Opinion: Trouble brewing in every corner of Europe

This EU summit proves: Trouble is brewing in every corner of Europe. But the bloc does not need grand visions; it needs practical solutions to the problems it faces, says DW’s Christoph Hasselbach.

Angela Merkel at the EU Summit (Imago/Belga/D. Gys)

It doesn’t seem that long ago that in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the most pressing question in Brussels was simply whether the party winning the European elections should appoint the European Commission president. Today, that issue seems absurdly irrelevant. Now, nary a month passes in which some deeply troubling development doesn’t come along to threaten the very foundation of the EU.

We have all gotten used to the UK’s imminent divorce from Europe. But Brexit alone, and the ramifications thereof, puts the very existence of the EU in doubt. Hungary and Poland have dissociated themselves from the EU’s bedrock rule-of-law principles. Spain is in its deepest state crisis in decadesas Catalonia pushes for independence. The continued arrival of refugees has split the continent along deep ideological divides that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. And parties that want to curb or do away with the EU for good are gaining new supporters each day.

Nothing is certain anymore

Things do not look much better beyond Europe’s borders. Whether Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Vladimir Putin, traditional partners have now become unreliable partners, even enemies in some cases. And with that, back to the bloc: One may have expected the murder of an investigative journalist in Russia, but in quaint EU member state Malta? What has become of us?

Christoph Hasselbach (DW/M.Müller)DW’s Christoph Hasselbach

All of this is happening simultaneously. Nothing that was certain just a few years ago seems that way today. Further European integration as a founding principle? That was then.

The question is how the EU will deal with this new complexity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, until now the bloc’s undisputed leader, has emerged weaker after national elections. She will not be able to play the role as confidently as she did in the past.

Macron already demystified

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered his services as the savior and restorer of the European ideal. But the European whiz kid is quickly losing his charm, and not just in France. Should his proposed fiscal reforms become law, they will have very adverse consequences for Germany. But that is not all: Macron has warned the EU that he intends to sign bilateral trade deals with third parties. He justified the idea by claiming that French citizens are suffering the ill effects of globalization and need to be protected. Retreat from a cold world – is that what has become of the European idea?

True, the spirit of the times is currently moving toward nationalism, identity and separation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal to extend the euro and the Schengen Area to encompass all EU states therefore seems unrealistic and counterproductive.

The EU does not need grand visions in times like these; it needs practical solutions to its many problems: Stopping illegal immigration is something that all member states can agree on. So is expanding and upgrading the EU’s digital infrastructure. And all states could benefit from more cooperation on defense issues. These are all points that the summit will seek to advance. One cannot expect more than that right now, but we should not accept anything less.

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Brexit talks: EU, Britain say ball is in the other’s court

Six months of Brexit negotiations have passed with little progress. With British Prime Minister Theresa May due to address parliament, both sides have now said that the other is responsible for making the next move.

Union Jack flag next to exit sign

As the EU and Britain started the fifth round of Brexit talks on Monday, both sides quarreled over who was responsible for making the next move in the stalled negotiations over Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Theresa May told the British parliament on Monday that a new agreement “will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU,” adding that “the ball is in their court.”

Theresa May in the House of Commons

Key points from the speech:

– Britain will not be a member of EU institutions during the two-year “implementation” period after it leaves the union on March 29, 2019, but it will retain access to the EU single market until the implementation period is over.

– Both sides can only resolve the problem of how much Britain owes the EU if they consider the future EU-UK relationship after the implementation period.

– Britain will not revoke Article 50, which would stop the Brexit talks and keep Britain in the EU.

– Government ministries have been preparing “for every eventuality,” a hint that Britain could accept leaving the EU without a deal.

Margaritis Schina speaking in BrusselsMargaritis Schina refuted May’s claim that the EU would need to make the next move

But before May had given the speech, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas had told reporters in Brussels that “there has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings.”

“So the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen,” he said.

Phase one troubles

The EU has repeatedly said that both sides can only discuss a new partnership agreement – which is expected to include a new EU-UK trade deal – after “sufficient progress” had been made on Britain’s exit from the union.

The first four rounds of negotiations have so far focused on three major exit issues:

– How much Britain owes the EU

– The status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

– The rights of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU after Brexit

Watch video00:55

May: ‘Our most important duty is to get Brexit right’

British leaders have criticized the EU for demanding a strict division in the talks, saying agreements on specific exit issues depend on whether both sides can agree on the terms of the post-exit partnership. But EU leaders have so far resisted that call.

