Don´t expect the EU to fall apart any time soon

The idea that EU is falling apart is repeated surprisingly often – surprisingly because there are no signs of this.
There are however, clear signs that the EU countries are embarking on even closer cooperation than ever before.
That´s basically because the world looks like such a dangerous place nowadays.

Great Britain has decided to leave the EU and this is said to constitute a crisis for the EU.
The falling apart (of the EU) would not be far off.
Media doesn´t have to look for very long to find politicians or commentators that will state this to be a truth.

A quick look at the facts does not offer much substantiation for this interpretation of how things stand.
In purely practical terms we are talking about the Union going from 28 members to 27.
That is manageable.

This being about the UK makes an exit somewhat easier since the UK has obtained so many opt-outs from EU policies over the decades that the divorce should be all the easier for it. Great Britain has kept its` border controls, is not part of the European migration policy, only participates partly in the police cooperation, is not a euro member and does not recognise the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Economically, a brexit will no doubt hurt, since the EU will lose 12% of its economy (especially during an economic down turn).
But it is still doable.
The EU side can see a number of businesses sneaking over some activities to the continent which will lessen the pain.
And most likely the City will see part of its ‘many billions worth of turnover move across too, an added bonus.

Well, politically then. All the other EU countries tired of the bullying EU, panting to leave along the Brits?
The fact is that no other country is even contemplating such a thing. You´d think at least non-members Switzerland and Norway would be scrambling to get on the brexit train to… well, we don´t know where it´s headed and that may explain why no one is following the British lead.

Truth be told,  the only people eager for an EU exit are the usual suspects, the xenophobic populists you find in most EU countries nowadays.
Please note that even they are not actively pushing for an exit.
The economic uncertainty and political chaos surrounding Brexit is simply too frightening.

So, everybody loves the EU then?
Hardly, EU critics are a dime a dozen.
That still won´t make the EU fall apart.

There are very strong reasons for the EU countries to stay together.
We don´t get to hear much about this, partly because of how the media works.
Media will reports news, very rarely a trend or a development.

A development that has been taking place in Europe for decades, is that the EU countries step by step, have been harmonising laws and regulations in order to create one single market out of their 28… soon to be 27 markets.

Thanks to this, Europe is a winner in the globalisation that has been gaining pace over the last decades.
Europe could easily have lost out if its ‘nations instead, one by one, had tried to fight off this development through barriers to trade.
Instead, it chose a different direction and as a result, it now sits comfortably on the worlds´ biggest and richest consumer market.
That has made Europe an economic heavy weight in global terms.

The process of creating of the single market has been presented to us through media, as a series of events. You will recognise the scenario:
The EU commission presents a proposal of law, the member countries start negotiations.
They always start out in disagreement. The louder the disagreement, the bigger the headlines.
More often than not, the negotiations will be dubbed ”an EU crisis”.
(Ordinary citizens might well form the impression that the EU is permanently in a crisis.)

Generally the media will not however, report that all these crisis – or negotiations – end in an agreement. That is not considered news.
”Journalists will report trains NOT running”, as a colleague of mine likes to point out, ”not that trains ARE running.”

Nevertheless, this market which has with time developed into a huge economic resource for Europe, is one of the strongest reasons for EU countries not to follow Great Britain into exile.
No one believes that you can achieve on the outside the advantages that you have on the outside. Not even the loudest EU critics such as Hungary´s PM Victor Orban or the strong man of Poland, Mr Kaczynski.

There is a second and very important reason to stay in the EU
Most people following news media will have spotted this one:
There is a global power shift going on.

It´s become overwhelmingly clear that the US has taken a step back from its role as world police.
The US seem to no longer have the will – that goes for the public opinion as well as its politicians – or the economic strength to act the superpower anymore.

It is no less clear that China is sailing up, eager to fill some of the void.
China invests heavily in Africa, in Latin America, in Greece and in Turkey, buying land, industries, and energy resources.
Wherever there is a lack of capital, you will find the Chinese.

Now China is asking to be counted as a political power too but the West has not been keen to offering the Chinese any influence in the global institutions.
So China is grabbing it, having learnt by the West how it’s done.

Last year China set up an international investment bank armed with 100 bn US dollars, the Asian Investment Bank. It´s generally seen as a rival to the US dominated World Bank.
The fact that the US warned its ‘ allies from joining the AIIB, makes it seem even more so.

Well, no less than 57 countries join anyway. All of the EU countries.
And the very first was the United Kingdom, possibly forgetting for a moment its´ very special relationship with the US.
(The `thank you‘ came as a several billion worth of Chinese investment in British nuclear power.)

Hardly surprising that the first two projects financed by the AIIB will be to construct part of the Silk Road, Chinas enormous plan to recreate the landroad between China and the West (dominating Eurasia as a side effect?).

Asean is a group of 10 small Asian countries who got together mainly to get off under the Chinese dominance.
They all – as it happens – have for decades had close ties with the US.
They have joined the AAIB as well.
And concluded a free trade agreement with China.

China meanwhile has found yet another constellation of countries to team up with; the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Together they represent half the worlds´ population and 25 % of its output.
The Brics meet for summits nowadays.
At the last one, in October 2016, they agreed to cooperate on energy, defence and the fight against terrorism.

The very latest stand-off between China and the US as global powers had a military side to it.
The US has been patrolling the South Asian Sea trying to obstruct unwelcome Chinese expansion.

In July, the International Court in Hague reached the conclusion that China has no legal base to its´ claims in the South Asian Sea. Yet, it is the US losing this tussle.
Long-time ally of the US and the winning party of the court battle, the Philippines, is switching sides. President Duterte (you may remember, he called the US President Obama son of a …)  is opting for new, warm relations with China including a compromise on the contentious waters  (and hopefully large investments).

