‘Something Had To Give’

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European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One earlier today about the fallout of Brexit.

Unlike some of her colleagues, she was expecting the Leave side to win.

During the interview, she explained:

A lot of people here in Brussels were completely shocked and surprised by the result. I wasn’t that surprised. I was in the UK a few weeks ago and the atmosphere, to me, was much more Brexit-y if I could put it that way, rather than Remain. And I thought the narrative seemed to be going in a particular direction.

Those people that I spoke to, who might have been sort of on the sidelines or on the fence if you like, weren’t finding the arguments of the Remain people very convincing and I think they felt that, after years of the EU being blamed for virtually every ill that the UK was suffering that the people who are now urging them to Remain, they lacked credibility.

But also, mind you, closer to the actual day of the referendum and certainly in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox, I thought that that might change things and perhaps it changed the margin for the result but, obviously, ultimately it didn’t change things.

On the day of the referendum itself, putting my old political correspondent’s hat on, I noticed the turnout was very high and that generally means that people who are more excited or more involved, or more engaged on one particular side of the debate are more likely to vote and I judged that that would be people who wanted to leave the EU.

And also the weather was bad and, again people who aren’t that bothered to vote are likely to be swayed by that so, on that basis, I wasn’t really too surprised.

I think if you’re in Brussels for too long, I think a sense of dislocation happens and most people here, who work in the EU institutions obviously have skin in the game. And they’re not always looking completely rationally at the reasons why people vote in a particular way.

I know I’ve often said to my colleagues and I based it on our experience when the financial crash happened, and things changed so much and particularly I suppose for people who mightn’t have been expecting the outcome in terms of their incomes and so on and that would be the public servants and civil servants in Ireland and the degree to which their living standards plummeted and so on.

I said to my colleagues on a number of occasions, ‘don’t take anything for granted’, you know, ‘explore what’s happening in the UK, there is a possibility that the vote could go a particular way.

But I think because, when you come to Brussels, people get so wrapped up in the project, and some of them fall so much in love with the project that they find it incomprehensible that people, outside, the bubble might not be as in love with it either.

I think also there is a lack of awareness of the degree to which inequality still remains as a big issue, increasingly in many countries, including in the UK.

Of course the mistake is to blame the EU or what the EU does because very often it’s member state’s policies themselves, or globalisation generally that has created that.

But I think there is a lack of understanding and very often a lack of empathy for people who are on their uppers and who feel, certainly in some places in the UK, that they are competing for reduced public services with migrants – be they migrants from other EU countries or immigrants, people who are seeking asylum or refugee status in the UK.”

When I came here, people would talk about the second narrative. The first narrative sort of started in Auschwitz and ended with the creation of the EU if you like.

But that was a narrative for an older generation and I often make the point that young Irish women, like myself as I was in the 1970s, for my generation of young people but particularly young women, that the EU was a liberation for us because they brought in certain laws that made us more equal in the workplace and got rid of the ban on women, married women working in the workplace and so on and so forth.

So my experience and the experience of our generation, shall I say, was generally very positive. But that experience, if it isn’t being replicated among the young generations in eastern Europe, central Europe, even in the UK, then they’re going to become disillusioned with it.

But I thought it was interesting that one of the first meetings, in the flurry of meetings that have taken place all over Europe since last Thursday was one of the foreign ministers of the six founding countries of the EU and I think that was sort of sending out a signal perhaps, hinting at what you’re suggesting there that maybe the whole project has become a little bit strained that something has to happen, something has to give, a more modest union, a smaller union, whatever.

But that Brexit has been the key, perhaps, looking at it in the positive way, to reform that and is going to be positive and, you see, I’ve thought it so difficult now, when anybody mentions a Treaty change, a possible Treaty change, even over something trivial, everybody shivers because the idea that you would get 28 member states to agree on anything seems impossible. So you wonder how you can continue give that sort of strain on a process.

There’s always been a tussle here between the ever closer union people, the federalists and those who say, ‘look, let’s have a much narrower and less ambitious sort of, trading and humans rights and all of that, but let’s not try and strain this too far’ and that will continue.

