Germany takes over EU Council presidency: Joint forces towards recovery

Photo: Illustration/FPI BH

By Hata Kujraković i Mahir Sijamija

The Federal Republic of Germany, as one of the most important partners of Bosnia and Herzegovina, assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, 2020 with the motto “Together for Europe’s recovery”. Germany, for which this is the 13th EU Council presidency, adopted a program in which the focus was placed on the economic and social recovery from the consequences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program focuses on crisis management and virus prevention, and emphasizes the need for cooperation within the EU as well as internationally. Some of the key priorities of the Germany’s presidency are an inclusive growth strategy, stronger solidarity and a sustainable economy.

Germany as a leader of change in the Union

From the program framework of the presidency, we see the commitment of Germany to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic that befell the EU, which is a phenomenon that emerged on the postulates of the common market, economy, freedom and tolerance. This refers to a huge financial redistribution, which should amount to 1.85 billion euros. It is an unprecedented act of solidarity, designed to ensure the EU’s continued existence. ” It must now be our common goal to master the crisis jointly, sustainably and with a view to the future and this is precisely what the guiding principle of our Presidency is to be,” Angela Merkel announced, Deutsche Welle. reports.

Climate change, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, digital transformation and Brexit

In addition to overcoming the long-term effects of the crisis, the program also focuses on an additional five areas that include a stronger, fair, sustainable Europe, as well as a Europe of security and common values ​​and a strong Europe in the world. Simultaneously, Germany’s presidency will be focused on improving cohesion within the EU, as well as on joint external action. In order for the EU to emerge stronger and sustainable from the crisis, the economy needs a boost, which means a comprehensive joint package for economic and social recovery that includes a fund for reconstruction and an appropriate adjustment of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Another goal is to improve Europe’s crisis management capacity. This includes dealing with the issues such as climate change, the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, digital transformation, and redefining relations with the United Kingdom after Brexit, as well as with China. The issue of migration, the Green Deal, along with the Conference on the Future of Europe will dominate the last phase of the Germany’s presidency. Based on the Commission’s proposals, Germany is pushing for a reform of the Common European Asylum System in order to create a fair, operational, efficient and crisis-proof system.

Relations with the Western Balkans and BiH

The Zagreb Summit was held in May this year, as the crown of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU. All things considered, just holding the Summit in the world’s biggest crisis since the 2008 financial crash is a success. As we wrote in the last blog, it is clear that “this Summit will not have the same significance as the Zagreb Summit in 2000 or the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003”, and that the presidency of the Republic of Croatia has been disrupted, because its energy invested in organization of the summit was outshined by the outbreak of COVID – 19 pandemic.

The program prepared by Germany emphasized that rapprochement with the European Union is in the interest of the Western Balkans, as well as in the strategic interest of the EU and that the EU has a special responsibility to the Western Balkans, and its southern and eastern neighbors. “We want to ensure that the EU remains able to act and work in partnership with others and on the basis of clear rules,” Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to BiH Margret Uebber wrote in her blog. In the context of the borders for the region of the Western Balkans, it is noted that no region in the world is closer to the EU than the six countries of the Western Balkans, and that the EU and the Western Balkan countries are bound by close interpersonal relations. Additionally, HE Ms. Uebber emphasized the importance of the countries of the Western Balkans to be involved in responding to the crisis, highlighting that the EU allocated funds in the amount of EUR 80.5 million for BiH . which isa strong sign of solidarity and connection.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic posed limits to many activities, HE Ms. Ambassador Uebber believes that progress has been made in the EU policy towards the Western Balkans during the Croatian presidency, citing the decision to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, and the 3.3 billion-euro aid package presented by the EU Commission for the Western Balkans in late April. German Ambassador also noted that the migration of young people, in addition to the economic consequences of the pandemic, is a special challenge that the countries of the Western Balkans will face in the coming period.

The program also states that Germany will use the presidency of the EU Council to connect decision-makers and other relevant actors in the Western Balkans, encourage dialogue on demographic development and continue working on creating better prospects for young people. The German government announced earlier that they would support the Western Balkans with an additional 10 million euros, sending a clear signal that “the future of the Western Balkans is in the EU!”

Together for the recovery of the Western Balkans with Europe

From the presidency program, we see the commitment of Germany to work on the economic recovery of the Union. The European Union is based on the values of the common market, economy, security, freedom and tolerance. Germany, as one of the leaders of the Union, is emphasizing a return to these values, due to increased nationalism, border closures and similar issues due to the COVID – 19 pandemic.

