milanovic has urged the voters to give him a chance to surprise them.

Though a member of the EU, Croatia is still coping with graft and economic woes, partly because of the consequences of the 1991-95 conflict that erupted because of Croatia’s decision to leave the Serb-led Yugoslav federation. The Catholic Church plays an important role in the society

Next EU chief defends NATO after Macron criticism

November 08, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — The president-elect of the European Union’s executive Commission is defending NATO after French President Macron claimed that a lack of U.S. leadership is causing the military alliance’s “brain death.”

Ursula von der Leyen didn’t explicitly address Macron’s criticism in a speech Friday but said that, even though there has been “bumpiness” recently, “NATO has proven itself superbly as a protective shield of freedom.”

Macron said the European members of NATO “should reassess the reality” of what the alliance is in light of the U.S. commitment. Von der Leyen, who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker in one of the EU’s top jobs in the coming weeks, said that “NATO was and is always what its member states make of it — it is up to 29 countries to participate and change something.”

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