I hope that this ‘goodbye’ means that I have finally reached the end of the very, one might say excessively, long list of works dealing with Brexit. Most of the English voted to leave us. The Scottish wanted to remain and have just demonstrated this once again by celebrating Italy’s victory at Wembley. Will they manage to break away from England to return to us? Nobody knows, but I feel that it would be an interesting epilogue to this ridiculous saga, in which personal ambition has rubbed shoulders with national myths, shameless lies, economic precariousness, various fears and unadulterated ludicrousness. The European Union and the United Kingdom are both weakened by it. It is a sad state of affairs, but it is time to get on with the future.
Over the last three years, Kiosque has reviewed many works, in both English and French, on Brexit, which at least has the merit of inspiring literature in all its forms. Following the recent book by the European negotiator, Michel Barnier, it would have been difficult not to mention this one by Sylvie Bermann, who had a ringside seat for the shock of the referendum. The French diplomat and former representative to the political and security committee in Brussels has served as the French ambassador to London since 2014 and is therefore in a position to offer an insight into daily life and the political world of Great Britain. Although it cannot avoid relaying facts that have been reported on at great length elsewhere, this work has the merit of unpicking both the way the British institutions work and the personal interactions between the principal political players. The recital of events alternates with a sketch of portraits, from Cameron to Corbyn, Farage to Bojo, but humour is never far away and Bermann unhesitatingly invokes Alice in Wonderland and the Asterix series in an essay full of personal memories and anecdotes.
Although Brexit is predominantly the result of a long litany of lies, of which Boris Johnson has always been one of the principal propagators, myths also have their share in it, starting with the constant references to the special relationship the United States is itching to get into with the United Kingdom, much to the amusement of the Americans. “Obama’s adviser, Jeremy Shapiro, even said that for the US, it’s not a hugely relevant notion: senior American politicians always make sure that they use the expression in press conferences in which the British were represented, but laugh up their sleeves at them. Donald Trump had just as cynical a vision of it, even though he referred to it from time to time, as much to annoy the Europeans and the Remainders he detests as to please his populist buddy Boris Johnson when promising him an ultra-rapid free-trade agreement, even though its terms would not have been favourable to the British future the balance of power”, Bermann notes (our translation throughout).
And then that brilliant catch-all slogan: ‘Take back control’. “Control of what, how? It doesn’t matter”, she writes, going on to state that “everybody took it to mean what they wanted it to. Control of their lives, which they have lost to immigrants accused of taking their jobs, their beds in hospitals and their children’s places in schools, and rejection of a globalisation they don’t understand, which they think is responsible for this feeling of dispossession and disenfranchisement; control of their cities, where too many shop signs and advertising banners are in foreign languages, like the extremely English town of Rugby, where a population of more than 60% Polish has pushed tolerances to their limits; control of their country, which they believe has been enslaved by unelected European civil servants. A dream of retracing their steps to return to the country of their youth or that of their parents. The world of yesterday, basically. As the Beatles once sang: ‘I believe in yesterday…’”.
With the result of a more impoverished United Kingdom which, notwithstanding the ravages of the public health pandemic, will have to pay the bill for Brexit, estimated by Bloomberg at more than 200 billion pounds sterling – very nearly as much as the country’s total contribution to the European budget since it joined in 1973. A United Kingdom that dreams of “Global Britain”, yet “bilateral trade with the Republic of Ireland is greater than that with China” and the only trade deals it has managed to negotiate so far are “simple cut-and-pastes” of those concluded by the EU with the same countries, notably Japan. “All of that, for that?”, asks Bermann, who goes on to observe that “pro-European sentiment has grown in the UK” and that a “survey carried out in autumn 2020 showed that a clear majority of 60% were in favour of the European Union”. Even so, that is only a survey and it changes nothing about the brutal reality of a divorce that has forced both parties to learn to live without each other. How? By forging new cooperation links, according to the author, who hopes that the “once the resentment and bitterness of the divorce have abated on both sides, it will be in London’s interest as well as that of the European capitals to build a multi-dimensional and mutually beneficial partnership”. (Olivier Jehin)
Sylvie Bermann. Goodbye Britannia – Le Royaume-Uni au défi du Brexit (available in French only. Stock. ISBN: 978-2-234- 08449-0. 260 pages. €19,50
La réussite de l’Europe
“Europe can become an example to the world”, Domenico Rossetti di Valdalbero writes in this resolutely optimistic book. To do so, the author, who works for DG Research of the European Commission, explains, “it must show that an intelligent management of the third or even the fourth age is beneficial to the economy and society” (our translation throughout). He goes on to state that “it must succeed in making use of its critical mass of researchers working at the level of the continent rather than 27 small systems and attract talent from the rest of the world by becoming a global ‘hub’ of knowledge. The European Union must benefit from its secular history of urban development in terms of tourism, but also land management, public transport and living spaces, all best practices that can be usefully exported. Europe and, in particular, the Europeans must realise that their individual behaviour can change the way things are in terms of energy and the environment, particularly in the transport and construction sectors”.