Those are just a few anecdotes to illustrate the upward mobility of China in the world.
In Europe, however, it is the Russian mobility that worry more.

President Vladimir Putin doesn´t have the advantage of a strong economy, which is one of the reasons why his efforts to create a ”single market” for himself (the Eurasian Economic Union) failed.

Instead President Putin uses to maximum political effect his assets of oil and gas. He blackmails countries over deliveries (Ukraine), he buys loyalty (Serbia and Bulgaria), he softens relations gone bad (Turkey) and infiltrates through the backdoor (Germany).

Russia has been more eager than China (so far) to use military means to gain influence in the world. He has used military force in Georgia, in annexing the Crimea, in destabilising Ukraine and, of course, he is unleashing unspeakable violence over Syria in order to get a say in the Middle East.

As if this wasn´t worrying enough, he has his military planes playing dangerous games with civilian air traffic further and further away from Russian airspace. Such incidents have taken place over Copenhagen, Oslo and as far as the English Channel.
His military planes are on a weekly basis violating Swedish, Finnish and Baltic airspace.
In the Baltic Sea, the Russian navy is used to chase marine researchers off international waters.

Russia´s very latest initiative is to have nuclear-ready missiles placed in Kaliningrad, their range making it possible to drop a missile on Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen or Warsaw.

Taken all together, the goings on of the three global giants; the US, China and Russia, push the Europeans towards one simple conclusion:
European countries need to stick together because the world is an increasingly scary place.

Now, if we look past media reports of the EU falling apart, we may discover that this very idea is taking concrete shape presently.

We could have learnt of this when the EU leaders in September 2016 met up for a first summit without a British Prime Minister present. But journalists were too busy searching for signs of cracks in the European unity.

The EU politicians will not let media down in this respect. An outburst from a disappointed Victor Orban (no, there was no appetite for EU reform as he had hoped) and another from Italian PM Matteo Renzi (no, nobody is in the mood to stump up for your bankrupt banks) made for glorious headlines.
The EU was – yet again – falling apart. Right? The brexiteers had told us so and here it was.

What the media missed, however, was that the EU 27 were in complete agreement on the way forward.
The EU urgently needed to work on:
1. a closer defence cooperation
2. closer cooperation in antiterrorism
3. creating more jobs (That´s more integration in the single market, if you were wondering)

By ”in complete agreement” I mean that even the recalcitrant Eastern European countries agreed.
Heartily, as a matter of fact.
PM Orban, as it happens, wanted to go further than anyone else in this type of European integration and create an EU army outright.

The agreement of the 27 in September was not a spur of the moment-thing.
They have been discussing this very subject – focusing on security and defence – for some time.

In fact, the media missed a first chance to report about this at the EU summit in June of this year.
Although, that summit took place only four days after the brexit referendum and was PM Cameron´s very last summit so no prize for guessing what media focused on instead.

In at least one respect, covering the EU as a correspondent differs very much from covering a foreign country. What one politicians says, no matter how influential, no matter how sexy quote he/she offers, is never in itself an indication of what the EU will do.
The EU very rarely does anything remarkable at all unless a comfortable majority of the 28  (soon 27) EU leaders are on board.

When covering the EU, it therefore pays to read the somewhat dry and sometimes too lengthy summit conclusions.
They will tell you what the whole lot of them actually agree upon.

Summit conclusions of the EU also have the marvellous effect of triggering the whole EU machinery.
EU civil servants will use the conclusions as a basis to produce proposals of measures or laws, they will redirect money and staff towards achieving what the EU heads of states have stated that they want doing.

And what the leaders said at the June summit that they wanted done – and reiterated in September – was to implement the brand new European Global Strategy.

The term ´European Global Strategy´ didn´t make it into mainstream media even when EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his ”State of the Union”-speech in September took a leaf out of it, announcing upcoming proposals for a single headquarters for EU military and civilian operations around the world, a European Defence Fund for research and `permanent structured cooperation`.

(That last bit? The EU has had a multinational battalion of soldiers standing ready to spring into action. The command over this battalion shifts every six months, it relies on the willingness of participants. So does the participation in EU peacekeeping operations. A permanent structure would definitely entail less dependence on willingness.)

The media version of this was that Mr Juncker had proposed an EU army.
This was ridiculed.
British politicians forgot about brexit for a moment and defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon informed us that he was certainly going to veto this plan.

That would of course be a bit late in the day, since the EU heads of state had in fact asked Mr Juncker in June to start working on such proposals.
(The British government did not try to veto this.)

Media versions put aside for a moment, the EU Global Strategy, come of course as a response to the shift in global powers that appear to be taking place.
Add to that the migration pressures on Europe and climate changes.

Nobody knows where all this will end, what sort of world awaits us further along.
But there is no doubt in the minds of all European leaders – apart from the British – that we will be safer if we stick together.

The Global Strategy was not cobbled together in a few weeks before the June summit.
Already in December 2013, the EU leaders agreed that there was an urgent need to update the 2003 EU Security Strategy.
Things do seem to change quickly these days.

A closer defence cooperation to be part of this, was a given. (But stated clearly, for measure. Also, the Nato Secretary General made a highly unusual appearance at that summit.)

In June of last year, the heads of state took note of an analysis of the global situation from the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. She was tasked to proceed with shaping a strategy based on the analysis.
Her draft has been widely debated and wrangled over by experts, before being adopted by the EU leaders in its final shape in June 2016.

