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

The Silly Season

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 2nd, 2018 at 03:44:02 PM EST

August is traditionally termed "the silly season" in the northern hemisphere anglophone media because that is the time when governments, legislatures, and their associated media handlers are on holidays, and newspapers are stuck with having to make up their own news. Many editors keep a stock of non-time specific stories which they can use to fill their column inches and keep their punters entertained on the beach or wherever else they feel an urge to keep connected to "the real world".

In the UK, the silly season often extends to the party conference season in late September/early October just ahead of when Parliament, the Courts and the Universities  traditionally emerged from their summer hiatus. It probably dates back to the time that September was the harvest season, and no one could be expected to be away from their country estates until the crops were safely garnered in.

And so we have the Labour Party conference where Corbyn continued his slow dance of moving to the political centre, supporting a second referendum as a decidedly second choice to his preferred option of a general election to put the Tory government out of it's Brexit misery. Now we have the Tories disporting themselves in their patriotic red white and blue colours, declaring their undying love for the Union, (the UK, that is) and telling Jonny foreigner where to get off.

It is time for the EU to get realistic, apparently, and put forward an alternative to the Prime Minister's absolutely fabulous Chequers proposals. You couldn't make this up...

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Chequers is a red herring

by Frank Schnittger Sun Sep 23rd, 2018 at 08:30:58 PM EST

In all the hullabaloo about the EU's rejection of the Chequers proposals, one little detail has been forgotten: The Chequers proposals were never going to be part of the Brexit agreement in the first place. If agreed, they would have been part of the proposals for the future relationship between the EU and UK - as contained in a non-binding "Political Declaration" - to accompany the legally binding Brexit agreement.

The Brexit agreement itself is concerned mainly with the UK's exit payment, the treatment of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, and with the back-stop on the Irish border.  According to all parties, that Brexit agreement has been 90% agreed, and the UK even signed up to the EU's outline proposals on the backstop in December 2017.

Theresa May only got cold feet on the deal in March 2018 when the EU produced a legally enforceable text which defined how it would work in detail.[Pages 108-116 of attached draft Brexit Agreement (PDF)]. Realizing that a failure to secure full access to the EU Customs Union and Single Market would result in some kind of customs or regulatory difference and therefore control requirements between Great Britain and N. Ireland, she caved in to DUP pressure and declared no British Prime Minister could ever agree to this.

Except she already had agreed to it (in principle).  So the row over the EU rejection of the Chequers proposals (which had already been killed off by internal Tory party opposition before they ever got to Salzburg) is nothing but a red herring to distract attention from her real difficulty with the DUP. The political declaration to accompany the formal Brexit Treaty can be as vague or aspirational as she likes, referencing Chequers, Norway or Canada +++, but whatever it contains is not legally enforceable and won't be agreed in detail until towards the end of the transition period in any case.

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The Guardian puts the boot in

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 21st, 2018 at 12:48:05 AM EST


The Guardian has been excoriating Theresa May for her Salzburg performance: Macron puts the boot in after May's Brexit breakfast blunder:

The spin from Downing Street had been that Theresa May's meeting with her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, shortly after breakfast in the margins of an EU summit in Austria, had been "relatively warm", albeit "frank". The dawning truth later that evening was that, in a premiership littered with missteps, May had made one of her worst errors of judgment as the two leaders and their teams met in a private room in Salzburg's Mozarteum University.

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Day of reckoning approaches

by Frank Schnittger Wed Sep 19th, 2018 at 10:56:46 AM EST

We're now moving into the Brexit negotiation end-zone with EU leaders trying to give Theresa May as much cover as they can ahead of the Conservative and Labour Party conferences from September 23rd to October 3rd.  After that they will expect significant concessions form the UK side particularly on the Irish border back-stop to clinch a deal.

But the UK side is singing an altogether different tune and are doubling down on their reneging on last December's deal on the backstop. They claim that allowing N. Ireland to remain within the Customs Union would shatter the constitutional integrity of the UK, and that "no British Prime Minister would agree to this".

