Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Corbyn failing the test?

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 17th, 2019 at 02:39:44 PM EST

In a kindness to all concerned, Jeremy Corbyn has finally put an end to the the Conservative Labour talks aimed at finding a common solution to the parliamentary impasse on Brexit.  Everyone knew that both sides were simply playing for time, but it would have been farcical to continue after Theresa May had announced that her premiership was nearing its end.

Nevertheless his letter to her calling time on their joint efforts showed considerable more class than did her riposte. He thanked those involved in the talks for their detailed, constructive, and good faith efforts but said that the remaining differences between the parties combined with the instability of the government had made it impossible for them to succeed. For her part, May blamed divisions in Labour over a second referendum for the breakdown.

The reality is that Labour had offered her a lifeline to continue in office past the local and European elections, and if she really wanted a deal she could have had one. It would have meant compromising on her objections to a continued close relationship with the Customs Union and Single Market, and, in all probability, a second referendum to validate the deal. Without that there is no way Labour could be sure the next Tory PM would deliver on the deal.

Read more... (35 comments, 1288 words in story)

RIP Booman.com

by Frank Schnittger Sun May 5th, 2019 at 07:38:23 PM EST


Martin Longman has decided to turn his community blogging site (Booman.com) into a commercial subscription site as a vehicle for his own writings and political ambitions. Comments will still be possible but even paying subscribers will no longer be able to publish their own diaries. Renamed Progress Pond, it looks much more up to date, but then again it looks very much like most other political and news sites on the web.

From a personal point of view it is a tragedy because I used to cross-post most of my diaries there, and often got as much of a response to them there as I do here. It helped me to keep in touch with a distinct US blogging community, and I liked to think I helped to keep them in touch with European affairs as well. With Trump at the helm the US is growing ever more distant from European sensibilities, and it doesn't help if blogging communities lose touch with each other as well.

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Corbyn's Moment of Truth

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 4th, 2019 at 10:57:34 AM EST

Long after the scale of the Conservative defeat in the 2019 Local elections had become clear the BBC was still running with the headline that the elections were a disaster for the major parties and that the Conservatives and Labour had "lost hundred of seats". The reality is that the Conservatives lost 1,334 seats and Labour just 82 compared to the 2015 results.

But there is a sense in which the BBC has (perhaps inadvertently) actually got it right. In 2015 the local elections had been run in parallel with the general election in which Cameron had won an unexpected overall majority. So the Labour performance is actually slightly worse than on a day in 2015 when the Tories won an overall majority and unleashed the joys of untrammelled Conservative rule (including the Brexit referendum) on the nation.

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UK Local Election Results [Update 5]

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 3rd, 2019 at 04:59:06 AM EST

The UK Local Council elections took place yesterday and the votes are currently being counted. The elections took place in much of England and all of N. Ireland but not in Scotland, Wales, London and smaller parts of England. Turnout has been quite low, in the 30-40% range, but this is normal for local elections if they are held on their own. The last major Local elections were held in 2015 at the same time as the general election of that year.

Despite the growing disparity between the performance of the Conservatives and Labour, the BBC is still headlining its Election report by saying "the Conservatives and Labour have lost hundreds of seats"... The Conservatives and UKIP, the leave supporting parties have lost a combined 1,500 seats, while the Lib Dems and Greens, Remain supporters, have gained 900. And yet Corbyn and May think the elections represent a mandate to complete Brexit.

With 100% of the votes counted, the main trend is that pro-Remain Lib Dems and Greens are gaining a lot of seats at the expense of the Pro-Leave Conservatives and UKIP parties. The Conservatives have lost 1,334 seats. Labour, which has tried to have it both ways, has ended up treading water and losing 82 seats and control of some councils. The other major trend has been a big gain for independent candidates at the expense of the major incumbent parties - usually the Conservatives, but sometimes Labour as well.

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Brexit Revisited

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 30th, 2019 at 07:48:52 PM EST

Many people will no doubt be pleased that Brexit has been removed from the headlines, even if only by a tragedy like the Sri Lanka bombings or the attempted Venezuelan Coup . But as they used to say about the IRA, it hasn't gone away, you know!

