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‘Three weeks to find a miracle’: Europe reacts to yet more Brexit chaos

From Madrid to Rome, via Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague, the headlines across Europe summed up the feeling of despair with the Brexit process with Le Monde calling it a "Shakespearean tragedy".

'Three weeks to find a miracle': Europe reacts to yet more Brexit chaos
File photo: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP.

As the EU Council granted the British government a three week respite to get the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement approved by British MPs, headlines in EU news sites did not stack their odds on this happening.

“Theresa May's last chance: She has just under three weeks to find herself a miracle,” wrote Antonello Guerrera in a commentary piece in Rome-based daily Repubblica. 

French daily Le Monde wrote that Brexit was causing “a regime crisis” in the UK. The Paris-based daily compared the Brexit saga to a “Shakespearean tragedy.” Le Figaro daily called the EU's Brexit extension, which comes with the caveat that the UK must approve the Withdrawal Agreement, “a formidable trap” set by the EU27. 

Le Monde did however find time to pay tribute to the way the British were reacting to the crisis – with the self-deprecating humour they are known for.

“Confronted with an absurd political spectacle, they cling to their local specialty, black humour,” wrote Le Monde.

German media were equally drama-orientated. “The EU takes directorial control in Brexit drama,” was the headline in German online news site Spiegel Online. Munich-based daily Süddeutshce Zeitung ran with a more a conciliatory tone with its headline “Brexit chaos initially averted.”

'History will judge'

The daily noted new optimism from key EU figures that the deal could still be approved by the UK parliament: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it “was an intense but successful evening”;  EU Council President Tusk said he “optimistic” and Eu Commission President Juncker was cited as “hopeful” that the deal could still pass through the House of Commons, according to the daily. 

The general consensus in the German media was that the brief extension to Article 50 granted by the EU would only defer any Brexit chaos. “The EU gives Britain a reprieve and thus defuses the Brexit crisis – for the time being,” commented German news portal Handelsblatt. 

The view from Spain wasn't dissimilar. Spanish daily El Pais ran with the view of the Iberian country's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. “We are at a critical moment in the construction of Europe. History will judge what will happen in the coming weeks,” PM Sanchez told the Madrid-based daily. 

El Pais also noted that whatever mess comes, there will be enough toilet paper in the UK to clean up, reporting that German firm WEPA – a key supplier to the UK market – has stockpiled 600 tonnes of toilet paper at its UK warehouses in preparation for a no-deal. 

'A storm is coming'

“The prime minister has invested almost all her political prestige in guaranteeing the outcome of the referendum, and sail Brexit into harbour. The problem is that the British ship is not in port, but in the middle of the sea. And there's a storm coming,” wrote Erik de la Reguera in an analysis piece in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. 

READ ALSO: Sweden fast-tracks citizenship applications from Brits

“The future of Brexit lies in the hands of 10 Northern Irish people,” wrote Spanish-daily El Confidencial in an analysis piece, focusing on how Theresa May will need DUP votes to approve the deal at a third time of asking. 

“Think of the future of your country. Approve this deal,” said the Czech Republic's billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, addressing British MPs, according to a report in Czech broadsheet Hospodarske Noviny. 

“EU gives the British two extra weeks to get out of Brexit chaos,” wrote Dutch financial news site Het Financieelle Dagblad. 

READ ALSO: Cancel Brexit petition passes TWO MILLION signatures

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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