The EU has recently been facing major challenges of internal consolidation, so French President Macron announced reforms of the Union and the enlargement impasse even before the pandemic. The presidency of the Council of the EU will be used by Germany to return the Union to the initial path of its development and prosperity. Although the ability of the large bureaucratic apparatus to work at full capacity has been reduced, as there has been a reduction in physical meetings of EU leaders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany has set a clear goal – a large number of decisions need to be made jointly in order to overcome the crisis.

The program can be read on the following link.

Recognise the benefits of integrating the rest of the Balkans into the EU

It’s telling that the most important milestones of the EU’s enlargement policy are closely tied to Denmark. In 1993, the “Copenhagen criteria”, which set the conditions for EU aspirants, were defined by the EU Council, then headed by Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (S). In 2002, when Denmark was heading the EU Council again under prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (V), a historic decision was made to expand the Union to 10 new members. Fast forward to autumn 2019, and, in the context of enlargement to the Western Balkans, Denmark was one of the countries that opposed opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. Denmark, once one of the strongest advocates of EU expansion, now finds itself rather sceptical on the Western Balkans’ enlargement dossier.

Our delegation from six Western Balkan think tanks, each of us representing the civil society in each country, recently visited Denmark and met with several political and non-governmental organizations. As the trusted voice of the civil society from the region, we fully understand the concerns of Danish citizens and politicians about the Western Balkans joining the EU. Our countries are still far from fulfilling the EU membership criteria. But our political leadership needs a strong prospect of EU membership in order to undertake the necessary political reforms and to establish of functioning institutions and rule of law. At the same time, we fear that ignoring and relegating the Western Balkans accession process due to more pressing issues at home is doing harm both to the EU and to the Balkan region itself.

It should not take a lot of political courage to explain to citizens that the opening of accession talks with one candidate country does necessarily mean that the country will eventually join the EU unprepared. Look at the so-called “front-runners” from the region – Montenegro and Serbia: they have been negotiating EU membership for years but have been stuck in the process due to their inabilities to demonstrate a strong reform record on democratic performance and rule of law. The opening of accession talks should be seen – as it really is – only a small step in a long and demanding accession process. In fact, it is the EU and its member states who set the rules and assess the results.

At the same time, moving forward in the process bears immense symbolic importance for a candidate country, to the extent that its political stability can be threatened, as is currently the case in North Macedonia. To overcome the yearlong name dispute with Greece, the country even changed its name to finally embark on its accession talks with the EU. But despite doing its proverbial homework, North Macedonia has been blocked in the process – this time not by Greece but Denmark. That undermines our trust in the promises made by the EU, and makes us wonder if we have been given a chance at all?

These are some examples which show that the current method for accession negotiations is ineffective. On the one hand, the region’s political leaders have few domestic incentives to reform, knowing that the benefits of the EU integration process stretch far beyond their political mandates. On the other hand, the EU is unable to deliver on its promises towards the region. Therefore, the EU Commission has put forward a proposed revision of the accession process, which imposes stricter requirements for democratic, judicial and economic reforms on candidate countries. Denmark should see this as an opportunity not to be missed for making EU enlargement to the Western Balkans a success story, and to avoid possible democratic backsliding post-accession, which we have seen in Hungary and Poland. Our region should suffer from collateral damage of that or any other problem we did not cause.

As citizens of the region determined to make a better future for the next generations, we pledge for a strict and merit-based accession process that would result in a transformation of our countries and societies to respect European values. In our view, for this to happen, three crucial ingredients are needed.

The first is the political courage of the EU member states to acknowledge all the benefits of having the rest of the Balkan region (with a total population smaller than Romania’s) as part of the bloc, as well as the risks associated with continued neglect. Following Brexit, the EU’s expansion to this region would offer new export opportunities for Danish companies. Moreover, the counties of the region are not only geographically, but also historically and culturally part of Europe: for instance, Bosnians are among the best integrated communities in Denmark. Moreover, three countries of the region are NATO members. And both the EU and the Western Balkans are concerned with climate change and intercontinental migration. However, the EU’s fading engagement in the region is already resulting in the stronger presence of other global powers such as China and Russia, a phenomenon expected to further intensify should the EU remain passive.

Secondly, the EU’s stronger political engagement needs to be accompanied by greater support to civil society in the region, the real agents of transformation. The EU should empower and reassure those actors who are interested in strong democratic institutions, freedom of the media, an independent judiciary, and the eradication of widespread corruption and organised crime. Functional democracy is a guarantee of political stability, but in the absence of a credible membership perspective, the region’s strongmen will find that their only chance of staying in power is by nurturing a nationalist and conflict escalating rhetoric.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo have been stuck for years in the process of being granted official candidate status due to statehood issues, which has left their citizens disillusioned about their European perspective.