But I think what we’re going to have over the next few months: a lot of politics has to happen on all sorts of levels before we can see what’s actually going to emerge at the end and no one can tell you definitively what that is.

You have the politics in the United Kingdom, the politics in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, we have our own skin in the game, very obviously and at the moment, Ireland is sort of like in a ‘torn between two lovers’ situation between the UK situation and membership of the European Union.

You also have the French presidential election next year, as you say, what’s happening in Germany, and all of that and then you have the general, ideological struggles or squabbles or whatever, political debate that goes on in relation to how Europe should develop.

But I had felt, personally, over the last while, since coming here, when you have the migration crisis and the financial crisis, you had Greece, you had this, you thought at some point, something had to give in order to rebuild, recast perhaps in a different way.

I made the point recently that, when people don’t understand, they feel stupid and when people feel stupid, the feel hostile towards those people who, inadvertently or otherwise, have made them feel stupid and so they resile and so they become much more isolated and I think the EU has an awful lot of work to do in relation to its transparency, its accountability, how it communicates with the 500 million citizens

Listen back to the interview in full here

Previously: Everything Must Change

Rollingnews

49 thoughts on “‘Something Had To Give’

  1. Cynic3000

    That Opel car ad is bloody awful. White conservative rich parents being replaced by their son and his fiance. Bulging with materialist aspirational messages for the blue collar Opel owner who wishes it was an Audi.

    1. Robert

      OnStar – big whup! Another managed service that will stop working in 6 months time when they get sick of forking out on opex …

  2. Observer

    But that experience, if it isn’t being replicated among the young generations in eastern Europe, central Europe, even in the UK, then they’re going to become disillusioned with it.

    In eastern and central Europe, and in the UK, support for the European project is higher among the younger demographics than the older ones.

    This is a nice talking point from Emily, but it is entirely rubbish and not supported by actual facts.

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      I agree, Robert. The article/interview is quite badly written, but does manage to highlight some salient points. I, myself, am not so foolish as to believe that I would not be seduced by the high pay, higher pension, fine dining, fine shopping way of life. I don’t want to appear as a begrudger but the facts are that that sort of lifestyle completely insulates a person from the struggles and the concerns of the average person. There is such a huge disconnect between the denizens of Xanadu, and the ordinary people of the entire European Union that their shock, however ridiculous, is somehow understandable. No matter how long the Europhiles here bang on about this great edifice, there actually IS a democratic deficit in that tens of millions of people are tied into agreements, the details of which were never outlined to them and upon which they have never voted – owing to their “representatives” being seduced in the way I have outlined above. No-one wants to be unpopular at the next cocktail party by espousing a contrary view. The solution has to be root and branch reform, otherwise disaster will inevitably follow.

  3. Formerly known as @ireland.com

    If Murdoch was publishing tabloids in Poland, they might vote to leave the EU, too.

    What I don’t understand is how these people can vote for Tory toffs, while being angry at the EU for not caring about them.

    1. Sido

      It’s not pride, it’s blatant racism of the Brexiter. I know this, because every closed comment on the Guardian says so today.

  4. munkifisht

    I think a fundamental problem with the EU is people simply don’t understand it. I’m living in the UK, and am very pro remain (fir obvious reasons) but I have far more awareness of how the Irish government works than I do the EU, and that’s because we were taught how the Irish government worked in school. I feel there’s a greater degree of engagement there, but we are way better even than the UK in communicating how that works. Europe needs better PR, they need better public engagement. Their level of detachment is asstounding. They need to tell people how they work and how they can engage with their MEP and with Brussels or this whole party’s going to end soon.

    1. The Real Jane

      But how can you force people to take in information that they’re not interested in knowing about? It doesn’t even take any real effort to seek out more details than the most obsessive would ever wish to know, but it’s much easier to say that they’re a bunch of unelected malign crooks who are trying to take over the world while they sit in ivory towers doing nothing.

