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An Independent Northern Ireland within the EU?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 22nd, 2017 at 10:49:00 PM EST

Dr. Nat O'Connor (School of CPSP, Ulster University) has an interesting piece up on the Progressive Economy website on the options for Northern Ireland if it doesn't want to go the full Brexit with the leavers in Westminster. In particular he asks: Could Northern Ireland be an independent member of the EU, or have a "special status" within it? It is well worth a read in full and discusses the options for Northern Ireland under six headings:

    Being inside the European Customs Union
    Being inside the European Single Market
    Holding EU Citizenship Rights
    Participating in EU Programmes (e.g. CAP, Erasmus)
    Common EU Security and Defence
    The "European Project"

My response is included below the fold...

Read more... (13 comments, 942 words in story)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 17th, 2017 at 12:34:48 PM EST


St. Patrick's day has never been a particularly big deal for me: more an excuse for a lie-in or a long week-end away after a long winter. Although almost every Irish town or city has a St. Patrick's day parade which attracts almost every group you can throw a uniform or costume at as well as large crowds of onlookers, it has never seemed to me to be much more than an excuse for a monumental piss-up afterwards. Shure it's no harm to have a bit of craic, might be a typical response.  We seem to be in the process of patenting craic as a uniquely Irish contribution to world civilisation.

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The impact of Brexit on the Irish economy

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 9th, 2017 at 11:32:33 PM EST

There have been many dire predictions of the negative impact of Brexit on the Irish economy, with exports to the UK already down by half a €Billion or 4% in the last year and with some Irish mushroom exporters going broke because their margins couldn't survive the 10% devaluation of sterling that has already taken place. But the Irish economy is facing the twin challenges of Brexit and Trump from a fundamentally healthy position. Total exports to all markets rose by 4% to €117 Billion last year and UK exports, at 13% of the total, make up a continually declining part of total exports.

Read more... (25 comments, 1190 words in story)

Lords vote for a "meaningful" vote on the terms of Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 8th, 2017 at 06:22:33 PM EST

For the second time in a few days, Theresa May's government has suffered a defeat in a House of Lords vote.  Their Lordships are concerned not to give the Government a free hand to negotiate whatever deal it sees fit without having to submit it to Parliament for approval before Brexit finally happens.  However as The Telegraph has noted:

At first glance, the amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords giving Parliament a "meaningful vote" on a Brexit deal may look innocuous. After all, Britain has voted to restore the primacy of its own Parliament, so why should that Parliament not decide on the Brexit deal? That is the argument that advocates will make for the amendment, which may well be endorsed in the upper house and conceivably by the House of Commons next week, since a number of Conservative MPs are said to be minded to support it there.  Yet that argument is flawed and this amendment should not pass.

The flaws are both practical and principled. The practical flaw is found in the effect this amendment would have on Brexit negotiations. It is no secret that some EU leaders still believe that Britain can be persuaded to reverse its decision to leave; the EU, after all, has a history of trying to overturn democratic votes, even referendum decisions, a contempt for the electorate that partly explains why the integrationist project is failing. If those leaders believe that the British Parliament could reject any Brexit deal and instead continue our membership, they will have a strong incentive to offer the worst deal possible.

As usual, The Telegraph sees no irony in criticising the EU for a lack of democracy in the context of an article on a vote in the entirely unelected House of Lords. But there is a bigger problem with the House of Lords vote. A correspondent and European Tribune reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes (by email):

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Northern Ireland elections results

by Frank Schnittger Fri Mar 3rd, 2017 at 06:40:50 PM EST

[Updated with all counts completed]

Party: % Share of vote : Change since 2016: -> Seats
Sinn Fein 28% (+4% since May) -> 27
Democratic Unionist Party 28% (-1%) -> 28
Ulster Unionist Part 13% (0%) -> 10
Social Democrat and Labour Party 12% (0%) -> 12
Alliance 9% (+2%) -> 8
Smaller parties and Independents 10% (-6%) -> 5
Counting in the Northern Ireland elections has just been completed with all 90 seats filled. Turnout is up 10% from 55 to 65% compared to the last elections in May 2016. Early elections were called when Sinn Fein collapsed the Executive as a result of the "Cash for Ash" scandal and deteriorating relationships with the DUP, the major Unionist party.

