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Close partner or a foreign fringe?

by asma
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It is getting ever harder to make proper sense of what is going on in the western world today. Headlines talk of the need for unity. The tragedy in Ukraine is clear enough but disparities in the reaction to it are like fissures in a broken pane of glass.

As Britain’s former army commander General Sir Nick Parker stated about Ukraine this week: “NATO has been defeated”. He cited disagreements among NATO members and suggested that a smaller coalition of nations was required. A clear reference to disagreements between EU member states.

One thing that is a constant are the consequences of Brexit. The European Union has a hostile position where the UK is concerned and, to be objective, the British are not exactly helping the situation.

Yesterday I drove past mile after mile of parked lorries waiting to get to Dover ferry port. The root of the problem is the decision of P&O to sack longstanding staff and employ cheap labour from the EU on less than the British minimum wage.

Lorries Folkestone

One explanation given for their decision is that competitors already keep their costs down by doing just that.

That Britain has higher minimum wage standards than some EU countries raises some interesting questions. That the difference is causing major disruption to trade also has serious implications for the EU.

A British potato firm is making headline news and one reason is that it has “lost its market because it can no longer send seed potatoes for planting to the EU”. A host of other similar news stories are a daily media grind in Britain.

That the EU is split on how to help Ukraine and on sanctions against Russia is almost the daily bore. The same applies to yesterday’s talks with China. EU unity is hard to identify in any sphere of influence.

An interesting debate organised and broadcast on Thursday by the BBC out of a technical university in Poland and featuring politicians from European countries, notably Finland and Sweden, highlighted the need for NATO unity.

The participants ruled out the specific issue of an alternative EU defence force preferring NATO solidarity because it includes America. The UK was not mentioned but included by implication. Speakers also rejected “nationalist alternatives” which appeared to rule out French enthusiasm for the idea.

The latest headlines are focusing on Vladimir Putin’s demands that oil and gas should be paid for in roubles. That countries are still buying oil and gas from Russia is deplorable, something President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated repeatedly.

As one excellent report on a Brussels based news service stated yesterday Germany’s “Wundel durch Handel” or “change through trade” policy lies in tatters. Apparently Berlin is only now realising that its trade with Russia and China has not brought about change but merely made Germany more vulnerable and blind to risks. They now face an energy dilemma.

That the EU is not united absolutely on sanctions against Russia nor on trade with China is, to put it mildly, catastrophic.

Brexit remains an undercurrent beneath the news. That the UK was refused a free trade deal is recent history but should not be forgotten. The decision to leave most certainly put noses out of joint. Politicians and EU officials sneered to the media and took the view that Britain was getting its just desserts. Businesses in the EU have been paid millions in compensation for loss of trade due to border tariffs. But that was before the invasion of Ukraine.

Much has been said in the past week about needing the military support of the United States. Never a truer point has been made. But, the BBC question and answer session I refer to emphasised another truism that so far as I am aware was not mentioned directly. Needing the UK was not directly and elsewhere is seldom, if ever, mentioned.

Britain is currently perhaps the most powerful military power in NATO after the USA. Right now the EU needs the UK on side and closely cooperating. France is a nuclear power and may almost rank alongside the UK militarily so it is diplomatic to say that the EU needs both.

Now, costs of fuel are rocketing across Europe and are causing outrage in the UK. The costs of Brexit, in terms of lost trade and higher prices for goods, are aggravating the economic crisis in Britain. One answer to the problem could, theoretically, be to cut defence spending.

There is no suggestion here that there is any likelihood of that happening. But the EU might want to start considering the possibility. After all the greatest scandal so far is that no-one appears to have foreseen Putin’s attempted takeover of Ukraine.

On the question of Britain weakening its defence a common saying might be appropriate: “stranger things have happened”. So the EU should perhaps be considering partnering Britain in a new trade arrangement to bolster public opinion for the UK’s costly defence partnership. They should ask: “Is Britain a close partner or a foreign fringe”?

——————- Dateline: The Corner Cafe. Deal, Kent. ——————–

Chris White photo: Paulo Miretti.


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