Brexit and Northern Ireland: The shape of Europe’s new border

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By Wilson Adams.

By Eoghan Hughes

An earlier version of this article was first published with the Montesquieu Instituut. Following the results of the Northern Irish Assembly elections, it has been updated.

Of all the complicated consequences of Brexit that have been analyzed at length in European and British media, one issue is often brushed aside as a detail. The island of Ireland is to become home to the EU and UK’s only land border, potentially upending two economies and threatening a fragile peace between Unionist and Nationalist extremists. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have long enjoyed an open border as members of a UK-Ireland Common Trade Area, and since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 all Northern Irish citizens have been able to avail of Irish and British nationality, bringing stability to a region once afflicted by intense religious and ethnic violence.

Changed utterly

However, to paraphrase Irish poet WB Yeats, the situation after Brexit is changed utterly. Already, in emergency elections being held on 3 March in NI due to a whistleblower scandal, the Irish nationalist party seeking unity with Ireland, Sinn Fein (SF) has managed a dramatic surge in support at the expense of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) by highlighting the DUP’s support of Brexit and their role in a whistleblower controversy that revealed tax payers money was misspent on an ill-conceived incentive system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by paying companies to turn green.  The former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, has come under especially severe criticism for her role in the controversy. SF has managed to get within a single seat of the DUP, and Unionists for the first time ever have lost an outright majority in Northern Ireland, although they still remain the largest political force as a whole. With the outright Unionist majority gone, the political balance that has been maintained since Ireland was partitioned in the 1920s has been destroyed. Under the Good Friday Agreement, SF and the DUP must now enter negotiations to restore government. These contentious negotiations could elapse the set period of time, triggering fresh elections, or more likely, lead to the reinstatement of direct control from the UK parliament in Westminster, a situation that would certainly hurt Northern Ireland’s interests in the Brexit negotiations. Negotiations that already hold direct dangers for Northern Ireland and Ireland’s open border.

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Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster. By Richter Frank-Jurgen.

The media have been happy to suggest that some sort of deal can be struck to keep the border open, although Kevin O’Rourke’s recent article in the Irish Times has acknowledged how difficult this could prove. In the case of the “hard Brexit” promised by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK will be out of the EU’s customs union. To avoid tariff cheating between the EU and UK and by other trading partners seeking to exploit Europe’s single market or the UK’s favorable rates, both the EU and UK will likely have to insist on a customs check on the island.

Likewise, as long as people can travel into the UK through the North’s open door, Ireland, without needing an ID, May can’t curb EU migration into the UK, a central pledge of the Brexit campaign. This leads to the conclusion that a so-called “hard border” will be the inevitable consequence of Brexit in Ireland.

Nevertheless, with peace and the economy on the line, it is not impossible that May and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who have promised to keep the border invisible, might be able to find an innovative solution to the border problem.

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Gates in the Belfast ‘Peace Line’. By No. 1.

Innovative borders

Some solutions to this border problem can be dismissed quickly. For instance, a “United Ireland” approach where NI merges with Ireland has, despite what the recent election might suggest, little popular support in NI or political capital in Ireland. Similarly, while the DUP’s Foster, and the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, have suggested a soft border based on “new technology”, this concept has remained vague, and unrealistic in light of the customs and immigration issues.

More likely is the “All Ireland” solution, suggested by the UK, where Ireland would be allowed to take over maintenance of the borders of the island of Ireland, pushing British border control back to the island of Britain but leaving NI and Ireland politically distinct. If a special customs deal could be reached so that EU goods can move freely into NI, this could be a potential compromise. Thanks to the Good Friday agreement, NI citizens would also have EU citizenship, allowing them to retain many of the privileges of full EU membership.

However, this option could face significant resistance from NI’s Unionist majority, who would face border checks when entering other regions of the UK, but not gain many of the benefits of the EU in return, such as EU subsidies or freedom of movement for work in Europe. Unionists, often fearful that they may be “abandoned” by the UK, could see this as the first step towards a United Ireland, making it a politically toxic strategy, and an unlikely resolution to the border issue.