In truth, not a lot has been happening, despite Donald Tusk's injunction to the UK not to waste the time it has been granted by the extension of the Brexit deadline to the end of October.

The May government has seemed like the rabbit stuck in the proverbial headlights, unable to decide which way to go as the onrushing car approaches. MP's were glad of the Easter recess, only to find on their return that not much has changed...

But has it?

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Guilty, as charged

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 30th, 2019 at 03:36:45 PM EST

An edited and truncated version of my letter to the Editor was published by the Irish Independent as it's featured and highlighted letter last Saturday, much to my surprise. It was an early draft of a very long letter which I feel I improved substantially (following Bernard's comment) in my subsequent letter to the Editor of the Spectator. I only discovered it on Monday.

Today The Irish Independent has published a riposte in which I am accused of lacking "balance" in my critique of the Spectator. In particular, I am accused of failing to mention "the importance of Jesus and his resurrection" in my critique. Little matter that I was writing specifically about The Spectator's apparent anti-Irish bias (as noted by the Irish Ambassador to the UK), and more specifically its demonisation of Leo Varadkar.

Today's featured Letter reads as follows:

I read what I felt was an unbalanced view of the special Easter edition of the 'Spectator' in the Irish Independent (Letters, April 27) by Frank Schnittger.

He fails to mention the Easter edition contains six pages devoted to the importance of Jesus and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  The editorial has as its central theme the fact that "Christianity is dying and traditional belief is dismissed as embarrassing superstition by the secular states of the west".

There is a two-page article by a young British actor under the title of 'Way of the Cross'. The central theme as a byline to the heading is 'Without Christ we would not have western values'. Charles Moore in his weekly 'Spectator' notes devotes his full page to an evaluation of the four Gospels of the New Testament, summarising the powerful message as it "bridges the chasm between God and man" and explains divine love.

The commissioning editor Mary Wakefield has an article headed 'The true cross'. In it she describes the dying of a 93-year-old friend who was not very religious, but his final week in which he stuck to his resolve and sank from consciousness made her, although she was a Catholic, begin to understand Easter and the passion of Christ for the first time.

As far as the article by Liam Halligan, he was invited by the Irish Government in 2012 to join the Global Irish Network - a high-level advisory board of Irish nationals living outside the island of Ireland. Don't blame the 'Spectator' for his views, as the Irish Government appointed him aware of his journalistic views.

Hugh Duffy

Cleggan, Co Galway

Clearly, I am guilty as charged.

Read more... (6 comments, 784 words in story)

Socialists win Spanish General Election [Updated]

by Frank Schnittger Sun Apr 28th, 2019 at 08:05:23 PM EST

{Updated} The Spanish Socialist government has won the general election with 123 seats (+38) in the Congress of Deputies, and an overall majority of 139 seats out of a total 265 seats in the less powerful Senate.

Congress of Deputies poll results and change since 2016 elections.

The main winners are the outgoing Socialist government (+6%) and the new far right Vox party (+10%). The major losers are the corruption scandal hit Partido Popular [-17%] and Podemos [-5%]. Outgoing Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez is expected to form the next Government probably with Podemos and perhaps some other regional party support. 176 seats are required for an overall majority in the 350 seat chamber.

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Spectating on Ireland and other pet hates

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 25th, 2019 at 10:32:52 PM EST

In my more idle moments, and purely as a service to you, dear readers, I sometimes spend some time perusing the online editions of right-wing UK publications such as the Telegraph and The Spectator. There you will live in an alternative factual universe, where poor Britain is set upon by an evil EU, and worse still, is betrayed by its supposed allies.

Chief culprit, these days, seems to be the Republic of Ireland, which has been set upon an anti-British course by its demonic leader Leo Varadker. "Little Leo" (who stands 1.94 metres tall), stands accused of "do[ing] anything to suck up to the top gang in the EU playground..." and giving a "calculated two fingers to Brexit Britain" by applying for observer status at the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie rather than rejoining the British Commonwealth.