Did you happen to notice a short news item about German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently? She is quoted saying:
”In the 21st century, we won’t be getting as much help as we got in the 20th. We need to greatly increase the Bundeswehr budget to get from 1.2 to 2 percent.”
So basically doubling the German defence budget.

Is this ”the EU” once running roughshod over its member countries, forcing them to adopt an unwelcome militarism under the cover of a Global Strategy?
On the contrary, the whole process leading up to the Global Strategy, has very much been driven from the capitals.

The Netherlands enthusiastically led the work on the strategy as EU president in the spring of 2016.
The EU big four (now that the UK is out), Germany, France, Italy and Spain in April 2016 added their contribution in form of a `non-paper` explaining how a closer defence cooperation should look like, including for example the dismantling of any obstacle to cooperation with Nato and enhancing the competitiveness of  the European defence industry.

Eastern Europe’s four awkward EU members, the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) spelled out their wishes for defence cooperation in concrete detail in their Bratislava-declaration.

”At long last”! was basically the reaction of the French government.
And Germany has already incorporated the new ideas in its national Defence Program from July 2016 that practically word by word ask for what the EU Global Strategy is meant to deliver.
”The world of 2016 is unsettled”, as Angela Merkel explains her reasons in the foreword.

That would likely also be the reason that European countries in 2015 and 2016 broke their 20 year long spell of shrinking defence budgets.

It makes perfect sense for the European countries to look into whether they can win something by cooperating.
Federica Mogherini says that as a whole, the EU countries spend about half as much as the US does on defence.
But yet, it only manages to obtain 15 % of the US military capacity.

Now, the Global Strategy is not only about defence and security. The goal is to make European states about `resilient`(the new buzzword) and then some. Europe will only be safe when it  neigbourhood is stable. So the EU means to work on making all the countries resilient whose instability could otherwise threaten the European tranquillity.
That´s the Ukraine of course and Turkey but includes furher away countries such as migration- and/or terrorist-prone Nigeria, Mali and Afghanistan.

Every instrument must be used in order to help building resilience in Europe and beyond; Trade agreements, development aid, conflict prevention, crisis management, peacekeeping and reconstruction (not another Iraq, thank you very much).
Fighting negative effects of climate change, fighting poverty and unemployment, helping democracy building are some of the steps on the way towards resilience (not in the hope of a second Nobel Prize of peace, you understand. This is to address the `root causes of migration`).
All work is to be done as far as possible in cooperation with global institutions such as the UN, NATO and the World Bank (cheaper and less work, the EU is not set on a course to win super power status).

Now, planning is all very well but will the European countries actually carry their intentions through this time? To be quite honest, this wouldn`t be the first time they decide about more security and defence cooperation and do very little about it.
Why, the proud EU battalions for instance, have not been used once! (Almost happened but the UK vetoed it)

The answer is simply that it will be carried out in real life if the instability of the world frightens the Europeans enough.
(Should, for instance, Donald Trump, win the American presidential election).
Whereas if things turn around and become nice and cosy again, the Global Strategy will remain words on a paper.

Still, for now the conclusion must be that no one is about to follow Great Britain out of the EU.
The fact that European politicians are constantly haranguing the EU shouldn´t blind us to the fact that; 1. The EU countries have far too much economic gain of the single market to want to give up their EU membership and;  2. The world today is much too instable and scary for the Europeans not to want to stick together.

EU will most likely not fall apart anytime soon.
And brexit?  Just a bump in the road.

 

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Theresa May, here’s why other EU countries will not give you an easy deal

Published in the Guardian 9th of Oct 2016

The Tory party conference rhetoric made for queasy reading. Every European country has its share of politicians rubbishing foreigners, but no sitting government has gone as far as this: openly targeting legal, working, taxpaying non-nationals.

The prime minister doesn’t seem to realise – or care – that she is worsening the UK’s chances of a good European Union deal; though wisely Theresa May has picked a like-minded country, Denmark, to visit when she first ventures abroad after telling Europeans how she really feels about us.

Here’s an EU country that for the last decade or so has offered the same anti-foreign rhetoric that the Tories are now delivering. It’s also a country that has also opposed what it loves to call EU “meddling”. A country that has adopted the whole set of EU opt-outs, just like the UK. A country that last December called a referendum on EU cooperation (in police matters) and had its population say “no thanks”. A country that long has called itself the UK’s best ally.

And yet, in her talks with the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, May will receive an unequivocal “no” to her pleas for an EU deal without free movement of people.

She could brush it off with the same explanation that parts of the British media are serving up: “It’s all about punishing the British.” Or she could, after having repeatedly (if also surprisingly vaguely) stated her government’s view of what it intends to achieve from Brexit, belatedly start paying attention to the other side of this deal she seeks.

Her government could begin by acknowledging something that it must know but rarely admits – the other 27 EU countries have national interests too. But there’s more, and this is vital for her to understand: the other EU countries believe it is in their national interest to safeguard the single market. Why? Because of jobs. Millions of jobs have been created because European companies have been able to buy and sell freely to the richest consumers in the world, in the largest market in the world.

Creating the single market was a painful process. Getting 28 countries to agree on everything from safety standards of hairdryers to banks’ capital levels was tough. A lot of politicians had to return home to their voters and admit that things would have to change.

Allowing one country today to dictate its own conditions while being part of this market would probably lead to the unravelling of the whole package of hard-won compromises. And that is not going to happen. This is what Angela Merkel is saying when she says that the UK will not be part of the single market without free movement of people. And this is exactly what the Danish prime minister – only recently the best ally to the UK – will say in Copenhagen to Theresa May.

The UK government so far has banked on EU companies lobbying their national governments to keep full British access to the market so that their business won’t be disrupted. But by targeting non-British nationals, the May government is already disrupting these very same companies. How are they going to find employees who want to be posted to the UK now?

