Politics & Policy
There’s no holiday for (informal) Brexit talks, which remain a great matter of concern for European politics in the first weeks of August. On the one hand, EU Council president Donald Tusk has met German chancellor Angela Merkel as part of preparations for the EU summit in Bratislava on 16 September, which is to be held without Britain and is intended to map out a post-Brexit course for the European Union. On the other hand, the German chancellor will be also involved in a gathering with Matteo Renzi and François Holland on the Italian island of Ventotene on Monday 22 August. At the heart of these discussions is whether Europe should make another leap forward in integration in reaction to the Brexit vote, with further pooling of sovereignty on economic governance and immigration, or whether it should hand greater control to national capitals to avoid feeding euroscepticism. In the meantime, it appears that Brexit might be delayed to end of 2019: ministers have privately warned senior figures in the City of London that the government departments for Brexit and international trade, both created by Theresa May when she took office, are not in a position to negotiate the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, the Sunday Times reported. In this scenario of uncertainty, with economic indicators pointing to the unfolding of a sharp recession after the Brexit vote, Theresa May tries to provide the UK with greater bargaining power before activating Article 50 by calling for strengthened UK-China relations in the wake of a diplomatic stand-off over the creation of a £18 billion nuclear power station in Great Britain, partly funded by China.
Further concerns are raised by the ever more controversial relations between the EU and Turkey. In a recent interview to Le Monde, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Western leaders to have left Turkish people alone after the coup attempt: although the EU portrays itself as a guardian of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, Erdogan claimed that its weak response to the most serious attack against democracy in any candidate country was disappointing. Conversely, the greatest support for the Turkish president has come from Vladimir Putin: the two leaders pledged to boost their cooperation and forget the “difficult” moments of the past in Erdogan’s first foreign trip since the failed coup, which took place in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Further shadows have been cast over Turkey’s relations with the West by expressions of hostility coming from both Germany and Denmark. In a view expressed in a confidential response to parliamentary questions from left-wing party Die Linke, German interior ministry has stated that Turkey has worked with Islamist groups and has supported militant organizations in the Middle East for years. Foreign policy spokesman for Denmark’s governing Liberal Party, Michael Aastrup Jensen, has said that the EU should end accession negotiations with Turkey completely due to President Erdogan’s “undemocratic initiatives” and his support for reintroducing the death penalty. All these increasing tensions appear to bear important implications, as Turkey could walk away from its promise to stem the flow of illegal migrants to EU, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has recently reaffirmed.
Migration indeed keeps on being an critical matter of contention at the European level. EU border agency Frontex has reported that more than 25,000 migrants arrived in Italy in July, 12% more than in the same period last year. In the meantime, the Greek government considers a migration “emergency plan”, in order to reduce overcrowding given by the presence of more than 10,700 asylum seekers, sheltered on five Greek islands which have capacity for just 7,450. However, migration issues do not involve only Southern regions. Eastern European countries keep on rejecting potential asylum seekers: Polish border guards have been reported to push back refugees coming from Russia and Tajikistan. Meanwhile, Angela Merkel tries to temper mounting fears over migration after the terrorist attacks that took place in Germany in July, by pointing out that “Islamist terrorism of ISIL is not a phenomenon that came to us by refugees”, but something already present in German society.
“The EU does not behave in a sincere way with Turkey. There are currently 3 million refugees in Turkey, and the only concern of EU member states is that those refugees do not reach their territories. The EU suggested that we accept the readmissions in exchange for visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. The readmission agreement and the visa liberalization were to come into force simultaneously on June 1. It is now August and the visa liberalization is still pending. If our claims are not met, we will have to stop readmission.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President.
Source: Le Monde, 08/08/2016
“Given Britain’s size, significance and its long membership of the European Union, there will probably be a special status which only bears limited comparison to that of countries that have never belonged to the European Union.”
Michael Roth, Germany’s Junior Minister for EU affairs.
Source: EUObserver, 17/08/2016
“Spoke to President Poroshenko. We have a similar assessment of the situation in Crimea and Donbass. Russian version of events unreliable.”
Donald Tusk, EU Council President on Twitter.
Source: EurActiv, 17/08/2016
2017 UK GDP growth projected by the Bank of England. Before the Brexit vote the projection was 2.3%.
Source: Politico, 04/08/2016
Prisoners released in Turkey after the arrests of tens of thousands of people suspected of links to the attempted coup added to pressure on overstretched jails.
Source: EurActiv, 17/08/2016
People who were sent back from Polish borders in the first half of 2016. Many of them had legitimate reasons to seek international protection.
Source: EUObserver, 17/08/2016
Photo Credits CC: European People’s Party