Thursday, 14 January 2016

Will There Be Much EU Left to Brexit From?, by Loz Kaye

With a new year, the prospect of the “Brexit” referendum draws ever closer. With Cameron's negotiations set to push forward in February, a date this summer starts to look increasingly likely, possibly as soon as six weeks after the May elections.

In any case both campaign groups have continued to gear up. What's noticeable as 2016 has begun is how oddly insular the Yes/In campaign's line of attack has been.

It's been about British jobs, British influence, British farming, even the British space industry. All of this is based on the notion that the EU is a stable unifying force both politically and financially.

However well-intentioned the progressive hopes for Europe are, it makes for a selfish yes that's about trying to show what's in it for us, rather than trying to address the challenges we face together as an international community.

And there are plenty of challenges. The Yes campaign view of what the EU offers is bizarrely divorced from what is actually happening on the mainland right now. The EU is in deep crisis, unable to deal with threats to freedom of movement, financial stability and progressive values.

If anything has shown this, it is the turmoil unleashed by the humanitarian disaster of people fleeing conflict zones and oppression. Even the half-hearted attempts to respond have not been honoured. At the beginning of this year only 0.17% of the pledged target of relocations had been met, just 272 Syrians and Eritreans.

Besides, if your frame for dealing with refugees is Europe, you have to draw a not-Europe line somewhere. Whether that is Calais, Siklos, or the Syrian border. Whether that line is a discrete blue sign with stars or with barbed wire.

Since the waves of sympathy generated by pictures of Alan Kurdi's body on the beach, the European establishment has been focusing on keeping refugees out, not helping them.

There are border controls in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, fences have been rolled out in Hungary. The Schengen agreement is in real terms dead, if it can be suspended so easily.

The most obvious symbol of European cooperation on the ground is being undermined with each ID check on a Scandinavian train. The EU has been entirely unable to handle the situation once it has arisen.

It is all very well for Commissioner Avramopoulos to call in ministers for a meeting and insist freedom of movement must stand.

It is all very well for commentators to suggest that the Danish government is not abiding by EU law. The reality is that ministers are clearly indifferent to what Commissioners think or what EU law is.

Perhaps the In/Yes camp just think this is member states not living up to the ideal. But whether it's in the Baltic or in the Balkans the fundamentals of how the EU is supposed work are simply being ignored. 

Cameron's objection to “ever closer union” is beginning to look increasingly moot.

Poland is under investigation by the commission for its media laws, with Guy Verhofstadt suggesting that the country might not have been admitted to the EU had they been in place.

Denmark voted against ditching its justice area opt-out in a recent referendum. Despite a forced Greek return to the drachma being avoided, the Eurozone's woes can hardly be described as over. The fiscal pact is causing inevitable political as well as financial tensions.

The formation of a Portuguese government after elections was held up, with the President having reservations about left-leaning Eurosceptic support, despite the coalition's being able to command the necessary mandate.

While the President's actions fell well short of being the “coup” that was claimed by many on social media, the political stand-off underlined being part of the fiscal pact is far from a guarantee of stability.

The chief art of European politics has been how elegantly problems can be kicked further down the road. But this does not make for the promises of unity and reliability held out by the Yes campaign.

None of the crises that the EU has faced has been dealt with satisfactorily, and that is becoming more and more apparent across the continent.

By the time we get to the referendum, there may well be not much EU left to Brexit from.

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