The other major issue is Brexit where the DUP campaigned for Brexit and the other major parties campaigned against with the result that Northern Ireland, as a whole, voted against Brexit in the referendum last June. The implications of Brexit for the N. Ireland economy and the border with the Republic were hotly debated throughout the campaign.

Read more... (6 comments, 603 words in story)

An Independent Northern Ireland within the EU?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 22nd, 2017 at 10:40:53 PM EST

Dr. Nat O'Connor (School of CPSP, Ulster University) has an interesting piece up on the Progressive Economy website on the options for Northern Ireland if it doesn't want to go the full Brexit with the leavers in Westminster. In particular he asks: Could Northern Ireland be an independent member of the EU, or have a “special status” within it? It is well worth a read in full and discusses the options for Northern Ireland under six headings:

    Being inside the European Customs Union
    Being inside the European Single Market
    Holding EU Citizenship Rights
    Participating in EU Programmes (e.g. CAP, Erasmus)
    Common EU Security and Defence
    The "European Project"

My response is included below the fold...

Read more... (928 words in story)

Long serving EU Prime Minister to resign

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 23rd, 2017 at 04:45:54 PM EST

Enda Kenny, one of the EU's longest serving Prime Ministers, is set to resign in the aftermath of his St. Patrick's day visit to the US and the UK's formal declaration of Brexit under Article 50 next month. Opposition to his leadership of Fine Gael, the largest party and incumbent Government, has been growing since their disastrous campaign and results in the General Election last year. He is perhaps best known for his forthright condemnation of the Vatican in the aftermath of the child sexual abuse scandals which have come to light in recent years: Wiki

On 20 July [2011], Kenny condemned the Vatican[ for its role in the scandal, stating that the Church's role in obstructing the investigation was a serious infringement upon the sovereignty of Ireland and that the scandal revealed "the dysfunction, disconnection and elitism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day". He added that "the historic relationship between church and state in Ireland could not be the same again".

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Will European Social Democrats regain some mojo?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Feb 6th, 2017 at 04:55:53 AM EST

One of the secular trends in European (and global) politics in recent decades has been the gradual erosion in the influence of social democratic parties and a rise in centre right parties promoting market led globalisation and austerity policies. The more recent backlash against globalisation and austerity has not resulted in a swing back to social democratic parties, but rather in a swing even further right as exemplified by Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far right nationalist parties in Europe.

There may be many reasons for this:

Read more... (68 comments, 1108 words in story)

Open Letter to Attorney General and Minister for Foreign Affairs

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 28th, 2017 at 01:06:10 PM EST

Ireland Should Appeal UK Supreme Court Decision to ECJ

I publish, below the fold, the content of an open letter I propose to write to the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan T.D., and to the Attorney General, Máire Whelan SC.

In it I lay out my case that the Irish Government should appeal the decision of the UK Supreme Court that the people and Assembly of Northern Ireland need not be consulted on any decision by the UK Government to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

I am not a lawyer, but believe I have made a solid case - and one which I have not seen being made by anyone else.  I would be grateful for your advice and feedback on the argument, particularly from those of you with a legal background.

Should the Irish Government take my advice and succeed in its action, the effect would be to prevent the UK Government from taking Northern Ireland with it out of the EU without the consent of the people and Assembly of Northern Ireland.  

This would be an application of the provisions in the Good Friday Agreement whereby the signatories agreed that the Constitutional status of Northern Ireland could not be changed without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement was created to provide parity of esteem to both the Nationalist and Unionist traditions in Northern Ireland. It protects the Unionist tradition by guaranteeing that they cannot be dragooned into a United Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

Equally, it protects the legitimacy of the  Nationalist tradition by guaranteeing their identity and aspirations of  being part of Ireland. Being part of the EU is now an integral part of being an Irish Citizen and the rights of EU citizenship are indivisible from being an Irish Citizen.  Ergo, without the consent of a majority in N. Ireland to a change in its constitutional position, N. Ireland must remain both a part of the UK and the EU.

Under this scenario, the position of Britain will become analogous to that of Greenland - outside the EU and yet part an entity (in that case Denmark) which is within the EU.

