Monday 23 September 2019

EU moving on from Britain shock to go back to basics

Leo Varadkar shows his socks to British PM Theresa May in Gothenburg. Picture: AP
Leo Varadkar shows his socks to British PM Theresa May in Gothenburg. Picture: AP

Shona Murray

If there is one message that the EU is conveying to Britain, besides one of unity, it is that it is moving on from Brexit.

During the onset of the banking and economic crisis, the EU focused disproportionately on fiscal matters and turned its back on the rights and welfare of its citizens. Consequently, there were strict bailouts and a fiscal compact treaty that constrained the spending power and decision-making processes of member states. Millions of citizens were disenfranchised and harmed by this structural reform and austerity.

This week's Social Summit in Gothenburg involved a new declaration by member states to support "fair and functioning" labour markets and benefit systems while balancing the need to grow employment.

The EU is pressing ahead with integration, growth and development of the single market, and won't spend more time than is absolutely required dealing with Brexit.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said before that he "won't spend more than half an hour a week" on the matter.

It's likely other member states' voters might also have opted to leave the EU at the height of the crisis - not least in countries that were most affected such as Greece.

It was this dereliction of basic EU principles which permitted anti-EU sentiment in the UK to fester, helping the far-right rise. It was evident even in founding states such as France and Germany.

Britain was somewhat different because it has always had a difficult relationship with Brussels. The British establishment has often misunderstood much of the prosperity of EU membership.

Read More: Talks falter as UK gets stuck in 'Borisland'

The EU now recognises the need to get back to basics and protections for citizens, and tackle the ever-deepening so-called "democratic deficit".

And now the dust has started to settle on Brexit, member states have reconciled the UK's decision and are inching onwards from such a torrid period, albeit, and rightfully, cautiously.

Some have even factored in the UK's position on not paying its full dues on the financial settlement. "If they leave soon, and we have to foot the bill for the rest of the budget - which is around €1bn each, then so be it," one politician said.

For Ireland, the stakes couldn't be higher. The UK's unwillingness to recognise the impossibility of retaining the status quo in Northern Ireland while remaining outside the customs union is deeply frustrating for Irish officials.

As the clock ticks towards March 2019, when the UK will no longer be an EU member, the Irish Government's position has become less sanguine and more demanding from Theresa May.

Irish Independent

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