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An existential crisis for the EU

by Frank Schnittger Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 11:36:48 AM EST

To some extent we are all operating in the dark when it comes to predicting how various actors - primarily governments - will act in particular circumstances. We all have to make assumptions to reduce the number of potential variables, but it might be a useful exercise to make those assumptions explicit to see where our foundational expectations differ.

My assumptions about the guiding principles of the key actors look something like this:


1. Boris' UK

1.1 The EU is a fundamentally weak and unprincipled body which can be counted on to fold and compromise at the last minute. Therefore you have to start from a bold and principled position to put the fear of God in them. When faced with the sure and certain prospect of significant damage to key sectors such as the car industry Merkel will fold. She is increasingly weak, politically, and the German economy (and particularly the car industry) is already in deep trouble.

1.2 The priority now, for the UK Government, is to put the fear of God into all MPs that the UK is heading for a general election. That will make them less inclined to support a vote of no confidence, particularly those in marginal constituencies or those with a Leave majority.

1.3 To win that election the Tories have to destroy the Brexit party as a viable alternative so we have to steal their clothes and allow no daylight between their position and ours. We can be magnanimous and offer Farage or his surrogates cabinet positions, but the priority now is to destroy the Brexit party as an electoral force and alternative for Leave voters.

1.4 Therefore Remainers have to be ruthlessly marginalised, from the Cabinet, the wider government, and in Parliament itself. They are such a weak-kneed bunch and probably won't be able to get their act together in time to force a general election prior to Oct.31st. in any case. Thank God for Corbyn making it impossible for them to unite around an alternative PM.

1.5 The Tories must have "delivered on Brexit" before the next General election if they are not going to be destroyed at the polls for having failed to deliver on the mandate of the referendum and the 2017 general election. The precise form that Brexit takes is a secondary consideration, and for the political class to worry about. Our base just wants us out of the EU and thinks we should have done it an age ago. But better late than never.

1.6 Ideally the general election should take place immediately after Oct 31st. to the sound of "Land of Hope and Glory" and before the practical difficulties of Brexit have had a chance to sap the national spirit. Once Brexit has actually happened Johnson's "can do optimism" will trump Corbyn's loser negativism every time. Nobody trusts Corbyn to lead Britain through a crisis. Boris is a wartime leader and has assembled a war cabinet.


2. The EU

2.1 Brexit began as an unnecessary and regrettable distraction from our key task of managing the EU through the Euro crisis, regional inequalities, an economic slowdown, and Trump's challenge to our place in the world order. We had hoped the UK would change its mind once faced with the realities of what Brexit would actually look like, but regrettably this doesn't look likely to happen now.

2.2 Our primary objective in the Brexit negotiations was damage limitation, and we succeeded rather well in doing so. The British side to the negotiations were unbelievably incompetent, and perhaps we succeeded rather too well in consequence. But the bottom line is that it remains the only basis for an orderly Brexit that we can unanimously stand over.

2.3 However far from persuading the UK of the folly of Brexit, they have simply doubled down on every mistake and become ever more extreme in their demands, to the point now where they are openly taking Trump's side in what could well become an existential battle between the US and the EU. This is to be avoided if at all possible.

2.4 However the UK demand now is essentially that we endure the consequences of the worst sort of no deal Brexit or else risk the integrity of the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) and sell Ireland down the river. This would be a fatal blow to our claim that pooling sovereignty strengthens all and that we are a Union of equals within a legal order.

2.5 Our best chance of avoiding either of these very damaging options is to prevaricate and delay: Johnson's majority is far from stable, and Trump is facing an election next year in the context of a slowing economy and a social order in crisis. Hopefully he will be too distracted to open up another front against the EU and is relying on Johnson to do the heavy lifting for him. It is hard to see how picking a fight with Ireland and Europe would be a winning electoral strategy for Trump.

2.6 The problem is we are no longer in control of the process. If Johnson persists in his no deal madness there is nothing we can do to stop him. We can't give another A. 50 extension if the British government doesn't ask for it.

2.7 Increasingly Boris' hardline supporters are saying that even removing the Irish backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement wouldn't persuade them to support the deal. They want a no deal Brexit and don't seem to care about the economic consequences. Perhaps they believe they can force us to allow them de facto access to the CUSM without regulatory alignment or compliance of any kind. This is an existential issue for us.

2.8 At least this latter hardline stance makes it easier for us to maintain our internal solidarity. We are all agreed the CUSM must be protected at all costs. Varadker is coming under increasing pressure to compromise on the backstop back home, as a no deal Brexit would create a hard customs border in Ireland in any case, but that pressure becomes marginalised if everyone realises the backstop is no longer the key issue. Basically the hard line Brexiters seem to believe their best chance of a prosperous political and economic future lies in aligning themselves with Trump and destroying the EU as a whole.