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Can an Article 50 invocation be revoked?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 01:50:23 AM EST

Much attention has been paid to the recent UK Supreme Court ruling that the UK Government must gain the approval of Parliament to invoke Article 50. That ruling also found that the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland need not be consulted on the issue. More on that anon. But perhaps an even more significant case is about to come before the High Court in Dublin:

Dublin High Court case to establish if Britain can halt Brexit

A number of Green Party leaders in Britain and Northern Ireland have been named as plaintiffs in a case before the High Court in Dublin to establish if Britain can halt Brexit after it triggers article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Lawyers will file a plenary summons to start proceedings on Friday, hoping for a hearing in March or April.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales; Northern Irish Green Party leader Steven Agnew MLA; and the Green Party MEP for the South East of England, Keith Taylor, will join Jolyon Maugham QC, a leading British barrister, as litigants in the case.

They are seeking a referral from the High Court to the European Court of Justice of the European Union to determine whether article 50, once triggered, can be unilaterally revoked by the UK government without requiring consent from all other 27 EU member states.

Mr Bartley said the case was about giving people in the UK a legal safety net after Brexit negotiations begin and to offer clarity about whether Britain can change its mind if the negotiations go badly.

"The government claims that it can't revoke article 50. But if it is wrong, the British people would have a safety net that could allow them a real choice in a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal. They would be able to choose between accepting Theresa May's vision of extreme Brexit or rejecting it."

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The Charge of the Brexit Brigade

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 24th, 2017 at 08:09:30 PM EST

Some observers have been puzzled at how the UK's Brexit stance has grown gradually more hard line, even before the beginning of formal negotiations, and as their expectations of EU disarray and confusion have failed to materialize. Brexit campaigners were quite explicit that the UK wouldn't be leaving the Single Market or Customs Union during the referendum campaign. Now both are becoming unchallengeable Government orthodoxy even though the people were never asked to vote on that basis. Even the Labour opposition has meekly accepted this moving of the goal posts.

Fintan O'Toole has a perceptive and amusing take on this:

Brexit resurrects the English cult of heroic failure

Listening to Theresa May's big Brexit speech last week, I remembered that the English have a taste for heroic failure. Their favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling's If, says that triumph and disaster are the same thing. It also enjoins the English to "lose, and start again at your beginnings/And never breathe a word about your loss."

---snip---

Brexit is a perfect vehicle for this zombie cult. It fuses three of the archetypes of heroic English failure.

There is the last stand, exemplified by Gen George Gordon at Khartoum, another fiasco that quickly became a byword for heroism in the face of inevitable disaster: Brexit is imperial England's last last stand.

There is the suicidal cavalry charge [as in the Charge of the Light Brigade]: May hilariously threatened Europe that if it does not play nice, she and Boris will destroy its economic artillery with their flashing sabres.

And there is the doomed expedition into terra incognita to find a promised land. This kind of heroic failure is exemplified by Sir John Franklin's fatal search for the Northwest Passage in the 1840s.

Read more... (38 comments, 843 words in story)

Will Northern Ireland elections be non-sectarian?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 22nd, 2017 at 01:57:20 PM EST

The Northern Ireland Assembly, one of the key institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, has been dissolved and new elections are scheduled for 2nd. March.  The last elections had been held as recently as May 2016. The proximate cause of the election is the resignation of Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in protest over the "Cash for Ash" Renewable Heat Incentive scandal and the refusal of First Minister Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to stand aside whilst an inquiry is held.  

Arlene Foster had been responsible for overseeing the scheme as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.  The scheme, which could cost taxpayers as much as £500 Million, basically paid users more to use wood pellets to heat their properties than the pellets cost in the first place. There were reports of farmers heating empty barns just to make a profit on the scheme and that the families of some prominent DUP politicians benefited from it.

In one sense you could claim that the dispute marks a welcome change in Northern Ireland to a political dispute over a bread and butter issue rather than on purely tribalistic, sectarian lines. As usual, in Northern Ireland, the reality is more complex.

