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‘Big Three’ leaders insist EU not finished after Brexit

Britain's exit from the European Union will not lead to the demise of the bloc, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed on Monday.

'Big Three' leaders insist EU not finished after Brexit
Matteo Renzi (R) met with François Hollande and Angela Merkel in Italy on Monday. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

“Many thought the EU was finished after Brexit but that is not how it is,” Renzi said as he welcomed the leaders for France and Germany for crucial talks on how to revive the European project in the wake of the Brexit shock.

“We want to write a better page (in European history).”

Calling out the continent's eurosceptics, he said it was “easy to complain and find scapegoats.”

The EU “is the answer” to Europe's problems, for it cemented “peace, prosperity and freedom,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled that the EU had been born from some of the “darkest moments” of European history, a reference to the Second World War.

Echoing Renzi, she said the time had come to “write a better page” in European history.

French President Francois Hollande warned that Europe was faced with a risk of “fragmentation and division.”

It needed a “new impulse” on three fronts, Hollande said: the economy; defence and security; and ensuring jobs and education opportunities for young people.

The three leaders were speaking ahead of a working dinner aboard the Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppi Garibaldi as the sun set over the Naples coast.

Road map

In a symbolic move, the Italian PM earlier took his guests to the grave of Altiero Spinelli, a founding father of the ideal of European integration.

Renzi called the meeting in a bid to forge a common position on the EU's future ahead of a summit of the 27 remaining states in Bratislava on September 16th.

Europe's economic outlook, jihadist attacks, the refugee and migrant drama, the Syrian conflict, and relations with Russia and Turkey were also expected to be covered.

The Brexit vote has raised fears of similar referendums in other countries, particularly the Netherlands, which opposes changes to the EU to achieve closer integration.

But coming up with a road map acceptable to all will not be easy.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia vowed after Britain's vote to draw up their own plans for a less centralised EU.

The Ventotene trip was the start of an intensive tour for Merkel as she attempts to coordinate a response to one of the EU's biggest crises in decades and quell fears Berlin wants to monopolise the debate.

Cooperation, flexibility

Renzi, who is campaigning for greater flexibility on EU deficit rules to help his flagging economy, said “we need strong measures to relaunch growth and fight youth unemployment”.

In a show of support, Merkel praised Renzi's “Jobs Act” reform and said the Stability Pact “has quite a lot of flexibility that we can use in a clever way”.

Creating jobs “means creating conditions for private investment to have a chance”, she said.

Hollande called for an EU investment fund for infrastructure, education, research and innovation to be beefed up.

All three leaders have been hit in the polls by varying toxic combinations of refugee crisis, economic slump and terror attacks, with eurosceptic or populist parties gaining ground.

Their room for manoeuvre is restricted. Next year will see a general election in Germany and presidential and legislative elections in France.

After a series of deadly attacks by the Islamic State group, the three leaders were also expected to explore greater co-operation on counter-terrorism and an integrated European security and defence policy – a cherished objective that some analysts say could be easier to achieve after sceptical Britain departs.

“In light of Islamic terrorism and the civil war in Syria, we have to do more to ensure our security. We should increase cooperation on matters of defence and the sharing of intelligence,” Merkel said.

 

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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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