For the Irish government, this represents a particularly difficult dilemma, because a "no deal" Brexit - now being re-branded as a "World Trade rules Brexit" - could be just as damaging to the Irish economy as to the UK. Something has to give, and the UK is betting that the Irish government, or EU support for the Irish position, will be the first to fold.

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Hungary and Poland: Rogue states threatening the EU?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 14th, 2018 at 02:46:01 PM EST

Hungary and Poland pose worse threat to EU than Brexit

Unforeseen and shocking political developments in another member state have placed Ireland at the centre of the biggest crisis facing the EU. No, I am not talking about Brexit but the breakdown of the rule of law in Hungary and, particularly Poland.

Ireland's central role in this comes from a case that has come before the Irish High Court. Artur Celmer is wanted by the Polish authorities for trial on a number of charges including drug trafficking. An EU law called the European Arrest Warrant made the extradition of people from one member state almost automatic.

However, politics has intervened. In recent years, the Hungarian and Polish governments have been criticised for adopting increasingly illiberal policies, particularly in relation to judicial independence.

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The EU acts against Hungary

by IdiotSavant Thu Sep 13th, 2018 at 10:56:33 AM EST

Over the past few years, Hungary has been transforming itself into an authoritarian state. The government of Viktor Orbán has undermined human rights and the rule of law, attacked judicial independence, and shut down independent media. Not to mention being virulently Islamophobic. This is all a violation of European democratic norms, and its finally grown too much for the EU, which has voted to pursue disciplinary action against them:

Front paged by Frank Schnittger

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Swedish elections today

by fjallstrom Sat Sep 8th, 2018 at 09:58:27 PM EST

Sweden goes to the polls today. With low unemployment, sinking murder rates and improving school results, if you believe statistics. However, a large portion of population, media and foreign media treats statistics as a foul conspiracy and is intending to make it about how immigration ruined Sweden.

frontpaged - Bjinse

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Theresa May: Dead Women Walking?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Sep 4th, 2018 at 08:37:35 PM EST

Nothing undermines a leader more than having important members of their own side align themselves with the opposition: First Donald Trump rather pointedly remarked that Boris Johnson would make a great Prime Minister. Then Boris Johnson chips in that Theresa May's Chequers proposals represent the white flag of surrender.  Now Rees-Mogg praises Barnier for his charm and remarked that Barnier and Brexiteers are agreed that Theresa May's Chequers proposals are "absolute rubbish.".

How is the poor woman supposed to conduct a negotiation when her own side give such aid and comfort to the enemy? In a normal democracy, Johnson and Rees-Mogg would be excoriated for betraying their own side. But it seems anything goes when it comes to attacking Theresa May. She is the fall girl for a negotiation they are determined to see fail.

Their only problem is how to prevent her from calling a general election if her putative "deal" is voted down in the Commons: A General Election that would quite possibly usher in Jeremy Corbyn into No. 10. So the trick is to undermine her sufficiently to cause her to resign the leadership without going to the Country first. She must not be allowed to clinch a deal on which she could then launch a campaign.

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Can a no deal Brexit be a good thing?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Sep 2nd, 2018 at 09:29:27 PM EST

Both sides in the Brexit negotiations have been hyping the risk of a no deal Brexit and becoming more explicit in discussing the economic damage it will do. This is to be expected  in the run up to the end of the negotiations, if only to soften up opponents of a deal.

"There is no alternative", Mrs. May can be expected to say if and when negotiators finally come to a deal: The economic consequences of no deal are too awful to contemplate, a point made clear by the publication of the first of 84 studies on the economic impact of a no deal Brexit.

All of this may very well be true, particularly in the short term. But are there longer term benefits to a no deal Brexit than can overcome any short term disadvantages? This is certainly the theory which arch-Brexiteers cling to when opposing the compromises any deal would entail.

They too can be suspected of tactical maneuvering, both to stiffen the resolve of British negotiators to hold out for a better deal, and to absolve themselves of any responsibility when any final, messy, compromise deal is done.

But let us take their objections at face value, for the moment, and examine their claim that a sovereign UK, free of any entanglement with the EU, could be much more successful, economically and politically, on the world stage.