Also, let’s not forget that there are other EU companies lobbying for the opposite, hoping Brexit will offer them new and exciting opportunities. The Belgians or Dutch would love the 200,000 or so jobs that the Japanese are talking about moving to the continent. France would love to see Airbus wing production return to the homeland. Dublin can’t wait to welcome Lloyd’s of London.

This has nothing to do with punishing the British. It’s about jobs and national interest. May, studying her counterparts more closely, might discover that no other European nation shares the British belief that a country will do better on its own. Therefore defending the single market becomes a national interest.

It is, after all, this great economic asset that makes the US, China and Russia take notice of what we Europeans think. So the Danish will not get a better deal on police cooperation than the rest of us, even if there’s a Danish referendum backing that demand. The Swiss won’t get full access to the single market without accepting free movement of people. Hungary won’t be allowed to refuse solidarity over refugees, referendum or not.

And the UK will not be allowed access to the single market without adhering to its rules (sorry, prime minister, but yes, those would be EU rules).
Just like the rest of us.

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So, where´s this EU crisis then?

Posted on Brors & Elvis  21/09/2016, 14:07

”The EU is at a critical point”, assured Angela Merkel before the latest EU summit.

”It is true that Europe has recently been shaken by all kinds of crises … we must not let these crises go to waste.” exclaimed Donald Tusk,president of the EU council.

The EU is (at least in part) in an existential crisis”, lamented Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union speech.

What crisis is that, then?

Sure, the European economy is not great but after some rather dim years, it is officially deemed to be `staying the course`.

It may not feel like that for the millions of Europeans that are currently out of a job (and certainly not for the Greeks), but be honest – when did that ever count as a crisis for the EU?
The EU countries has had millions of unemployed for decades without it being said to threaten the existence of the European Union.

Well, it´s the refugees then. There´s a proper crisis for you.
For the refugees, it´s surely is and rather more than a crisis.
Almost 5 million Syrians have been forced out of their country along with Iraquis, Palestinians and others.
But again – that constitutes a crisis for them.
Not for the EU.

They did represent a crisis for the EU last year, when they were still able to take themselves to our shores.
They can¨t do that in greater numbers now.
The Turkey agreement took care of that.
Crisis over… for the EU.

Not over for EU member Greece obviously, being left alone to fend for 50-60 000 refugees. But the rest of the EU countries have very cleverly contained  the problem to the south.

Also, the situation is building up to become an enormous problem for Italy. The Italian government may well further down the line decide to do something drastic about that.
That could well turn into a crisis for the EU.
But it isn’t at present..

Well, Brexit then.
The United Kingdom is leaving us, That´s a crisis, right?

Nah.
To start with, they haven’t actually left so any potential crisis hasn’t materialised yet.
If the UK does decide to leave, well, it  represents about 12 percent of the European economy.
With or without the UK, the EU is the largest – and richest – consumer market in the world.

Ah, but what of the political contagion!, and all the other EU countries that will ask to leave in the wake of the brexit!
Except it´s not happening, is it?

Sure, the French Front National feels encouraged in its´ wish to have France exiting as well, but they have been on about that since forever.
Brexit didn´t change a thing in that respect.

The same goes for Netherlands xenophobe Geert Wiljders – it´s nothing new that he wants to leave the EU.
Has he even started to collect signatures to force his government into holding a referendum?
No.

Look around you, there are no followers to the potential British exit.
With the uncertain future that the UK is facing, who would want to?
Not even the populists are stupid enough to try convincing people, at this moment in time that exiting the EU would be a good idea.

If the vote of the British really had shook up the European leaders, as some like to claim, the leaders ought to be talking about changes to the EU, one would think.
But they are not.

The only proposal for reform has come from the Visegrad countries on giving more power to the national parliaments.
That wasn´t even dignified with a debate at the Bratislava summit.
With practically none of the heads of state enjoying a majority in their national parliaments, how could that count as a clever idea?

The EU right now?
Business, as usual.
Roaming, capital markets regulation, glyphosate ban…
Oh yes, and more cooperation in defence matters.

The Bratislava Declaration talked only about doing more of the same.
And a little extra on defense cooperation.

But wait, there is a crisis brewing: The rise of the populists all over Europe.
That is worrying on many levels.
Particularly, to the heads of state themselves.

Quite a few of them are heading towards national elections, without strong numbers in the polls.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called a referendum on his constitutional reform for October and has promised he will resign if his side does not win and at the moment the opinion polls indicate that he might not.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has held two national elections and two votes in the parliament in 2016 without obtaining a majority (or a coalition) in order to rule.
He will have to call a third election and odds are he´ll lose again.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has his next national election in six months and has constantly been sliding in the public opinion for over a year.

The mandate for the French president Francois Hollande runs out next spring. He, and his governement, are at the lowest level of public support recorded for any French president.

And Queen of Europe herself of course, Angela Merkel, will face the voters in a year for now, with the lowest popularity score registred in five years.

On top of that, President Tusks mandate ends next summer, And a lot of people are growing tired of Mr Juncker, muttering about an early retirement.

An EU summit could look very different a year from now.
But I don´t see why that would constitute a crisis for the EU.

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Hands off the British exit, everyone!

So should we Europeans play bad cop or good cop with the British now that they´ve voted out?
Neither, of course.
What to do next is entirely a British decision.

Juncker, Schulz and others state very clearly that the UK have to hand in notice as soon as possible.
No, they don´t
The when is strictly up to the British.

