Is the EU shooting itself in the foot with Brexit negotiations?

Olivia Rohll

Just over five months on from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016, there seems to have been almost no progress on what a post-EU Britain will look like. This is partly because of domestic disagreement - the Economist recently reported an almost perfect 50:50 split of opinion over the key free trade/free movement trade-off in the Brexit negotiations - but also because of the reactions of EU leaders nervous of right wing populism in their own backyards. The situation appears at times to have reached a total stalemate which only the goodwill of the negotiators can dissipate. Unfortunately for Theresa May the inner insecurity about the EU aroused across the bloc by Brexit has made goodwill hard to come by because an easy exit for the UK would encourage others to follow suit. 


However the resistance by French President François Hollande and, more recently Germanfinance minister Wolfgang Schäuble is unlikely to achieve the neutralisation of anti-EU sentiment they seek. Even among ‘Remain’ voters in the UK, the hostility sensed behind statements that the UK could face EU budget commitments up to 2030 and the like, have stirred up the feeling that Brussels has ambitions that override the sovereignty of EU member states. Britain has become a hazard to ‘The Project’ and is being punished for it - not a sight that is likely to appease nationalists. What is more, seeing leaders scrabbling to maintain their positions at the expense of their allies will do nothing to dispel feeling that the world is being run by a small group of elites uninterested in the concerns of the ‘everyday man’. Elitism even seems to be being felt at the state level, with Italy threatening to veto the EU budget due to what they see as a lack of support from EU countries with handling asylum seekers and immigrants. This is no doubt partly a political move by prime-minister Matteo Renzi, who is currently facing a referendum which, like the Brexit vote, is becoming as much about anti-establishment feeling as the constitutional reform it proposes. However the almost childish move to veto the budget also reflects the power imbalance between members which EU leaders like Renzi are finally pushing back against. The upshot is that whatever strategy European governments employ to handle Brexit they are eventually going to have to face internal unease about the EU face on, both at a domestic and national level. An easy Brexit may well encourage further departures, but throwing up barriers simply demonstrates the qualities of the European Union its people are coming to resent. 


The possibility of closer ties between the UK and US since the election of Donald Trump will do nothing to lower the tension. A British-American trade deal, although far from certain, would substantially strengthen the UK in the face of a weakened post-Brexit economy. Trump’s protectionism could well lead to complete abandonment of the work done towards a US-EU free trade deal, and his open enthusiasm for Brexit only adds insult to injury. While the scrapping of what has now been several years of complex negotiations would be an understandable blow for Brussels, failure must not be pinned on Trump or Brexit. At the end of August 2016 European politicians such as French Trade Minister Matthias Fekl began calling for the end of EU-US negotiations because of unmeetable demands from the Americans. In light of the possibility that the proposed deal was never going to come into fruition it is just worth wondering whether Angela Merkel’s calls on Trump not to give up on the deal would be as forthcoming if it weren’t for the remote possibility that the UK might get there first. 


The worrying possibility that the EU is being held together more because it is uncomfortable to leave, than because it is an attractive group to be in has not gone completely unnoticed however. As recently as 16th November, ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, writing in the Financial Times has stated ‘the rift between Europe and its citizens is wider than ever before.’ He recognises the legitimacy of the concerns of British people and extends the hope that they may choose to rejoin the Union once it has been reformed to better serve its members. The refreshing sentiment that rejoining the EU is an option for Britain also makes a welcome change from the finality Brexit is generally spoken about with. Before being defeated in the French primaries on 20th November, Sarkozy was seeking the Republicans’ (‘Les Républicains’) nomination for the 2017 French presidential election and was clearly hoping that EU reform might attract voters away from the far right better than Hollande’s defensiveness. This may just be another political manoeuvre by a member of ‘the elite’, but it might be the only way to save the EU and keep its people on board. If the UK must be punished for leaving, let it be done by making Europe better than it’s ever been before, not by making an example of it for those that might follow. 

What About the Children?

Nilen Patel

This is Europe’s quiet crisis. The lives of children are depicted as the most precious. They are meant to be lives to be protected and nurtured. They are supposed to be the future of our societies after all.

However, 96,500 unaccompanied children applied for asylum across Europe in 2015. Over 10,000 of these are unaccounted for or missing.

Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, believes many of these children are working as slaves, on construction sites and farm land or as sex workers. How can we let these children, the most vulnerable and valued members of society, be the ones to be let down by our European politics? In a society governed by numbers, the extent of human trafficking has long since passed the stage in Europe where it should demand attention and response.

Perhaps this is just further evidence of Europe’s ineffective strategy to cope with refugees. UNICEF found that children currently have to wait up to 11 months between registration and transfer to a country that has agreed to accept them. In Sweden up to 10 children are reported missing each week and in Slovenia more than 80 per cent of unaccompanied children went missing from reception centres. The situation is a complex and emotional one, but traffickers are taking advantage of the waves of migrants and operating across Europe due to the weakness of Europe’s child protection system.