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LTE: Irish Confederacy

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 21st, 2017 at 09:41:40 AM EST

The Irish Independent, the largest circulation daily in Ireland has published an edited version of my Letter to the Editor.  At 269 words, it is an edited version of my letter which in turn was a severely summarised version of my 3,000+ word blog A Brexit doomsday scenario. It all reads a bit stark and unqualified, with no supporting argument, but the gist is there. Perhaps it will start a more balanced discussion than what appears in UK dominated media...

Letters to the Editor: Irish Independent (Scroll down page)

Irish confederacy is coming

So far we have only heard one side of the story: what the UK says it wants. The EU response won't become clear for months - perhaps not until after the French and German elections in May and September.

Talks will break down, and there will be no substantial Brexit agreement, with the UK drifting off into transatlantic space with no lifeline to the EU.

Donald Trump will get involved, and make a complete mess of it, alienating both sides further. A trade war will result. British firms requiring access to the single market will relocate here. We will survive.

Ireland will hardly feature on the geo-political radar except when it refuses to implement a hard Border - effectively retaining the North within the Customs Union.

If Fine Gael tries to implement a hard Border, it will be brought down by FF/Sinn Féin. So we will have a stand-off with the EU. Then a deal will be cobbled together whereby customs controls will be carried out at air and sea ports and the odd random customs check on commercial vehicles within Ireland.

Smuggling on minor roads will be rampant and everyone will turn a blind eye. An Irish solution to a European problem.

Much later, when the North has finally been dragged into the abyss by an economic collapse in the UK, a marginal majority will come to the view that they had better make their peace with the only state that actually cares about them, and a Confederal Ireland within the EU will result. Let's hope not too many lives and livelihoods will be lost in the meantime.

Frank Schnittger

Blessington, Co Wicklow

Discuss.  For those of you who want a more detailed argument and justification, please read A Brexit doomsday scenario.

Comments >> (11 comments)

A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jan 16th, 2017 at 10:03:11 AM EST

Theresa May to say UK is 'prepared to accept hard Brexit

In a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, the prime minister is said to be preparing to make clear that she is willing to sacrifice the UK's membership of the single market and customs union in order to bring an end to freedom of movement.

An article in the Sunday Telegraph cites "sources familiar with the prime minister's thinking" as saying that May is seeking to appease the Eurosceptic wing of her party by contemplating a "hard", or "clean", Brexit. In the speech to an audience of diplomats at London's Lancaster House May will hope to end months of speculation about her intentions by setting out her aims for Brexit. According to the Sunday Telegraph, she will say that the UK must:

  1. be prepared to leave the EU customs union;
  2. regain full control of its borders, even if that means losing access to the single market, and
  3. cease to be subject to rulings by the European court of justice.

Read more... (60 comments, 1394 words in story)

A Brexit doomsday scenario

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 3rd, 2017 at 04:10:22 PM EST

The British Government appears to be blithely proceeding on the basis that it will be able to cherry pick the parts of the EU it wants, whilst at the same time achieving the freedom to do many things that it claims the EU is now preventing it from doing. When you are building an opening negotiating position it is no harm to put forward what you would regard as an ideal outcome of the negotiations. In theory it increases your chances of actually influencing the negotiations in that direction. In practice it may very much disillusion your supporters when they discover that the final outcome falls some way short of their ideal outcome.

But there is also the danger that in hyping your version of how a successful negotiating process should proceed you end up antagonising the other party to the negotiation still further. The EU 27 might well conclude that the UK is living in cloud cuckoo land and that there is no great point in engaging in a serious negotiation at all. Such a response may be amplified if the British media then go on a rampage ridiculing the antediluvian, obstructive, and inflexible EU bureaucrats who simply refuse to see the utter sensibility of the UK proposals. Negotiators are only human after all.

One of the more amusing spectacles of recent times is seeing Leave campaigners argue that they really have the best interests of the EU at heart, and that what they are proposing is in the best interests of all.  After all the EU needs access to the UK market as well, they argue, and a continuation of a free trade zone including the UK can only help economic growth in Europe over all.  But what if the negotiations were to go seriously off the rails and no substantive Brexit deal of any kind were to be agreed? What would a worst case scenario look like both for the UK and the EU? Follow me below the fold for a sneak preview...

