segunda-feira, 20 de junho de 2016
For Eurocrats, nothing left to do but pray
For Eurocrats, nothing left to do but pray
Fear and hoping in Brussels as Brexit vote approaches.
By MAÏA DE LA BAUME , TARA PALMERI and RYAN HEATH 6/21/16, 5:30 AM CET
As Britain counts down to a Brexit decision, Brussels is holding its breath.
Eurocrats in the main EU institutions say they are riding a swirl of emotions ahead of Thursday’s U.K. referendum — a vote whose outcome is far from certain and one in which most of them cannot take part, but whose fallout could have historic ramifications for what is known here as the “European project.”
While many officials would not agree to be quoted by name — standard marching orders for EU civil servants, made even stricter on this most sensitive of political issues — they reported feeling everything from anxiety over the what the result could mean for Europe, to concern about the ugly turn the debate seemed to have taken in recent weeks, to occasional flashes of optimism that Britain would choose to stay in the bloc.
But one emotion that may be a common thread in Brussels is a feeling of helplessness — the sense that there’s no way for Eurocrats to influence a fate that is out of their hands.
“They’re very nervous,” said one senior diplomat who described a general mood of powerlessness at a meeting this month of European Commission and Council aides planning for a Brexit. “They feel there’s nothing they can do. They say they will just have to wait until Friday.”
Commission officials have been under orders to remain silent on the question for months, and EU political leaders have tried — not always successfully — to temper their remarks to avoid being seen as butting into an internal British debate.
“I’m not a believer, but all you can do is pray at this point” — former EU prime minister
But even if many officials in Brussels say they have secretly prayed for the U.K to remain in the bloc, others adopted a more blasé approach, saying the EU would survive a Brexit and insisting that it would not be the Brussels bubble version of the end of the world.
“The stakes for my country are higher than at any time in my life so clearly everyone is watching very closely,” said one senior Commission official, a Briton. “But I really don’t know any seasoned officials who do anxiety.”
The official added: “Stiff upper lip, prayer, but not anguish.”
Other upper lips in Brussels were not so stiff. Some said their feelings were more in line with the dire assessment given last week by European Council President Donald Tusk, who claimed to speak for the EU when he said it was “very difficult for us to be optimistic” about the coming vote.
One former EU prime minister, who did not want to be named, struck a similar tone Friday, telling POLITICO with a gesture towards the heavens, “I’m not a believer, but all you can do is pray at this point.”
Other officials expressed frustration and even anger at the process and the politics that had led to a crisis moment for the EU. Chris Kendall, a political counselor for strategy and communications at the European External Action Service, tweeted that he was “hugely f*cking pissed off” at “the whole awful business and where it has brought us.”
Much of that outrage transitioned late last week to sadness and grim determination after the murder of British MP Jo Cox, who was killed as she was campaigning for the U.K. to stay in the EU. Before winning a seat in the British House of Commons, Cox had worked in Brussels for Oxfam and as a European Parliament aide.
Cox’s death “should open people’s eyes,” said Gianni Pittella, president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament. “It shows that there is an almost exaggerated propaganda in favor of xenophobic nationalism.”
The news of her killing sent shockwaves through Brussels as much as it did through Britain, even if some officials and politicians said the tragedy may have shifted the balance in the Brexit debate, which through last week had seen a surge in support for the Leave side.
Said an EU diplomat, “Until the shooting I expected Leave to win narrowly. This murder probably changes the balance.”
John Billow, a Swedish diplomat, compared Cox’s death to the murder of Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh, who was assassinated in 2003 in the middle of a referendum campaign on whether the country would join the euro single currency.
“Voters chose then to stick with the status quo,” Billow said, even if they voted against the wishes of Lindh by rejecting the euro.
“We all know it will be a very close race” — David McAllister, German MEP
Over the last several days, Commission staff members acknowledged that the tension in their Brussels corridors was higher than usual. Some said they had been working the last two weekends in order to prepare for possible outcomes.
The mood was similarly tense in the European Parliament.
“I feel apprehensive,” said Richard Corbett, a British MEP in the Socialists & Democrats group, who also expressed frustration about the way the political discussion had played itself out in the final days of the campaign. “The media has focused on internal debates inside the Conservative party so it was difficult for other parties to get their message across.”
German MEP David McAllister, a half-Scottish, half-German member the center-right European People’s Party, said he planned to travel to the U.K ahead of the vote to be part of the historic moment.
“Everyone in Brussels who is interested in the future of the European Union will be not be sleeping from Thursday to Friday night,” McAllister said. “We all know it will be a very close race and I believe it has a lot to do with turnout, the higher the turnout the better for remaining.”
There were some who tried to pre-spin a possible Brexit as No Big Deal — insisting that the EU would survive just fine without Britain. A U.K. departure, they said, would allow the rest of the countries in the bloc to get on with their lives.
“The European Economic Community existed without the U.K so the EU could do it, too,” said a senior European Parliament official, who offered a way forward that struck all the right Eurocrat tones: “If need be, we could re-establish a framework of bilateral relations, as we do with many other partners.”