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The aftermath of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Aug 27th, 2018 at 11:29:30 AM EST


Much lower than expected crowds show up for Pope Francis' Mass

Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, just concluded, was very different to that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1979, but it is very difficult to gauge it's significance in the immediate aftermath. The visit was dominated by the clerical child sexual abuse and cover-up scandals, and other scandals concerning Church run mother-and-baby homes, forced adoptions, and forced labour in Magdalen laundries. Pope Francis referred to these scandals in all four of his speeches and begged forgiveness for the Church's part in them.

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May's Summer Summit Diplomacy

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 23rd, 2018 at 11:09:27 AM EST

Oui has an excellent diary up on the lack of progress made by May's summer diplomatic offensive trying to reset the Brexit negotiations and make her already "dead in the water" Chequers strategy the basis for future discussions. May managed to achieve an opening negotiating position 18 months too late, only to have it thrashed by her own side before she could even bring it to Europe.

In terms of a coherent negotiating strategy, May also got her timing all wrong. Having given Barnier his negotiating brief, European leaders were hardly going to undermine the Brussels negotiating process by overruling current EU negotiating positions.

Getting an agreed negotiating position among 27 nations and other significant actors is actually a considerable (if unsung) achievement: Why would EU leaders want to unravel all of that and throw their side of the negotiation into utter confusion, possibly precipitating Barnier's resignation, and playing into classic UK divide and conquer tactics?

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Pope Francis' visit to Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Fri Aug 17th, 2018 at 03:50:40 PM EST

Pope Francis is visiting Ireland on 25th. August for the World Meeting of families in what is the first Papal visit to Ireland since Pope John Paul II made a triumphal visit drawing massive crowds in 1979. The event will be a fitting barometer of how much Ireland has changed in the meantime.

Much smaller crowds are expected this time around, and his visit has become mired in controversy. First the World Meeting of Families removed all mention of "non traditional families" from all promotional material, and then there were doubts expressed whether he would have time to meet with survivors of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Even now it seems most unlikely he will meet with some of the more outspoken critics of the Catholic church such as Clerical abuse survivor Colm O'Gorman, or former President Mary McAleese - who was recent banned from speaking at a conference in the Vatican - which prompted the conference organizers to move the conference to just outside the Vatican.

The timing is also unfortunate, coming so soon after the successful referendum campaigns to legalize same sex marriage and to permit abortion in Ireland.

To cap it all, a grand Jury in Pennsylvania has just issued a report which accused hundreds of priests of abusing thousands of children in just 6 dioceses within Pennsylvania and Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Chair of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children,has just cancelled his attendance with the Pope in order to deal with a new crisis of seminarian abuse at one of his seminaries.

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No deal means no deal

by Frank Schnittger Fri Aug 3rd, 2018 at 03:32:58 PM EST


Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hold their press conference on the street after the British failed to provide a room following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London last month. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

One of the few things the UK government has done well is to summarise their position in a few pithy phrases even low information voters can understand. We are all familiar with the famous "Brexit means Brexit" catchphrase of Prime Minster May and Boris Johnson's famous "we can have our cake at eat it" which should really be "we can eat our cake and still have it"...

What Johnson means by this is that the UK will be able to carry on trading with the EU very much as before, taking all the benefits of access to the EU Single Market and all the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) the EU has negotiated with third parties without any of the costs and restrictions of EU membership. Apparently the EU would agree to this because "they need us more than we need them" and replicating EU FTAs would be a simple mater of replacing the letters "EU" with "UK" in all the FTAs the EU has negotiated to date.

The EU negotiating stance, on the other hand, has been one long slow process of disabusing the UK of such notions. Access to the Single Market will require agreement to "the four freedoms", and membership of the Customs Union will require compliance with the corpus of customs regulations the EU has built up over the years. The UK will not be allowed to achieve a competitive advantage by taking in cheaper, less regulated imports, or by reducing the scope of workers rights. And this is before we even talk about the UK making Norway style ongoing contributions to the EU budget in return for access to the Single Market.