      I personally think it’s a problem with people not behaving like responsible adults and taking some effort to understand some pretty elementary things about how the world works.

      1. f_lawless

        I’m curious about how you would describe the EU Commission. You know, the unelected body who retains exclusive rights on what legislation is presented to the EU Parliament and time and time again has refused to reform itself. The same commision, working with the ECB and the IMF who seem determined to send Greece to oblivion with their discredited austerity policies; who threatened the Irish goverment that “a bomb would go off” in Ireland if we refused to pay unsecured bond holders. Seems like criminal actions to me.

        1. The Real Jane

          Well I don’t know what you want me to say, really. Are you asking me a question about what the Commission is, what I think the Commission is or was that just a pretext to launch into your speech about the Commission?

          1. f_lawless

            @The Real Jane. I’m asking your opinion – ie. what you think the Commission is. (not sure what to make of the first part of your question – rather existentialist undertones!) while at the same time giving mine. Fairly standard in online discourse I would have thought.
            @Bob – therein lies the problem..it’s more layers of unaccountability giving only the facade of democracy which is now in crisis all over Europe – the ever increasing divide between elected officials and the will of EU citizens and the drift towards right-wing neoliberalism. Look at what happened here when Labour and FG got elected on a mandate of standing up to the EU. Once in power, it went in the bin. The only directly elected officials in the EU are the ones in the largely toothless Parliament.

          2. The Real Jane

            OK, the commission is essentially like the cabinet of the EU. One commissioner from each EU country, they propose legislation and enforce the treaties.

            Is this the answer you want? I’m not convinced you aren’t asking for some weird reason.

          3. f_lawless

            Jane in your original comment you dismissed all those who felt detached from and suspiciious of the EU as people who can’t be bothered to make the effort to “understand some pretty elementary things about how the world works”. I reject that idea and that’s why I asked you to describe how you see the EU Commission. The answer you given suggests to me either you’re very young/naive or you’re being deliberately coy. Either way I’m starting to feel there’s not much point in debating it with you!

        2. Bob

          Is that the EU commission that has a commissioner for each of the member states that’s elected by each of the member states? That unelected body?

        3. classter

          The Commission is the civil service.

          It is headed up by Commissioners which are like the Cabinet of Ministers, as Jane says.

          The difference is that the Commisioners are each appointed by a different EU country PM/President rather than all being appointed by the same PM/President as is the case with a cabinet.

      2. munkifisht

        Well that’s the point isn’t it. Make it interesting. Simplify it, make it accessible and interesting. Make kids learn about it in school alongside their sovereign government. Each country should be making bigger efforts in communicating what the EU is actually about, what we’re getting out of it, why we’re doing it, or the whole sorry show is going to end. The idiots got their way in the UK because they were bamboozled by Murdoch, we don’t want that to happen Europe wide.

        1. some old queen

          The ‘idiots’ otherwise known as the far right are on the march right across Europe and unless the EU moves quickly, which I doubt, what happened in Britain will happen again.

          I read questions by people who consider themselves intelligent like ‘how could the Leave vote come from the Labour heartlands?’ Christ on a bike. Every single time in history the working classes is EXCATLY where it comes from and nobody seems to be really asking why.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            “Every single time in history the working classes is EXACTLY where it comes from and nobody seems to be really asking why.”

            OK. So why are you blaming working class immigrants and not neoliberalism for the plight of the poor?

        2. LW

          I never covered how the Irish government works in school, I genuinely didn’t realise it was on the syllabus

  5. Andrew

    “I know I’ve often said to my colleagues and I based it on our experience when the financial crash happened, and things changed so much and particularly I suppose for people who mightn’t have been expecting the outcome in terms of their incomes and so on and that would be the public servants and civil servants in Ireland and the degree to which their living standards plummeted and so on.”

    This is incoherent.
    I assume she trying to say that those whose incomes rely on government tax receipts were in denial about our real economic position?
    Well that’s true and they’re still in denial.

  6. Kevin Quinn

    Emily is very smart and, in this piece I think, right about almost everything.