Initial plans to complete phase one by mid-October have looked increasingly unrealistic after talks during the summer failed to achieve much progress.

The will to compromise

Both sides have indicated they may compromise to avoid Britain exiting the EU without any final deal.

May said in a speech in Florence, Italy in September that Britain would agree to abide by EU rules and pay into the common budget for two years after Brexit in March 2019.

She also said London would pay any outstanding amount it owed to Brussels, but did not say how much she thought the bill should be. Both sides have clashed on how to calculate the final exit bill.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Monday, Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen called on Britain and the EU to be flexible, saying “this will never be a 100 percent win for one side or the other side. This will be a political compromise.”

Watch video02:09

European lawmakers vote against advancing Brexit

All eyes on Brussels

EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels for a summit on October 19-20 wherethey will formally decidewhether “sufficient progress” has been made to open up phase two negotiations.

With six months of the two-year negotiating period already up, officials and business leaders have become increasingly worried that both sides may not agree to a final deal in time.

May, however, struck a confident tone during her speech on Monday, telling MPs: “I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong.”

amp/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Trump, Syriza & Brexit prove voting is only small part of the battle

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at http://www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Trump, Syriza & Brexit prove voting is only small part of the battle
If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it. That might sound a bit glib but consider these recent events.

In January 2015, the Greek people, sick and tired of austerity and rapidly plummeting living standards, voted for Syriza, a radical anti-austerity party. The Coalition of the Left, which had only been formed eleven years earlier, won 36.3 percent of the vote and 149 out of the Hellenic Parliament‘s 300 seats. The Greek people had reasonable hopes their austerity nightmare would end. The victory of Syriza was hailed by progressives across Europe.

But what happened?

Pressure was applied on Greece by ‘The Troika’ to accept onerous terms for a new bailout. Syriza went to the people in June 2015 to ask them directly in a national referendum if they should accept the terms.

“On Sunday, we are not simply deciding to remain in Europe, we are deciding to live with dignity in Europe,” Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, declared. The Greek people duly gave Tsipras the mandate he asked for, and rejected the bailout terms with 61.3 percent voting ‘No.’

Yet, just over two weeks after the referendum, Syriza accepted a bailout package that contained larger cuts in pensions and higher tax increases than the one on offer earlier.
The Greek people may as well have stayed at home on 27th June for all the difference their vote made.

Many supporters of Donald Trump in the US are no doubt thinking the same.
Trump won the election by attracting working-class ‘rust belt’ voters away from the Democrats and for offering the prospect of an end to a ‘liberal interventionist’ foreign policy. Yet just nine months into his Presidency the belief that Trump would mark a ‘clean break’ with what had gone before is in tatters. National conservative members of his team have been purged, while Trump has proved himself as much of a war hawk as his predecessors. Rather than ‘draining the swamp,’ The Donald has waded right into it.

The events of 2017 plainly prove as I argued here that the US is a regime and not a genuine democracy, and that whoever gets to the White House – sooner or later – will be forced to toe the War Party/Wall Street/Deep State line, regardless of what they promise on the election trail.

Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.

Brits too have had a lesson in the way ‘democracy’ works when people don’t vote the way the most powerful people in the establishment want them to. On June 23, 2016, rightly or wrongly, 52 percent voted to leave the EU. But 15 months on, the view that Britain will either never leave the EU or stay in it in all but name is growing. The government only sent off Article 50 in March, after the courts held that Brexit had to be initiated by Parliament.

Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May asked the EU for a two-year ‘transition’ period after Britain is due to leave in 2019. It’s not hard to imagine the transition period will be indefinitely extended. “I’ve been voicing that fear since long before the prime minister’s dismal speech in Florence, and I see nothing to reassure me that the referendum result will be honored,”says Peter Hill, former editor of the Daily Express.

The odds of Britain still being in the EU in 2022 are now about 3-1. And they’re shortening all the time.

Calling it now: the Uber ban doesn’t happen, Brexit doesn’t happen, Debbie McGee wins Strictly and Palace stay up👍

Again, is that what the people who voted for Brexit in 2016 wanted to happen? The issue here is not whether we think leaving the EU is a good idea, but how the referendum vote has not led to the results that people expected.

These are not the only examples of people not getting what they thought they had voted for. In 2008, the citizens of Ireland voted to reject the EU’s Lisbon treaty. Was that the end of the matter? Not at all. They were asked to vote again – a year later – and this time the EU got the desired outcome.

