Posts Tagged ‘DIPLOMACY’

Theresa May sets course for Brexit disaster

LONDON — The emergency sirens are whirring for a no-deal Brexit — only this time it’s not a drill.

In European capitals there is now mounting alarm that Theresa May has set Britain on course for a diplomatic disaster, by fundamentally misjudging how far EU leaders are prepared to bend at the last minute in their summit just a week before Britain’s EU departure date.

A month after suffering the biggest parliamentary defeat in British history, May is doubling down on her strategy of winning her Brexiteer backbenchers and the Democratic Unionist Party over to supporting her deal by securing legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement she finalized with the EU in November. Her ministers have made diplomatic forays to Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris and Dublin in recent days and May herself has spoken to the leaders of Germany, Portugal, Austria and Sweden. Next week, she will be back in Brussels for talks with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Despite yet another defeat in the House of Commons Thursday — albeit on a symbolic motion — the strategy remains the same. “The government’s position remains to resolve the issues of the backstop and then come back to parliament with a fresh meaningful vote,” Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom told the BBC Friday.

“No news is not always good news” — Donald Tusk

But there is skepticism in Brussels about the substance of the current diplomatic flurry. “There are no real talks going on. It’s more May speaking to capitals, testing the water and trying to give the impression to her people at home that there are actual talks to gain some time,” said one EU diplomat. “There’s nothing on the table yet, we still hope to see it at least in March.”

“No news is not always good news,” tweeted Council President Donald Tusk, “EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London.”

Senior EU27 officials say May has failed to narrow her Brexit demands to a “single constructive proposal” to find a way through the impasse over the Irish border.

One minister from a major EU power was left so shocked after a meeting with a U.K. counterpart last week they concluded Britain is now hell-bent on pushing the crisis to the wire in the hope of a last-minute concession from EU leaders, which will not materialize.

The view is shared by some senior members of the U.K. Cabinet, who fear the PM is heading for a repeat of the diplomatic disaster at the EU leaders’ summit in Salzburg last September. At that meeting she miscalculated the EU’s willingness to engage with her proposed Chequers “compromise” offer, leaving her politically humiliated amid mocking headlines and recriminations in Westminster.

Senior EU27 officials say May has failed to narrow her Brexit demands to a “single constructive proposal” | Pool photo Kirsty Wigglesworth/Getty Images

‘Something big’

One EU official said the idea that “something big” would emerge at the last-gasp summit in Brussels is just as misplaced. “The idea that you can just leave it until the last minute is crazy,” the official said. “You’re really into too-little-too-late territory. The work has to be done way before then.”

A second senior official from an EU27 member state confirmed EU capitals are increasingly concerned May is misreading the situation and heading for calamity. “Yes, there are growing worries,” the top-level official said.

Two senior EU figures — one official and one minister from a major EU power — said May’s only chance of a breakthrough at the March summit is if she narrows her demands to a single concrete proposal plus a “technical extension” to Article 50 before EU leaders meet on March 21. Neither see any chance of the Withdrawal Agreement being reopened. Three U.K. government ministers — including two in the Cabinet — agreed with this assessment.

With no sign of a breakthrough, the uneasy political truce in Westminster — designed to give May one last chance to win a concession from Brussels — is beginning to fray amid growing panic from government ministers opposed to a no-deal exit.

One Cabinet minister said March 22 is “way too late” for a sizeable number of ministers, who would resign to force the issue before then. “[The beginning of] March is the deadline really,” the Cabinet minister said. “It can’t go later than that.”

A second Cabinet minister fiercely opposed to a no-deal Brexit said May needs to come back with evidence that her strategy to wring a significant concession out of the EU is working before the next parliamentary battle on February 27.

“It has to be now. This can’t hold much longer” — Minister

A third government minister involved in the so-called “Malthouse compromise” (agreed among Tory MPs to replace the backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements”) said May is quickly running out of time and needs to make an offer to Brussels within days.

“It has to be now,” the minister said. “This can’t hold much longer.”

The minister from a major power said they were shocked to hear from a U.K. counterpart that London is apparently intent on dragging things out until March 21. At that point, May would bring a menu of three or four ideas for changing the backstop from which EU leaders would be invited to choose. If they reject all of them, she would blame EU intransigence for the ensuing chaos.