    This is the European Union’s third crisis in a row, and neither the various EU institutions nor the nation states who increasingly call all the shots seem to know or care.

    The first, obviously, was the disgraceful, anti-democratic behaviour of Merkel and her friend Dr Strangelove, that pig Dijsselbloem and the rest of them with regard to the financial crisis, where they bullied Greece, Ireland and Portugal solely to terrify France and Italy into toeing their ideological line and lock in their gains. This destroyed the euro as a reserve currency and has probably holed it below the waterline as a currency.

    The second was the collective abandonment of Italy and ‘Mare Nostra’, the subsequent ridiculous expressions of surprise when the Syrian situation blew up and dead kids started landing on the beaches of Greek islands, and Merkel’s unilateral invitation to a million Syrians to come to Germany. This destroyed Schengen and the free movement of people within the EU.

    This latest crisis very obviously has not xenophobia but income inequality and lack of social mobility at its roots, just as Trump’s support does in the US. And what is the reaction from our leaders? Either try to punish the Brits for their decision, or process it all entirely through short-term, national interests.

    That’s great, lads. I hope it stays fine for you, but I fear we are looking at another recession, and Christ alone knows what rough beast, its hour come around again, stumbles toward Bethlehem to be born (if it isn’t shot by the IDF, of course).

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “This latest crisis very obviously has not xenophobia but income inequality and lack of social mobility at its roots”

      There’s a regular right here on Broadsheet who blames immigrants for low wages.

      1. some old queen

        If you are referring to myself Moyest then let me point the very obvious to you.

        No. 3 Reason as cited by the BBC. Farage makes immigration the defining issue

        If they didn’t quite bet the farm on the issue of immigration, Leave played what they knew was their trump card often and they played it successfully.

        The issue fed into wider questions of national and cultural identity, which suited Leave’s message – particularly to lower income voters.

        The result suggested that concerns about levels of migration into the UK over the past 10 years, their impact on society, and what might happen in the next 20 years were more widely felt and ran even deeper than people had suspected.

        Just as crucially, it suggested Leave’s central argument that the UK cannot control the number of people coming into the country while remaining in the EU really hit home.

        Turkey was a key weapon in Leave’s armoury and, although claims that the UK would not be able to stop it entering the EU were firmly denied, there was enough uncertainty about this – a fact that the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe unquestionably fed into.

        http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36574526

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          “No. 3 Reason as cited by the BBC. Farage makes immigration the defining issue”

          That doesn’t make it a valid issue. The people of Salem used to have a problem with witches.

          “Just as crucially, it suggested Leave’s central argument that the UK cannot control the number of people coming into the country while remaining in the EU really hit home.”

          Of course it did. As someone who has issues with immigration though, I’m not sure what your point is. That the issue of immigration is valid because it “hit home” or that it became an issue because opportunistic politicians knew they could exploit people’s fears?

          1. some old queen

            As someone who has issues with immigration.

            You mean me? Bitchy much. Try playing the ball not the man. I have issues with the exploitation of people yes, which is the core purpose of EU labour migration. That is a left not right wing view. As for the Leave vote, if people did not have those fears then they would have been exploited by UKIP in the first place and Labour should have been able to step up to the plate and allay them.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            “You mean me? Bitchy much.”

            Bitchy? Saying you’ve “issues with immigration” is “bitchy”? ‘Ridiculously over sensitive much?’

            “Try playing the ball not the man.”

            The “ball” is people’s motivation for voting leave. You have expressed some solidarity with leave voters and said you understood why immigration is an issue for them. Your “issues with immigration” *are* the ball.

            “I have issues with the exploitation of people yes,”

            Previously you said immigrants were to blame for working class British people having low wages. When I explained that immigrants weren’t to blame for that, you then said it was a bad idea when governments ‘don’t know how many immigrants there are’. You were pressed on how widespread exploitation is today in order to judge what effect it has on the wages of British citizens. Now you’re saying it’s about exploitation in itself.