In May 2012, the Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande won a decisive victory in France’s Presidential elections. Like Syriza, he pledged to end austerity.

“I’m sure in a lot of European countries there is relief, hope that at last austerity is no longer inevitable.” He declared. But guess what. Hollande didn’t end austerity. Just a year later he was pushing through a fresh round of cuts.

Proving once again the truth of the old adage: Plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les mêmes.

This wouldn’t have surprised French students of Hungarian politics as the same thing happened in Hungary in the mid-1990s. In the 1994 election Gyula Horn’s Socialist Party swept the right-wing Hungarian Democratic Forum from power, by promising to preserve the best elements of the old ’goulash communist’ system. Horn attacked energy privatization and pledged to put the interests of ordinary working Hungarians first. But the forces of Western capital had no intention of allowing any vestiges of socialism to survive in the former Eastern bloc country.

Under pressure from Western financial institutions, Horn did a spectacular U-turn, sacking genuinely progressive ministers- and appointing a neoliberal economic professor called Lajos Bokros to impose a brutal austerity program, which was far worse than anything the previous government had introduced. He also stepped up privatization.

See the pattern?

What the above examples illustrate is that regardless of how we vote, the people behind the scenes – the money men, the embedded bureaucrats, those who want to see no end to neoliberal globalization because they do so well out of it – won’t meekly accept the verdict of the people. If the ‘great unwashed’ vote the ‘wrong way,’ i.e., for Trump, for Syriza, for Brexit or for Hollande or Horn, then ways will be found to make sure that normal service is soon resumed.

There are important lessons I think here for the British Labour Party, who could be on the brink of power. Like many this week, I was hugely impressed by the speech to the conference made by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn pledged to develop “a new model of economic management to replace the failed dogmas of neo-liberalism,” and linked the rise in terrorism to neocon/liberal interventionist foreign policies.

This is heresy as far as the pro-war neoliberal elites are concerned.

Opinion polls show that Labour, which registered its biggest increase in vote share in any election since 1945 earlier this year, has a consistent lead. Establishment attack dogs have been snapping at Corbyn’s heels since day one, and its utterly naïve to think that it’ll all stop if he does get the keys to Number 10, Downing Street. In fact, the war against Jez and his closest comrades will only intensify. The good news is that Labour is already planning for capital flight and a run on the pound if it’s elected. Paul Mason, a pro-Labour commentator, has said the first six months of a Corbyn government would be like ‘Stalingrad.’

Of course, you could argue that the likes of Trump, Hollande, Horn, and Tsipras were never totally committed to the program they stood on, and they said the ‘right things’ to the people just to get elected. But even if politicians are 100 percent genuine as the veteran anti-war activist Jeremy Corbyn appears to be, the pressures on them to cave in to the powerful forces behind the curtain will be immense, especially if they are putting forward policies which the elites don’t favor.

It’s clear from recent history that in modern Western ‘democracies’ voting in itself doesn’t determine outcomes. It’s what comes afterward that’s the most important.

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy, RT

French President Emmanuel Macron sets out vision for EU

Emmanuel Macron says EU members must forge a common path. France’s president has set out his vision for a rebooted European Union, targeting skeptical German politicians who made strong gains in Sunday’s elections.

Frankreich Emmanuel Macron, Präsident | Präsentation Europäische Initiative in Paris (Reuters/L. Marin)

On Tuesday, Emmanuel Macron said Germany and France had overcome the legacy of two world wars together and alongside their partners could improve the European Union together. The former economy minister took power as France’s president in May, promising to strengthen the eurozone and deepen EU integration as the bloc prepares for Britain’s departure. He has already begun to undertake an aggressive neoliberal agenda in France.

“Here we are with a Europe that is more fragile than ever bearing the brunt of globalization as we know it and falling victim to ideas like nationalism and identitarianism,” Macron said in a heavily anticipated speech delivered at Paris-Sorbonne University on Tuesday. “The dangers, the ideas of the past are growing once more,” he added, alluding to the growing power of the far right in EU nations.

Read more – Macron’s EU vision meets Merkel’s realities

Macron has grown desperate to receive German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s endorsement of his agenda, which includes plans to give the 19-member eurozone a finance minister, budget and a parliament independent of the 28-country EU’s existing 750-seat transnational legislature. But Macron’s plans received a blow on Sunday, with the shock result of the elections in Germany, where the anti-immigration, euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) emerged as the parliament’s third-largest party.

