Europe’s future - Barnier must wake up to EU’s failings

WHEN Michel Barnier next engages with David Davis, his British counterpart for Brexit negotiations, he might have the humility to acknowledge that not everything is right with the EU and that a lot of work needs to be done if it is to become a union of independent states that we can all be proud of – with or without the UK.

Many EU residents will know from painful experience the shambolic response by Brussels to the global financial crisis and how the one-trick pony of austerity was employed to address it, with disastrous results for some member states, especially Greece. The fact is that the EU is fraying at the edges economically, socially and even legally.

The inner city of London has three times the EU average level of wealth, while parts of Bulgaria are 10 times poorer, a disparity evident throughout the EU.

Even within individual countries like Italy there remain huge wealth gaps. According to an analysis by The Economist, the gap between richer and poorer regions of eurozone countries has increased since the financial crisis. Its study shows that about a quarter of Sicilians are “severely materially deprived” — meaning they cannot afford a car, or to heat their home properly — compared with just 5% in the city of Trento in the far north of Italy.

On top of that, the failure to tackle adequately and fairly the issue of economic refugees arriving on the EU’s southern shores has made matters worse for the likes of Italy and Greece which have borne the greatest burden with the fewest resources to meet them.

The refugee deal with Turkey may have helped reduce the flow of migrants but it is morally dubious to say the least and a poor model for the bloc’s overall approach to migration. It has caused great suffering not only to refugees and migrants but resulted in social unrest in communities living in southern Italy and the Greek islands. This became apparent last Friday when a protest against the deal was held on the Greek island of Lesbos.

To complete the hat-trick of failings, the EU lacked any legal mechanism, apart from threatening sanctions, to prevent the Polish government passing a series of controversial laws last week granting itself wide-ranging powers to sack and hire judges, including its Supreme Court. That decision drew condemnation from many quarters as it had huge implications for inter-state legal transactions, especially extradition. It took Polish President Andrzej Duda to veto the laws.

Nearer to home, it was mostly Irish law that saw off the bullying second attempt by French authorities to undermine the Irish Supreme Court and have Ian Bailey extradited to face trial over the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

None of the above may even be raised in Brexit negotiations but they should be. Irish woman Catherine Day, the former secretary general of the European commission, told a recent media seminar in Dublin that Britain’s Brexit negotiators “don’t really understand how the EU works.”

She may be right but Barnier’s team at the European Commission don’t really understand how the EU doesn’t work.


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