Read more... (63 comments, 3131 words in story)

Goodbye 2016: Hello 2017

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 1st, 2017 at 12:27:22 AM EST

For many people 2016 was a forgettable year, with Brexit, Trump, the terrorist attacks in Nice and Berlin, the Syrian war and the refugee crisis the leading low lights for many. But everyone experiences each year differently.  So what were the highlights and lowlights of 2016 for you?

And what are your hopes and expectations for 2017? Any predictions you would like to make? Any New Year resolutions or special projects for 2017 you would like to take on?

Please feel free to add your musings to the comments below.

Comments >> (42 comments)

Is it Worth it?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 30th, 2016 at 01:48:34 PM EST

Jon Worth is one of the few knowledgeable UK commentators on the EU who has some idea of how politics works on the other side of the channel based, as he is, in Berlin. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a blogging conference in Rotterdam some years ago and even did a short video interview with him about his political and journalistic ambitions against the backdrop of a boat trip around Rotterdam harbour:

Naturally his critical but basically pro-EU views get him into a lot of trouble with Leavers in the UK who seem to specialize in demonizing and abusing him rather than engaging with the actual factual points he makes. Recently he fisked Andrew Marr's delusional view of Brexit which drew a lot of abuse which he referenced in a follow up blog. None of his detractors seem to have the slightest idea of the political realities of the EU and fondly imagine that the UK can have more or less what it wants out of the Brexit negotiations and that the UK will be able to negotiate far more advantageous trade deals with the rest of the world than it ever could as part of the EU.

I have tried to show him a little support and add some "balance" to the debate by highlighting how the Brexit campaign is viewed from outside the UK. Even though I was as provocative as possible, no Leavers have acknowledged never mind responded to the points I made. They appear to be operating in a parallel universe. Anyway, for what it's Worth, I copy and elaborate on my comments below:

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The Shafting of the UK

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 03:00:19 AM EST


Irish TV news showed a clip of EU leaders gathering for their last summit of 2016 yesterday.  All were busily chatting to one another - except one:  Teresa May stood there awkwardly, looking for someone to talk to, but everyone had their backs turned to her.

I very much doubt that the move was choreographed.  EU leaders wouldn't be so petty, would they?  But the scene encapsulated a feeling that I have had for some time: The Brexit negotiations are going to be bloody, and more likely than not will lead to no substantial agreement at all.

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Apartheid USA: Will Trump do a reverse Mandela?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 10th, 2016 at 01:45:57 PM EST

I completed my Masters Thesis on Apartheid some months before Nelson Mandela was released from prison by FW De Klerk in 1989. In it I predicted the imminent demise of apartheid based on changes in the South African economy which were happening at the time. I did so despite the fact that the relatively newly installed South African President, FW De Klerk, was widely regarded as a hard liner from within the ranks of the most reactionary parts of the South African Nationalist party at the time.  Sometimes past policies and positions are a poor predictor of how someone will act once in power. For me, economic circumstances could sometimes trump the personal characteristics of those in power.

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The decline of the USA

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 7th, 2016 at 06:45:01 PM EST


For all the hype and noise, this election has seen a remarkably consistent trend. If you average all the polls, Clinton has always been ahead, whether by 8 points or 2. Right now she is 4 to 5 points ahead, and it would take a massive polling failure for that not to be reflected in the actual vote. She is also ahead in all the swing states bar Iowa and possibly Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. What we are arguing about is the margin of victory, and who controls the Senate.

Without control of the Senate (55% probability per 538), she won't be able to make key appointments or ratify Treaties, and without control of the House, she won't be able to pass a budget or keep the government open. So either way we may be facing gridlock and an effective coup d'etat. The New American Century is no more. The USA's influence in the world will probably decline whoever wins the Presidential poll.

Read more... (61 comments, 720 words in story)
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News and Views

 27 March - 2 April 2017

by Bjinse - Mar 27, 12 comments

Your take on this week's news

 20 - 26 March 2017

by Bjinse - Mar 20, 50 comments

Your take on this week's news

 Open Thread 27 March

by Bjinse - Mar 27, 4 comments

Like a flash of lightning in the clouds, we thread in the flicker.

 Open Thread 13-26 March

by Bjinse - Mar 13, 38 comments

He was going to thread forever, or die in the attempt

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