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Alex Greer and Pieter Cleppe take the temperature in the European press after a bruising week for EU cooperation.
28 October 2016
This week’s back-and-forth over the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) in Belgium and the Netherlands’ difficulty in getting behind the EU-Ukraine Treaty demonstrate the worrying hurdles to furthering trade liberalisation within Europe. This could also have some impact on the EU’s ability to strike a deal with the UK. But what does the press around Europe make of it all?
In Austria, Der Standard is damning of the EU’s handling of CETA and the message it sends:
The EU has showed to the world that Europe is a lame duck… propaganda and unwillingness to compromise are poor starting points for common EU policy.
From France, Le Monde sees the CETA manoeuvrings as an expression of a desire for change in the way the EU is heading:
Opposition to free trade is gaining ground…European civil society fears a race-to-the-bottom in the Old Continent’s values.
Finnish daily Keskisuomalainen says that it shows the way the EU agrees trade deals is far from perfect, but questions the alternatives (translation credit Eurotopics):
The problems with the Ceta agreement illustrate the difficulty of reaching a decision in the EU. A single group has more sway over the proceedings than befits its size. The Union is divided at the moment, as are many of its member states. So a repeat of this situation is more than likely. Yet the alternatives to the current decision-making process are not attractive. To reduce the influence of individual members would only create more distance and could further intensify the differences. And if the powers of the member states are extended, the decision-making process will become more democratic, but even more complicated than before.
Rzeczpospolita from Poland criticizes the EU’s “double standards”, suggesting there are fault lines opening between ‘old’ and ‘new’ European Union members (translation credit Eurotopics):
EU leaders are actually giving in to the demands of the Walloons. Because here they are dealing with social democrats and a supposedly civilised Belgium, one of the EU’s founding members … At the same time a few eastern European countries have different views on refugee policy than the others… Yet this didn’t stop the threats and sermons about wayward nations that are not mature enough and not European enough.
But in the Netherlands, De Volkskrant notes there are also divisions between even the founding members of the EU, describing Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands morphing:
From EU founders into EU obstructers… EU leaders had pledged to march forward after the Brexit referendum, but now, most attention is focused on matters that divide: the Ukraine Treaty, CETA and the sanctions against Russia, with opposition led by three EU founding fathers.
The Dutch daily Trouw backs this view, calling Wallonia’s opposition to CETA:
Their own little Brexit.
In Spain, El País views these divisions as something the UK could exploit in its own negotiations:
The UK’s EU exit negotiations risk becoming an exercise in cost-free concessions being handed to London. Faced with an organisation that permanently struggles to deliver concrete results, Theresa May is legitimately set on using all the means at her disposal to ensure the most favourable terms for her country.
However, the Spanish business publication Expansión argues how a failure to grasp the EU’s capacity to close ranks, even when comes at the expense of trade, could cost the UK dear:
In the negotiation, the UK risks losing free access to 26 other countries, while the EU would be left with one fewer tariff-free export country. In any case, just as many Britons failed to grasp the European desire to preserve the Euro during the 2010-2012 crisis despite its defects, they now run the risk of underestimating the EU’s political interest in being inflexible with a country that abandons it, even if it comes at the cost of part of their exports.
A further piece from Le Monde shows that growing hostility to trade may subject the UK to even more visceral sentiments in its negotiation:
The City of London is paying the price for sabotaging the European project… The Brexit vote signals its irremediable decline, and ever since it has not known where to turn for salvation. But it should examine its conscience… The cause of popular unease is not Europe per se, but the ultraliberal ideology of its leaders. Reviving the European project of solidarity and mutual assistance is a question of survival.
In contrast, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from Germany questions the UK’s own position on free-trade and liberalism:
Globalisation has torn trenches in many western industrial countries…That is the bitter irony of the referendum. Following the referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union, as the Brexit Prime Minister, May promises citizens an economy, ‘that works for everyone’. This is precisely what has not been delivered in the last decades of liberalism in the UK. But withdrawal from the EU will not make it easier for May to fulfil her promise. It makes it harder.
All of the above only highlights the need for the UK to send the right messages and take the right steps following Brexit, many of which we set out in our liberal and free-market guide to Brexit, ‘Where Next?’