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Sheela na gig

by Frank Schnittger Mon Apr 22nd, 2019 at 05:04:22 PM EST

The inclusion of often sexually explicit iconography in the architecture of ancient churches, cathedrals, castles and public buildings has often struck me as odd, given the predominance of the puritan paradigm in so much of religion today. The grotesques, chimeras and gargoyles of Notre Dame are variously supposed to have been intended to ward off evil spirits, with gargoyles also fulfilling the practical function of redirecting rainwater away from the stone masonry to reduce the erosion of the mortar from the walls.

However the Sheela na gigs, found over much of Europe, but most frequently in Ireland, were often sexually explicit mostly female figures whose purpose is the subject of some dispute. Various hypotheses have been put forward ranging from that they represent the survival of a pre-Christian pagan goddess, a fertility figure, a warning against lust, or a more general protection against evil.

More recently some feminists have re-interpreted the imagery of Sheela Na Gigs as portraying a more positive, empowering view of female sexuality and adopted it as a symbol of Irish feminism. However it is open to question whether this has more to do with present day cultural and political concerns rather than what they were meant to portray in their own time and culture.

Perhaps there is no unifying theory of what they were meant to represent in a lot of different and often localised historical contexts. Perhaps some artists and stone masons were just having a little fun right under the noses of their clerical and civic overlords: An imaginative rebellion against the stultifying orthodoxy of authoritarian religion. Perhaps they were intended to allow us to project our own fantasies onto them so that they can mean different things to different people at different times.

Your fantasies are welcome...

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Notre Dame de Paris

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 16th, 2019 at 12:49:40 PM EST

There is not much I can say about the fire in Notre Dame that has not already been said better elsewhere. At over 850 years of age it is a testament to the stability and enduring qualities of the society which created and sustained it. It took over 200 years to build and has survived many different regimes, revolutions and world wars.

Encouragingly European leaders have rallied to the cause of its reconstruction saying it is a symbol of not just French but all European culture. It's good to have something positive to unite around, rather than the enduring negativity of Brexit.

For many, of course, it is a symbol more of the past than the future. Few attend religious services there any more, even as 30,000 visitors a day come to admire its architecture and artworks. When I visited it some years back it reminded me more of a past we have been fortunate to leave behind rather than an inspiration for the future.

But it is difficult to conceive of a project now that would still hold a central place in our society in 850 years time. We seem so obsessed with destroying the planet we live on that there may not even be a human society in the year 2869. Everything now is for the short term and we can't plan for 5 never mind 850 years ahead.

But we also don't have any strong uniting ideology, mythology or religion which would encourage us to think so far ahead. Neo-liberalism worships private wealth, and Brexit has sought to reduce the European project to a beggar thy neighbour exercise in greed and short term self-interest. Militarism seeks to industrialise the process of killing others.

Perhaps readers here can contribute towards a vision of what might sustain us as a common humanity for the next 850 years. Saving the planet from a devastating mass extinction event would be a good start...

Comments >> (24 comments)

Confirmation Bias?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 12th, 2019 at 03:13:08 PM EST

In Off the reservation I wrote I would "make some far out predictions based only on the most tenuous of currently observable facts." At the risk of confirmation bias I will hereunder examine what evidence to support that thesis is gradually becoming available. I will rely heavily on Wikipedia compilations of all available polls as any one poll has to come with so many health warnings.

Even compilations of polls have to come with a health warning that they represent, at best, a snap shot in time, and are subject to becoming out of date very quickly in a rapidly evolving environment. For that reason I will rely as much as possible on polls whose field work was conducted after 29th. March 2019, the date Brexit was supposed to happen. I do so as I believe that date could come to mark a watershed in UK history.

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Off the reservation

by Frank Schnittger Mon Apr 8th, 2019 at 11:23:17 AM EST

OK I'm going to go way off the reservation here and make some far out predictions based only on the most tenuous of currently observable facts. I do so because I can't see the Brexit conundrum being resolved within the available universe of conventional solutions, and because I think the retribution of "the people" on those who authored their misfortune will be terrible.

