By Gideon Rachman
Later this week, EU leaders will meet in Bratislava — minus one country. The Slovakia summit will be the first to take place without the UK. But Britain will loom large in discussions, as Europe grapples with Brexit.
Economic ties between Europe and the US took a knock this week when the EU slapped huge back taxes on Apple and several European politicians declared transatlantic trade talks to be effectively dead. Gideon Rachman asks Tony Barber, the FT’s Europe editor, and Shawn Donnan, the FT’s world trade editor, what hopes remain for a successful conclusion to the TTIP talks. Read more
Theresa May, the UK prime minister, says that “Brexit means Brexit”. But when will it actually happen?
The whole question of the timing of Britain’s departure from the EU is now open to question. Britain has still not triggered Article 50, which gives formal notification that the UK intends to leave and fires the starting gun for negotiations. The Sunday Times claimed recently that Article 50 may not be triggered until late next year because of a mixture of administrative chaos in the UK and political uncertainty caused by elections in France and Germany in 2017.
Given that it will then probably take a minimum of two years to negotiate the divorce, that would mean that Britain’s exit from the EU would not happen until the end of 2019. Over at the Independent, however, Andrew Grice makes the case that delaying Brexit this long is not politically feasible. Read more
Populism in Austria
Austria came within a whisker of electing a far-right candidate as its head of state this week. As EU leaders breath a collective sigh of relief, World News editor Ben Hall discusses the ramifications of the election with the FT’s Austria correspondent Ralph Atkins and Brussels bureau chief Alex Barker.
By Gideon Rachman
When supporters of the Vote Leave campaign sketch out a future for Britain outside the EU, they often point to the Anglosphere of English-speaking nations — bequeathed by Britain’s imperial past. So Barack Obama’s intervention in Britain’s EU referendum last week was a potentially devastating moment for the Brexit campaign. Here was the president of the US — the most powerful member of the Anglosphere — arguing forcefully for Britain to stay inside the EU.
Europe’s controversial refugee plan
The EU this week began expelling migrants from Greece and sending them back to Turkey – a controversial policy that has been criticised as a possible violation of the Geneva Convention and caused rioting in Greek refugee camps. However, there are signs that the influx into Greece is slowing. Can the system work? Peter Spiegel put the question to Alex Barker in Brussels and Stefan Wagstyl in Berlin.
Under what circumstances might Russia cut off gas deliveries to Europe for a prolonged period of time, and what might be the consequences? Such a scenario may seem too absurd to contemplate. Russia depends heavily on energy exports to Europe and likes to be known as a reliable supplier. Even in the gas crises of 2006 and 2009, the Russians did not go so far. Why would Moscow do something that, on the face of things, would harm its own interests more than it would advance them? Read more
Britain’s referendum on the EU
David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, announced the details of Britain’s draft deal to renegotiate its relationship with the EU – but where does that leave the debate? Gideon Rachman discusses with George Parker, UK political editor and Alex Barker, Brussels Correspondent
By Gideon Rachman
David Cameron should hurry up and hold that referendum on British membership of the EU. If the UK prime minister does not get a move on, there might not be an EU left to leave.
Take a moment to consider the events that unfolded on Wednesday inside the parliament building in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, a small, deprived, appallingly governed nation of 3.5m people.
All eyes were on Pavel Filip, a former sweets factory manager who was about to be appointed as Moldova’s sixth prime minister in less than a year. “We’re forming a last-chance government for Moldova,” he told legislators, in remarks that carried only a touch of exaggeration.
What happened next? First, Mr Filip won the parliamentary vote. Then a gang of protesters forced their way into the chamber and started a brawl. One political party leader had blood dripping down his face.
Meanwhile, outside parliament, several thousand demonstrators were chanting anti-establishment slogans on the street. They were still there on Thursday. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is right that the current refugee crisis is forcing Europe to consider whether it can live up to its own, self-proclaimed values. Unfortunately, the answer is likely to be “No”.
In his 2011 book ‘Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe’, the historian Norman Davies writes: “That the United Kingdom will collapse is a foregone conclusion. Sooner or later, all states do collapse… Only the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ are mysteries of the future.”
A ‘Yes’ vote in Scotland’s September 18 referendum is a distinct possibility. According to Peter Kellner, one of Britain’s foremost opinion poll experts, the pro-independence forces were, by the start of this month, gaining about four votes for every one lost, whilst the unionists were losing about two supporters for every one they were winning. Read more
By Christian Oliver and Richard Milne
Europe’s leaders are preparing for a trade war with Russia by mapping out the battlefields on which they see the highest risk of casualties.
In data released on Friday, the European Commission identified the agricultural exporters most vulnerable to Moscow’s trade embargo on EU produce. Spanish peaches, Dutch cheeses and Polish apples find themselves squarely on the front line.
Polish fruit exports to Russia were valued at €340m last year and win the dubious honour of being the most exposed crops. The Poles have launched an impassioned public campaign to try to switch to more domestic consumption with their “Eat an apple to spite Putin” slogan.
The Netherlands (with dairy exports to Russia of €257m in 2013) and Finland (€253m) are at most risk on the milk and cheese front. Spain and Greece are vulnerable in relation to citrus, with stoned fruit such as peaches and nectarines also being described by farmers as being at crisis point in terms of storage overload and no market to go to. Read more
The slow, painful healing of the Greek economy after a catastrophic debt crisis raises an interesting question. Which country now holds the title of No.1 Economic Basket Case of the European Union?
The answer is surely Croatia. It is a small country (4.3m people, not even 1 per cent of the 28-nation EU’s 506m inhabitants) that did not join the EU until last July. It is not a eurozone member. It has gorgeous islands and beaches where life seems distinctly pleasant. So Croatia and its economic troubles often slip under everyone’s radar.
But Croatia is now in its sixth successive year of recession. During this time it has lost almost 13 per cent of its gross domestic product. Unemployment is about 17 per cent of the workforce, and among young people the rate is close to 50 per cent. Read more
The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.
Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.
The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. Read more
The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation
Wednesday night’s debate in Britain between the standard-bearers of the pro- and anti-EU camps came out as a victory for the eurosceptic, Nigel Farage, over the pro-European deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. That is not my judgement, it is the verdict of the polls. A snap poll showed that 57% of viewers had Farage winning, whereas 36% had Clegg ahead. That verdict is extra-depressing for pro-Europeans since the polling company weighted the audience to make sure that it was as neutral as possible. Read more
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Across the globe: Gideon Rachman and his FT colleagues debate international affairs.
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