Finally, the accession process itself needs to be rewarding for political elites. For them to engage in potentially politically costly reforms, they need to receive tangible rewards from the EU upon delivery. Offering access for the region to some areas of EU policy at different stages in the process, as is proposed in the EU Commission’s revised enlargement methodology, would serve as a stabilising factor for political systems in the entire region.

Now is the time to act. If this opportunity is missed, the Western Balkans risk another lost decade marked with new potential instabilities. If skilled and educated young people do not see a European perspective at home, they will take on existing opportunities to migrate and seek better living conditions in the EU themselves. This leaves our homes more prone to populism and dangerous nationalist conflicts, depriving the Western Balkans societies of their long-term economic potential. Conversely, if we increase the membership dialogue and mutual engagement now, we can go a long way in making the entire European continent a safe and sustainable place for living. It is in Denmark’s security, economic and civic interest to invest itself in this dossier and to reap its benefits.

TEN Network:

  • Arbëresha Loxha, Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS), Pristina, Kosovo;
  • Anida Šabanović, Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  • Dina Bajramspahić, Institut Alternativa (IA), Podgorica, Montenegro;
  • Sena Marić, European Policy Centre (CEP), Belgrade, Serbia;
  • Gjergji Vurmo, Program Director, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana, Albania;
  • Stefan Ristovski, European Policy Institute (EPI) Skopje, North Macedonia

This article is previosly published in a Danish newspaper “Magazinet Europa”

Our 14 – wake up call or an excuse for status quo?!

The elections have been completed in October last year, yet BiH Council of Ministers and the Government of the Federation of BiH still have not been formed. Therefore, the Opinion of the European Commission regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina has “crushed” all of the optimism and prognoses of the leaders that this country will receive the candidate status by the end of this year. On the other hand, if we face the reality pertaining to our capacities of integrating in the EU with this kind of state system as well as the system of values that dominates amongst the local political elites, we just might be able to demonstrate by the end of the year that we have heard the wake up call, and have defined the steps to implement “Our 14”. This would mean that BiH is finally ready to “get its house in order” and to respond to everything with concrete actions and results.

The European Union has made its Opinion based on the evaluation of the current institutional functioning system, policies and legislation and the things that remain to be harmonized with the EU policies and the Acquis. Furthermore, on the respect for human rights and the implementation of Decisions of the European Court for Human Rights as well as a mandatory establishment of a contemporary civic parliamentary democracy. However, in its Opinion, the EC did not specify which of the 14 numbered matters BiH needs to complete to get the candidate status.

The only precise thing that can be said at this moment is that BiH is still far away from the candidate status and that now a really difficult period begins, a period of going from words to actions.

Answering several thousand questions from the EC Questionnaire is one thing and it does deserve praise, however, the “Our 14” implies comprehensive guidelines for reforms the country needs to implement in order to obtain the reference for opening the negotiations for joining the EU. What we have right now is a diagnosis of the state of affairs and a sensible, systemic and essential recipe to make things better. Right after this recipe comes a well-known condition for BiH – the elected officials need to have the political will for this process in a country characterised in the EU as a country of social, political and economic chaos.

Along with the Opinion came the analytical report that compares the situation in BiH with the standards applied in EU member countries, including matters such as internal market, public procurements, competition, environment, food safety and consumer protection policies.

With the support of the EU, BiH had been implementing reforms such as reforms in judiciary, police, public administration, education, economy, and some progress was achieved. However many tasks remain. Perhaps that is why it was expected that this alone should be enough for a reference to get a candidate status along with a few praises by the international officials.

However…

Bosnia and Herzegovina still fails to meet the criteria pertaining to the stability of institutions that guarantee democracy, rule of law, human rights, respect and protection of minorities. It has yet to harmonise its constitutional framework with the European standards and secure the functionality of its institutions in order to take over the obligations with regard to the European Union and improve its election framework and functioning of the judiciary. At the same time, further strengthening is necessary for prevention and fight against corruption and organized crime and securing the effective functioning of border, migration and asylum management. The basic steps in the public administration reform need to be fully implemented.

