Monday 16 September 2019

John Downing: 'Europe has moved on to a post-Brexit world, and Ireland must follow soon'


New party: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata (right) will stand as an MEP for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party which was launched yesterday in Coventry. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
New party: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata (right) will stand as an MEP for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party which was launched yesterday in Coventry. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

In a cafe in Brussels on Thursday afternoon, an avuncular waiter asked how, as an Irishman, I was coping with leaving the EU.

No, he did not think I was English because we established nationality in talk about where to get a good pint of Guinness in that city of many delights. He just vaguely thought Ireland was also leaving the EU, reminding us that, a mere 10-minute walk from the 'Eurobubble', Brexit is not something fixating ordinary people.

Back in the heart of the EU bubble, when you stand back from the week's chaotic events, more than anything else, you get a sense of the impatience on the part of all EU governments whose leaders just want to move on from Brexit sooner rather than later.

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At the close of yet another emergency summit, the old fox himself Jean-Claude Juncker chided the world's media saying there were many other things happening in the EU.

Most of the thousand journalists gathered in Brussels for Wednesday's big Brexit summit were focused on details around the three choices confronting the leaders: extend long; extend short; or show the UK the door. Few of us noticed a new report for the policy-guiding EU Commission, which was doing something the politicians are so often accused of failing to do.

The 50-page document entitled 'Global Trends to 2030 - Challenges and Choices for the European Union' identifies the likely big challenges facing the next two five-year terms for the EU Commission and European Parliament. We will elect a new European Parliament at the end of next month and a new EU Commission is due to be selected this summer and take office on November 1 next.

The document is food for thought, and it does put Brexit into some kind of immediate and local space. We who love our politics can become fixated with Brexit. But when you look at the other issues you see how it might be small enough beer when viewed through the prism of another decade.

Take for example the challenge of climate change. We are set to have an increase in temperature of 1.5C compared to pre-industrial times and that means potential economic and environmental damage.

"If we do not keep temperature increases below 1.5C, we risk heading towards extinction later this century," the report warns bluntly.

Brexit will probably dent profits, cost jobs, and even make it hard to get our favourite biscuits. But it would be a stretch to see it wiping out all of humanity.

On demographic issues, it notes that Europe is facing an aging population problem. Just across the Mediterranean Sea, in Africa, governments will need to manage a significant "youth bulge". We already know that many of these youths want to come north.

That issue is not all bad news, especially for those of us getting a bit long in the tooth, even if it is grist to the mill for Brexiteers like Nigel Farage. The report notes that in the EU "if we age better we can mitigate declining birth rates".

The flight to Europe's cities will continue. By 2030, two-thirds of people will live in small-to-medium-sized cities. If this is not managed properly, it will lead to crime, pollution and violence. We already have many indicators of this trend which will be amplified.

By 2030, China will be the number one global economy. Europe will be ranked second - but purchasing power per head will be almost four times higher in the EU than in China. We will continue to greedily consume energy with a 1.7pc yearly increase in consumption - and continuing high carbon emissions.

The high-tech revolution is only in its infancy. In the next decade, the number of devices connected to the internet will increased five-fold to 125 billion, and the number of air passengers will nearly double.

This timely publication is yet another reminder that the EU has already moved on to a post-Brexit world. The crisis will be sorted soon - and Ireland must start preparations for an EU after Brexit.

Irish Independent

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