The UK held a consultative referendum where the majority voted ”out”,
It is a British sovereign decision when to act on that vote, and decide when to hand in notice to the EU.
In fact, it´s entirely up to the British parliament IF they want to hand in a notice at all.

So good cop then?
Maybe offer the UK a sweeter deal to convince them to stay?
Keep an open door?

Certainly not.
That would be deeply disrespectful to the British majority that has clearly said they want OUT.
(Just imagine what populists Farage and Johnson would make of that one: …`The EU now try to manipulate the British voters out of their democratic choice.`)

Also, it would be just as disrespectful to all EU countries struggling to meet the requirements of their EU membership.

What about the uncertainty that the British dithering is inflicting upon all our businesses that trade with the UK?
Not knowing whether the UK is going to leave or remain, costs us money as well as it does British businesses.

Well, we can vote too.
With our feet.
The longer the uncertainty goes on, the sooner non-British businesses are going to start relocating to the continent (part of their activities, to begin with, most likely, always safer to bet on both outcomes).
That´s our choice and their loss.

And what about the British hanging about the EU institutions, wanting to influence EU decisions even though they could be leaving soon?
We may disregard everything they say.

Those are the choices we have right now.
The rest is up to the British.

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Where have those nice Britons gone?

Published in the Guardian 3rd of July 2016

Who are you and what have you done with those Britons I used to know and like so much? Have you no idea how disruptive uncertainty is for our countries, for business? Forgive me, of course you do – it’s you British who taught us that. The single market, for heaven’s sake, the EU’s largest and most formidably lucrative business venture, was very much down to you. It was your Lord Cockfield who worked out a plan, and if your then prime minister Margaret Thatcher had not used all her force to push it through in the face of reluctant protectionists on the continent, it might never had happened.

Trade is your thing, after all and here it was: full freedom of movement for capital, goods, services and people. Yes, for people, including for eastern Europeans, not long after the Berlin Wall came down. That happened because you British insisted on uniting the whole of Europe, the sooner, the better, while the French, the Italians and others all held back for as long as they could.

They were so worried that the eastern European workers would come storming in their millions to the west, taking our jobs, pushing our wages down. But you insisted. Openness, inclusiveness, freedom – we have come to associate that with you. And you have, or had, such a way with words. You’re so gifted at persuasion, winning us over with your thoroughly prepared and elegant arguments. In the end, all agreed to do the enlargement your way. Except for the instant freedom of movement for all. The rest of the EU wanted to be able to restrain eastern Europeans for another seven years. Most of us did. You kept true to your word and did not.

You also have such a way with people. Your politicians are well schooled in parliament, aspiring to hold their own in any heated debate with their opponents. For decades, you have applied the brakes in the EU and watered down proposals to suit you. (Thanks by the way. You have never been an easy partner but the less-than-perfect compromise that is the EU has been improved by your hard work in Brussels.)

And your Foreign Office comes better prepared than anyone else with numbers and facts, closely following what is going on in other countries, and sometimes managing diplomatic acrobatics that stun others into a deal. How on earth did Thatcher talk the others into giving one of the richest countries billions of pounds’ worth of a rebate to its EU fee? Permanently!

On top of that, things were usually accompanied with a joke, with some little aside, often with yourself as the butt of the humour. Or always politely ignoring rudeness or stupidity in others.

Maybe that’s why we like – or liked – you so much. It is remarkable that so many European countries feel that they have a special relationship with the UK. Perhaps you were not aware, but my people, the Swedes, feel that there is a complete understanding between us. The Danish and, for that matter the Norwegians, feel the same. Ask the Germans whom they feel closest to and they will point to you. The Dutch, for their part, basically believe they are part British.

In Lithuania, the mayor of the capital, Vilnius, launched a campaign before the referendum with the slogan “Hug a Brit”, desperate to keep you with us. People in Poland and the Czech Republic have been in tears since the referendum, saying they lost their best friend and ally. When we Europeans get together and a Briton walks into the room, there’s a sigh of relief. Finally, some pleasant small talk to make a meeting go smoothly. The gruff Germans are useless at it, the French are too stuck up to waste time on any of us, the Scandinavians tend only to look at their smartphones.

And all those different version of cool you had – James Bond, Mr Darcy, Helen Mirren, Adele. You made the Olympics feel warm and welcoming for everyone. You even had us foreigners rooting for your athletes; the happy cheering from your audience won us over.

And then. To be perfectly honest, we could not for the life of us understand whatDavid Cameron was doing calling a referendum. He and almost every other British politician have for years trashed every single thing we have done together as the EU, in front of his home audience.

Yes, it’s been odd watching that particular performance after each summit, but we wrote it off as some peculiar aspect of British politics. After all, none of us feel that we are the EU. We are Swedish, Dutch, German and French. So we weren’t taking the attacks personally. Also, it’s certainly not uncommon for other European politicians to blame the EU for this or that.

So plain and sheer madness, we thought, calling the referendum. However, since it was the British, masters at politics and diplomacy, we believed there must be a clever plan behind it all.

Sadly, it did not turn out that way. The referendum debate was followed with absolute horror from our side. How can British politicians lie so unashamedly? After all the compromises and offers of opt-outs awarded from the rest of us, more to the UK than any other country, how can they claim lack of control? Why are they still offered a microphone and not simply laughed off the stage?

Watching this unfold, the Leave vote still shocked and saddened us, but it didn’t surprise us. Neither did the losses on the financial markets, Scotland preparing to leave the UK, businesses freezing all recruitment and looking to move to the continent. We could see this all coming. But the racist attacks on people in your country, this, we never expected to see. It’s gone too far.