Reverse Greenland

One way of getting Unionists to agree to the “All Ireland” strategy might be the so-called “reverse Greenland” proposal.  Proposed by Scotland, this is the idea that individual UK regions, such as Scotland and NI, could be allowed to retain their membership of the EU or the EEA even as other regions, like England and Wales leave. This model is based on the Danish territory, Greenland, which left the EU in 1985 while remaining a part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

For NI this option might offer the most promising outcome, although NI would require far more autonomy from the UK for it to be possible. As with the “All Ireland” solution, the UK border would be pushed back to Britain, granting NI, as an EU member, access to the customs union and the single market, while limiting EU immigration to Britain.  For Unionists a major attraction would be access to EU subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy and EU structural development funding, vital lines of funding for NI’s economy, while retaining all the benefits of being a part of the UK.

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The issues of the UK’s borders will prove a challenge for Theresa May’s government. By Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Assuming the DUP, who voted for Brexit, is won over, a “reverse Greenland” for NI would face several other obstacles. The main would be UK reluctance to grant Scotland a similar deal, as it might encourage an independence campaign that has picked up steam in the wake of the Brexit referendum. While the UK as a whole might not be affected by NI adopting this unique position, a border between Scotland and England would be unthinkable economically and politically. Coupled with the difficulties in negotiating such a bespoke arrangement, the chances of this approach being implemented are slim.

Hard Brexit, Hard Border

The options outlined above constitute a wish list, not a likely reality. The real shape of the future border is dependent on more than innovative options. It depends on some of the most complex divorce proceedings ever undertaken, the disentangling of thousands of laws, economic relationships and partnerships. It depends on this not just going well, but going amicably, with the UK and EU being able to find common ground. It depends on the EU making exceptions to some of its most dogmatic rules, and the UK softening the blow of its Brexit. For now, with everything as it stands, with an end to free movement and the UK’s membership of the common market, a hard Brexit means a hard border.

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Using English in the EU after Brexit: “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English.”

Ian Snel

After the United Kingdom has left the European Union, it could very well be that English will cease to be an official language for the European Union, or so Danuta Hübner, head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, warned in a press conference. She explained that, “every EU country has the right to notify one official language. The Irish have Gaelic and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you only have the UK notifying English.” This would mean that, “if we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English.” Although this might at first seem like a rather extreme measure, when you think about it, it really isn’t.

In 2015, the British Office for National Statistics estimated that the British population consisted of about 65 million people. According to the Eurobarometer of 2012, 88% of these people have English as their native tongue. This means that, after Brexit, the Union will have lost over 57 million speakers, whose mother tongue is English – 11% of the European Union’s population. In turn, after Brexit, only 2% of the remaining population of the EU will be native English speakers. As a result, native speakers of German and French will have far overtaken those of English, numbering 16% and 12% of the Union’s population respectively. Would it be sensible to maintain a language as an official working language when its native population has dwindled to a mere 2%? The European Commission seems to think not, as they have reportedly started using more German and French in their external communication. Continue reading “Using English in the EU after Brexit: “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English.””

Dear EU: English is not just how the world communicates, it is how your citizens do too.

Kathrine Jensen

In the world today, English, in all its variations, occupies an undeniably central place. From the offices of multinational corporations, to university classes and research teams, to local marketplaces and cafes like the one I’m sitting in. In a town in the middle of Denmark, my cafe table numbers Danes, Spaniards, and Germans – guess how we’re communicating?

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Names of the European Parliament in the official EU languages. Photo by Nuno Noguiera.

When it comes to English, communication is precisely the point. English is a means of communication in the globalized world. According to the Harvard Business Review, business today speaks English. Even when a company in Germany is dealing with another German company, there is no guarantee that the employees will be German speakers. If you visit an industrial farm in Denmark, the working language isn’t Danish – it’s English. The presence and importance of English as the working language globally is so apparent that four out of five Europeans consider English the language worth learning for the future. English today is not the property of its native speakers, it is the lingua franca of the world. English transcends cultures and borders, and the assertion that the EU should drop English as one of its working languages is therefore highly problematic.