Even on a national scale, we are far from rising to the challenge. Just last month the House of Commons defeated an amendment to an immigration bill that would have seen the UK accept 3000 child refugees. The Home Office argued that they were doing enough already to help child refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries. David Cameron maintains that we must ensure that refugees don’t have the incentive to travel across Europe. Yet the National Crime Agency identified that the number of children being trafficked in the UK increased by 46% from last year, so this is a problem that is clearly not diminishing or going to disappear.

What the Home Office failed to acknowledge is that a significant number of these refugees were under 14 years of age, and travelling alone without the protection of adult family members or guardians. As a means to pacify protestors to the UK stance, the government has agreed to fast-track child migrants who have family members in the UK as well as take in children registered in Greece, Italy or France before the refugee deal was created with Turkey. Yet is a fast-track modification of a notoriously slow process actually helpful? Furthermore, this is another act of ostracising the children who need help the most - the ones without parents or guardians. Smugglers and traffickers, meanwhile, are presenting these migrants with “solutions”, an escape route to a better life, far exceeding what the asylum jungle currently offers them.

It is this internal conflict of how to respond that is symbolic of the EU attitude towards this ever-growing crisis. Unaccompanied children just aren’t valued enough by a society hypocritically putting children in that vulnerable and important societal position.

The fact is that the conflict driving this migration isn’t disappearing, meaning it has become a question of humanity to acknowledge the situation and respond as best as possible. We need to counter the “offer” of smugglers and traffickers rather than restricting our borders. The situation they are fleeing from will always provide a greater incentive to migrate than any disincentive David Cameron could ever create.

The crisis of child refugees is a quiet one, but it shouldn’t be this way. There is an incongruence of what we as a society place value on and what our policies place value on. By reassessing what we believe is important and then crucially protecting these values, we can hope to better the situation in Europe.

Britain set for EU referendum

Hubert Cruz

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) will take place on 23 June. The referendum was pledged by the Conservative party, who won the general election last year. Voters will be asked, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Cameron said he will campaign for the UK to remain in the EU after securing a list of membership reforms over lengthy negotiations with other EU leaders in the last few days.


The reforms include changes to the provision of migrants’ benefits. If the UK votes to remain in the EU, it will be able to limit in-work benefits to migrant workers for the first four years for their stay. However, the overall restrictions must be lifted within seven years. In terms of sovereignty, member states can stall EU legislations with a lower threshold of objections from 55% of national EU parliaments. The UK is also promised the right to veto financial regulations of the Eurozone, and an explicit opt-out of the commitment to an “ever-closer union” with other EU member states.


Despite the Prime Minister’s case for the UK to remain in a reformed EU, several cabinet members, including Michael Gove, have already registered their decisions to campaign for the opposite camp. As opinion polls after the referendum announcement show a marginal lead for leaving the EU, the UK is braced for another close and intensive referendum that will determine the country’s future.


Should the UK leave or remain in the EU? What are your views over the proposed EU reforms? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. To know more about the issue, check out the articles below:


BBC – UK and the EU: Better off out or in?

The Guardian – EU referendum to take place on 23 June, David Cameron confirms

Independent – EU deal: Did the final agreement deliver on David Cameron's promises?

Survation – First polling conducted since specific demands for EU reform established. Leave marginally ahead of Remain


Beyond the Louvre: the French art of the political cartoon

Marianna Hunt

Home to world-famous art galleries such as the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, the real place to discover the art on everyone's lips in France is in the pages of its political cartoons and satirical magazines.

French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, takes a "no holds barred" approach to its attacks on politics and society. From right-wing extremists, to the radical left, even entire religions - no sphere is sacred for this anti-institutional, anti-authoritarian magazine. Mocking caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad have appeared regularly in editions and are widely considered the catalyst of an attack on the magazine by Islamist gunmen in which four cartoonists were killed. Nevertheless, the attacks did not dampen the magazine's provocative tilt and recent editions have depicted Muhammad being beheaded by a member of the Islamic State.

Though cartoons enjoy similar influence and popularity in many other countries (the manga craze in Japan for instance), French cartoons are differentiated by their overtly political nature. Moreover, Charlie Hebdo is not a lone exception in this field. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, professor at the University of Glasgow and expert on French cartooning, Laurence Grove declared: “The attack today was really on a national institution”.

Among  the magazine's many, similar rivals, the most well-known is Le Canard Enchaîné, another example of this quintessentially French blend of art, politics, and satire. The provocative nature of these publications have earned them the nickname journaux irresponsables (the irresponsible newspapers).

The phenomenon of using cartoon as a means of political commentary and protest is by no means a new one in French society. In the build-up to the French Revolution of 1789, political cartoons regularly mocked the monarchy. After the revolution, artists even turned against their former idols. This image shows a two-faced monument to Napoleon built upon a pile of skulls and inert bodies. The statue resembles that of the doubled headed Roman god who presided over the beginning and end of wars. This reference to Napoleon's persistent waging of war throughout Europe and the skulls which uphold the memorial suggests that this political leader's legacy was built upon the death and suffering of others - debasing the traditional Napoleonic legend. 

