Two years of Brexiting begins, a long road ends
One of the things that is ending with Brexit may well be two speed Europe.
Two speed Europe was a concept to explain how some countries used the Euro currency and some did not and that some countries dropped border controls and some did not. And so on, but currency and border controls were two of the big ones, maybe biggest.
Another way of explaining Two Speed Europe was: England lagged behind.
The French and the Germans were leading the European Economic Community, as it was called before it became the European Union, and the chair was out for England to be a leader too, but England never sat down in that chair. England was late to join, only joined halfheartedly, and now is the first to leave.
Under both ‘two speed’ and ‘Franco-German leadership’ visions of Europe our press treated membership as if there only one thing that being part of Europe meant and somehow whole nations were treated as if they were only one person.
Of course each of these nations are way to complex, multifaceted and politically divided to begin to speak of “what England wants” or “what the Germans will do”. That is sort of treating the United States as if we all made the decision to have Trump as our leader. The Europeans do not do Thanksgiving dinner, but European families do have to set politics aside when they sit down to eat together.
Different parts of British, French and German society want different things and the relative influence of different people in those three nations over the European Union is now going to evolve.
European’s as individuals support political movements that are a lot more different from each other than our semi-official two party state.
The two year exit negotiations deadline is only one of the factors that will shape a changing Europe.
Other large factors will be the extent of anti-EU sentiment inside other nations, the successes and failures of different sectors of the economies, the ongoing flood of political refugees and desperate economic migrants, the relationship with Russia and the results of austerity politics.
Brexit negotiations starting does not mean it will take the full two years to complete. It just means that official membership will end in two years at the latest. Some things will get worked out beforehand and some negotiations will always be somewhat open.
Elections will be held soon in France and Germany. Both will probably result in a pro EU, pro NATO center right government with Germany’s right more stable and France’s extreme right more influential.
Spiegel, a German news magazine of reference, had an op-ed for Brexit Day that states British Prime Minister May has a five front struggle that she cannot win. According to Markus Becker the five fronts are:
· Brussels, meaning the social-economic divorce negotiations.
· Scotland, meaning a nation that decided to stay in the UK based on promise that Brexit breaks.
· Northern Ireland, where staying part of the EU may mean reunification with the south.
· The British Economy, which will have many Brexit winners and losers.
· British Internal Politics, as there will be another election, and Labor might win.
The front page of the leading Spanish newspaper site, EL PAÍS, was an op-ed by British writer John Carlin called Brexit: The will of the people. On the day the UK triggers Article 50, many are wondering whether the shot will be fatal, or whether there is still hope that the patient will recover.
English version: http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/03/29/inenglish/1490775121_558806.html
Between the one comment about British internal politics and the other about how the people are not a single item there is also the fact that the United Kingdom is not very democratic.
The current Tory government was elected with only 37% of the vote. Two thirds of Britons voted against the conservatives and at the time, the conservatives were in favor of staying in the EU and lead by a different Prime Minister, David Cameron.
The Brexit vote itself did not require a minimum voter turnout, a larger than 50% +1 majority, nor did it allow young people to vote at age 16, as the Scottish independance referendum did.
With Scotland and Northern Ireland voting in a decisive majority for “Remain” (to stay in the EU) there is some constitutional question of if England and Wales have the right to take this move without the agreement of their “Union” partners of the United Kingdom.The bitterness is only made worse because the Brexit vote comes so soon after the Scottish national referendum where it is fair to say that Scotts voted to stay in the UK in large part because if they didn’t, they were threatened with exile from the European Union. No wonder the Scottish government has asked to hold another referendum and no wonder that the London government, representing only a third of Britons, made up an excuse to turn them down. That excuse was the need for “unity during these important negotiations” the Scotts have voted twice to never have.
The President of France will be elected by a majority vote in a runoff between the top two placing candidates in the first round to be held on April 23rd. The Chancellor of Germany will be elected by the Bundestag, where all political parties with more than 5% of the national vote, or the plurality of the vote in a district are represented. The leaders of most nations of Europe, and the commissioners of the European Union will all have a much more legitimate mandate than Prime Minister Theresa May as we go through these Brexit talks. Despite that, there will be very little chance of the UK undergoing any constitutional reform at the same time as they are working out a new trade deal. If the UK held its next election following the Brexit under representative rules, which would be an unexpected surprise.
Which part of the UK economy benefits from Europe and which needed to not be “all in”?The first place to look would be the Euro. Why did some in the UK so adamantly fight to keep a separate currency? The UK equivalent of Wall Street is “The City” and it lead the part of the British economy that is more international, focused on banking, insurance, investing, shipping and commodities trade. Like our US “investment sector” there are parts of the UK economy that thrives despite high unemployment, loss of industrial jobs and agricultural subsidies.
That the UK international investment sector needs an independent Pound Sterling seems obvious, but there are probably some exceptions to that. Some of the big firms are now setting up satellite companies on the continent, especially in Paris. Some of that investing was making good use of EU membership, but that may be easily fixed for the stockholders.
The Brexit negotiations are getting media attention for two major issues.
