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BREXIT

France and Germany ‘not on same page’ over Brexit, admits Macron

French president Emmanuel Macron has admitted differences with Germany over Brexit.

France and Germany 'not on same page' over Brexit, admits Macron
Macron and Merkel are close politically, but have had their differences. Photo: AFP

Macron told reporters that he and German chancellor Angela Merkel were “on Brexit, not completely on the same page”.

But he added that  “fruitful confrontations” and compromises were part of ties between their two countries.

The frank admission of splits in the Franco-German couple was rare from Macron who has sought to build a close relationship with Merkel to launch an ambitious reform programme for the EU.

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A serious Macron at Thursday night's press conference. Photo: AFP

But Merkel has pushed back on many of Macron's proposals and the duo were publicly at odds in Brussels last week over how to handle Britain's departure from the European Union.

Merkel favoured granting London a long extension, while Macron argued for a short one, which would have increased the chances of Britain crashing out without a deal.

The 27 remaining members of the EU ultimately compromised, granting an extension until October 31.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Thursday, Macron also admitted to splits with Germany over energy policy and trade talks.

“On our ambitions for the climate and in energy, we are not completely on the same page,” said Macron.

Macron said the “culture of compromise… should not stop us from affirming a French position when there is one, and like in all couples, in every 
project, from accepting disagreements.”

The dialogue between the two nations required “sometimes accepting fruitful confrontations, but always with the desire to ultimately find a compromise.”

On trade policy, Macron referred to what he described as the “incoherent” decision to begin EU trade talks with the United States.

The trade talks were backed by Merkel and most EU countries, but opposed by France on the grounds that the United States had failed to join global efforts to fight climate change.

The EU's 28 member states had struggled for months to agree to open trade talks, with some including Germany fearing a delay could start a trade war with US President Donald Trump.

Macron has argued that the US must first sign up to the Paris climate accord to cap global emissions, which Trump dumped in 2017. 

And he favours a tax on imports coming into the EU from countries that have not signed the pact, which analysts believe could deepen tensions with Washington.

France and Germany are also at odds over economic policy.

Merkel has resisted Macron's call for a large shared budget for members of the eurozone which would finance infrastructure and other investments in weak members of the currency area.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire urged Berlin on April 12 to increase its public spending last week to compensate for an economic slowdown which risks hitting the whole of Europe.

“Countries with solid budgets must invest more. Those with the means shouldn't hoard money for years and years, allowing growth to deteriorate,” he told an audience in Washington.

Germany has insisted it will not borrow money to spend its way out of the downturn.

Despite the recent disagreements, Macron insisted that he had made progress with Merkel, citing progress in joint European defence cooperation and a modest new budget for the eurozone.

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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