“The world is changing apace. Taken separately, the small and isolated European states are condemned to decline, now or in the very near future. Europe, which has freedom and equality in its very soil, which is strong and united, certain of its identity and confident, can face the challenge of the coming decades”, the author notes. He considers that there are five challenges awaiting the Europeans: “not to heed the siren calls of rampant individualism”, to assume a de facto solidarity, to continue to promote economic and social cohesion and smart, inclusive and sustainable growth; to favour innovation and technological development; - to rethink the services economy in the light of individual empowerment and the sharing economy; - to reduce social inequality; - continue ecological efforts and the development of the circular economy.
Research is clearly critical in this, also Europe’s strategic autonomy and security, the author stresses. Despite an array of framework programmes, research is still overly fragmented. It must receive better support, even though the management of this European policy by the Commission and the member states is, in my view, still far too bureaucratic. Rossetti di Valdalbero loses no time in reiterating the European paradox: “Europe produces 30% of all scientific publications (the world’s second-largest scientific power), but has a chronic commercial deficit (between 10 and 20 billion euros a year) for high-tech products. Despite its excellence at scientific level, the EU fails to transform this asset into technological and industrial output”.
“Without a proper European government and having to juggle too many dossiers at the same time (economic recovery, terrorism, migration), the EU is not capable of reassuring its citizens”, the author argues, adding: “today, Europe needs to focus on a major European project and clearly show its leadership. Why, for example, does the EU not tackle public health or energy? The context and timing are in its favour: pandemic, climate change and security matters”.
These snippets I have selected give only a very vague impression of the huge number of ideas set out in this book, which is a source of inspiration to anyone wishing Europe to succeed. (OJ)
Domenico Rossetti di Valdalbero, La réussite de l’Europe (available in French only). L’Harmattan. ISBN: 978-2-343-22496-1. 212 pages. €21,50.
Courts in Evolving Societies
This work, the fruit of a research programme and a conference (held in Beijing in May 2018) between the universities of Bergen (Norway), Renmin, Beijing (China) and Bielefeld (Germany), offers points of comparison between different legal systems which often face similar problems. It brings together contributions from academics and other contributors on the basis of questionnaires sent to judges in China and various European countries.
In it, Prof Ragna Aarli (University of Bergen) presents a highly complex Chinese legal system, which is tending to grow even more complex in the context of the ongoing economic and technological development being experienced by China. One of the major areas of reform of the system has in recent years been adapting it to the new requirements and disputes linked to the economy, particularly the information society. Since 2017, China has set up new online courts to handle cases concerning breaches of the rights of individuals or property rights on the Internet.
Although the people’s courts, the frontline of the Chinese legal system, play an important role in tackling corruption, judges and courts suffer from the problem of legitimacy, Aarli explains, referring to the criticisms they encounter in public over the inefficacy of the court services and judicial corruption.
Chinese judicial system is also under pressure from the continuous increase in the number of cases to be heard. Weidong Chen (Renmin Law School) analyses the explosion of the number of lawsuits in China, pointing out that the curve of trials is consistently growing exponentially with economic and social development. The number of cases heard at first instance in the people’s courts was 447,755 in 1978, following the cultural revolution, and has increased fiftyfold to 22,601,567 cases in 2017.
Anne Sanders (University of Bielefeld) and former judge Reinhard Gaier present the German legal system as modified by the reform of 2002 and stress that despite its good reputation and general inefficiency, it is facing one major challenge: adapting procedures to communication technologies and allowing courts to make efficient use of these technologies.
The work also refers to the situation in Slovenia, where the legal system is perceived negatively by the general public, Switzerland and England & Wales. It is worth noting that an article by Vanessa Hellmann (University of Bielefeld) provides a brilliant and highly amusing presentation of the interactions between the German constitutional court, the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights as a “love triangle”. (OJ)
Ragna Aarli and Anne Sanders (edited by). Courts in Evolving Societies – Sino-European Dialogue between Judges and Academics. Brill/Nijhoff. ISBN: 978-90-04-43815-6. 238 pages. €159,00
Utilisation des drones armés par des États de l’UE
In this high-power analysis note, Solène Jomier pulls off the feat of on the one hand acknowledging that the introduction of the use of weaponised drones in certain European armies is a fait accompli for the institutions of the European Union (and for good reason: there is not yet a European procedure to approve national acquisition policies) and, on the other, deducing from the support to technological developments in this field and the Eurodrone project (MALE bone involving Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo) that there is tacit acceptance of the operational use of these platforms. Only the European Parliament, which Jomier refers to as the “legislative body of the EU”, despite its being only a co-legislator (with a tiny amount of leeway in the field of defence), attracted praise from the author for its repeated calls in favour of a common policy for drones and its warnings against their proliferation. Her conclusion is that the “EU is actively involved in bringing about a more volatile international security environment that is more uncertain and swifter to resort to lethal force”. My goodness – on which planet is that happening?? (OJ)
Solène Jomier. Utilisation des drones armés par des États de l’UE : enjeux politiques, juridiques et éthiques (available in French only). GRIP analysis note, 19 May 2021. The notes may be downloaded free of charge from the website.grip.org