First is the three million odd EU citizens living in the UK and the only slightly less number of British citizens living the European Union life in Spain, Ireland and scattered around the other 27 EU states. Brussels has made resolving this issue their perquisite that needs to be agreed before even starting on the second major issue: Trade.
EU membership means (for the UK meant) free movement of people, goods and services around the member states under EU standards, but basically tariff free.
So now Prime Minister May is asking to have controls over immigration and still have open trade with the EU on a bilateral basis. Sort of a deal where they keep the Poles out, but still get to send their sheep to France. Brussels has said that if Britton wants to have free trade, there needs to be free movement of labor. That is what we members of the public are called in economic trade negotiations: ‘labor’.
On the other side of the channel, different groups feel differently about UK membership with some being happy to see an end to Anglo-Saxon capitalist sociopathy, others who will miss it and all kinds of different reactions to the economic changes including wanting to trade their own goods in the absence of English competition. We should expect a lot of talk about free movement of the people and a lot of back room dealings that are less friendly to the free movement of goods and services.
The UK has ironically now put forward the incorporation of EU rules into British law “for the transition” so that they can have the stability of the EU regulations that they are supposedly now ‘freeing’ themselves from.
So, if they want to keep some, or most of the foreign workers, keep their own ‘labor’ moving freely inside the other 27, want to keep selling their sheep and Rovers to France, then why Brexit?
There has been an anti-European drumbeat in the UK ever since De Gaul and Adenauer broke with Franco-German historic antagonism at a time when the rubble of the Second World War had not yet been all picked up.
That discourse has been strong in the British press, much of which is tabloid and sensationalist, in a tone that was at times anti-German, anti-French or anti-social-welfare-state, or all of the above. The two political parties that benefit from forming governments with a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes also chimed in with cheap critiques of proportional representation pointing shallow ridicule at Italy. This has been part of British chauvinism in popular culture for so long, much of the British public does not doubt the truth of it.
In British popular culture France is a failed state with a failed economy, Italy is an unstable nation, both are failed military powers, and the social contract ideas of German and other continental governments are some kind of oppressive poverty akin to England’s own housing projects that they call “housing estates”. This same kind of reporting would have one believe that the Eurozone and the continental open boarders are some kind of failure. Thought-out these reports that pass for journalism there has been an aftertaste of disparaging characterization of whole nations and of course a sense of British superiority.
We Americans can compare the UK media ‘discussing’ Europe to our own media on the subject of Canadian health care or anything related to Mexico. We can also see British chauvinism as a cousin of American Exceptionalism.
Fortunately there are many people in the US and UK who do not drink the Kool-Aide.
But many do. In the UK our Donald Trump has a kindred spirit in the person of Boris Johnson. He was almost Prime Minister, but instead stepped aside for May, who appointed him to hold the foreign affairs portfolio called Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. This guy has been something of a belligerent buffoon in British politics for a while. He served as the anti-everything-progressive Mayor of London who never saw any private property rights he did not want to “unleashed”. During the ‘Leave’ campaign he ran around with a bus spouting off whopping lies about how much money the EU was costing National Health every day and describing the EU regulations as coming down from ‘faceless bureaucrats’ in Brussels who he made sound post Nazi and post Soviet. Like The Donald he comes from the wealth of elite to which he adds title and privilege (and a long string of names) of the old British class system. He is part of the privileged elite that former Prime Minister David Cameron belonged to. He even has funny looking blond hair.
So the May administration has a Trump like character at foreign affairs. This is the guy who leads the new relationship with Europe.
The UK had nuttier, further right wing extremists than the ‘Eurosceptic’ right wing Tories. The main group today is UKIP, the UK Independence Party, who led the main part of the ‘Leave’ campaign. They also score high in national elections, but the unfair voting system keeps them out of parliament for the most part. Ironically, UKIP is a large part of the UK delegation to the European Parliament, which is elected more democratically.
UKIP has been playing the anti-immigration card and flirted with the British harder right, once represented by a National Front and now splintered into some smaller group for whom UKIP is too moderate. This is a smaller fringe, but let’s remember that the UK is one of the original homes of the right wing skinhead movement, part of which had a history of violence against visible minorities when they were called ‘Paki-bashers’. Not too long ago this faction would have been vehemently anti-Irish. An American white nationalist, militia member, clan member or border Minuteman could find friends in the UK. (Some do and some minimal relationships between these groups exists)
Back in the mainstream, there has been a lot of opportunism. Different groups had an interest in feeding enough of this chauvinism and xenophobia to carve out a special deal for themselves. The existence of a Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party along with an even more anti-Europe fringe made it easier for special deals to be cut for the UK, which has Europe’s largest banks, some of the largest productive economy, free access to the European market for everything from sheep to North Sea Oil and Western Europe’s largest military.
Two speed Europe has been good for the UK.
So, in order to win an election, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU that he never expected to lose. There has been no move to hold that vote over again even when there was some constitutional justification, so the UK elites do not seem to be upset about the outcome enough to do something about this. So maybe they find that they can cut their own deal and continue to be in Europe on their own terms.
How badly this will hurt the people of the UK is still to be seen.