Thursday 29 September 2016

European leaders' double-speak is biggest barrier to real progress

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP/Getty
Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP/Getty

Parlez-vous Brexit? More than a month after the UK voted to leave the European Union, the biggest barrier to real progress is language.

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Every EU leader is walking a tightrope of words trying to reassure their domestic audience while simultaneously speaking to the whole continent.

Paddy likes to know. But so does Pierre, Manuel, Gunter and Harold.

And that is why European leaders need to stop the phoney war and engage in proper talks.

It has been argued that no genuine negotiations on the future of Europe can take place until Britain formally requests to leave - but government sources accept this is a ridiculous position that isn't actually grounded in the reality of what is happening.

Otherwise why would Mr Kenny have met with Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Theresa May in the past fortnight.

Depending on who you listen to and what day of the week it is, you will be told that Ms May must trigger Article 50 immediately or 'stay calm' and take time to get it right.

Initially after the result came in, Mr Kenny was among the minority of EU leaders calling for Britain to be given time and space to etch out their exit strategy.

Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande (inset below)were shouting 'out now' before both eventually struck a more consolatory "as soon as possible" tone. The Taoiseach has also now moved towards that position.

Similarly on the question of the border between the Republic and the North, Ms May refuses to use the phrase "hard border" and instead rules out a return to "the borders of the past".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is emphatic in his view that he will "not agree to a hard border". Yet the two prime ministers claim to be speaking in unison.

Mr Kenny's line is exactly what Irish people want to hear, but Ms May is clearly trying to speak to a variety of audiences.

In Northern Ireland on Monday, the British PM said some form of border would have to result from a Brexit - but has since refused to elaborate on what that might entail.

After his meeting in Downing Street, Mr Kenny offered the idea of a virtual border where movement is monitored but in the main traffic flows freely.

The Taoiseach went to Berlin where Ms Merkel appeared to shoot down the idea of making Ireland a 'special case', saying all voices would be heard equally. But days later Mr Hollande came to Dublin and declared that he understood our "special situation".

Government officials in Dublin continue to insist the French and Germans are saying the same thing.

Meanwhile, over in Brussels a battle is raging for control of the EU negotiating team between the EU Commission and EU Council.

Supporters of Council boss Donald Tusk argue they are in charge and member states do not want a "federalist", like Commission president Jean-Claude Junker, taking the lead.

The Commission believes their mandate places them at the centre of any talks.

So it's little wonder Europe is in a state of confusion.

The 'Double Dutch' coming from politicians and bureaucrats on issues like Brexit is a large part of the reason voters feel disenfranchised by the EU.

Irish Independent

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