            “That is a left not right wing view.”

            Concern about mistreatment of immigrants is obviously not a left v right issue. Being concerned about their mere presence in the country very much is a right wing concern when you consider they represent a net gain on our tax base and are less likely to claim benefits and commit crimes and are educated to a higher standard than citizens.

            “if people did not have those fears then they would have been exploited by UKIP in the first place and Labour should have been able to step up to the plate and allay them.”

            OK. And if I ran for mayor of Salem a few centuries ago on a ‘Get Rid of All Witches’ ticket, I’d have won. If I ran for governor of alabama on a ‘Get rid of the blacks’ ticket in the first half of the 20th century, I’d have done well. All you’re doing is pointing out that fear of immigrants exists. To what end, I don’t know.

          3. some old queen

            No deviation from the group think will be tolerated. ALL Leave votes were Racist. We are not allowed to mention emigration. This is exactly why the rise of UKIP continues and believe me, I am no supporter of those people but, I also understand why others are swallowing such easy answers to complex questions.

            Nitpick all you want but immigration fears, founded or not, were a primary force in the Leave vote. Even the BBC says so and just this evening, Channel Four interviewed people in a steel town in Wales where the Unions and Labour argued strongly in favour as it would harm their livelihoods. And still, 57% voted Leave.

            If you don’t like my rationale than YOU tell ME Einstein, why did that happen?

            Otherwise just go away and stop questioning my motives.

          4. MoyestWithExcitement

            “No deviation from the group think will be tolerated. ALL Leave votes were Racist.”

            OK. Nobody said that but ok.

            “We are not allowed to mention emigration.”

            Right, so because I’m questioning your opinion on emigration, you are interpreting it as an attack for simply having an opinion. You are crying ‘victim’ instead of engaging in discussion.

            “This is exactly why the rise of UKIP”

            I, in a pretty civil manner, ask you about your opinions on immigration and instead of engaging, you get defensive and act like I’m trying to stop you from speaking. Overly defensive people with an inferiority complex probably do have something to with the rise of UKIP alright.

            “Nitpick all you want but immigration fears, founded or not, were a primary force in the Leave vote.”

            Again, it’s accepted pretty much everywhere that immigration fears were a force. I still don’t know what point you’re trying to make in pointing this out.

            The question here is WHY is immigration a problem for these people. You, as a sympathiser, might be able to offer some insight but all you’ve done is tell me you have a right to your opinion and that other people have your opinion.

          5. some old queen

            A sympathiser meaning them and us so. It doesn’t work like that, at least not in my world.

            If in Ireland, most who voted to Leave would not be posting on sites like this. I am paraphrasing but Emily is right about people who work in the EU living in their own bubble, a bit like some who post on Broadsheet.

            I am very uncomfortable with the dismissal of over 50% of the UK population as being stupid by people who are too lazy to question their own mindset, let alone the reasons why Brexit happened.

            I also hope that Corbyn hangs on in there as he is the best thing to happen to British politics in a very long time.

          6. Deluded

            Brexit happened, some old queen, by selling a notion of British exceptionalism and a return to days of glory.
            No details, no plans, blame the immigrants.
            You can follow the links on this page to share their vision:
            http://leave.eu
            I found it most enlightening.

          7. some old queen

            @ Deluded. I have read all that. The most interesting thing was the division between Tory leave.eu and UKIP. Farage has been complaining about how UKIP were excluded from the leave.eu campaign. None of it explains why working class areas in England and Wales voted to leave of course.

            I expect there was an Irish Water type scenario where it became a lightening rod for every political grievance under the sun.

          8. MoyestWithExcitement

            “If in Ireland, most who voted to Leave would not be posting on sites like this. I am paraphrasing but Emily is right about people who work in the EU living in their own bubble, a bit like some who post on Broadsheet.

            I am very uncomfortable with the dismissal of over 50% of the UK population as being stupid”

            You’re uncomfortable with half of Britain being labelled stupid. OK. Saying they’re wrong is not the same as saying they’re stupid. Also, while we’re talking about making generalisations about leave voters, why, in your opinion, would most of them both read Broadsheet if they were Irish?