It's one thing punishing a government for poor performance during an economic downturn which may be little more than a reflection of a global business cycle. But its quite another when your government is almost the sole author of your misfortune, and not only that, has caused you to become the laughing stock of the "civilised" world. People have their pride, too, you know, and hate being made to look foolish.

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Reality Bites

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 5th, 2019 at 12:00:28 PM EST

Theresa May has written a long letter to EU Council President, Donald Tusk, requesting a further extension to the A.50 notification period until June 30th., the same date she asked for, but was refused, last time out. It is a well drafted letter, which many of us commenting here could probably have drafted for her.

In it she makes much of her ongoing discussions with Jeremy Corbyn as providing an opportunity to create a consensus for the UK's future relationship with the EU. The EU has been telling her that for some time.

But she also acknowledges some facts the UK has been seeking to deny for some time: Firstly, that the Withdrawal Agreement is finalised and cannot be renegotiated. Any discussion with Corbyn is about the non-binding Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and UK, and that alone.

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SHOCK HORROR! May to talk to Corbyn

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 2nd, 2019 at 07:40:56 PM EST

Almost three years after the Brexit referendum  and two years after she lost her overall parliamentary majority, Theresa May has decided she needs to talk to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in order to forge a consensus on the way forward. Even more shockingly, she is going to abide by "the will of Parliament" if it supports an alternative to her My deal, no deal, or no Brexit approach.

No, this is not a belated April Fools Day story. Apparently, this process is going to be complete by next Wednesday, April 10th., in time for the emergency European Council meeting, where she hopes to get agreement to a further short A.50 notification extension to enable a new deal to be negotiated with the EU, agreed by parliament, and implemented in law.

Apparently this process is to be completed by the 22nd. May so that the UK doesn't have to participate in the European Parliament elections. Good luck with that. For a country which has routinely accused the EU of lacking in democracy, the UK government seems to be absolutely determined to avoid participating in European Parliamentary elections, a second confirmatory public vote, or indeed a general election.

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Après May

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 22nd, 2019 at 01:00:27 PM EST

The Daily Mail, formerly the chief cheerleader for Brexit and mouthpiece for "ordinary conservatives," and latterly (after a change of editor) chief cheer leader for Theresa May:

Theresa May was humiliated last night after EU leaders took control of Brexit and gave her a fortnight 'flextension' to get MPs to vote for her deal after calling her make-or-break summit display 'evasive' and 'confused'.

Britain will not leave the EU until at least next month after a late-night deal in Brussels where European leaders rejected Mrs May's appeal for an extension until June 30 after her plea for a three-month delay fell flat.

Instead they offered to extend Article 50 until May 22 - only if the Prime Minister gets her deal through Parliament next week.

But they warned her that if the deal was not passed she must make a decision by April 12 - just three weeks' time - amid growing rumours Mrs May could have quit by then.

Today Theresa May texted EU leaders and told them she would miss day two of the Brussels summit to return to London 'to work on getting the withdrawal deal passed'.

But slamming her approach Tory backbencher Michael Fabricant appeared to compared Theresa May to Neville Chamberlain, who signed a disastrous appeasement deal with Hitler, and said: 'At this difficult time we need a Churchill, not a Chamberlain'.

Insiders said EU leaders were visibly bemused during last night's Brexit debate described as '90 minutes of nothing' where Mrs May appeared 'evasive, had no plan and even seemed confused' when asked what she will do if her deal is voted down again.

One prime minister told aides afterwards: 'The only thing that came through with clarity was her lack of a plan' and one EU aide said afterwards: 'She didn't have a plan, so they needed to come up with one for her'.

Mrs May was ejected from the dinner and forced to eat alone as the talks continued to overcome the split and EU leaders then rejected her June 30 extension.

One senior EU official told Politico that after the PM left the room French President Emmanuel Macron said loudly that he believed Mrs May's deal had a 10 per cent chance of getting through the Commons but added: 'After listening to her, I now think five per cent' before Donald Tusk grimaced and chipped in that this 'sounded too optimistic'.

