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EUROPEAN UNION

Pleas for pragmatism as EU charts post-Brexit future

Senior European political figures appealed Sunday for the EU to set aside lofty debate as it struggles with Brexit-style populism, and instead to focus on measures which clearly benefit citizens.

Pleas for pragmatism as EU charts post-Brexit future
The EU has to do more to project its image, says IMF chief. Photo: AFP

Leading the charge, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble — a linchpin of the Berlin coalition government — scorned “political sermons,” institutional reform and changes to EU treaties as proposed fixes for Europe's faultlines.

“This is not a time for grand visions,” the 73-year-old veteran minister, long a passionate supporter of the European project, told Welt am Sonntag weekly.

“The situation is so serious that we have to stop playing the usual European and Brussels games,” Schaeuble said.

Schaeuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said the EU had to work “with speed and pragmatism” to unlock growth and thus create jobs.

He sketched initiatives from a common energy policy to job training to harmonising national defence procurements.

The CDU's coalition partners, the Social Democrats, meanwhile stressed strengthening the safety net for the poor or unemployed — two big factors in the perceived collapse of confidence in the EU.

The goal must be to “not only create competition but also social security,” said Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, describing the crisis in Greece as a pointer of a possible north-south split in Europe.

In the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, the European commissioner for economic policy, Pierre Moscovici, called for “strong initiatives… to reinvent Europe.”

“Status quo cannot be a reply to Brexit,” he said, referring to the June 23rd referendum in which a majority of Britons voted to leave the EU.

The vote dealt a body-blow to European federalists, who want the bloc's states to come into an ever-tighter embrace.

Critics of federalism argue many citizens are hostile to Euro-centralism. They contend Brussels is not addressing concerns about jobs, living standards and migration.

Moscovici threw his weight behind widening and extending the so-called Juncker Plan — a scheme named after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which uses EU funds as a lever for investment in areas such as energy, infrastructure and research.

The three-year plan, running from 2015 to 2018, has funds of 21 billion euros ($23.39 billion) from the EU budget and the European Investment Bank (EIB), with the hope that this will leverage private investment of 315 billion euros.

In its current form, the Juncker Plan “is probably insufficient, both in scale and timeframe,” Moscovici told journalists at a business meeting in Aix.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, who also attended the meeting, said the EU had to do more to project its image so that citizens were more aware of some of the benefits of membership.

“When for instance the European Investment Bank makes very big investments in areas but doesn't say very much and people aren't aware of it, without there being a measure of Europe's economic effectiveness, that's incredible,” Lagarde said.

“It means that the talk will continue to be about 'excessive regulation, bureaucracy, it's all Brussels' fault',” Lagarde said.

Pollsters say regions of Britain such as Cornwall, Wales and Yorkshire which have been huge beneficiaries of EU funds were also those that voted hugely in favour of leaving the Union.

Lagarde said laconically that Britain's exit should simplify decision-making in the EU.

“Now that the English have, in inverted commas, left… at least there are a number of things that I've heard European commissioners say, one after another, ''it's so complicated — we can't do it because of the British',” Lagarde said.

“Perhaps there are now things that should be envisaged, as the British won't be at the negotiating table,” she said.

Lagarde did not elaborate, but French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said that the British departure could open the way to strengthening the eurozone.

“We have become a bit paralysed in thinking that there taboo geographical areas, and we have spent months and months not daring to meet as members of the eurozone, thinking it would upset the Poles and British.”

Moscovici reiterated ideas for boosting the 19-country eurozone, with a common budget and a “common economic policy.”

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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