          9. Deluded

            Hi some old queen, I guess I come across as a bit testy when in fact I want to be brief, concise and not necessarily terse.
            I think the kind of rich people who will reap rewards from tearing up the rule book have used Farage to swing the numbers their way.
            Farage is no longer needed.
            The US are their biggest trading partners, the UK is in NATO and the US provides arms, technology and, of course, the nuclear deterrent.
            This is from the billionaire funded Cato Institute in the US: http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/5-myths-about-brexit-debunked
            I’m not here to slag of the poor and unfortunate who have shot themselves in the foot but I wonder at the motives of the people who bankrolled Farage and, I believe, have rid themselves of regulations and oversight.

          10. some old queen

            Tnx Deluded

            Emma is looking downwards and I was looking upwards but a few points I definitely agree with.

            a wave of new referenda as the populations in states like France, Greece, the Netherlands and Italy demand their chance to vote on EU membership.

            Brexit is likely to happen, but it may not happen as fast as we think, or take the form we might expect.

            territorial disputes in Northern Ireland and in Gibraltar may escalate

          11. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

            @ Deluded:

            Some old people are deluded. You are NOT deluded, Deluded.
            I agree with you in most respects, but maybe in a more cynical manner. I’d rather not elaborate on it.

            I love how NOBODY knows what to do, and I think I’m under NO delusion when I say it’s not going to be funny…
            -But you still have to laugh. It’s the Brits…it’s going to get funnier as it progresses…

          12. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

            I’m waiting for someone to pull me up over saying ‘ it’s not going to be funny…’, then following that up with …’it’s going to get funnier as it progresses’…

            Actually, you know what?
            -It doesn’t matter.

          13. Deluded

            I agree. Instead of reform or a greater engagement we are looking at people rejecting the whole project and returning to the worst of tribal hostilities.
            This is a graph of voter participation* in the UK.
            http://www.ukpolitical.info/european-parliament-election-turnout.htm
            … I posted it earlier as it concerns me given some of the misinformation and the echoing of Brexit sentiment I have heard here in Ireland over the last few days.

            *EU elections have a similar turnout in Ireland. We have 11 MEPs including 3 Sinn Féin and 3 independents – I would argue that socialists/workers have a better representation in Europe than in the Dáil. I don’t understand the desire to tear it all up- I think we have made a lot of progress from the time we had a Fianna Fáil majority government here with a dominant Fine Gael opposition.

    2. hex

      Bit of sloppy hyperbole at play there.
      The euro isn’t destroyed, and continues to work just fine (including as the second largest reserve currency – as before the Greek crisis)
      Mare Rostra wouldn’t have helped any Syrian kids washing up on Greek beaches, as it was based entirely in the Med.
      There’s continued free movement within the EU – despite the mooted Austrian border controls, which have come to nothing so far.
      Xenophobia has clearly been a serious root cause of Brexit (and Trump’s support)- as articulated very clearly by many in those camps.

  7. Tish Mahorey

    The thickos voted for Brexit. The idiots who never normally vote at all and complain that noting ever changes.

    They’d rather vote in an X-Factor final 100 times for their favourite idiot, not realising each time they vote it costs them.

    Too many stupids around these days.

    1. Sido

      Britain is essentially a country of two sorts of people, in the capital, London, you have a sophisticated, enlightened metropolitan elite, who know what’s best for the country. And outside of the capital you have a bunch of thick bigoted culchies, who shouldn’t be allowed to vote, they’re so stupid. I can’t think of another country like it in Europe.

      1. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

        Ah c’mon Sido, it isn’t as black and white as that, although in a different context it’s as black and white as a Harold Lloyd movie…but I digress.

        There are plenty of people outside the capital who are intelligent. They just didn’t vote because it was raining…
        …hang on a minute…

  8. Mulder

    Just how do ye communicate with 500 million people in a language they understand.
    History repeats.

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