But now you really must let us in on the secret: what is your clever Brexit plan? When is one of your leaders going to tell us that this whole thing – farce, tragedy, political mayhem and utter destruction of any democratic values – was a way to… what? We can’t wait to find out. Because it is extremely painful and really scary to watch the sturdiest pillar of democracy and political stability (congratulations, you have the only majority government in the EU together with Malta)smashing itself to pieces like this.

Watching British politics at this moment has had the astonishing effect of making the EU, for perhaps the first time ever, feel a warm and cosy place. Don’t expect any Frexits, Swexits or other exits soon. I hate to be rude, but everyone is much too frightened of turning into you, right now.

Some are even worrying that whatever you have caught is contagious. I’m afraid no one will be able to side with a British politician for some time, for fear of opening up a path for mad populist parties in our own countries. Yes, we liked you a lot. But we might have to learn to avoid you from now on.

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”Europeans watch our referendum debate with fascination and fear”

Published in the Guardian, 24th of april 2016,

In Sweden, you would be hard pressed to find anyone – or at least anyone in a prominent position – who would use a milder term than “disaster” when referring to a possible Brexit. You will often find statements that Brexit would have even worse consequences for our country than the UK.

“For Sweden it would be devastating, for the EU worrisome and for the UK really bad,” says former finance minister Anders Borg about the threat of Brexit. “It would be worse for Sweden”, according to the headline of an editorial comment in Aftonbladet, Sweden’s biggest evening paper. “A catastrophe,” says the current finance minister, Magdalena Andersson. The feeling is widely shared across the Swedish political landscape. It is echoed by the business world – never failing to cite Brexit as one of the darker clouds over the economy – and even the trade unions.

Why the strong emotion? Well, of course there’s an economic case to be made. The UK is Sweden’s fourth largest trading partner. Danske Bank calculates that after Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium, Sweden would be the EU country hardest hit if the British economy were cut off from the European economy (with a loss of up to 0.48% of Swedish GDP).

The sheer uncertainty of whether we are heading for Brexit is one of the most commonly mentioned negative factors at any presentation of the year ahead, be it for the Swedish economy or for any major Swedish company.

But there is much more at play than just economic worries. The UK does not seem to be aware of it, but Sweden rather feels it has a “special relationship” with the UK. Andersson spelled it out in an opinion article in February: “The UK is simply one of our absolute closest allies in the EU,” she said. Indeed, the prime minister, Stefan Löfven (a socialist), promised to do everything in his power to help David Cameron get a good deal in his negotiations with the EU earlier this year, so that the UK would stay.

That Sweden feels this strong bond with the UK has something of a mystery about it. For a start, anyone would be excused for thinking that the fellow Nordic countries must surely be mentioned as Sweden’s closest friends more often than the UK. That never happens. There is a historic rivalry here that keeps getting in the way.

Still, every attempt to enumerate the many areas where Sweden and the UK are such close allies invariably comes up with a rather short list.

Free trade is always mentioned as the top (staunch defenders, both of us). Then comes the EU budget (we both would like to pay less). Third, we have common interests as non-euro countries (we both fear losing out).

This amounts to a surprisingly short list for your “absolute closest ally”. Especially considering that the two overriding subjects in the Swedish political debate for years have been important societal issues where we do not seem to share any common interest with the UK. These are: the labour market (Sweden will insist on strengthening workers’ rights, no matter which government is in power) and migration (Sweden will defend remaining “open” and also defend giving equal rights to newcomers).

Even so, there is an obvious sincerity in the Swedish conviction that the UK is very close to Sweden. Former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he felt that Cameron was a “personal friend” and the Swedish media would often describe them as “best buddies”. Another former prime minister, Göran Persson, felt so personally close to Tony Blair that at press briefings at EU summits he would refer to him as simply Tony, as in: “Tony said to me…” Yet another exformer prime minister, Carl Bildt, described his relationship with his counterpart John Major as “outstanding”.

There are also linguistic and cultural factors that go a long way to explain the feeling of closeness and understanding. Swedish people tend to speak English more or less fluently but no other foreign language. For that reason they tend to read no foreign media other than British media. This is true for your everyday Swede and, of course, every Swedish politicians and most Swedish journalists.

Thus, our window on to the world, to Europe, can often be from a British perspective. This, incidentally, has contributed to shaping the Swedish view of the EU and our ideas on whether the EU is costing too much, spending money on the wrong things or is hopelessly bureaucratic. All in all, maybe it is not illogical that we should end up thinking of the UK as our closest ally.

A recent poll indicates that Swedish public opinion may be losing faith in the EU with only 39% declaring their trust in the institution in March this year, as opposed to 59% last autumn. Also, no fewer than two political parties in the Swedish parliament currently demand that Sweden follow in Cameron’s footsteps and ask for a renegotiation of our EU membership deal.

One should not, however, make the mistake of thinking that Sweden would be tempted to follow the UK if it were to leave the EU. ou will find that tThe two parties seeking a new EU deal for Sweden are at the very extremes of the Swedish political map – one, the former communist Left party and the other, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.

And the disappointment in the EU recently expressed by Swedes is probably influenced by the experience of seeing no solidarity from the rest of Europe when Sweden was overwhelmed by an influx of immigrants last autumn. Including, of course, from the UK.

Also, any statement from Swedish politicians or business people about the gravity of the risk that Brexit constitutes will always be followed by the explanation for the worried: “… because it would be bad for the EU, it would endanger the European co-operation”.

In Swedish politics, you will find much bickering about the EU but a deep conviction remains that Europe needs the EU and a small country such as Sweden, trying to make its way in a global context, needs the EU very much. It would take a political earthquake to convince Swedish politicians that Brexit would be a reason for Sweden to also leave.

