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EUROPEAN UNION

Italy wants UK to stay but will march on with fellow founders

The six founding members of the European Union on Tuesday reiterated their commitment to "ever closer union", even if it means leaving less enthusiastic partners like Britain behind.

Italy wants UK to stay but will march on with fellow founders
Dutch PM Mark Rutte (L) meets his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi in The Hague, on February 5, 2016. Italy and the Netherlands remain committed to "ever closer union". Photo: Michel Porro/ANP/AFP

London has demanded an opt-out from the “ever closer union” principle enshrined in the EU's treaties as part of reforms it wants to agree before holding a referendum on its membership of the bloc.
   
At informal talks in Rome, the foreign ministers of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands issued a joint communique in which they admitted to being “concerned about the state of the European project”.
   
They said the EU was facing “very challenging times” due to the migration crisis and the threat posed by terrorism.
   
And they insisted that, for them, the answer lay in more, not less integration while also acknowledging that not every country in what is now a 28-member bloc should have to agree.
   
“We firmly believe that the European Union remains the best answer we have for today's challenges and allows for different paths of integration,” the communique read.
   
“We remain resolved to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the people of Europe.”
   
Tuesday's dinner meeting was called by Italy, whose centre-left government has made it clear it wants a core of EU countries to forge ahead with steps towards further integration, with moves towards a banking union, tighter fiscal harmonization and increased political and security cooperation the areas where they see change as most desirable.
   
Rome has also indicated that it is relaxed with countries like Britain limiting their engagement with the EU to essentially being part of a large free trade area – an option Italian officials say they would much prefer to the unpredictable scenario of a “Brexit”, as Britain's possible departure has been dubbed.

Brexit referendum looms

British Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping to tie down a package of reforms at a summit of EU leaders on February 18-19th.

If he succeeds, he is expected to move quickly to hold an in-out referendum in which he will argue that membership no longer poses a threat of further erosion of British sovereignty.
   
A two-speed EU is already a reality to an extent, with only 19 of the 28 member states having adopted the euro single currency – although all the other countries, except Britain and Denmark, are theoretically committed to working towards joining.
   
But the idea of formally enshrining the “two-speed” principle has long been taboo among supporters of deeper integration who often argue that the Union is like a bicycle which can only balance when it is moving forward.
   
Italy meanwhile will ask its citizens how they want to see the EU develop via an online consultation to be launched on February 12th, parliamentary speaker Laura Boldrini announced earlier on Tuesday.
   
The six-question survey will seek to establish what Italians see as the EU's strengths and weaknesses, the areas in which it could do more, how it could be more efficient and how to reform its institutions.
   
“We are facing major challenges – climate change, terrorism, migration – and no state can face them alone,” Boldrini said in comments which reflect the view of much of the Italian political class but not necessarily those of voters.
   
“United we can influence events, divided we become totally insignificant.”

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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