The first exit

Anti EU movemnt v austerity

german-foreign-policy.com (LONDON/BERLIN) – The British people’s vote yesterday to take their country out of the EU is shaking up the EU, and Berlin’s plans to use the EU for its own hegemonic policies. With a 72 per cent turnout, 52 per cent of the British voters opted to wave good-bye to the EU. This vote has a major impact on Berlin, not only because Europe’s second largest economy – after Germany’s – and a prominent military power will be leaving the EU and therefore no longer be available for German hegemonic policies imposed via the EU. It also can lead to a domino effect. Calls for referendums are being raised in other EU member countries. In several member countries, the EU’s growing unpopularity is reinforcing centrifugal forces. The Swedish foreign minister has explicitly warned of a “spill-over effect” that could lead to a Swedish EU exit. In the German media, demands are being raised to simply ignore the referendum and let the British parliament vote in favour of remaining in the EU. Berlin has already begun reinforcing its national positions – independent of the EU.

Momentum halted

Yesterday, with a 72 per cent turnout, 52 per cent of the British voters opted for the Brexit. For the first time in EU history, the population of a member country has decided to withdraw from the alliance. Up to now, the EU has always expanded successfully. This momentum has now been halted.

Call for referendums

Already over the past few weeks, the referendum has not only reinforced the conviction in other member countries that the EU could actually be put into question; the desire to hold referendums has also been awakened. In early May, an opinion poll taken in nine EU member countries [1] – representing between them three-quarters of the EU population and approximately 80 per cent of its GDP – revealed that 45  per cent think their own country should hold a referendum on its EU membership. In France 55 per cent, and in Italy even 58 per cent favour this measure. One third of those polled, declared that they would vote for leaving the EU in a referendum, in Sweden, 39 per cent, 41 per cent in France and 48 per cent in Italy.[2] In early June, an opinion poll held in Denmark resulted in 42 per cent of the Danes wanting a referendum on EU membership, as compared to only 37 per cent in February. Simultaneously, the number of those who, in a referendum, would opt for remaining in the EU, fell from 56 per cent last November to currently 44 per cent, whereas those wanting to exit rose over the same period from 31 per cent to 42 per cent.[3]

Negative assessment

Beyond the issue of EU membership referendums, a poll taken in ten EU countries and published at the beginning of June,[4] indicated that the EU is increasingly seen in a negative light, with clearly positive assessments mainly in Poland (72 per cent) and Hungary (61 per cent). On the other hand, in Spain, a mere 47 per cent assess the EU positively – a 16 per cent drop from 2004, whereas 49 per cent of the Spaniards view it negatively.[5] In France, approval of the EU dropped, between 2004 and 2016, by 17 per cent, down to 38 per cent, with a 61 per cent rejection. In Greece, 71 per cent of the population views the EU negatively, with a mere 27 per cent viewing it “positively.” When queried on the EU’s handling of the economic crisis, the approval ratings were devastating. (In fact, these questions refer to the austerity measures dictated by Germany.) Only two of the ten countries participating in the poll gave a positive rating – Germany and Poland (47 per cent to 38 per cent and 47 per cent to 33 per cent respectively). In Spain, 65 per cent of those polled rejected the EU’s crisis policy, 66 per cent in France, in Italy 68 per cent, and 92 per cent in Greece.

“Ignore the will of the people”

The growing rejection of the EU is particularly significant because the methods used until now by pro-EU functionaries of major political parties to neutralize EU-critical segments of the population are no longer effective in referendums. Yesterday in Great Britain, for example, traditional Labour Party strongholds turned in a clear majority for the Brexit, while Labour’s parliamentary group in the Lower House, polled only seven of its members clearly favouring leaving the EU – 215, on the other hand, were energetically in favour of remaining. In Germany, demands are being made to simply ignore the referendum’s results. Tuesday, Thomas Kielinger, the London correspondent for the daily “Die Welt,” wrote that the Prime Minister may be bound by the results of the referendum, however, not the parliament. “Could it be that … in the case of a Brexit, the Lower House could consider to ignore the will of the people and turn down withdrawing from the EU?” Kielinger predicts that this is “not only thinkable, but it’s even probable.”[6] “Of the 650 parliamentarians, 455 are in favour of remaining in the EU, 130 for leaving, and 65 undecided. Expressed in percentages: 70 per cent Remain, 20 per cent leave, and 10 per cent noncommittal.” The EU could be saved with a parliamentary vote. Recently, German media organs have openly expressed their opposition to referendums along these lines. One example was the media commentary that it is wrong to believe that “direct democracy, per se, is a good thing.” (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7])