In an article published today in The Euroculturer, the argument is made that without the UK to notify English as an official EU language, it would not be acceptable to grant English the prestigious status as official and official working language of the EU. This argument is based on the assumption that languages are inextricably joined to their native speakers and nations, and that the working languages of the EU are an expression of the status of those nations, cultures, and speakers. In response, this present article will argue that even without the UK, the EU and the rest of the world still very much have English. Continue reading “Dear EU: English is not just how the world communicates, it is how your citizens do too.”

The Uncertain Fate of Post-Brexit Cinema

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Image by Rlevente

Emilie Oudet

What do The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Queen all have in common?

Each one benefited from EU funds for artistic creation. Perhaps your first response would be, “Who cares?” After all, who really pays attention to the EU’s actions or even knows what the EU concretely does? Yet the three well-known movies I just mentioned are all British, and it’s possible none of them would have been produced without EU financing. In the light of Brexit, it seems worth considering whether the future of the British cinema industry is now at stake.

The EU’s subventions for British cinema could stop as soon as Brexit becomes effective. This is not an insignificant amount of money: in 2014 and 2015, the Europe Creative Media fund invested no less than 28.5 million Euros in the audio-visual sector of the UK. In 2016, the Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake, directed by British filmmaker Ken Loach, received 100,000 Euros from that EU fund. With this money off the table, it is clear that British cinema won’t be the same.

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Photo courtesy of BIFA

The first affected would be independent British cinema, which benefits most from EU funds. But it would eventually impact the entire sector, as stressed in the letter signed before the Brexit referendum by 282 of the world’s biggest creative industry names – including Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Steve McQueen – written in support of Britain remaining in the EU. The letter states that “From the smallest gallery to the biggest blockbuster, many of us have worked on projects that would never have happened without vital EU funding or by collaborating across borders. Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.” This is not just a question of access to funds – this is also a question of access to the European market. The EU is currently the largest export market for UK movies, and Brexit may well mean the reinstatement of customs duties for exportation to Europe, as well as the need for work permits and potentially additional taxes. Furthermore, various European quotas are in place in the Union that would be affected; since the 1989 “Television Without Frontiers” directive, half of the content on TV has to be of European origin in every member state. Until now, British movies have been considered European movies… but this may soon come to an end, meaning that the UK is going to have more difficulty in distributing and gaining exposure for its shows and movies across Europe.

The consequences of Brexit are not only a business concern; it is also a matter for British culture. With the EU closing access to its funds, Hollywood will become the main financier of British cinema. The result may be more of a focus on business, and less on creativity. Moreover, it will have a detrimental impact on the rest of Europe, not only in terms of fewer British movies in our cinemas, but also fewer EU-Britain co-productions.

After the Brexit vote, Amanda Nevill, CEO of the British Film Institute (BFI), tried to reassure British people, arguing that Britain is “one of the most creative nations on Earth” and thus is strong enough to manage leaving the EU. However, not everyone was so confident. Producer Mike Downey, CEO of Film & Music Entertainment (F&ME) and deputy chairman of the European Film Academy, maintains that “from the overall UK industry perspective, this move is a disastrous one and the repercussions will resonate far and wide.” Downey argues that the only way for British cinema creativity to survive Brexit is to stay in the Europe Creative Media programme, pointing out that Article 8 of the regulation establishing Creative Europe stipulates that countries other than EU Member States may participate in the programme.

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Amanda Nevill, CEO of the British Film Institute. Photo by Bex Walton

It is clear that the consequences of Brexit could be tragic, not only for the film industry and for British culture, but also for European culture as a whole. However, perhaps it can also make European people realise that the EU is actively engaged in the promotion of art and culture, and that this is something we shouldn’t disregard, given its role in our daily lives. Thus, it appears high time we become aware of the EU’s cultural policy, and gain a broader understanding of what being a member state actually means in terms of culture. By leaving the EU, British cinema will lose a significant part of its financing, its access to the single market – including the free movement of people – and will therefore have to pay additional taxes and work permits. Even if the main production companies can survive, the independent British cinema will suffer greatly, and may be left on the bench.