2.9 So if a no deal Brexit actually happens we will be in a fight for our continued existence. We will have to take an absolutely hard line and block all inspection free imports from the UK on the grounds that we will no longer have any trade deal or mutually recognised systems to ensure regulatory compliance. It will be almost akin to all out trade war, the sharper the better, in the hope that this will persuade to UK of the folly of its position and provoke a change of government in the UK.

2.10 Our best hope, in that scenario, is that a new government, not dependent on hard line Brexiteers and the DUP is formed sooner rather than later and agrees the Withdrawal agreement with a N. Ireland only Backstop, essentially retaining N. Ireland in the CUSM in line with the democratically expressed wishes of its people. We therefore have to make the outcome of a no deal Brexit as terrible as possible, as otherwise that entirely unsatisfactory situation could drag on for years.

2.11 As disastrous as this may seem, it could be the making of the EU. We will have protected our core markets, institutions and members and demonstrated to all and sundry that we are a force to be reckoned with and a potential adversary not to be trifled with. Regrettably, it often takes a war to forge the identity and cohesion of a nation. Hopefully we can limit our conflict with the UK and USA to a localised trade war and in so doing show all our citizens just how powerful a force we can be collectively in the interests of all our members.

The UK has made a big mistake in making this about not only the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, but about the peace and prosperity and continued existence of the EU as a whole.

Display:
It is hard to over-estimate just how little freedom of movement Varadker has on the Irish backstop. He is the leader of the smallest minority government in Irish history, dependent on Fianna Fail abstention on key votes as part of their "confidence and supply" agreement which had been due to run out before now but was extended until the Autumn because of the delay to the resolution of Brexit. He doesn't have a popular mandate as he took over in mid-term from previous Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The next general election has to take place before 10 April 2012 and he is currently running neck and neck with Fianna Fail in the polls.

The core weakness in his position is that a no deal Brexit would create a hard customs border with N. Ireland - precisely the outcome his insistence on the Backstop was designed to avoid. Consequently there are increasing calls in the media and from some opposition TDs for him to compromise on his "hardline" position and allow some watering down of the Backstop in order to get the Withdrawal Agreement ratified by the house of Commons.

In my view there are at least four flaws in this argument:

  1. It is becoming increasingly clear that even removing the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement entirely wouldn't guarantee its passage through the House of Commons. Hardline Brexiteers actually seem to want no deal.

  2. The EU has staked its entire position and credibility on avoiding a hard customs border in Ireland (which they know would be a smugglers paradise in any case).  For Varadker to cave on this now would be like a stab in the back - undermining perhaps the most impressive display of EU solidarity in its history. Varadker would lose all credibility with his EU peers were he to let them down now.

  3. Although there are isolated calls for compromise now, the moment Varadker concedes he and his party are consigned to electoral history. Fine Gael has never quite recovered from perceptions of being soft on patriotism by agreeing to the partition of Ireland as part of the 1922 peace settlement with Great Britain in the first place. This caused a civil war and an enduring split in Irish politics. To cave again to British bluff and bluster would be a national humiliation and would give Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein the boost they badly need to become pre-eminent in Irish politics again.

  4. Compromising on the backstop would be seen as a betrayal of the people of N. Ireland, who have benefited on borderless travel and trade with the Republic since the Good Friday Agreement and who voted by a large majority against Brexit in the referendum. Many in the North (and not just nationalists) are also Irish citizens and would lose the EU dimension of that citizenship and the protections of the Withdrawal Agreement if the backstop is dropped.

The bottom line: We are where we are, and there is no going back.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 12:15:27 PM EST
Frank: the people of N. Ireland, [...] who voted by a large majority against Brexit in the referendum.

Actually, even though the overall result was 56% Remain, 44% Leave, it looks like like Protestants largely voted Leave and Catholics Remain:

How Northern Ireland voted in the EU referendum - and what it means for border talks

Examining data from the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly election study, conducted close to the time of the referendum, it emerges that there was a very strong ethnonational basis to voting. It seems 85% of Catholics voted Remain, compared to only 40% of Protestants.

The per-constituency results also show this: for instance, 62% Leave in Iain Paisley's constituency but 74% Remain in West Belfast, a Sinn Féin stronghold.

by Bernard on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 06:49:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No one denies this, but isn't it great that for once protestants and Catholics didn't vote on entirely sectarian lines? The divergences between the communities are hardly surprising given Sinn Fein (half heartedly) campaigned for Remain and the DUP for Leave.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 07:06:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fine Gael Youth leader attends US right-wing conference | Independent.ie |

The president of Fine Gael's youth wing has been criticised for attending a right-wing conservative youth conference in the US last week.