Read more... (109 comments, 1147 words in story)

The gloves are off

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 20th, 2019 at 10:16:12 PM EST

The UK government has requested an extension of the A.50 notification period until June 30th. This creates the awkward situation whereby the UK is still a member of the EU on the 23rd. May, when all members are legally obliged to hold European Parliament elections. It also created problems for EU leaders as the letter requesting the delay came too late for many EU leaders to consult with their parliaments - as they would normally do - before taking a position on it at the EU Council.

Donald Tusk, speaking on behalf of the European Council says "he believes a short extension to A.50 will be possible", but only on condition of the House of Commons voting in favour of the draft Withdrawal Agreement. It is available to enable the required legislation to be passed, but not to engage in further procrastination or discussions on the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Theresa May, for her part, has spoken directly to the UK People in a TV broadcast over the heads of MPs saying it is time for MPs to stop squabbling and engaging in arcane procedural wrangling. MPs have not responded well, branding her talk pointless, insulting, and arrogant. Dominic Grieve, a leading Conservative Remainer and former Attorney General says "he has never been more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative party" and that he will oppose the Prime Minister unless the Withdrawal Agreement is put to the people in a public vote.

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People playing games

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 15th, 2019 at 12:30:37 PM EST

It was Karl Marx who observed that "history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce". Clearly we are reaching the farcical stages of the Brexit Greek tragedy.

Just yesterday the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, gave the official closing oration urging the House to support a government motion and saying it was in the national interest, and then voted against it. The Government's Chief Whip, Julian Smith, charged with whipping it's members to support the motion, abstained. Eight cabinet ministers voted against the government, and still did not resign or face dismissal.

A government motion seeking support for May's deal is defeated by 149 votes - the fourth largest margin of defeat for a government in history - and yet the government proposes to bring the same motion before the house again next week.  The House of Commons votes decisively against a "no deal" Brexit and for a delay in Brexit itself, and yet has no idea what it will do with that extra time.

Those voting in favour of a "no deal" Brexit claim they are doing so to put pressure on the EU in the negotiations, seemingly unaware that those negotiations are over. There hasn't been a serious negotiation since November and even all attempts at "clarifications" in accompanying documents are at an end.

The Attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, no doubt having examined the contents of his codpiece, seeks to add three paragraphs to his earlier, decisive, legal advice claiming that under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties the UK could cancel the Irish Backstop if "unforeseen circumstances arise" and drawing derision and scorn from experts in the field. How can you trust a country as a negotiating counterparty if they are proposing breaking a deal before the ink has even dried on their signature?

And yet all the while EU leaders are unfailingly courteous and helpful: would you like more time? How much more time would you like? Is there anything else we can help you with? Barnier greets Theresa May with a kiss and warm hug. Juncker doesn't even pinch her bottom. It must be bloody infuriating to be a Brexiteer at times. Just when you need a good bogeyman, he refuses to turn up.

But could it be a case of the spider welcoming a fly into its web?

Read more... (51 comments, 991 words in story)

Countering North-South mistrust in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 13th, 2019 at 12:45:11 AM EST

Letter published by the Irish Times.

Countering North-South mistrust

A chara, - Una Mullally writes that "North-South dialogue and cohesion must avoid unionist vs nationalist binaries" ("Southern patriotic grandstanding must stop if we want a united Ireland", Opinion & Analysis, March 11th).

My late wife, Muriel Boothman, was chairwoman of the Blessington Women's Group, then the largest rural local women's group in Ireland. Some 30 years ago they were organising family exchanges where Protestant women from the North stayed with Catholic families in the South and vice versa. For many it was a daunting and then a transformative experience because most had never been across the Border before and had visions of being hunted with pitchforks! They came to realise that our similarities far exceed our differences, and even our differences didn't amount to much more than cultural anachronisms.