Sweden really, really does not want the UK to leave the European Union. Yet this does not mean that Sweden, if Britain did decide to leave, would be prepared to offer the UK a better farewell deal than would be in the interest of Swedish business and Swedish jobs. Because for all of the love that Sweden has for the UK, there is one country that Swedes love more. And that is Sweden.

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Nyare inlägg finns just nu på…

Brors & Elvis om Europa

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Sarkozy öppnar för Front National

Förra söndagen kunde främlingsfientliga Front National jubla.  Frankrike håller regionala val och FN blev största parti i sex av 13 regioner.
Kring en tredjedel av alla väljare röstade för dem.

Nu sker franska val i två steg så regionerna är inte vunna än. De två etablerade partiblocken kan fortfarande vinna i steg två, nu på söndag.

Socialisterna måste i så fall dra tillbaka sina kandidater och uppmana socialistiska väljare att rösta borgerligt (LR) i regioner där det finns en stark borgerlig kandidat men en socialistisk kandidat inte skulle ha stor chans att vinna.
Det gör socialisterna och har gjort sedan första rundan i söndags.

Sedan måste LR göra samma sak i regioner där de inte har en chans att vinna men en socialist har det.

Socialisterna skulle då få fem regioner, de borgerliga åtta. Så håller man FN borta från makten. Frankrike har gjort det förut.
Men den här gången vill de borgerligas ledare Nicolas Sarkozy inte leka med.

Antingen tror Sarkozy att FN:s väljare inte vet hur de vill ha det, han tror att han kan övertala dem att rösta på honom istället.
Opinionsmätningar säger att han har fel.
FN:s ledare Marine Le Pen myser.

Eller kanske har han bestämt sig:
Hellre FN än socialister.

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Nej, EU ger inte migranterna rätt till svensk socialhjälp

Det är välment av Civil Rights Defenders att hävda att de så kallade ”EU-migranterna”  juridiskt har samma rättigheter som svenska medborgare från första dagen de sätter fot i Sverige.

Men det har de förstås inte.

EU-rätten säger att EU-medborgare fritt kan vistas i Sverige i tre månader.
Under dessa tre månader är Sverige inte är skyldig att ge något socialt bistånd eller annat stöd.
EU-medborgare får sedan stanna i mer än tre månader men bara om de kan försörja sig själva.
Annars inte.

CRD hänvisar till en generell rätt för EU-medborgare  att likabehandlas med värdlandets invånare.
Absolut, den existerar, som en grundläggande princip att använda i alla möjliga sammanhang. Men den ger fortfarande inte värdlandet försörjningsansvar för tillfälliga besökare.

En viktig sak att komma ihåg – att inte förlora bakom  juridiska spetsfundigheter – är att reglerna förhandlades fram mellan EU-regeringar med det uttalande syftet att inte behöva belastas med varandras fattiglappar.
Ursäkta ordvalet men exakt så gick diskussionerna den gången.
Folk utan försörjning skulle hålla sig hemma.

EU-domstolen har också påpekat att det inte går att åberopa principen om likabehandling när folk reser till andra EU-länder. För att få det måste de inresande först ha vunnit rätten att bo i  värdlandet.

Detta finns det regler för. Och de reglerna gäller enbart: Arbetare, egenföretagare, studenter och den som kan visa att försörjning samt sjukförsäkring är ordnad.
”Playboys”, kallade man dem lite putslustigt under förhandlingarnas gång.

Där stupar också CRD:s lite lustiga idé om att EU-migranter skulle kunna vinna rätten till likabehandling med svenska medborgare genom att vistas tre månader i Sverige utan att arbeta eller ha egen försörjning, därefter lämna Sverige och komma tillbaka igen för att stanna i tre månader till.

EU-domstolen behandlade frågan socialbidrag och andra länders välfärd i november förra året, i fallet Dano.
Elisabeta Dano – en arbetslös, icke-arbetssökande rumänsk kvinna som bott med en liten son längre än tre månader i Tyskland, erkändes ingen rätt alls till sociala förmåner.
Det föll på att hon aldrig erhållit uppehållsrätt i Tyskland eftersom hon varken arbetat eller hade egna ekonomiska resurser.
EU-medborgare eller ej, hon omfattades inte av EU:s direktiv eftersom hon inte ingick i någon av de fyra kategorierna.

Domstolen är rentav övertydligt klar:
”Art 7, punkt 1 b i direktiv 2004/38 avser att hindra ekonomiskt inaktiva EU-medborgare att utnyttja värdlandets välfärdssystem för att finansiera deras försörjning.”
Alltså, man har skrivit in en särskild paragraf om saken.

Just Elisabeta Dano talade dålig tyska, skrev och läste i stort sett inte alls på landets språk, hade ingen yrkesutbildning, har aldrig arbetat och aldrig sökt ett jobb.
Hon var inte ens anställningsbar.
Men socialbidrag då, till en EU-migrant som har arbetat i värdlandet?, och därför kan sorteras in under den första kategorin, arbetare.

Nej, inte stor skillnad.
I september i år kom nästa dom från EU-domstolen om rätt till socialt skydd för EU-migranter. Den handlade om svenskan Nazifa Alimanovic och hennes tre barn som flyttat till Tyskland.
Hon hade jobbat i Tyskland (men mindre än ett år) och kunde till skillnad från Dano betraktas som arbetare. Alimanovic erkändes rätten till arbetslöshetsbidrag men bara för sex månader.
Därefter upphör Tysklands ansvar.

Domstolen är inte svårtolkad:
EU-medborgare som reser till ett annat EU-land för att erhålla välfärdsförmåner ELLER som har uppnått uppehållsrätt som arbetssökande, kan nekas välfärdsförmåner som inte är intjänade (av personen ifråga).
Alltså – inga socialbidrag för en arbetslös som inte har särskilda skäl att hålla sig kvar i ett land.