Emilie Oudet is in her first year of the Euroculture MA at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. Her main interests are cultural and intercultural exchanges, and the promotion of cultural rights as fundamental human rights.

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From Disbelief to Determination: Getting Over Brexit and Trump

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Photo by Matt Brown

Jessica Sofizade

If I could sum up 2016 with one question, it would be: “How did this happen?”

My question is one which has been on the minds of many others these past several months. It is probably clear that, amongst other things, I am referring to both the British vote to leave the European Union and – as if that was not bad enough – the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I have realised, however, that asking this question is itself the very root of the problem, and the reason for both Brexit and Trump. But let me begin with the initial responses to these events. 

On November 9th, I asked my American friend, “How would you feel if you met a Trump supporter? Would you be angry?”

I asked myself the same question after Brexit. How would I react if I spoke with someone who contributed their vote to the British exit of the EU, and therefore to the unwelcome change in my own status, “stripping me” of my EU citizenship? Would I shout, pouring out my frustrations and objections? Would I refuse to engage with them, or alternatively, would I accept that their views were equally valid?

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, I was in a stage of disbelief. I could not believe that this had happened, and I was convinced that something would change the outcome. I thought, only 51.9% of the vote was pro-leave? That’s not enough of a majority for such a tremendous decision. I, along with millions of others, signed a petition for a second referendum, in the hope that this huge mistake could be rectified.

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Photo by David Holt

I now see that I was, in a sense, grieving. I was grieving for a loss of citizenship, of identity, of a belief system that I thought was solid and shared by those around me. I more or less experienced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The first four stages combined into one challenging period of time. Not only did I deny the result, but I was angry at those who voted leave, and the ignorance that I blamed for their decision. I started to bargain with myself, thinking that even if we really had to leave (not in the near future, I hoped), perhaps we could still keep our rights as EU citizens? Most of all, I was depressed by the whole situation, and again asked myself, how did this happen?

So when, you may wonder, did I arrive at acceptance? It is an ongoing process. However, it is a process that has a normative element to it – I should accept the Brexit decision, as well as the election of Trump. This does not in any way mean that I need to agree with these decisions, but rather that they must be accepted as legitimate outcomes, even if they came as a shock to such a large part of the population. This leads back to the main question that I have been asking myself for months: “How did this happen?” The question in itself demonstrates the problem at hand: there were enormous rifts silently bubbling under the surface of our society of which many were apparently unaware. Why were these results such a shock for so many of us? Was it the fault of the polls?

A consequence of both Brexit and Trump’s election has been the unveiling of problems which many had misjudged or were even unaware of. There are divisions in Western demographics which were severely underestimated. In the UK, many of these have now become abundantly clear: the old and the young, those with university degrees and those without, the countryside and the cities. The reasons for such diverging voting patterns are diverse and debateable. Slavoj Žižek has argued that Trump supporters have arisen from a desire for change which comes from a deep-rooted dissatisfaction in the current system, a system which was not challenged by Clinton’s candidacy. This reading could analogously be extended to the case of Brexit.  Another argument is that the blindness towards divisions in populations could be due to “the Facebook bubble” which has arisen in the age of social media. Others say that Brexit was due to a misleading (or just outright untruthful) media campaign, or biased media representation.

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Map of the UK showing the urban and rural voting divide. Image by Mirrorme22

A recurrent theme in these explanations is a lack of communication between different sectors of society. This is where I feel that change is needed: accepting the surprising outcomes of Brexit and the US elections (even if we do not agree with them) will enable us to begin a dialogue in which we should try to understand each other’s views. The dialogue I am advocating could be with friends and family, or on a larger scale, through organisations which are calling for public participation in critical discourse regarding current affairs, such as DIEM25.