The tradition of this art form as an ideological weapon continued in the 20th century when, in the post-war period, both radically conservative Catholic groups and left-wing Communists attempted to use cartoons as a propaganda means to win over the young people of France.

It seems fitting then that, in the aftermath of the November shootings in Paris, the reaction, both in France and world-wide, was to take up pen and ink and turn the internet into a gallery of cartoons and sketches showing support for the victims.  The Islamic State of Iraq claimed the attacks were a retaliation against the French government's foreign policy and decision to launch air-strikes in Syria - making the political aspect of the attacks unmistakeable. Eiffel Towers made of tears, tricolour flags draped over corpses, and the Statue of Liberty rushing to the rescue of France, were just a number of the artistic commemorations to the deadliest attack on France since World War II. French graphic designer, Jean Jullien's 'Peace for Paris' illustration became a world-wide symbol of unity in the wake of the event. Jullien's rough and simple brushstrokes, illustrating the Eiffel Tower inside a peace sign, were printed on t-shirts and flags, splattered across the press front pages, and shared across the internet by everyday social media and the world's celebrities alike. In total the image was retweeted more than 42,000 times.

The case of French political cartoons illustrates, quite literally, the thorny aspects of freedom of expression and its capacity to be both the fuel of hatred and the instrument of peace. Clearly this "children's" medium, is not one to be treated lightly after all. 

‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’? Paris’ Tumultuous Journey

Paris: City of Light, City of Love

The titles for Paris developed in our vernacular draw on the reputation enjoyed by the French capital as a melting-pot of culture, romance and beauty, for which the association of enlightenment in both the spiritual and tangible senses is entirely justified. However, as one looks more closely at this glittering European diamond, the cracks beneath the lustre begin to emerge. Shaken by indefensible terrorist attacks as recently as January 2015 and November 2015, the need for Parisian solidarity, freedom and equality is more important now than ever before, and yet, whilst peaceful, anti-terrorist demonstrations are evidence that such an attitude does exist, latent inequalities in terms of employment, housing and economic potential continue to lurk underneath the surface. So, what is the truth about Paris?

The Centre of Europe

As the capital of France since as early as 508 AD, Paris has had a turbulent coming-of-age. The focal point of its country’s own bloody revolution, it has alternately been both a shelter for conservative elements such as exiled Russian aristocrats in the early twentieth century, and a hub of forward-thinking political thought and intellectualism, currently boasting Anne Hidalgo as its mayor: a female politician with socialist views. It has therefore played out its role as the centre of France - and one of the most important centres of Europe - in a truly diverse manner. Its 12.3 million citizens’ flare for cultural innovation can be seen in its biannual Fashion Weeks, its art museums (the Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world) and renowned cuisine. In addition to this, the city is the financial heart of France, producing 30% of its total GDP. The significance that Paris holds is evinced by its twentieth century track record: a war front in World War One, an occupied victim in World War Two, and a key player in the anti-colonial struggle of the Algerian war for independence during the 1950s and 1960s.

A Diamond in the Rough

However, despite Paris’ position as an enlightened and economic centre, discontent is still rife among its socially conscious populace. A quick internet search for demonstrations in Paris will reveal multiple hits in the last month alone, with marchers pushing for change in various ways: supporting trade unions, calling for a greater response to climate change, attacking austerity measures and so on. These protests address both the bigger picture and the local situation in a tradition stemming from 1789’s major republican revolution. To mirror East-European demonstrations against the powers that be – albeit very different ones – in 1968, Parisian students and blue-collar workers also took to the streets to protest against capitalism and consumerism, resulting in a two-week general strike that nearly brought France to its knees. Indeed, the almost polar distribution of different social classes within Paris - the affluent centred around the west and the lower middle and working classes in the north - could help to explain these consistent rebellions against the status quo. For whilst the city of Paris is itself a gem, it is immediately encircled by an area unequal to its beauty: riskily constructed, unevenly distributed and sporadically deserted social housing in the ‘quartiers sensibles’ (sensitive quarters), wealth inequality that sees a quarter of the city’s populace living below the poverty line, rising unemployment, and homelessness statistics comprising 43% of the country’s total homeless population. Like many European capitals, Paris is a hotbed of inequality and social tension.

The Future

But unlike the population of many other European capitals, the Parisian population appears determined to do something about it, and its government – possibly partially coerced by popular movements – is taking steps to create a more unified city. An initiative started by ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy involves the creation of a new administrative body, aimed at strengthening ties between the city and its surrounding areas. The so-called Metropolis of Greater Paris formally came into existence on 1st January 2016 and is made up of 210 officials from the elected committees of member communes. Its focus will be to deal with problems and inequalities in housing, urban planning and the environment, and it is hoped that it will help to solidify the Paris area into a unified and thus even more influential entity. If such initiatives keep being devised, it remains hopeful that Paris will continue to grow and resist those who wish to smash the diamond.