Barry Turner: The EU, it’s time to find solutions, not more problems

The latest from the EU talks is that the UK will continue to accept free movement of people for an indeterminate period after Brexit. Some talk about two years others four. Either way it is clearly not what Article 50 suggested or what the Brexiteers voted for. So it must be a problem then, or might it be a solution?

The position of the media is that all conditions arising out of an event are problems. It is a feature of our society that compromise or solution seeking is portrayed as a u-turn, surrender, failure, abrogation of duty and a whole bunch of other negative consequences. It is rarely if ever portrayed as a success or a solution, only the endless fount of other problems.

The media invented the terms hard and soft Brexit in order to perpetuate the polar opposite approach to news presentation. This has been a feature of the news now for decades, the only position is one or the other. Leave or remain, hard Brexit or soft Brexit. Neither side wants a common sense Brexit neither side wants a sensible compromise.

The fact is that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will lead to compromise, like it or not both sides will have to concede on some of their demands. The ridiculous suggestion that the UK would have a ‘divorce bill’ of 100 billion Euros is one of them. That suggestion is neither realistic nor fair and neither is it a sensible negotiation strategy.

Similarly diving of the cliff edge and hoping for a soft landing on the World Trade Organisation rules is equally unrealistic. It’s a bit like planning your retirement on next week’s lottery winnings. The truth about that one is that applying the World Trade rules will be just as restrictive on our ability to trade with other countries as membership of the EU is. The WTO places its rules above national sovereignty too.

The EU is in a colossal mess and for the moment it is getting worse.

The situation in the eastern member states is just as problematic as Brexit and just as threatening to the integrity of the EU. In some countries the rule of law and democracy itself are challenged by populist parties, characterised as they always are by no-compromise policies and politicians. In Poland this is coming to a crisis point.

The Law and Justice Party, currently the party of government in Poland is seeking reforms of the judiciary, largely by getting rid of them and replacing them with politically appointed judges. This is a direct threat to the founding principle of any modern democracy, the separation of powers and is utterly contradictory to the principles of membership of the EU.

The EU have warned Poland that it cannot maintain this position and invoked article 7 of the EU Treaty requiring member states to protect democratic governance and human rights. But there is a problem. Article 7(1) allows for the warning but it is only effective if backed up by the threat of sanctions. The European Council can issue the warning as they please but the sanctions under Art 7(2) can only be imposed by a unanimous vote of the member states. That may very well not happen since other eastern European states have a similar world- view to that of the current government of Poland.

Brexit came about because the EU would not reform. It is becoming more and more apparent that the failure to reform is making it unworkable. If a member state cannot be sanctioned for breaching one of its fundamental obligations to maintain democratic accountability the ‘four pillars’ that are now being talked about with almost religious reverence in the Brexit talks are meaningless.

The solution is to remove the problems. The fundamental rules of the EU need changing. It is no longer 1950, 1973 or 1992. The old ways are anachronistic and are failing. The bureaucrats and politicians of the EU need to compromise every bit as much as the Brexiteers in the UK do. Holding on to nurse for fear of something worse will lead to the something worse.

European cooperation in the future needs to be based on a modern outlook, the foundation of the EEC occurred in a different world and the rules of that world to not apply in this one. Its time for compromise all round which means Britain needs to make concessions and the EU do too.

Last stands make great Hollywood, going down in a blaze of glory against impossible odds makes for a ripping yarn but neither has anything of a future. It is time that the EU as an institution and the nation states that comprise it look to an honorable compromise because the alternative is a disaster.