UK’s Brexit positions appear all over the place as next round of talks draw nearer
Brexit is very much back in the news this week. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs on Tuesday (11 July) that the EU can “go whistle” for any “extortionate” final payment from the UK on Brexit (reportedly put at £60 billion by Brussels). Johnson was referring to the so called “Brexit Bill”, based on agreements to fund the bloc’s budget made while the UK was still a member.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier hit back by saying, “I’m not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking”. Barnier’s comments play on the fact that the negotiations must end in March 2019, even if no deal has been reached. That could leave the UK facing significant barriers to trading with its biggest partner. However, after nearly four months since Theresa May triggered Article 50 of Lisbon Treaty, Britain has failed to provide the European Commission with a consistent negotiating position, according to Michael Roth, Germany’s minister of state for European affairs. He thus advised Britain to spend less time “reading the coffee grounds” and more time preparing for negotiations. (Roth also warned the UK should neither attempt to “divide and rule” nor to expect the upcoming German election to change Berlin’s stance over Brexit.)
While the UK’s positions appear to be all over the place, the EU is expected to send a final version of its position on a host of issues soon to the British government ahead of next full week of Brexit talks. Changes to the original document will be minor and related to “issues on governance and judicial cooperation” only. More importantly, the final version clarifies and stresses the power of the Court of Justice of the European Union, asserting that continued jurisdiction for the Court of Justice in ongoing cases – including cases that have yet to make their way through the British courts and so haven’t reached the European level – is a red line in Brexit talks. Since cases can take anywhere from three to 15 years to resolve at the Court of Justice, the EU’s position means that the British individuals and companies will still be subject to the jurisdiction of the EU’s highest court for years after Britain leaves the bloc.
Before the general election (in which the Tories lost the majority), Theresa May was adamant about ceasing the court’s influence over British affairs. She famously said last October that “we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen.” In recent days, despite the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis’ rhetoric ruling out any “softening” of UK’s Brexit position, there have been signs the UK government is prepared to soften its position. Notably, May’s official spokesperson confirmed on Monday (10 July) that the UK could be subject to judgments by the ECJ during a Brexit transition “for a limited time”.
Migration – continued driver for EU’s population growth
On World Population Day (11 July) Eurostat released figures on the EU’s population, revealing that it increased from 510.3 million in 2016 to 511.8 million in 2017. But since the same number of births and deaths was recorded, the increase of 1.5 million was mainly driven by an increase of net migration. Looking at the the EU-28 on a country-by-country basis, the population increased in 18 EU member states, while it significantly decreased in Croatia, Latvia and Lithuania. The highest birthrate was recorded in Ireland, whereas Italy had the lowest. Germany remains the most populous country in 2017, with around 82.8 million inhabitants, which is a 0.76% increase in its population. Overall, the study confirms that Europe’s population continues to age, due to reduced infant mortality rates and people becoming older, as a result of advances in medical science. This development means continued pressure on national health care systems and labour markets. However, since migration is the only factor bumping up the EU’s population, it is worth having a closer look at this factor.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 362,376 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, which was a 64% decrease compared to 2015. However, recent developments at Italy’s shores indicate that migrants continued to flow into Europe via the Central Mediterranean route . In the beginning of July, more than 10,000 people arrived in Italy over a few days, putting the country’s reception facilities under immense pressure. Many of these migrants are economic migrants from Africa. France which has been under the pressure from Italy to open up its ports to receive some of these migrant boats, pledge to do more for refugees but also take a tough line to “systematically” deport economic migrants. In 2016 85,000 asylum claims were filed in 2016, which left the French asylum system “completely overwhelmed”. French government noted that 40% of refugees and asylum seekers do not have access to housing. This and other issues such as job training and language teaching to integrate refugees would be priorities for the government to realize Macron’s campaign pledge.
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