Considering the economic criteria alone, a certain level of macroeconomic stability has been achieved. However, those were just small steps, because even in this field BiH needs to work on crossing numerous obstacles for proper functioning of the market mechanisms such as weak rule of law, large bureaucracy, corruption, long and overly complicated administrative procedures, matters predominantly felt by the citizens and who fail to see any improvement. The citizens do not find the lack of the recommendation for obtaining candidate status too difficult because what they are interested in is to see when will living in BiH become better, and be closer to the EU average. For them, the current state of affairs, and the Opinion are just a confirmation that they live in a country where existing laws and standards are far below those existing in the EU, and are even far behind those existing in the countries in the region.

On the other hand, it is not rare to hear a comparison between Albania and BiH because BiH has received the same opinion as Albania did in 2010. However, many predict that BiH, on its road towards the EU is at least 10 years behind Albania. Both for Albania and for BiH, forty areas were being assessed, only in one area was Bosnia and Herzegovina found to be a bit better off than Albania, and that is the protection of intellectual property.

The decision regarding the Opinion of the EC has definitely been left for the new Assembly of the EC to make. Whether the result will be candidate status, remains to be seen. It depends on political circumstance and the views that the new European Commission will have. EU has great expectations from the local leaders in the region to make a concrete step like Greece and North Macedonia have done, to show determination to solve long-term disputes and continue their road towards the EU. Yet, it seems that even that is sometimes not enough. We shall see what will happen in the time to come…

One thing is for sure, there needs to be a more concrete offer from the EU and the member states. It needs to be something tangible and yet important for the everyday lives of the citizens, e.g. significant increase in financial and technical support.

This is necessary in order to build the preparedness in the Parliaments and Governments within BiH to make agreements regarding priorities set by the EC. The EU must continue to spread its influence if it wishes to make any concrete step in geopolitical sense and with the goal of preserving the idea of a united Europe. On the other hand, Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot afford to lose any more chances. The ball is in our court, and it is time for us to work towards that long-awaited score!

by Anida Šabanović, FPI BH for European Western Balkans (OPINIONS)

AUSTRIA’S BIG EU EXAM

“This decision is not making any winners or losers. Its most important goal is to strengthen citizens’ belief in rule of law and democracy.” With this statement, on 1 July 2016, Austria’s Supreme Court President, Gerhard Holizinger, explained the decision on revoking the results of the second round of presidential election results during which Alexander van Den Bellen, candidate of the Greens, by a tight margin, won on 22 May. And there is nothing unusual about this: Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), whose candidate lost, filed a complaint  for alleged irregularities at 94 out of 117 election sites. It will later be determined that they themselves did considerable errors, and time will show which ones. The Court did not decide on any wrongdoings, but determined that there were mistakes in the process and due to a significant number of them, revoked the poll results of the second election round.  We all thought that it was good that Norbert Hoefer, candidate of FPO, a radical, right-wing, xenophobic – islamophobic party did not become Austria’s new president. We have thought that it might have a negative influence on UK’s referendum, increase EU’s identity crisis and bring another important member of the EU further to the right. But now, by the historic ruling of Austria’s Supreme Court, which surprised many, we are forced to rethink what does all this mean, but only this time, in the post-Brexit context.

If there is anything positive in this Austrian cacophony, it is the presense of rule of law which is undeniable and unrelenting, and we are welcoming it. Everything else is an uncertainty slowly turning to a panic fear from yet another populist exit from the European vision.

The second election round between Van Den Bellen and Hoefer could repeat on 22 September or even maybe on 2 October 2016 (Strache and Dodik campaigning together).

What could this mean for Austria? What could it mean for the EU? And what could it consequently mean for the Balkans and for BiH?

AUSTRIA

The powers of Austria’s President are not large, but are significant: the President represents the country, confirms the apointments of government officials and state officials and is a guarantee of the (dis)continuity of the public service’s first echelon, they can dismiss federal and regional parliaments, etc.  Most importantly, Austria’s President is a personification of Austria’s political diversity and is a person that must maintain a balance by actually representing all Austrians. Can Hoefer represent 576,000 Muslims in Austria? Can he represent 13,3% immigrants in Austria? Not to mention all those liberals, enthusiasts who love an open society whose multi-identity is in synergy? The answer is no and in truth, it is the biggest challenge for Autria’s social cohesion – the victory of the Right would cause serious ideological polarization in the society and could reflect on the next parliamentary elections, the composition of the government and Austria’s navigation course.

Out of 7,4 million registered voters, 4,6 million of them voted on the presidential elections in May 2016. The percentage is not that troubling considering that FPO candidate dominated in the rural areas of Austria, areas unaccustomed to other identities. If Brexit has divided the British, and it has, then the arrival of the right-wing oriented politicians would divide the Austrians in the same manner and consequently influence the efforts of a healthy consolidation of the European Union.

