Balearic MEP Rosa Estaràs.


Rosa Estaràs is a former vice-president of the Balearic government and an MEP for Spain since 2009. She currently serves as vice-chairwoman of the Committee on Petitions, as full member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and is also a member of the parliament’s delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

In addition to her committee assignments, Estaràs is a member of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights and vice-chairwoman of the European Parliament Intergroup on Disability, so she is well placed to talk about the UK’s decisions to leave the European Union.

This week, she told the Bulletin that no one in Brussels honestly expected the UK to vote to leave.

"It came as a total shock and it is a shame. Not only has it divided society in the UK - London, Wales, Scotland and Gibraltar voted to remain - the result also threatens the future of the European Union. The result was so close. I think that when referendums are held certain perimeters should be in put in place. For example, that it has to be a 60-40 split, a clear division to make it fair, not a two per cent margin because, like I’ve said, it has divided the country and that is not healthy.

"But the European Union could have done much much more to have kept the UK in the EU. Confidence, however, was so high that the Brexit vote would lose, the other EU states did very little to help the remain camp and look what we’ve got now. It’s bad news for everyone. While the UK is busy drawing up its exit road map, none of the EU states are going to lay their cards on the table and show what they are prepared to offer the UK for fears that some of the other countries talking about holding a similar referendum - Holland, the Czech Republic and even France - may start moving if they know what's on offer. So it is a bit cat and mouse at the moment, and the UK has not even triggered the exit plan and that will then take at least two years.

"I say at least because, while the European Union is a great and powerful organisation, there is too much bureaucracy and things take so long to go through the system. So it could be two years or more for the UK to leave. And then we have the question as to what extent will it actually leave. The UK and the EU have very close ties, especially when it comes to commerce and business, but it is for the UK to decide what it wants, not Europe.

"The EU is a very solid and strong project which right now has three main objectives: terrorism, immigration and economic growth. We would have liked the UK to have been part of that, it may still be, we don’t know. I’m not sure the UK does yet. The EU is a reference for peace, it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, it sets an example to the rest of the world. Under the current global circumstances, this is a golden opportunity for the EU to show the world just how strong and influential it is, and one of the things we need to demonstrate is that immigration is not a threat.

"We need to have a positive response to immigration. We are bound to comply with the Geneva convention, but we need to have some order and controls. We can’t have these waves of immigrants flooding Europe because, as we’ve seen in the UK, it then becomes considered a threat. The UK used to welcome immigrants with open arms, long before many European countries, but something has obviously changed and that was the key issue in the referendum and it was not tackled properly.

"Here in Spain, for example, we’ve had a lot of economic immigration from South America and Africa, people coming to work. We have not had waves of asylum seekers which we are having to take in now. It doesn’t have to be a problem, providing it is controlled. Otherwise the same threat that parts of the UK feared could spread to Spain where immigration has never really been an issue.

"The extreme left and right parties have been cashing in on that fear factor to gain support and power. But in the long term these radical parties will disappear again, just as quickly as they came on the political scene. Populism has grown and we can’t have that in a proper democratic society. We all need to be working in the common interest of the general public and working in accordance with the true values of the European Union in which we have 28 countries speaking 23 different languages.

"But with regard to the future of the UK, whatever language we’re speaking, we are going to need to have transparent and fluent dialogue in order to get the best deal for everyone. This said, European states are going to have to stick to the values of the EU project, which is unique in the world. We need to demonstrate that, while the UK sets out its markers and begins negotiations with each and every EU state, the EU means business and is in a strong position to do business.

"I think now we are entering the calm after the storm. There was a knee-jerk reaction to the result, but now the tension is easing and the UK is starting to think seriously about the future and how it is going re-establish relations with the rest of the world.

"There’s no need for this to be a traumatic process, especially when it comes to relations between Spain and the UK because there have always been very close and strong relations. My office here in Palma is always open to British residents who have any questions of concerns about their future here in Spain, while the Balearic government also has an office in Brussels. But it is early days and I really don’t think British residents in the Balearics and Spain have anything to fear. We are all going to be negotiating to get the best deal for everyone, Spain included: it works both ways. We could have done without this, but that is democracy.

"This said, I think David Cameron acted irresponsibly by stepping down so quickly after losing the vote. You can’t, don’t, always win in politics, but you have to face the consequences. He held a referendum which will affect the lives of millions of people - in the UK and across Europe. The result could have long-lasting effects on the EU as a whole, and he just quit and left the mess for everyone else to clear up. But he is not the only irresponsible politician in Europe right now. Here in Spain we have our own problem and that is forming a government.

"The Partido Popular was the most voted-for party in both elections. At the last election it won 52 more seats than any other party and for that reason Mariano Rajoy has been asked to form a government. However, while Ciudadanos appears to be prepared to negotiate some kind of deal, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialist party, is simply thinking about himself and saying ‘no’ to everything that the PP proposes.

"Looking at the world today when we’re facing the constant threat of terrorism, economic uncertainty and unemployment problems, it is time to think about the bigger picture. What is best for the country and the general public is is forming a government, but we could be heading for a third election in November."