Young Fine Gael (YFG) president Killian Foley-Walsh, a member of Fine Gael's ruling national executive, attended the Young America's Foundation (YAF) conference in Washington DC last week along with YFG's social media officer Chloe Kennedy.

YAF's mission is to groom future conservative leaders, according to the 'New York Times', which cited far-right White House adviser Stephen Miller among its alumni. Many members are opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

This year's conference was addressed by US vice-­president Mike Pence and a number of conservative politicians, including former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

[...]

Mr Foley-Walsh and Ms Kennedy said they attended the conference in a personal capacity and the trip was funded by themselves and the Edmund Burke Foundation ...

He said he did not support or endorse the views of Stephen Miller or those of Robert Spencer, a previous speaker at YAF, who runs a website, Jihad Watch, and has written a book 'Confessions of an Islamophobe'.

Related reading ...

New Fascist Pariah States America and Israel Lashing Out

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.

by Oui on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 09:23:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
RE the UK, it now looks sure that Johnson intends to crash out on October 31, and hold an election very soon afterwards. So that checks out.

An election is what Corbyn wants. Given the billionaire-media noise machine and the dirty-tricks brigade, in the razzmatazz of gung-ho Brexit, I doubt if he will be audible enough to win it.

Re the EU, I think your points are correct. Caving in to the UK would cost the EU countries far more than dealing with a crash-out, or even a trade war with the UK.

So what the dreaded cards foretell is a crash-out, a new Tory majority in Westminster, and a trade war.

Every farthing of the cost will be paid of course, but by whom?

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
L. Cohen

by john_evans (john(dot)evans(dot)et(at)gmail(dot)com) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 12:30:27 PM EST
I think Boris believes, and possibly a majority of the UK electorate can be made to believe, that a victory for Boris on a no deal platform will force the EU to do business with them on their terms because, well, the British people have spoken!

That rather ignores the fact that the Greek referendum result was totally ignored and overturned by EU leaders. It also rather ignores the even bigger fact that EU leaders are answerable to their electorates and not the British People - especially after Brexit when they will no longer be even EU citizens.

Of course the British media will trumpet that any EU intransigence, post a Boris electoral victory, merely proves that the EU is a totally undemocratic institution and proves they were right to leave all along. The British idea of democracy was always that it requires the EU to bend to the British ledership.

Nevertheless a Boris electoral victory will provide a much needed post hoc justification and legitimation for a no deal Brexit. In so doing it will copper fasten an adversarial relationship with the EU - possibly for a generation - and any failure to agree a subsequent trade deal will be put down to the EU just wanting to "punish Britain" because the UK would no longer do the EU's bidding.

There is no going back from here, no matter what the consequences. The unanimity requirement and hostile environment will probably make a future trade deal impossible even where demonstrable mutual interests exist. EU members and businesses will fight over the spoils of lost UK market share in EU markets for services, agricultural and industrial products. EU exporters to the UK will have to make do with a much diminished UK market share and focus on other markets.

Both the EU and UK economies will suffer, it is net minus minus game, but the battle will be over who suffers least. It will be in the EU's collective self-interest to ensure the UK does as badly as possible, and that is a very dangerous dynamic to set up.  

Many will see it all as a temporary spat to be resolved just as soon as saner voices prevail. I see it as an  economic, political and ideological war with increasing divergence between the EU and UK on economic development, geo-political interests, and global presence - which will take more than a generation to resolve.

Britain, or rather England, will become a de-regulated Singapore on sea. A haven for every renegade dictator and oligarch on the planet. A cesspit and sewer of human rights. Ireland will be forced to confront the reality of a united Ireland, whether the time is right now or not.  

Europe, and particularly the UK and Ireland, will not be in a good place. And of course it will be everyone else's own fault. Never the Brexiteers who caused it all.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 01:03:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That assumes Boris wins. If he is running an election campaign in the middle of a complete clusterfuck, he is pretty likely to get unceremoniously drummed out. The press can be as hacky as they want, if supermarkets are having trouble stocking shelves, that wont look good.
by Thomas on Tue Aug 20th, 2019 at 05:10:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A matter of timing ... the election wiil be planned shortly after 10/31 ...the clusterfuck wiil take months to develop ... shit happens. 😎

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.
by Oui on Tue Aug 20th, 2019 at 05:39:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sinn Féin joins the Great Disruption
The third group of Great Disruptors is Sinn Féin. Their Utopia is, of course, a United Ireland. They ostensibly oppose a no-deal Brexit, and indeed Brexit itself. But beneath this opposition lies the belief that the worse Brexit is, the quicker we will have a Border poll and the more likely it is that Protestants in Northern Ireland will swim for the green lifeboat to avoid going down with the British ship. Alongside the disaster capitalism of Johnson's faction and the disaster socialism of Corbyn's, there is this disaster nationalism. It does not deny that no-deal would be awful - it welcomes this awfulness as the Great Disruption that completes the Irish national revolution.


