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Sempre più veleno nella Brexit

Avvertenza. Ho scritto un contributo in inglese per un blog. Dopotutto, esiste una collana di grandi racconti che ho tradotto io, qualche familiarità con le lingue diverse dall’italiano devo pure averla. Ho cercato di essere informativo e non semplicemente di offrire le mie opinioni. La voglia di tradurlo in italiano per Fronte del Blog mi manca. Ve lo offro così com’è, un po’ allargato. Ormai del resto l’inglese lo sanno tutti. La foto è presa a prestito dal Guardian. (Paolo Brera)

The tone of the Brexit debate in the UK is becoming more and more worrying.

I have been following it through the Comments section of the BBC, the Guardian and the Economist, and it’s really appalling.

Brexiters still often imply, even now, that the “anti-democratic” EU doesn’t want the UK to leave, and then go on to decode anything coming from the EU as an attempt to keep it in and enjoy Britain’s supposed juicy “net contribution” to the EU coffers.

They should definitely move on. Both most people in the EU and the EU authorities would probably welcome a UK decision to reverse its decision and seek EU membership afresh (even if a simple U-turn would no longer be acceptable after the UK invoked Art. 50). But we the people… and they the authorities… are realistic enough not to expect it anytime soon, and nobody wants to impose membership on the UK.

Art. 50 was written by a Brit who, by his own admission, thought it would never be invoked. So it’s somewhat lacking in depth and detail. It doesn’t state anything about the (as it were) collateral obligations undertaken by a withdrawing member country while still a member. It merely says there must be negotiations on the modes of withdrawal. Whatever the outcome, the country must be out two years after invoking Art. 50.

This was conceived to prevent pressures from the rest of EU to keep the exiting country in indefinitely by simply not signing any wihdrawal agreement. This provision is fair to the exiting country. It has a flipside, though: it also puts it at a disadvantage in the negotiations. It has the option of not signing any agreement but if it doesn’t, it has to go it alone.

Brexiter public opinion often voices a conviction that it’s no problem at all: No Deal is better than a Bad Deal.

Not necessarily. It depends how bad the proposed bad deal is. The consequences of No Deal are dire: Britain finds itself instantly cut off from its most important foreign market, plus from the markets of the countries that have a trade agreement with the EU (since the naked WTO rules are nothing to be happy about). Part of that can be averted if an exit agreement is reached. As per Art. 50, the agreement may partly shape the future Free Trade Agreement (FTA), so uncertainty for business is brought to a minimum. An FTA can be reached comparatively quickly after Brexit, and a transition can be agreed in ways I can’t prefigure.

But one simple fact remains: in the negotiations, the EU will act in its own interest, not Britain’s. According to The Economist, «the British team will find that, for partners, unity of the 27 is the main goal». Donald Tusk’s response to Theresa May’s “declaration of Brexit” «says clearly that the EU’s priority is to minimise uncertainty for “our citizens, businesses and member states”». This is so terribly often overlooked by Brexiters, who think Britain is entitled to special treatment by the EU because it’s such an important market for EU exports.

This is simply not true. To any country in the EU, the British market is at best ¼ as important as the rest-of-EU market. If by trying to keep the British market, an agreement causes the bigger rest-of-EU market to melt away, it’s a loss, not the advantage that Brexiters so often assume. So no country has any great interest in accomodating the British wish to retain free trade while imposing conditions that run counter or enfeeble the EU raison-d’etre—unless it can offer some very serious quid pro quo, capable of offsetting the loss. Still less can a special relationship threatening the EU Single Market arise even before an FTA.

There are three especially urgent items on the EU agenda: foreign residents in Britain and British residents in the EU; outstanding financial commitments (aka “Brexit Bill”); and the Irish border. Only when they are settled will the EU be willing to discuss more issues and some parts of a future trade agreement.

The residents’ problem is the most urgent. In my opinion, it should be dealt with irrespective of the other points in the future agreeement, so as the rights of the people involved are secured very early in the process—as a first step, actually, and the one capable of putting hearts at peace. But even if the problem is subsumed under the principle “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, when some agreement is reached, the people involved will be able to breathe again.

The Irish border is a complicated issue. I’m afraid it won’t be solved in time for the actual Brexit. A hard border will probably be resumed—or Northern Ireland will vote for union with the Republic of Ireland.

Basically, this is Ireland’s business. The EU would have to accept the hard border (only Ireland will suffer) or, alternatively, it would obviously have absolutely nothing to say against an enlargement of the Republic of Ireland’s territory by means of a democratic decision taken by the interested parties: it’s exactly what happened with Germany when the GDR merged into the FRG.