The new federal Chancellor and leader of the Social Democratic Party, Christian Kern, a businessman rather than a politician, is a certain possibility that the result margin will be larger during the next elections since he managed to reinstall some trust into the political mainstream. He is being compared to the legendary Franc Vranick who was also a businessman brought to lead Germany’s SPO in order to save it, which he managed to do. Kern has an opportunity to rethink his tactics in order to bring Van Den Bellen closer to those inquisitive minds, who do not vote. When Joerg Heider won in 2000, not for the President’s seat, but for entering the federal government, Brussels threatened with sanctions. Does the current EU have, with equally xenophobic parties in a large number of member states’ parliaments and the European Parliament itself, the strength to repeat the same, if a right-wing politicians it to become the next president? It does not, since all those mechanisms are long gone. They have been eaten away by years without a vision, ideas and recognition that the EU has to function in the same way even when the things are not going according to plan. The bureaucratic lulling into bliss and smugness has crossed those red lines a long time ago. This is where the deafening march of populism in all member states is coming from.

EUROPEAN UNION

As with Brexit, it is possible to go into incredible leghts of speculation, i.e. guessing would it be better that the elections in Austria are being repeated right after Brexit and the drama surrounding it. If we are to be positive, it is good they are happening now, when the biggest political skeptics are beginning to be concerned with Europe’s future and Austria has 1,739,353 of those. They are the only salvation from Austria’s turn to the right, and the percentages of ”sleeping” Europeans who could save Europe are similar. They have to be priorities of Kern, Van Den Bellen, and everyone else’s actions. They cannot make the same mistake like the former Chancellor Feymann (needed to step down after Hoefer’s sudden rise in the first round) and cannot approach those people, who in truth despise politics and politicians, by a up-front political campaign like – vote for us because the rest are right-wing. They have to spell out the harshest truth as directly as possible that these are historic elections and that entire Europe is watching and that the election results have the potential to help with consolidation of Austria and other countries. They need to clearly show their electorate what is being lost by xenophobic isolationism, and what can be achieved is they are to assist with the post-Brexit consolidation of Europe; that they know that it is not the the mere repeating of the second election round between the pretty, youngish and likable Hoefer and the wise, moderate Van Den Bellen with slow reflexes. They must know that just by existing they are changing things – if they vote then they are changing them for the better. If they do not vote that they are equally to blame for what is coming next. This is why the upcoming presidential results are a very important post-Brexit test whether the message has been understood, and if we are ready for consolidation. If this does not happen in Austria, and a year from now in Germany and France, with a bitterness in our hearts we are ready to agree with philanthropist Georg Soros’ estimate that this the beginning of the end of the European Union.

THE BALKANS

FPO’s presidential candidate got a lot of votes from Serbs originating from the Balkans because the RS President, Milorad Dodik joined the campaign (Dodik has good personal relations with FPO President, Strache). If we are to leave aside that the immigrants are voting for a party with a completely anti-immigration agenda, naive in thinking that the blade is aimed towards only the dark-skinned ones and Muslim immigrants – the question arising is what can Hoefer’s victory mean for the Balkans and for BiH? The answer is barely anything.

If Hoefer wins it does not yet mean anything for the course of action of the government led by Chancellor Kern, which is still on a good way to consolidate its course. Some kind of cohabitation will be necessary and Hoefer’s maneuvering space will be decreased. He will not be able to significantly change Austria-Western Balkans relation which have a pretty interesting history. He will not be able to considerably fasten or to slow down the enlargement process because he is not present at that decision making level in Brussels. He will be able to personally encourage similar political aiming in the Balkans, and risk criticism at home by doing that. Such playing with fire in the Balkans could be dangerous for Austria.

WHEN EXITING THE EU, TURN RIGHT

Judging from what was said in the European Parliament about Brexit, the Brexiters are not likely to stop there, but are aiming to destroy the EU as a project. The mere tone and course of the debate in the European Parliament speaks about the state of mind in Europe, but also about the extent to which the Europe’s right-wing parties managed to impose their rhetoric onto the institution which was the fortress of democratic values in Europe. Gloating over the fate of Great Britain outside the EU, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament, having a complete disregard for the customs in such an institution, triumphed over his repeated offences to the EU over years, but also managed to offend EU representatives present during the debate. In his speech, he accused them of denying the fact that the project of the European Union is doomed to fail, and reminded them how they laughed 17 years ago when he said told them the UK would leave the Union.