Domino effect

This commentary was made in connection with the April 6 referendum, in the Netherlands on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. A majority oppose the agreement. A few days later, the Dutch national parliament simply chose to disregard the referendum results, saying it was “non-binding.”[8] However, this does not eliminate the EU establishment’s worries. In the Netherlands, it is currently possible to impose a referendum, if 300,000 signatures are collected within six weeks – which is not considered impossible. Although referendums may only relate to new laws, and not, for example, to EU membership, observers have noted that currently only 45 per cent of the population of the Netherlands are still in favour of remaining in the EU, while 48 per cent are for withdrawing.[9] This signifies that in one of the EU founding member countries, the pro-EU majority is crumbling. Following the British population’s vote yesterday, a domino effect cannot be excluded. Just a few days ago, for example, in a poll taken in Sweden – a country very similar to Great Britain in its attitude toward the EU – only 32 per cent of Swedes would want to remain in the EU even if Britain left, with 36 per cent in favour of a so-called Swexit.[10] Sweden’s foreign minister, recently, warned explicitly of a “spill-over effect” should the British referendum result in a Brexit.[11] That has now happened.

National positions

Berlin is beginning to adapt itself to the fact that the EU is eroding and cannot be available, at least for the time being, for German global policy, to the extent it had expected. Last week, the US periodical “Foreign Affairs” published a signed article by Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Steinmeier wrote that the EU “has run into struggles of its own” and has “stumbled.” Until the EU “develops the ability” to play “a stronger role on the world stage,” Germany “will try its best to hold as much ground as possible.” Tuesday evening, Chancellor Merkel announced that the German military budget must draw closer to that of the United States. This is the beginning of a reinforcement of Berlin’s national positions.[12]

Stop disintegration

This is not in contradiction with the German government taking measures over the next few days to attempt to forestall the EU’s further disintegration. The creation of a core Europe is already in discussion.[13] german-foreign-policy.com will report more next week.

[1] Die Umfrage wurde in Belgien, Deutschland, Frankreich, Großbritannien, Italien, Polen, Schweden, Spanien und Ungarn durchgeführt.

[2] Half of people in nine European countries believe UK will vote to leave the EU. http://www.ipsos-mori.com 09.05.2016.

[3] Lisbeth Kirk: More Danes want referendum on EU membership. euobserver.com 08.06.2016.

[4] Die Umfrage wurde in Deutschland, Frankreich, Griechenland, Großbritannien, Italien, den Niederlanden, Polen, Schweden, Spanien und Ungarn durchgeführt.

[5] Oliver Kühn: Europäer wünschen keine engere Union. http://www.faz.net 08.06.2016.

[6] Thomas Kielinger: Beim Brexit dürfte das Parlament das Volk ignorieren. http://www.welt.de 21.06.2016.

[7] See Referendums as Tyranny.

[8] Meg Hilling, Hanne Cokelaere: Netherlands sticks with EU-Ukraine deal despite referendum No vote. http://www.politico.eu 19.04.2016.

[9] Europa: Kommt nach dem Brexit der Nexit? http://www.uni-muenster.de 23.06.2016.

[10] Maddy Savage: EU referendum: Could Brexit lead to Sweden “Swexit”? bbc.co.uk 18.06.2016.

[11] Lizzie Dearden: EU referendum: Swedish foreign minister warns Brexit “could cause break-up of European Union”. http://www.independent.co.uk 11.06.2016.

[12] See Auf Weltmachtniveau.

[13] See After Brexit.

* * *

After Brexit

diktatur_der_monopole

german-foreign-policy.com (BERLIN/LONDON) June 20 – Initial outlines of Berlin’s possible reaction to Britain’s EU exit (“Brexit”) are beginning to seep out to the public. According to a report, government circles, who themselves see no reason to fear the turbulences of the financial markets, are hoping that these will persuade a sufficient number of the British to vote in favour of “remaining.” If this does not work, and the British opt for the Brexit, drastic measures should not be excluded. To avoid negative effects on the German economy, some members of the administration are pleading in favour of granting the UK an EU-associate status, similar to that of Norway. However, “a front should be established” to prevent other EU members from following suit and converting to an associate status. The transition to a “core Europe” remains an option and a discussion of it could be initiated at the end of this week. The foreign ministers of the six EU founding countries have planned an exclusive meeting to discuss the consequences of the British referendum.

Forecasts, not advice

While Berlin continues to discuss adequate reactions to a possible Brexit, representatives of business and finance are seeking a last minute change of course. In Great Britain, advice from abroad is not at all appreciated, and threatens to have the contrary effect. Therefore, it should not be voiced. Hence, interested circles operate using forecasts. Martin Wansleben, Chief Executive of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), for example, predicts that, in the case of a Brexit, three fifths of the German enterprises, currently active in Britain, would slow down their business. In turn, British companies, now active in Germany, could also encounter more problems.[1] However, British experts point out that Germany profits far more from trade with the UK than vice versa. Threats that common accords for prosperous economic exchange outside the EU would become impossible, should, therefore, not be taken seriously.