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Brexit: How not to negotiate a deal [UPDATE]

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 27th, 2018 at 07:34:57 PM EST

Update [2018-8-2 11:7:24 by Frank Schnittger]: I've added a chapter on Last Minute Brinkmanship to make my description of the process more complete.

Introduction

Having studied sociology, politics, organisational development and conflict resolution, and having worked in community development and industrial relations I have always had an abiding interest in the negotiation process. I was once accepted to do a research Phd on the negotiating process but didn't proceed because I couldn't find a suitably experienced or qualified supervisor.

What also shocked me was the paucity of research or literature which shed much light on the process or which might have been of much practical guidance for practitioners of the art. In my experience most good negotiators were either self taught or had a natural gift for the process. "Management" courses in negotiating skills were beginning to emerge, but academia didn't seem to have caught on at all.

This lack of research was all the more shocking as the negotiating process is central to all advanced economies and working democracies. It is the chief alternative to authoritarian diktats and military action aimed at vanquishing your opponents. You can oppress, suppress, or kill you adversaries. Or you can negotiate...

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The UK to remain within a reformed EU?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 25th, 2018 at 08:33:44 PM EST



Olly Robbins smirks at Brexit Secretary in name only, Dominic Raab

Theresa May has successfully withstood threats to her leadership probably at least until Parliament returns in the Autumn and has consolidated her Brexit negotiation team under her direct leadership and that of Olly Robbins, her chief negotiator. Dominic Raab has been sidelined as her largely titular Deputy and put in charge of a Brexit department mainly concerned with preparations for Brexit itself rather than the negotiations with the EU.

This merely formalises the previous situation whereby David Davis spent only four hours all year in actual negotiations with the EU team. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, Michel Barnier recently said that a Brexit deal had been 80% agreed. The main contentious item not yet agreed is how to avoid Brexit creating a "hard" customs border between the EU and UK along the 500km land frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland which has over 200 crossing points.

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Above the Law. Jupiter, the Ministers and the Bodyguard

by Bernard Sun Jul 22nd, 2018 at 04:02:36 PM EST

Last week-end, French President Emmanuel Macron was on top of the world.

On Saturday, July 14, he and his wife Brigitte had attended the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées (this year, sans Donald Trump), given the customary press interviews and then flew to Moscow to attend the FIFA World Cup final game between France (Les Bleus) and Croatia. On late Sunday afternoon, Les Bleus had done it again: they won the World Cup for the second time in history, exactly 20 years after the first 1998 win by the Zidane generation.

Front paged by Frank Schnittger

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Brexit and inequality [Update]

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 21st, 2018 at 01:37:03 PM EST

[Update] To my shock and amazement, the Irish Times has published my letter in full:Brexit a gift for Ireland?

David McWilliams is something of an Irish euro-sceptic but has an interesting article in the Irish Times. Riffing off Boris Johnson's "F*ck business" comment he argues that the Brexiteer led Tories have become an anti-business party and that that represents an opportunity for Ireland. I have drafted a letter to the editor as follows:

David McWilliams writes that "Economically, the real story is how the UK went from [being] the herald of free enterprise to "F**k business" in one generation."  (Opinion, 21st July). The irony is that the UK's economy was "the sick man of Europe" when it joined the EU in 1973, and it has done very well out of EU membership by expanding it's services sector massively and taking advantage of the single market.

The problem is that the de-industrialisation pursued since Margaret Thatcher and the globalisation enabled by the EU has also increased regional and social inequality massively, and this, more than anything, is what drove Brexit. The Eton/Oxbridge elite have also twigged that their sense of entitlement doesn't cut much ice in Brussels and so they have jumped on the bandwagon "to take back control".

There will be blood when the great unwashed of Sunderland realise they have been duped and that there will be even greater inequality and poverty under an Eton/Oxbridge led UK free of Brussels constraints. The Eton /Oxbridge crowd were never much interested in getting their hands dirty and actually making things - for them industry is a dirty word. Vulture capitalism, rent seeking, and ripping off other people's hard earnings is their thing.