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 02:02:10 PM EST
Why shouldn't Sinn Féin plan to take advantage of the inevitable?  They aren't making it inevitable, and they aren't even in a position to help avoid it, so I can't condemn them too much.
by rifek on Wed Aug 7th, 2019 at 07:20:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If they took their seven seats in the UK Parliament, if only to bring down the government and force a new election that would be something and it is hard to say they cannot do that.


"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 9th, 2019 at 07:36:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems as if there is an expectation that the EU should display some sort of stability or constancy in its membership. Start with six members in the aftermath of WW2, then gradually merge in more over time--but without losing any of the originals. Membership a one-way function.

The US of A operates under that model; it was established in the 1860s that once you join, you can't leave. But the USSR did not end up operating under that model, some areas "joined" (perhaps not so voluntarily) and then later left (or were kicked out). The United Nations doesn't have a procedure for leaving (exception, Indonesia, 1965). In theory, you can leave NATO, but not in practice--so far, at least.

Where is it written that the only way to run an organization of communities is as a stable, never-shrinking empire? Why is it considered an existential crisis if some members of the EU decide to leave?

Maybe Italy, for example, decides to leave next. Fine, they were part of the original membership, let them leave if they don't like how it's worked out. There are still a couple of dozen other countries who joined later that are still in. Maybe it would be better to assume that there will be periodic joiners and leavers, and that such a case is not necessarily "bad." Maybe the structure of the organization should be arranged to accommodate membership flexibility, with defined processes for joining and leaving that let the membership list change over time.

by asdf on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 02:37:33 PM EST
If Brexit has taught us anything it is that 45 years of EU membership creates such a web of mutual obligations and economic integration that one cannot suddenly flick a reverse switch when political sentiment changes. The British fondly imagine they can go back to the status quo ante, but the world has changed rather a lot since 1973. Just as joining was expected to be for ever, I suspect leaving will be for ever as well. I am not one of those optimists who expect the UK to be rejoining some time soon.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 07:18:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also an existential crisis for the UK.

Most recent poll out of Scotland has Independence winning 52/48.  Even applying the usual caveats: it's only one poll, margin of error, blah-blah & etc., it seems the emotional attachment to the Union is not so slowly being eroded by a dawning awareness the Scots are heading out of EU membership against their will into a No Deal future by a Tory Prime Minister they despise.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 04:01:39 PM EST
You're kidding of course ... a 2nd backstop??

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.
by Oui on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 04:28:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ain't we got fun!?!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Aug 7th, 2019 at 01:05:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It will be curious to see how an independent Scotland treats Balmoral Castle regarding taxation and how little England reacts to requests from the Crown to pay Scottish taxes on their vacation home.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 07:56:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who says the entire royal family doesn't decamp to Scotland? Sell their property in England to the Russians...
by asdf on Wed Aug 7th, 2019 at 12:27:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why not sell Big Ben and turn it into a Trump Tower while you're at it...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Aug 7th, 2019 at 01:03:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I assume you are saying that as a joke, but Mr Trump has run a real estate business for decades that involves buying distressed properties.

For example, it appears that tours of Big Ben are free, but fill up months in advance. (And are currently suspended until some repairs are complete.) That suggests to any reasonable capitalist that the rate is too low. I bet you could fill up those tours whilst charging UKP 1000 per ticket, if there were a big golden TRUMP sign plastered onto the front.

by asdf on Wed Aug 7th, 2019 at 04:28:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going to have to write something about the Fallacy of Being Very Serious, aren't I?

t is becoming increasingly clear that even removing the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement entirely wouldn't guarantee its passage through the House of Commons. Hardline Brexiteers actually seem to want no deal.

This has been obvious forever. It is a useful thing to throw up. The nutters want a no deal. They have not been serious. The UK has not negotiated seriously with the EU or anyone else, only within the Tory party. The question is whether the political system will let the nutters have their way.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 04:44:09 PM EST
The question is whether the political system will let the nutters have their way.

Well everything has been going their way and what was a far-out extreme position has become gradually more and more mainstream...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 04:56:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The nutters are now in charge of the nut farm.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
L. Cohen
by john_evans (john(dot)evans(dot)et(at)gmail(dot)com) on Wed Aug 7th, 2019 at 05:28:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
((YouTube fmLnGw-b6JI))

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Aug 9th, 2019 at 02:32:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bugger. Forgotten how to embed a yousuck.
The lunatics have taken over the asylum

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Aug 9th, 2019 at 02:32:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The nutters were always in charge of the nut farm. The difference is that the nut farm has become the society.


"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 9th, 2019 at 07:41:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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