Desired turbulence

Threats are also arriving from the financial sector. Andrea Enria, Chair of the European Banking Authority (EBA), announced that in the case of a Brexit, his institution would leave London. “If the British should decide to leave the EU, we actually would have to move to another European capital.”[2] Berlin is taking note with satisfaction of recent turbulence on financial markets, just prior to the Brexit referendum. “The Brits will get a foretaste of what is in store after Brexit. Perhaps, they will reconsider,” an unnamed member of the German government was quoted saying.[3] However, the German government is not really worried. Central banks in London and Frankfurt have taken all necessary precautions to stabilize the markets if needed. “A bit more panic” on the financial markets prior to the referendum would be welcomed, because it could possibly improve the perspective of a “remain” vote.[4]

Project fear

However, the effects of these forecasts and threats to attempt to influence the results become dulled with time. The experience in Denmark is a confirmation. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) Also in Britain, these attempts have been dubbed “project fear” and are being taken seriously to a dwindling degree. Even if this time “project fear” would be effective, the EU establishment’s possibilities for orienting future referendums are continuing to subside.

“Germanophobe Brexit advocates”

In light of the uncertainties, as Thursday’s referendum approaches, there is a possibility that an EU-level crisis meeting will be held. It has been reported that Chancellor Merkel has “prudently planned no public appearances” for Friday. In case there is a “remain” victory, she – for example, with her participation in the Bundestag – can “demonstrate business as usual.”[6] In any case, a meeting of the foreign ministers of the six EU founding nations has been announced for Friday or Saturday, to make clear that the “European Project” still stands, according to reports. The fact that, at such a possibly decisive historical moment, the meeting will be limited to only six of the 28 EU countries is an indication of plans, which have not yet been officially made public. The reason given for keeping the plans under wraps is that “no one wants to provide additional arguments to Great Britain’s Germanophobe Brexit advocates.”[7]

Isolated case

There are two aspects to the plan. On the one hand, according to the chancellery, it is not out of the question that, following Britain’s exit, it still could remain in association with the EU – on a basis similar to that of Norway. This continuation of intact business relations with the United Kingdom would, in fact, accommodate Germany’s massive economic interests.[8] However, that other EU countries also opt for a looser association with the EU, must be prevented according to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We must immediately establish a front under the motto, No Cherry Picking.”[9] Any eventual EU association agreement with Great Britain would strictly be an isolated case.

Core Europe

On the other hand, some in Berlin’s establishment – including Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble – are currently calling for a change of course toward a “core Europe.” Recently former Vice President of the EU Commission, Viviane Reding (Luxembourg) and, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, made declarations pointing in this direction. “We need a core Europe, this must be imposed quickly,” Reding declared.[10] Asselborn was a bit more diplomatic in his formulation, saying that although “a core Europe, wherein a number of countries would be excluded, … is not the ideal solution,” nevertheless, “a debate on how we define solidarity among ourselves will in any case have to be held.”[11] That debate could be initiated, when the six foreign ministers of the EU’s founding member countries – Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg – meet at the end of the week. With these six countries, the EU’s innermost kernel of prosperity would be set. The broader point of orientation would be the Euro zone. However, those countries, that have not adopted the common currency, will be completely left out, and must comply with decisions handed down by the EU’s core.

For more on this theme: The Brexit Summit ShowProject Fear, and No Social Europe.

[1] Deutsche Industrie fürchtet bei Brexit “gravierende Folgen”. http://www.sueddeutsche.de 19.06.2016.

[2] Bankenaufsicht verlässt London, wenn der Brexit kommt. http://www.faz.net 19.06.2016.

[3], [4] Beim Brexit hat die Bundesregierung keinen Plan. http://www.welt.de 19.06.2016.

[5] See Project Fear.

[6], [7] Beim Brexit hat die Bundesregierung keinen Plan. http://www.welt.de 19.06.2016.

[8] S. dazu Die Profiteure der EU.

[9] Beim Brexit hat die Bundesregierung keinen Plan. http://www.welt.de 19.06.2016.

[10] Vor dem Brexit-Referendum: Führende Europapolitiker fordern Brüssels Neuanfang. http://www.zeit.de 16.09.2016.

[11] “Cameron hat mit dem Referendum einen Fehler gemacht”. http://www.tagesspiegel.de 19.06.2016.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s