Since Sunday, Macron has spoken twice with Merkel, as well as other EU leaders and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker — who does not support the idea of a separate eurozone budget or parliament. Merkel does not oppose having a eurozone finance minister, but differs with Macron on how powerful to make the role.

French Pres  calls for:

EU asylum office,
EU general attorney,
EU defence budget,
EU intelligence Academy,
EU transaction tax.

‘It’s a lie’

Macron used his speech to argue for institutional changes, initiatives to promote the EU, and new ventures in the technology, defense and energy sectors. He called for fellow EU leaders to pay attention to domestic needs but not to forsake the bloc in doing so and suggested that countries could integrate foreign soldiers into their armies as France will.

Read more – Macron: More Europe, please

Macron also called for a common tax on carbon emissions, as well as increasing investments into “development” projects in regions such as Africa.

“It’s a lie that hunkering down on your own country is ever going to be a successful path,” Macron said on Tuesday. “Let us be bold together and try this new path.”

Along with Brexit and Germany’s elections, Macron’s proposals will likely top the agenda at a two-day summit of the 28 EU members in Estonia starting on Thursday. Germany’s cooperation will prove essential, though Macron also needs to convince other EU partners.

German politicians respond

An early response to Macron’s speech came from Germany’s laissez-faire Free Democrats (FDP), potential partners to Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats in any future coalition government. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the top Free Democrat in the European Parliament, said he welcomed Macron’s call to strengthen EU military cooperation and digitization, but he rejected the idea of a joint eurozone budget.

“This was a courageous speech by President Macron, even if not all of his proposals will receive the approval of the FDP,” Lambsdorff said on Tuesday. “The problem in Europe is not a lack of public funds, but a lack of reform,” he added. “A eurozone budget would set exactly the wrong incentives.”

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, whose Social Democrats intend to lead the opposition under Germany’s next government in a bid to curb the influence of the newly-elected far-right AfD, was more generous in his assessment of the speech, saying in a statement that Macron had delivered “a passionate argument against nationalism.”

“Only with common solutions can we inspire the people in Europe again about Europe,” Gabriel said in his statement. However, he added, “we also need the common European will.”

Watch video05:01

Macron lays out his vision for EU reforms: DW’s Catherine Martens from Paris

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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UK PM Theresa May proposes Brexit transition in Florence speech

 

Prime Minister Theresa May chose a hall in Florence to read her speech on the UK’s exit from the EU. She proposed a creative and deep relationship for the future with a two-year implementation period after March 2019.

Watch video01:26

May proposes two-year transition period after Brexit

Speaking in front of a grey and white map of the world with the motto “Shared History, Shared Challenges, Shared Future” British Prime Minister Theresa May read her 5,000-word Cabinet-approved speech in a building, reported to be a disused police barracks, next door to the ancient Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Italy on Friday.

Never at home in Europe?

May suggested Britain had for geographical reasons never felt completely part of Europe and the vote to leave taken narrowly in the referendum in June 2016 was in part to regain “domestic democratic control” from the EU.

The prime minister suggested there was a profound responsibility to make the decision work and be “imaginative and creative” in making a new relationship between the UK and the EU.

May referred to the 14 papers published by the UK on Brexit and three rounds of sometimes “tough” negotiations with “concrete progress” being made on issues such as Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe.

Addressing EU citizens in Britain she said: “We want you to stay, we value you and we thank you for your contribution to national life,” and added that she wanted them to be able to continue living their lives in the same way.

“Life for us will be different,” May said but added that she hoped the EU and UK would stay as partners, “rather than as part of the EU” with a new economic relationship and a new relationship on security.

Responding afterwards to the speech, EU negotiator Michel Barnier commented on May’s “constructive spirit,” and that the sooner an orderly exit could be agreed, the sooner the EU could discuss a future relationship. He said that May’s comments on citizens’ rights were a step forward but that they had to be translated into a precise negotiating position.

UK nationals in Florence held banners ahead of May's speech as she confirmed no deal is still better than a bad deal on BrexitUK nationals in Florence held banners ahead of May’s speech as she confirmed “no deal is still better than a bad deal” on Brexit

Completely different economic partnership

Theresa May confirmed the UK would no longer be part of the single market or customs union. She ruled out both a deal on the lines of the European Economic Area (EEA), seeing a “loss of democratic control” or a European-Canadian free trade agreement which while “advanced” would represent a restriction that “would benefit neither of our economies” and could take years to negotiate.