More time

Among U.K. Cabinet ministers, diplomats and senior EU officials, speculation is growing about a short technical extension of the Article 50 exit period, which could be agreed in principle in early March to create the space for a showdown at the summit in Brussels later that month.

This would give the U.K. and EU time to implement whatever was agreed at the summit — or put in place the last-minute preparations for no-deal.

In this scenario, the March meeting of EU leaders would agree the final Brexit package while also officially signing off a short exit delay to allow the U.K. parliament to push through the agreement before British local elections on May 2.

However, senior EU27 officials and British Cabinet ministers are privately voicing fears that the U.K. prime minister is still misreading the extent of what is possible at the final summit.

This fear is not confined to European capitals. One senior Conservative MP said the PM is walking into the same trap she set for herself at the Salzburg meeting, and that colleagues have learned the wrong lesson from the euro crisis and the EU’s treatment of Greece.

“That was the last time the U.K. thought it could all be sorted out politically” — Adviser

“There’s a constant theme here,” the MP said. “Every single Brexiteer says the same thing — ‘the EU bailed out the Greeks, they will move at the death.’ But, no, they f**king didn’t move for the Greeks. The Greeks got an even worse deal. There’s a real danger here that we are going to walk into the room with the same demands and get the same result.”

One adviser to an EU leader said there is a danger that London would repeat the miscalculation they made at Salzburg — that political leaders would step in and offer concessions.

“It was a big misunderstanding. They seemed to think this was the moment it would be taken out of the hands of [Michel] Barnier and become a political negotiation — that it was a unique moment, a unique solution. That was the last time the U.K. thought it could all be sorted out politically,” the adviser said.

The reality was very different. And if the same happens again there will be no time to rectify the crisis before the U.K. crashes out with no deal.

Read this next: Cancer and corruption: In Romania, it’s the same fight

European Parliament plans to expand in Indonesia, Ethiopia, NYC

The European Parliament is planning a bigger footprint around the world.

Senior members of the assembly agreed at a closed-door meeting this week to approve plans to send permanent staff to Indonesia, Ethiopia and New York, two Parliament officials told POLITICO.

The Parliament staffers will work at the EU delegation in Jakarta, the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (also in Jakarta), the headquarters of the African Union, in Addis Ababa, as well as the EU delegation to the United Nations in New York.

The Parliament also discussed sending staff to Brazil and India, and recently appointed an official to head the Parliament’s office in London ahead of its scheduled departure from the EU on March 29.

The move “would entail limited additional costs,” the note said, and the “number of permanent staff would vary from 2 to 4.”

The decision to send staff beyond EU borders is part of a plan by Klaus Welle, the assembly’s secretary-general, to “strengthen Parliament’s activity and diplomatic presence in the world,” according to an internal note written by Welle and obtained by POLITICO.

But the decision angered some in the Parliament, which has already made significant investments in real estate across Europe.

“The Parliament has no reason to send staff to Jakarta and Addis Ababa because it has no specific partnership with these international organizations,” said a senior Parliament official. “These will again be seen as tourist offices paid for by taxpayers.”

The European Union is already represented in some 140 delegations and offices around the world, thanks to the European External Action Service.

Staffers from the Parliament have “broad knowledge of parliamentary procedures and parliamentary diplomacy,” Welle’s note said, and could “complement the activities of the Commission and the EEAS in engaging the parliamentary dimension of regional bodies.”

“The composition of the EEAS reflects staff expertise exclusively coming from the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and Member States’ diplomatic services,” according to the note.

Welle said in his note that the Parliament has prioritized Indonesia, Ethiopia and New York because they are the seats of “multilateral parliamentary assemblies and international organisations.”

But “enlarging the initiative to other continental democracies, such as for example Brazil and India, could be considered at a later stage.”

As for London, the Parliament said it has made clear it will keep an office there.

“The London office is to remain even after the departure of the U.K. from the EU,” a Parliament spokesperson said. “It is expected that the ties between the EU and the U.K. will remain close, whereas there are 3.6 million EU citizens living in the U.K.”

Read this next: EU cash-for-values fight intensifies as election looms

US urges Europe to quit Iran deal, stop busting sanctions

The US lashed out at some of its closest allies Thursday, accusing Britain, France and Germany of trying to bust US sanctions against Iran and calling on European nations to join the United States in withdrawing from the Iran deal.
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