However, Nigel Farage does not intend to merely spread hatred in the UK or insult the EU, but rather, flying on the Brexit wings, he plans to destroy the EU as a project. The topic Farage is especially advocating is British ‘independence’, which was, according to him, fought for by the citizens through the referendum. With this, he characterised the EU as a colonial force, which is oppressing the poor British, and seemingly, the English in particular. Therefore, the speed at which divisions in the British society are coming to surface within a matter of only a few days is astonishing. There is a worrying increase in the number of racist inspired incidents throughout the country, and reports of resurrections of people with tattooed swastikas expressing their views in public broadcasting services, which is a picture that was unthinkable just a week ago. While searching for answers which seem to have surprised only the British government, the UK media are lamenting over different polls which show why the majority voted Leave. It is clear now that the outcome was primarily motivated by the issues of status, or even class divisions within the British society. However, at the same time, a large number of voters changed their minds and regretted the decision since, while some of the Brexit masterminds, like Boris Johnson, put his tail between his legs, evidently aware and afraid of the consequences of such a result, which clearly surprised him too.

The support Nigel Farage received from Marine La Pen, leader of the French National Front, perhaps the most notorious right-wing party in Europe, shows just how much the European Parliament is divided, which could soon lead to serious divisions within the Union as well. It was upsetting to watch serious and experienced European politicians like Martin Schulz, the President of the EP, failing to control the emotional atmosphere in the room heated by threats to destroy the most solemn democratic project in recent history. It was even worse watching Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, bring himself down to the level of rhetoric imposed by the Europe’s right, failing to defend the institution he represents, as well as the ideas that he stands for. It was pitiful to watch how the temporary face of the UK in the European Parliament was Nigel Farage, the man who was unable to even win enough votes to enter the Parliament in his own country during the elections less than a year ago. It was disappointing to watch the striking absence of answers to questions mounting over Brexit.

And yet, finding the right answers is the most important thing the EU needs to provide at this moment. Brexit opened many questions, which are still difficult to grasp, and it is clear that it is hard to give all answers right away. But, while the European bureaucracy is trying to work out how to deal with the challenges of Brexit, the Europe’s radical right is opening new questions and posing new challenges. Brexit has demonstrated how short is the road between the voters falling for populist messages, on one hand, and the institutions like the European Parliament, and even the destiny of the European project.

The spirit of racism, intolerance and hatred towards the other have been spreading over Europe for some time now, but it was least expected to materialise in such short time in Britain. In just five days, the public debate, and media in particular, boiled down Brexit to a single issue – immigration. Since the bickering over Brexit moved to Brussels, the leading British media brought down all dissatisfactions tearing this country apart for years, to a single question – the freedom of movement within the EU. However, the fact that David Cameron, after meeting with the leaders of member states, also boiled down Brexit to the issue of immigration is just another proof of the extent to which he misjudged the motives of the UK citizens, especially their lack of knowledge of the EU. However, this outcome is not only the result of the misjudgment of the PM and his government, but of the undermining of the EU in that country for decades.

Having in mind all legal and practical aspects of Brexit, it turns out that it might even be impossible to untangle all contractual obligations which the EU memberships entails within two years after activation of the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In that case, it would be fair, and at this point even wise, to provide specific information on what leaving the EU enatials, and if it is even possible. The shock and disbelief among some British Leave voters shows that the destiny of their country within the EU was the least of their concerns, and that they were unaware of consequences left on the UK, the EU, and even globally. Huge responsibility also rests on the EU, which stood aside the debate during the pre-referendum campaign and thus missed the opportunity to explain to the British voters the destructive consequences of their choice to leave the EU. Brexit might prove it impossible to find answers to some of the arising questions.

The outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he is throwing the ball into his successor’s court. However, the British uncodified Constitution is unclear about with whom that decision rests, and whether the referendum decision is a sufficient legal basis for the next PM to activate Article 50 without consulting the Parliament. The mere delay of the formal decision is in itself buying time during which passions might cool down and the debate could be brought into the framework of rational arguments. If Westminster institutions decide that the final decision on Brexit should be made by the British Parliament, it then opens up the possibility that the UK remains in the Union. In the meantime, the EU and its representatives can help by calming down the situation, preserving the dignity of the EU institutions, and returning the debate on the EU as a project to the level of common values. That way they could rise above the populism that is imposed by the Europe’s right.

When Exiting the EU, Turn Right