Instead, May said “let us be creative” and find a new economic relationship with a new set of rules to set out how each side behaved in context of shared values. Asked by a UK journalist, May confirmed it would be a “completely different” relationship to anything that currently exists.

She called for a strong disputes resolution mechanism interpreted in the same way in the UK and EU but “it would not be right for one of the party’s courts to have jurisdiction over the other.”

Security

“We believe we should be as open-minded as possible on how we work together on security matters,” May said. “We share the same values in peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

She also called for new “dynamic arrangements” to tackle new security challenges in the future with a treaty between the EU and the UK. May also proposed a joint approach to world issues – on diplomacy and development.

The prime minister said the UK was unconditionally committed to maintaining European security and tackling “shared threats.”

May’s speech was delivered to an assembly of international journalists, the Mayor of Florence and Italy’s minister for EU affairs, Sandro Gozi. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni had met with EU negotiator Michel Barnier in Rome on Thursday. In terms of international protocol, May’s appearance was unusual in that she was not in Florence on the invitation of an Italian leader or as part of an international forum as she made her third major speech on Brexit. The mayor of Florence, who was invited, published his welcome on Twitter:

 

Transitional period

May confirmed Britain was leaving the EU in March 2019 with a “strictly, time-limited period” for implementing the new processes for the new partnership after that date to cover issues such as immigration, which would be in both the UK and the EU’s interests.

However, she suggested some elements of the new partnership could be brought forward.

She proposed what she called a “clear double lock:” a guarantee for people and businesses to have time to prepare, and certainty that the transitional period would not go on forever.

She expressed understanding for the financial effects of Britain’s departure for the EU’s budget but confirmed that Britain would fulfill its responsibilities from the period of its membership and “cover our fair share” of the costs involved in the transition period and the UK’s departure.

May's speech was given in a building near the Santa Maria Novella church in FlorenceMay’s speech was given in a building near the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence

A future of the UK outside the EU

In closing, May outlined her vision for Britain’s future as a confident trading, economic state and a partnership: delivering prosperity.

She said the tone she wanted to set was one of trust and a spirit of partnership in which issues could be resolved quickly.

The next round of EU-UK talks on Brexit begins on Monday. In previous negotiations, the EU has focused on Northern Ireland and its border with EU-member the Republic of Ireland, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the payment from the UK to settle its obligations from its period of membership – before any new relationship can be discussed. Little progress appears to have been made to date.

Commenting later, the chair of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber said May had brought no more clarity to London’s position on Brexit. “I am even more concerned now,” he wrote. He also said EU citizens in the UK needed legal certainty, as he reminded the UK parliament that time for an agrement was running out fast:

Infografik Brexit Timeline Englisch

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Courtesy, DW

Hard Brexit to cost German car industry jobs: study

A “hard Brexit,” meaning the UK’s departure from the European Union’s single market as well as customs union, would result in thousands of job losses in the German automotive industry, says a new study.

England London Brexit Nationalflaggen vor Big Ben (Getty Images/AFP/G. Kirk)

German and European carmakers could see their revenues decline by as much as 20 percent in the event of the UK leaving the EU’s single market and customs union entirely, concluded a new study released Thursday by the consulting firm Deloitte.

The UK is an extremely important market for German automakers. About a fifth of Germany’s automotive exports are shipped to Great Britain. In 2016, around 950,000 newly registered vehicles in the UK were made in Germany.

It is estimated that as many as 60,000 automotive jobs in Germany are dependent on exports to the UK. Deloitte’s researchers projected that about 18,000 of them would be threatened by a hard Brexit.

Watch video01:48

Formal Brexit talks have started between the EU and the UK

A weakened British pound, they said, would increase the price of German-made cars while decreasing the purchasing power of the British buyer, leading to a drop in demand. Customs duties would raise the car price even higher, with the study estimating that vehicles made in Germany could cost as much as 21 percent more than they do now in the UK.

Big losses

The report noted that car manufacturers based in continental Europe would be the biggest losers from such a scenario.

It said that although firms based in the UK and those from other non-EU countries would be able to gain some market share in the short term, they would not be able to benefit from the situation in the long run. That’s because their production costs would increase as they rely on suppliers based in the EU, whose parts would become pricier, the authors argued.