We cannot remain in denial; there will be no fruitful discussion whilst those of us who feel we have lost something are still in the first four stages of grieving. The fact that we can even ask ourselves “how did this happen?” illustrates the lack of communication and understanding between different sections of our society, and this is precisely what we now need to work to change. We need to get over our 2016 blues and move on.

Jessica Sofizade was born in London, UK, and did her undergraduate degree in Philosophy. She has studied in the UK, Canada, France and The Netherlands, and will soon move to The Czech Republic for her 2nd semester in the Euroculture programme.

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Scotland – are you ready for more? Scotland on course for second independence vote after Brexit: Notes from a Lonely Island #4

 

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Scottish demonstrators

Emily Burt

As jars of Marmite auctioned online for £10,000, following a price dispute between Tesco and Unilever, and parliament locked horns over the right to a  debate of Brexit negotiation terms; the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced she would instigate another Scottish Independence referendum if the UK was forced to leave the single market, at the Scottish National Party conference.

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Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP

This would be the second referendum in two years. Scotland voted to remain part of the UK by a 10 per cent margin in September 2014, after a prolonged and intense referendum campaign that ended with the removal of long-time leader of the SNP Alec Salmond. Many UK politicians, Theresa May included, are describing Sturgeon’s announcement of a second referendum draft as a temper tantrum over Brexit.

But – and here’s the thing – this is not the United Kingdom that Scotland signed up for. A core condition that pushed the Scottish vote to reject independence was the security of remaining in the EU. This year, 62 per cent of Scottish voters cast their ballots again to remain an EU member. Now the entire country is faced with the prospect of a hard Brexit: a future that, as they have demonstrated on multiple occasions, they are entirely opposed to. Continue reading “Scotland – are you ready for more? Scotland on course for second independence vote after Brexit: Notes from a Lonely Island #4”

Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3

Buckle in for more Brexit misery

Emily Burt

There were a few weeks where it looked as though the Brexit dust was settling. The markets had remained surprisingly robust, defying immediate post-referendum expectations, and aside from Labour party infighting, the political landscape was relatively calm. Then the Conservative party conference arrived, to crush our dreams. Here are five moments of fresh misery the government delivered to the UK electorate:

A Hard Brexit will begin March 2017, with the UK potentially exiting the European Union by 2019

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British Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham

Finally we have a date – Theresa May has announced that she will trigger Article 50 in the Spring of 2017, which means that once negotiations begin we could be looking at a UK exit from the European Union by March of 2019. Her announcement sent sterling into a freefall, plunging the pound to a 31-year low, signifying that the markets, along with a significant chunk of the British public, had been secretly hoping that Brexit did not actually mean Brexit. Continue reading “Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3”

The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds

 

Sophie van den Elzen

Recurrent images of the masses of women filing through the streets of Europe’s capitals remind us that the conflict over whether to prioritize women’s right to choose or a fetus’ right to live is one at the heart of many major social debates. Not only does it chafe at the junctions between social progress and tradition, individualism and normativity, encouraging women to exercise their right to self-determination and protecting sacralized family life; the issue also serves as a pin on which politicians hang the canvases they paint of ‘their’ nations as either traditionalist religious countries respectful of their past (such as Poland under PiS) or liberal countries  pragmatically looking to the future (e.g. The Netherlands under VVD).

With Europe’s eyes glued to those countries with the most ostensibly hostile public opinions to the right to legal abortion, it is perhaps also important to glance over at those in which a woman’s right of choice is most firmly established. Continue reading “The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds”

All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November

If Brexit taught us anything, it’s to never assume the worst will not happen.

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Donal Trump on his second favourite chair

Emily Burt

I believe Donald Trump will be president next year.

A rolling poll from key swing state Ohio has placed him ahead of his democratic rival Hillary Clinton for almost a week now; and broader polls show the candidates are neck and neck with less than 50 days to go until the November presidential election.