In my youth, I did some youth work in the north inner city of Dublin, and there were many teenagers who hadn't been west of Capel Street, south of the Liffey, or north of Fairview. Similarly in Lurgan, where the denizens of some sectarian ghettoes had hardly ever been in the houses and estates of their opposite numbers. So, yes, there is lot of cross-community work which needs to be done, both within and between North and south, which no formal referendum or inter-governmental agreement can achieve.

This doesn't need to be a highfalutin philosophical debate. Playing Gaelic, soccer or rugby together, sharing educational systems and cultural events, economic links and social campaigns can all play their part.

But this is why Brexit is such a tragedy and keeping the Border open so important. Anything which reignites tensions could set us back a generation, and those who stoke those tensions should rightly be shunned. Some in the North may be more comfortable with "the good old days" where you knew whose side you were on, and who to hate and fight. Others in the South who have done well out of recent economic growth may wonder why they should take on the financial, social and political risks and costs of reunification.

It's much more difficult to be open and accepting of differences and creating relationships across boundaries. But it can be done and I am hopeful that the younger generation coming through to power will achieve it. Opinion polls of social attitudes show younger people identifying less and less with simple Catholic versus Protestant and nationalist versus unionist binaries.

True unity will come, if at all, not when nationalists outnumber unionists, but when the vast majority cease to care about the distinctions, or at least recognise them for what they are: minor differences compared to the greater humanity that unites us. The success of the Derry Girls comedy series among all demographics should remind us of that fact. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,
Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Comments >> (10 comments)

Cox's codpiece

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 8th, 2019 at 09:18:55 PM EST

After the debacle of David Davis's no show in Brussels, Dominic Raab's token appearance as a Brexiteer Brexit secretary not actually in charge of any negotiation, and Stephan Barkley's convincing impersonation of a total non-entity in the role, the UK badly needed a heavyweight negotiator to do some heavy lifting in Brussels. Enter, stage left, Geoffrey Cox, a Queen's Counsel recently appointed attorney general, to cast his legal eye over proceedings.

It is not going well. According to Bloomberg, Cox's flamboyant style is not going down well in Brussels, but at least his Commons reference to looking inside Cox's codpiece to check everything is still in full working order provided some much needed light relief. He caused consternation and incredulity in Brussels and in Ireland by his claim that the Backstop could breach human rights law and EU briefings on the progress of the talks have been uniformly dismissive and gloomy.

In what seems like utter frustration, the EU is offering to go back to their original proposal of a N. Ireland only backstop. It was Theresa May who insisted it should apply to all of the UK - at the insistence of the DUP - to avoid a border down the Irish sea. Many in the EU were actually concerned at giving such a huge concession to the UK - cost free access to the Customs Union when Norway pays dearly for the privilege of access to the Single Market. The UK were actually using the border issue as a lever to prize open continued access to the Customs Union for free - but as usual, the Brexiteers were too stupid to recognise a gift horse when they were offered it.

Read more... (41 comments, 1231 words in story)

Britain blinks first

by Frank Schnittger Wed Feb 27th, 2019 at 05:25:39 PM EST


Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage: The joke is on them

Part of the Brexiteer mythology is that the EU is made up of incompetent and unprincipled bureaucrats who can be counted on to come grovelling for a compromise even if only at the last minute. To their discomfort and horror there is still no sign of the EU27 caving in, and all of Theresa May's best efforts at divide and conquer tactics have been in vain. If there is one takeaway from this almost wholly sad Brexit saga it is that, remarkably, the EU27 have stood united behind one of their smallest members and maintained a coherent negotiating position throughout.

Read more... (131 comments, 1468 words in story)
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News and Views

 6 - 12 May 2019

by Bjinse - May 6, 186 comments

Your take on this week's news

 22 - 28 April 2019

by Bjinse - Apr 8, 151 comments

Your take on this week's news

 May Thread

by Bjinse - May 6, 32 comments

In the merry month of May, sitting in a pleasant thread, which a grove of myrtles made

 April Thread

by Bjinse - Apr 8, 100 comments

It was a bright cold day in April, and the threads were striking thirteen.

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