It will not be the EU’s fault if it ever comes to pass. Basically, an open border for people and goods is incompatible with a customs union, at least unless the involved territory is small and quite unimportant economically. Except in the Republic of Ireland, we Europeans don’t mind a hard EU border with Northern Ireland more than we do one with the UK at large—but I’m under the impression that the UK is Brexiting also with a view to controlling its own borders. A solution has to be found, if it exists at all; and if it doesn’t, a hard, guarded border will result. It’s up to the UK to put forward a viable proposal, because it’s the party asking for a change in the current arrangement.

Exit bill. While it was still an EU member, the UK voted a few programmes in that would have to be paid for in the next years, and it pledged to pay a certain amount for them. Can it get rid of those commitments by just Brexiting? In principle, I think it may not and should not. In the Lisbon Treaty, no way to back away from a country’s commitments is provided for that is independent of Art. 50, and Art. 50 only says there must be an agreement on withdrawal between the EU and the receding country.

On a case by case basis, things may look quite different in the different situations.

If we take the example of an aid programme aimed at a poorer EU member country, the lack of the British money may imply one of three outcomes: 1. Other rich countries replace Britain as funders, 2. One or more poorer countries shoulder more of the financial burden or see the programme pruned, 3. The programme is aborted, with the ensuing cost in terms of forsaken opportunities. Any way, it’s going to be unfair to some country, either by forcing it to fork out money it has never accepted to pay, or by reducing the project’s benefits.

So I think the UK should accept in principle that it has to pay what it has already freely committed itself to. The amount can be evaluated in a technical way and then further negotiated politically. Although the EU has ruled out acknowledging Britain a share in the value of EU fixed assets the leaving country has taken part in financing, this is possibly the way to alleviate the financial burden on Britain in a way that’s fair (or almost fair). The eventual agreement will be political. No amount of sabre-rattling, insulting or grandstanding on the British side will make it easier to attain.

All of which seems to be taken as EU “bullying” and “blackmailing” by Brexiters. Not so. The EU is merely taking into account its own interest. If the UK refuses to give an inch, it will simply have to go a mile farther, and sign a simple withdrawal agreement stating that Brexit will take place at a date set no later than April 2019. This would have fearful consequences on Britain, consequences Brexiters grossly underestimate. I won’t spell them out now. Suffice it to say the EU would be harmed too, but there’s nothing we Europeans can do about it except keep a stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on.

I find the debate’s atmosphere very sinister, though, and I’m worried it can even worsen. I don’t like a Tory old-time politician, or quite a few posters in the media, to have mentioned war as a way to solve the Gibraltar issue—yet they did. This is not what sixty years of European Union has accustomed me to expect in the field of foreign relations in Europe. But Brexit is Brexit.

Paolo Brera




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Paolo Brera

Paolo Brera è nato nel secolo scorso, non nella seconda metà che sono buoni anche i ragazzini, ma nell’accidentata prima metà, quella con le guerre e Charlie Chaplin. Poi si è in qualche modo trascinato fino al terzo millennio. Lo sforzo non gli è stato fatale, ma quasi, e comunque potete sempre aspettare seduti sulla riva del fiume. Nella sua vita ha fatto molti mestieri, che a leggerne l’elenco ci si raccapezza poco perfino lui: assistente universitario di quattro discipline diverse (storia economica, diritto privato comparato, eocnomia politica e marketing), vice export manager di un’importante società petrolifera, consulente aziendale, giornalista, editore, affittacamere e scrittore. Ha pubblicato una settantina di articoli scientifici o culturali, tradotti in sei lingue europee, due saggi (Denaro ed Emergenza Fame, quest’ultimo pubblicato insieme a Famiglia Cristiana), due romanzi e una trentina di racconti di fantascienza, sei romanzi e una decina di racconti gialli, più un fritto misto di altri racconti difficili da definire. Negli ultimi anni si è scoperto la voglia di tradurre grandi autori, per il piacere di fare da tramite fra loro e il pubblico italiano. Questo ha voluto dire mettere le mani in molte lingue (tutte indoeuropee, peraltro). Il conto finora è arrivato a quindici. Non è che le parli tutte, ma oggi c’è il Web che per chi lo sa usare è anche un colossale dizionario pratico. L’essenziale è rendere attuali questi scrittori e i loro racconti, sfuggire all’aura di erudizione letteraria che infesta l’accademia italiana, e produrre qualcosa che sia divertente da leggere. Algama sta ripubblicando le sue opere in ebook, a partire dalla serie dei romanzi con protagonista il colonnello De Valera.

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