POLITICS & POLICY
On Friday September 16, the leaders of all EU member countries, except the UK, met in Bratislava for an informal meeting to discuss the post-Brexit scenario and the migration crisis. While Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel claimed that the meeting defined a new roadmap for Europe, Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, took issue with such an optimistic attitude. Renzi refused to participate in a joint press conference with his German and French counterparts. He claimed that “too little had been done”. In a tweet sent right after the summit, he added that “if economic and migration policies won’t change, the EU risks a lot”. However, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, left Bratislava with “guarded optimism”. He called for the Union to embrace a new vision for the continent that puts to the fore social cohesion and the tackling of inequalities between countries.
In the days following the Bratislava meeting, Renzi followed up on his critical remarks. In an interview, he claimed that Friday’s meeting was a “lost opportunity”. On Monday, speaking at a press conference following his intervention the United Nations in New York, he warned that Italy will deal with the migration crisis on its own, if Europe does not deliver a concrete action plan. In another event in New York, the Italian Prime Minister added that the reason behind the EU’s political inaction is that “the German, French and Italian governments face electoral competition at home”.
Indeed, in Germany, during the past two weeks, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party suffered two consecutive electoral blows, respectively in the state region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and in the capital Berlin. On both occasions Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland scored high among the conservative electorate. The success of the AfD party created havoc among centre-right parties, and especially within the Christian Social Union, the main ally of Merkel’s CDU in Bavaria. The CSU has indeed been calling for a harsher migration policy for months. His leader, Horst Seehofer, said that the German right-wing Union never underwent such difficult times. After obtaining only 17,6% of votes in Berlin, Angela Merkel admitted that the Federal government made mistakes in dealing with the refugee crisis over the last few years, in the first place by relying too much on the Dublin regulation. She added that at this stage her notorious “we can handle this” became nothing but an “empty expression”.
At the European level, Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, vowed to change approach in dealing with the migration crisis. Instead of welcoming more migrants, the EU should think about fixing the political situation in their countries of origin, Kurz claimed. However, on Monday, Anne Linde, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, said that “the EU is big enough to take in more refugees than it has already taken”. She called for the creation of a mechanism ensuring that all countries implement supranational decisions in this area. Her words sounded like a critic to the so-called Visegrad group, made up of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. These eastern European countries so far have been among the most reluctant to accept the relocation of migrants planned by the European Commission. On October 2 Hungary is actually holding a referendum to ask its citizens whether they accept the migrant relocation plan. While legally speaking the referendum will have no binding force, it will nonetheless be a very important political event.
In the meantime Brexit discussions are unfolding in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. On Friday the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stated that the Brexit negotiations may start in early 2017. However, the intentions of the UK government remain unclear. On Monday, Nicky Morgan, former Education Secretary, called for the British executive to come clean over negotiations. At the same time, a recent poll suggested that almost half of the Leave voters think that the UK will not be able to strike a good deal. On Monday, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democratic party put pressure on Theresa May. He said that the UK government needs to strike a deal within the Single Market, if it wants to avoid chaos for the British economy. Indeed, a recent poll showed that one third of Irish companies expect a negative hit once Britain will have completed its withdrawal from the Union. Perhaps more importantly Jens Weidmann, the German Bundesbank chief, warned that London risks losing its financial hub role to the German financial capital, Frankfurt. Across the Channel, in France, the far-right Front National, is trying to take advantage of the situation as much as possible. On Sunday, on the occasion of a major party conference in Fréjus, at the border with Italy, Marine Le Pen pledged to deliver a “Frexit” referendum to the French people. “French politics shall stop to be orchestrated from Berlin, Brussels and Washington”, she said.
“If I were able to, I would turn back time by many, many years, so that I could have prepared the whole government and the authorities for the situation that hit us out of the blue in the late summer of 2015”.
Angela Merkel, PM of Germany, speaking about the migration crisis after the negative results in the local elections in Berlin
Source: The Guardian, 19/09/2016
The Leave voters who think that Theresa May’s government will not get a good deal on Brexit.
Source: The Independent, 19/09/2016
The increase in direct investments in the Eurozone between June and July 2016.
Source: Irish Times, 19/09/2016
Photo Credits CC: Palazzo Chigi