So yes, Brexit, and especially a hard Brexit is an enormous opportunity for Ireland as the sole remaining larger English speaking member with a similar legal system and cultural outlook. But we should be beware of this creating even greater regional and social inequality in Ireland. A few banks and vulture funds relocating a few staff and a lot of paper financial assets to Dublin may do wonders for our already bloated GDP figures, but little for the plain people of Ireland.

We should focus on attracting a lot of smaller/medium sized UK industrial companies who need access to EU markets to smaller and medium towns in Ireland. These smaller companies typically don't have "corporate strategy" departments or foreign language capabilities. Moving a few miles across the Irish sea to an English speaking common law jurisdiction would be the easiest option for them.  100 jobs in Leitrim would mean a lot more to the local economy than a few financial whizz kids moving to Dublin.

Leo Varadker should appoint a full time Brexit minister dedicated to travelling the roads of north and Midlands England meeting small business leaders who never see a British government Minister and whose Brexit concerns are being ignored. Tariff and non-tariff barriers may make their EU exports unviable and threaten the future of their businesses. If Boris won't help them, perhaps we can.

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Many battles won but the war continues...

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 18th, 2018 at 12:43:31 AM EST

The last fifty years in Ireland have been one long battle against the domination of many aspects of life by religious institutions, principally the Roman Catholic Church, whose "Special Position" in Irish life was formally recognised in the Irish Constitution until 1973.

Only this year has the ban on abortion inserted into our Constitution in 1983 been overturned. Before that, in 2015, the marriage equality referendum finally ended official discrimination against the LGBTQI community. Divorce only became legal in 1996 and contraception only became legal in very restricted circumstances in 1980 although access to contraceptives has been liberalised since.

The tide has turned and many religious now claim they are being oppressed by a new liberal secular orthodoxy. What they conveniently forget is the the Church still controls many Hospitals and nearly all schools in the Republic and demands that they implement "a Catholic Ethos". This can include a ban on medical procedures disapproved by the church and an insistence that only the baptised may attend Church run (but state funded) schools.

The latest outrage is an attempt by the Bishops to ensure that children who opt out of religious education should continue be made to sit at the back of their class and not be timetabled for other more useful subjects. Hence my letter to the Editor published by the Irish Times today:

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Europe is not a market, it is the will to live together

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jul 17th, 2018 at 07:08:49 PM EST

Esteban Gonzales Pons: speech on Brexit, European Parliament - 2017

Europe is currently bound to the North by popularism, and to the South by refugees drowned in the sea. To the east by Putin's tanks, and to the West by Trump's wall. In the past by war, in the future by Brexit. Today, Europe is alone more than ever, but it's citizens do not know it.

Europe is, however, for that reason the best solution and we do not know how to explain that to our citizens. Globalisation teaches us that today Europe is inevitable, there is no alternative.

But Brexit also tells us that Europe is reversible, that you can walk backwards in history, even though outside of Europe, it is very cold.

Brexit is the most selfish decision ever made since Winston Churchill saved Europe  with the blood sweat and tears of the English.

Saying Brexit is the most insidious way of saying goodbye.

Europe is not a market, it is the will to live together. Leaving Europe is not leaving a market, it is leaving shared dreams. We can have a common market, but if we do not have common dreams, we have nothing. Europe is the peace that came after the disaster of war. Europe is the pardon between French and Germans. Europe is the return to freedom of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Europe is the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europe is the end of communism. Europe is the welfare state, it is democracy. Europe is fundamental rights.

As Fintan O'Toole has pointed out Theresa May's much heralded White paper is devoid of any understanding of what the EU is about, or any vision for what the UK should strive for outside the EU. It has satisfied neither Brexiteers nor Remainers and is most unlikely to be agreeable to the EU.

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Trump Meets Putin [Updated]

by Oui Mon Jul 16th, 2018 at 02:41:49 PM EST

Pundits have gone into a frenzy for days, weeks ...

Democrats called for the summit to be canceled ...

Putin should first send the 12 GRU hackers to stand trial in the US based on a Grand Jury decision ...

Putin stole the election to benefit Trump ...

More to follow as press conference is about to start ...

Front paged by Frank Schnittger with minor edit

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