The Brief – The long Good Friday

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement – a political deal that put an end to decades of terror and tensions. We take it for granted now that the ‘Troubles’ that saw thousands of people killed in Northern Ireland and the UK mainland will never return. But in 1998, the Agreement was a seismic political event in British and Irish history.

Unfortunately, the brave and intelligent diplomacy that delivered the Agreement appears to be largely absent from today’s political arena. Yesterday, Brexit Secretary David Davis bizarrely implied that Sinn Fein, which wants a united Ireland but only has a handful of seats in the Dail, was calling the shots on Leo Varadkar’s Fianna Gael government in Dublin.

“We had a change of government, south of the border, and with quite a strong influence from Sinn Féin, and that had an impact in terms of the approach,” Davis said.

Leaving aside Davis’s dangerous attempt to blame Sinn Fein –once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army responsible for hundreds of murders during the ‘Troubles’—for a problem created by British voters in June 2016, the Irish border row has always felt like a fuss about nothing.

The UK says it wants to avoid a hard border. So does the EU. So, more, importantly, do the administrations in the North and Republic of Ireland.

So what’s the problem?

The can got kicked at the March European Council summit. The ‘backstop’ proposal tabled by Michel Barnier that Northern Ireland remain part of the Customs Union – which had prompted such fire and fury from Theresa May’s government in February – was quietly agreed to if an alternative cannot be agreed.

Since the summit, EU and UK officials have been locked down in a bid to broker a border compromise. Brexiteers say that an electronic pre-clearance system can solve the problem. Nothing has yet emerged, we hear.

Some Brexit-supporting conspiracy theorists say the European Commission supports a united Ireland and sees Brexit as an opportunity to drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“We’ve gone backwards since December,” one former Irish minister told EURACTIV.

The most sensible answer would be for the UK’s regulations on goods to remain identical to the EU’s. But we’re not there yet.

As political observers on the island of Ireland are only too aware, symbols are important. Northern Ireland is still divided – the city of Derry is also called Londonderry. The murals to the Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries still adorn the walls of buildings. The peace is still fragile.

Davis should eat his careless words and get the Irish border question solved. Jeopardising the Irish peace process for the sake of a ‘pure’ Brexit would be little short of unforgiveable.

 

The Roundup

Brexit turns into Brexodus: Eurostat found that the number of Brits giving up their passports and rushing to become citizens of another EU country more than doubled after the 2016 referendum.

According to Ireland’s Commissioner the EU has ‘accepted’ the Brexit process as being irreversible, but Brexit’s focus on minutiae is an unnecessary distraction from the more pressing challenges Europe, argues Giles Merritt.

Neither France nor Germany is ready to acknowledge a cooling down in their relationship. But the German government’s complete lack of flexibility is ruffling the feathers of the French side.

Hungary’s new old Prime Minister Orbán’s bulldozer election triumph sent a shockwave through Europe and civil society groups. Look out for fresh battles with Brussels!

The tense dialogue between Poland and the Commission over controversial judicial reforms continues. The EU’s Frans Timmermans compared finding a solution to eating dessert – the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and the pudding is not on the table yet.

Czechs took the streets to call for the resignation of their Prime Minister Babiš, who – six months after the election – is battling police charges, still seeking partners to govern and without parliamentary backing for his caretaker minority cabinet.

We have to value EU membership and avoid behaviour that undermines its success, writes Slovakia’s European affairs chief, Ivan Korčok, as the country started its national EU convention.

Ahead of the 2019 European elections, EU-enthusiasts are gearing up to oust the traditional European political groups.

Monetary decisions adopted after the financial crisis had a neutral effect on the money houses of the single currency area, except for German and Spanish banks, the ECB admitted in its annual report for 2017

Possible EU budget cuts in regional policy funding are cause nervousness among German federal states. East Germany is especially concerned – a lot is at stake as many regions benefit greatly from EU subsidies.

European farmers warned EU policymakers to take immediate action and encourage innovative new plant breeding techniques following the US decision not to regulate them.

According to a new report, carmakers are delaying building more efficient models until 2019 in a bid to maximise profit margins before new EU rules on carbon dioxide emissions kick in.

Silicon Valley start-up Uber lost an EU court case in its fight against French criminal charges: the French court was within its rights to fine the ride-hailing app company a couple years ago for running an illegal taxi service.

Look out for…

The Azerbaijan presidential elections are set to be held on Wednesday, after its incumbent head of state, Ilham Aliyev, called a snap presidential ballot earlier in February this year. While Aliyev is a dead cert to win, look out for the balancing act with arch-foe Armenia.

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