Italy is in meltdown, Hungary in open revolt, and the US wants a trade war. Small wonder Europe’s leaders haven’t got much time for Brits.
By Daniel Boffey and cross-posted from The Guardian
There is a weariness to the coterie of diplomats and officials based in Brussels intimately involved in the negotiations over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European union. Privately they describe it as “Brexit fatigue”, the result of second-guessing a chaotic situation in Westminster for two years, and working through the summer in response to the demand from the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, for continuous negotiations. These officials from the 27 other EU member states were picked as the brightest and the best for the existential crisis of the time, but the hard truth for these ambitious men and women is that the crisis in question is no longer Brexit.
“You go to the capitals, you can see that, because no one talks about it any more,” said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the leading EU thinktank, the European Policy Centre. Speaking to his parliament on his return to Madrid from the recent leaders’ summit in Brussels, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, put it succinctly: “The British spend 24 hours a day thinking about Brexit and the Europeans think about it for four minutes every trimester.” While the UK’s chaotic withdrawal has become a dreary process to be managed, the EU is being dealt hammer blows from elsewhere – from crises that really could make or break the bloc, along with many diplomatic careers.
Foremost on the list of problem zones right now is Italy. “Nothing and nobody, no big or small letter will make us backtrack,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, and leader of the far-right League, told his followers in a Facebook video made in his office in Rome on Friday. “Italy will no longer be a slave and will no longer kneel down.”
Last month the European commission took the unprecedented and high-risk step of rejecting the draft budget of the third-biggest economy in the eurozone, in a move designed to force the country’s democratically elected government to rein in its spending.
With borrowing at 130% of gross domestic product, second only to Greece in the EU, Italy is said to be a danger to financial stability across Europe. Its government has been told to come up with a revised financial plan by 13 November, or face huge fines.
The potency of the Italian problem is that it perfectly encapsulates the central, and potentially fatal, issue that the European Union member states and Brussels have repeatedly failed to grapple with in any meaningful sense, either from political cowardice or lack of will…