Att behöva bära försörjningsbördan för arbetslösa icke-tyskar längre än så vore en orimlig börda för landets välfärdssystem, beslöt domstolen.

CRD:s känner till dessa saker och fyller därför sin rapport med FN-konventioner, folkrätt och svensk kommunallag som alla sägs tilldela människor rätt till allt möjligt. Sedan påstår man ändå i sin slutsats:
”För utsatta unionsmedborgare gäller, i enlighet med nationell rätt, bindande människorättsinstrument och EU-rätten…”
…utsatta unionsmedborgare har efter en behovsprövning rätt till socialt bistånd på samma villkor som svenska medborgare.”

Nej. det har de inte.
Det kan finnas mänskliga skäl att vilja hjälpa utsatta människor. Men påstå inte att EU ger dem rätt till sådan hjälp.
EU-domstolen har sagt raka motsatsen.

Allt annat vore befängt.
För det är klart att Sverige inte kan bära försörjningsansvar för alla 500 miljoner människor som bor i något av EU:s 28 medlemsländer.

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Men vem kommer på dessa bisarra idéer?

Förslaget att regeringen skulle få makt att stänga Öresundsbron har stoppats – men bara tillfälligt, tycks det.
Det är ett konstigt förslag på så många grunder (vad ska det hjälpa mot?), inte minst avslöjar det ministrarnas djupa okunskap om hur Sverige fungerar idag.

Men låt oss ta den juridiska delen.
Lagrådet invände mot förslaget på flera grunder men var mest vältaligt apropå svensk lagstiftningsprocess.
Att ge regeringen nya maktbefogenheter vore bisarrt, menade juristerna, efter en två dagar lång remissrunda där nästan ingen av de berörda parterna hann tycka till medan några gavs chansen att lämna åsikter i telefon till en anonym statstjänsteman.

Är det så vi lagstiftar i fredstid i Sverige?
Naturligtvis inte, sa lagrådet.
”Man måste respektera lagrådet”, sa principfast moderatledaren Anna Kinberg Batra.

Den principiella hållningen hade varit lättare att beundra om inte Kinberg Batra släppt samma princip för den andra halvan av det kritiserade förslaget.
Del nummer två; att avlasta våra poliser gränskontroll och avvisande av flyktingar, för att istället lägga denna uppgift på transportföretag.
Den saken tycker såväl regeringen som opposition är viktigt nog för att strunta i lagrådet.

Det finns, påpekar lagrådet en annan juridisk princip som Sverige enligt svensk lag och EU-förordning, måste upprätthålla.
Extraordinära gränskontroller får bara införas om de är ”nödvändiga” och ”proportionerliga”.

Är det ”nödvändigt” att regeringen ges makt att stänga Öresundsbron?
Regeringen har inte gett oss mycket att gå på här. Trots envisa frågor från massmedia vill ingen minister berätta för oss vad som krävs för att de skulle få lust att stänga bron. De vill ha den makten utan att egentligen förklara varför.

Inrikesminister Ygeman lät sig till slut undslippa något om att ”… om det kommer många gående över bron.”
För det behöver vi förstås inte ge regeringen nya, extraordinära befogenheter.
Polisen har den makten redan.

Polisen har mer än så, de har rentav plikten att rycka in om ordning och säkerhet skulle hotas.
Det är ett rätt bra system som används i de flesta rättsstater. Polisen är trots allt mer av experter i hot mot ordning och säkerhet än Löfvens ministrar.

Försvaret har likaså den makten. Om nu ryssar skulle vara de som kommer gående över bron, med vapen i hand.
Överbefälhavaren har makt och befogenhet att stänga bron.

Svaret blir då nej, det är inte nödvändigt att ge regeringen denna extra maktbefogenhet.

Vore det då proportionerligt att i något läge stänga bron?
Det beror självklart på situationen.

Men mot en stängning ska först vägas in att:
Över 800 000 bilar kör dag över Öresundsbron med människor som är på väg till sitt arbete, som en del av sitt arbete eller på väg hem. Ännu fler tar tåget över bron (1,1 miljon).

En tredjedel av Sveriges import och export, mätt i värde, passerar genom Skåne varje år.
1 750 000 lastbilar passerar Skåne varje dag.
Sedan 2003 har godstransporterna ökat med 20 procent varav i stort sett hela ökningen skett på Öresundsbron.

Det är inte bara svensk export som berörs, även norsk samt till en del finsk.
Transittransporterna sker främst mellan Sverige/Norge och större delen av den europeiska kontinenten, då i första hand med våra största handelspartners, nämligen Danmark och Tyskland men också med Polen och nordvästra Europa.
Tre av landets tio största hamnar är för övrigt skånska och de hanterar 30 miljoner ton gods per år.

Skåne är helt centralt för våra relationer med omvärlden.
Även för Stockholms relationer med omvärlden.
(Vet inte regeringen det?)

Kan det alltså betraktas som proportionerligt att stänga Öresundsbron för att det är trångt på asylboenden och migrationsverkets tjänstemän jobbar orimliga pass?

Svaret måste bli nej.
Slaget mot svenskt, norskt och danskt näringsliv vore helt orimligt hårt.
Inte förrän ryssarna kommer över bron, börjar den åtgärden att verka rimlig.

Regeringens förslag är varken nödvändigt eller proportionerligt.
Det bryter mot svensk lag och mot EU:s gränsförordning.

Men förutom det är det dessutom en väldigt, väldigt konstig idé.

 

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