Formal talks about the British departure from the European Union began this week, with the UK’s Brexit Minister David Davis stressing that Britain would have to quit the bloc’s common market and customs union to ensure the return of full sovereignty.

Read: German firms warn Brexit will ‘seriously damage’ UK business

The clock is ticking for Britain’s exit from the bloc as Article 50 sets out a strict two year timetable. That means a deal will have to be agreed by March 2019, failing which Britain would fall back on World Trade Organization rules, which could result in higher export tariffs and other barriers.

Britain’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, an automotive industry body, this week urged the government to agree on an interim Brexit trade deal, calling for Britain to keep membership of the European single market and customs union until a final Brexit deal has been signed.

sri/bea (dpa, AFP)

 

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British government in crisis as Brexit talks loom

Theresa May’s poor election showing has put Britain in a tough spot. While the prime minister is attempting to form a government, EU leaders have said they do not want to extend the deadline for Brexit talks.

Großbritannien Theresa May Gottesdienst in Sonning (Reuters/N. Hall)

When Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March, thus beginning the formal process of Britain’s exit from the European Union, she did not realize she would soon be fighting for her political life.

Article 50, which was not designed to make things easy for the country exiting the EU, sets a strict two-year timeline for talks, giving Britain until March 2019 to conclude discussions. EU leaders have indicated they do not want to extend this deadline: “We don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, tweeted on Friday.

Talks had been expected to begin on June 19. But after Britain’s shock election result on June 9, in which the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority, that looks increasingly unrealistic.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the UK government enters these negotiations tremendously diminished, and the absence of a clear mandate risks further destabilizing what was already likely to be a difficult, complex process,” Sophie Gaston, head of international projects at the think tank Demos, told DW. “Triggering Article 50 before an election was grossly arrogant and has left the country in a highly vulnerable position. We can delay the start date for talks as long as we wish, but the clock will not stop ticking on their end date.”

Minority report

May is seeking an arrangement with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that would shore up the Conservatives as a minority government, but that still hangs in the balance. Downing Street is presently unable to confirm whether it will be able to produce a Queens Speech – in which the government sets out a legislative program – on Monday.

Arlene Foster, Parteichefin der nordirischen DUP und Theresa May (picture-alliance/empics/C. McQuillan)May is seeking a minority government with the DUP

While negotiations over a deal with the DUP continue, May has completed a cabinet reshuffle, bringing back her adversary – and leading Brexiteer – Michael Gove to the frontbench, in the position of environment secretary. Many other key roles, such as Amber Rudd as home secretary and Phillip Hammond as chancellor of the exchequer, remained unchanged.

“The reshuffle is about creating a sense of continuity – minimal upheaval and bringing in a few other ‘safe pairs of hands’ to the Cabinet,” said Gaston. “The Conservative Party is understandably nervous about fighting another election, so it needs to minimize disruption and avoid polarizing figures.”

At the moment, senior members of the cabinet and the influential 1922 Committee of backbenchers are all desperate to avoid an immediate election and to get started on Brexit talks. But operating as a minority government has pragmatic ramifications. “There’s a hugely important practical impact to this diminishment,” said BBC journalist Mark Mardell. “Any minority government is hostage to the whim of MPs.”

Unclear path

It is so far unclear what effect the Conservatives’ reduced parliamentary position will have on Brexit negotiations. Some commentators have interpreted the election result as a rejection of May’s approach so far – but it is a mixed picture.

“Parliaments without majorities are more prone to politicking and point-scoring than most,” Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, an organization representing business leaders, told DW. “If we do indeed see a minority government, both sides of the aisle must swallow their pride and work on a cross-party basis on the most important issues. The last thing business needs is a parliament in paralysis, and the consequences for British businesses and for the UK as an investment destination would be severe.”

Despite the enormity of the constitutional challenge facing Britain, cross-party collaboration does not seem to be on the agenda, with partisan animosity soaring. “It would be hugely helpful for the country as a whole to have the best minds working together – but the insecurities and opportunities this chaotic outcome presents to both the Conservatives and Labour means there will strong voices from both sides to favor partisanship,” said Gaston.

While May struggles to stay in office, questions have been raised about her ability to carry Britain through this period. “The damage that will be caused by Brexit will be more directly caused by May’s sequence of bad decisions than by the actual referendum result,” lawyer and legal commentator David Allen Green told DW. “The UK is now three months into the Article 50 process and it seems we are in a worse position because of May’s frolic of a general election than when the UK made the notification.”

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