Of course polls can be wrong. And it’s easy to see why people assume Trump is too outlandish, too ridiculous, and unreal to be elected. One of his platform policies is to build a wall around America, paid for by the people he wants to shut out. His son recently compared the global refugee crisis with a bowl of skittles. He eats KFC with a knife and fork – surely there’s at least one state where that’s illegal. With every week that passes, he drops another clanging gaffe that reverberates, painfully, across international media: and the world says this could never happen. Continue reading “All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November”

Portuguese Brexit? EU sanctions from the Portuguese perspective

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Lisbon, Capital of Portugal

 Elisa Abrantes

The term ‘Portuguese Brexit’ has been popping up in Portuguese media as of late. While this is a very unlikely scenario, I think that in the context of growing Euroscepticism and growing support for right-wing populist rhetoric in the EU, this merits some attention, especially given Portugal’s generally favourable attitude towards the EU.

The idea of a Portuguese Brexit was voiced by Catarina Martins, Chairperson of the left-wing Bloco de Esquerda party in Portugal, who is campaigning for a referendum to be held on Portugal’s membership of the EU. This situation arose in response to the possibility of sanctions being applied to Portugal and Spain for “lack of effective action” in dealing with levels of “excessive deficit”, which was discussed earlier this summer.

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The Euro is at the heart of Potugal’s EU woes

The decision to discuss the application of sanctions came after a meeting held by Ecofin, the EU’s economic and financial affairs council, as a result of Portugal and Spain’s failure to comply with rules stating that EU member state’s budget deficits should remain within 3% of GDP (gross domestic product). Had the commission decided to apply sanctions, these would consist of a fine that could go up to 0.2% of the country’s GDP, and would be the first case of sanctions being applied to a Eurozone country.

Feelings of outrage and injustice were sparked in Portugal and Spain as a result. In the case of Portugal, its deficit stood at 8.6% of GDP in 2010 and was reduced to just over 3% by 2015. This was the result of horrendous salary cuts and reforms which have characterized an economically precarious situation for Portuguese citizens in the past few years. António Costa, Portuguese prime-minister, argued that imposing sanctions on a country that is implementing demanding measures in order to reduce deficit is unjust and unreasonable, highlighting the unfavourable social and economic European context in which this situation took place. In a period of weak economic growth, perhaps asphyxiating that growth through sanctions is not the wisest move.

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A Portuguese Street

Furthermore, Portugal and Spain were by no means the first, nor the worst, member states to breach the 3% deficit rule. Fingers were pointed at France, with 11 violations, as well as Italy, and even Germany for surpassing this figure. The debate then turns to the EU’s (in)ability to challenge larger member states. As one Portuguese politician argues, it is inequality that is killing the EU. All this is not to say that the EU shouldn’t take its role of ‘refereeing’ countries that fail to keep within the established deficit seriously, but that discussions and punishments not be dished out arbitrarily, and not throw weaker member states under the bus.

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European Commission, Brussels

In the end, the commission decided not to go forward with the application of sanctions against the two countries, recognizing the immense sacrifice that has been made by the Iberian people in order to improve their countries economic situation. Both member states are now tasked with coming up with measures to ensure the deficit will be within the 3% limit by 2017, a process which is currently being tackled in Portugal. The situation is a little more difficult across the border in Spain, in the midst of the political gridlock taking place there, due to the fact that the provisional government is not able to make any kind of binding budgetary proposals, thereby assigning this task a more challenging nature.

While sanctions were not applied, bitterness towards the EU for its supposed unfair treatment remains. Situations like these only serve to increase criticism of an EU that is far removed from the lives and interests of European citizens, and will do little to remedy the issue of the perceived democratic deficit in EU politics. Perhaps the commission would do well to pay less attention to the well payed economists of the Eurogroup and instead find a way of decreasing the space between the EU and the ordinary European, . Unless it does this the EU risks  fuelling a domino-effect of campaigns for referenda on EU membership in the aftermath of Brexit, jeopardizing the entire European project in a period of great turbulence.

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