Weighing up the Norway, Switzerland and Turkey options. Photo: Getty
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An EU explainer for the easily bored: what happens if we leave?

Doom, whisky, and getting lost in mazes: what are the options for the UK flouncing out of the European Union?

It's some as-yet-unspecified time in 2017. I'm in the ballot box – maybe.

What? Well, Estonia's had online voting for ten years, about a third of votes are cast online via an app, and it's popular with younger people. So who know, maybe we could catch up with them. Although then young people might actually vote...

Fine. I've downloaded the app, and I'm ready! In or out??!?!

Of what? The EU, right? Yes, although don't forget there's the "renegotiation" first so the EU might look quite different.

OK, so we've got whatever the EU looks like as "in" – what's "out"? A very good question. There's four main options. Let's start with the Norwegian model.

Let's! OMG Scandinavians are soooo buff :) No, not that kind of model. Norway is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which means it has access to the single market of the 28 EU member states.

Great, we can keep selling all those cars. Yes, and applying all the rules of the single market, ie. free movement of goods, people capital and services. Norway sell a lot of gas, oil and salmon to the EU – Vidar Helgesen, their minister for EU affairs, reckons the country provides Europe with 23m seafood meals a day, and they apply ALL the rules as well. But they don't get a say in making them.

All the rules? The vast majority. Agriculture is the big exception. According to Mr Helgesen, during the past 20 years, Norway has incorporated more than 10,000 EU rules into the EEA Agreement: roughly five acts of EU legislation for each day the Norwegian parliament has been sitting. It also has to pay into the EU budget.

Oh. To use an old Brussels chestnut, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. And, to state the obvious, the UK doesn't have a bajillion squillion barrels of oil. Norway does.

OK, how about option two: Switzerland? You can make your own cuckoo-clock jokes: Switzerland has a close relationship with the EU based on a series of bilateral agreements, including a free trade deal signed in 1972. Switzerland is the EU's fourth largest trading partner, while the EU is Switzerland’s largest.

Sounds great! It's tempting. But they only get access to parts of the single market. And that doesn't include services, which is the part which is most interesting for the UK. Then last year, in a referendum, the country narrowly voted to reintroduce immigration quotas. After that, EU officials said Switzerland can't “cherry-pick” from the treaties.

So what happens? If the EU-Switzerland relationship were on Facebook, it'd be under "It's complicated". Politicians have until 2017 to figure out what to do. Any solution could set a precedent for what happens with a post-breakup UK. And they still pay a lot to the EU.

Alright. Option three? Turkey. It's in a customs union. So we could trade some goods without tariffs, etc, but not have to pay membership fees or bother with immigration. It was the first step in an EU accession program that stalled in 2002, and again, there's zero influence on anything the EU actually does.

Doesn't sound great. Also, bear in mind any of these options depend on the EU agreeing in a post-withdrawal negotiation – a bit like getting a divorce and then asking if you can still use the Wi-Fi, the bathroom three days a week and have your ex's loyalty-card points.

We could eavesdrop while using the bathroom. Right, all of these options rely on applying EU rules in the areas where you get the benefits, which is logical enough. If we left, those rules, standards, and plans would be decided without us in the room.

Unprecedented! No, it's not. We're not in the euro, and the countries that are still have meetings. So the UK Treasury used to formally instruct its permanent representation to send someone to sit outside the door "just in case they heard anything", according to someone who'd know.

What were they expecting? Nobody knows. In practice it meant senior British officials sitting in the corridor outside the room on floor 50 of the Council into the small hours of the morning. Totes embarrassing.

Floor 50? It's not that tall. It's just the rooms in all the EU-buildings are maze-like. Seriously, it's easier to find your way in space.

Currency union, borders, legal negotiations after an acrimonious split... this is reminding me of something... Right. Remember the Scottish referendum? And how the Scottish government said it’d like to stay in the EU, even while the Commission was all like “no you'd have to reapply like newbies”?

Nightmare. It would have been. As the Scotch Whisky Association points out, "the application of the EU's trade environment means Scotch has become more accessible to a far wider audience". It keeps a close eye on EU laws to make sure single malts can be sold across the single market. "Doubly important, as EU laws are sometimes used as the benchmark for other countries when considering new legislation," it adds. Again, businesses would still have to comply with EU standards to export goods there.

What if we just leave, completely? We could. We'd get a seat at the World Trade Organization, where we're currently represented as part of the EU. We could set up a free-trade deal with anyone who wanted one –although would you want to sign up with a country that had just flounced out of  a 28-country free-trade bloc? And there'd be total control of borders.

So that'll be option four. Yes, and Chris Patten summed it up nicely in a lecture in Oxford 15 years ago. "’Sovereignty’ – in the sense of unfettered freedom of action – is a nonsense. A man, naked, hungry and alone in the middle of the Sahara Desert is free in the sense that no one can tell him what to do. He is sovereign, then. But he is also doomed."

Frances Robinson has been covering the EU since 2006. Previously a staffer at the Wall Street Journal, she returned to the UK after a decade abroad to talk and write about the UK-EU relationship. 

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What’s it like to be a human rights activist in post-Pussy Riot Russia?

It is five years since the feminist punk collective crashed Moscow’s Cathedral in a performance that got some of them jailed.

On 21 February 2012, five brightly-dressed members of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot took to the alter of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to protest links between the Russian Orthodox Church and its “chief saint” Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Virgin birth-giver of God, drive away Putin!” they shouted from beneath now-iconic balaclavas.

The “Punk Prayer” was both a political statement and a powerful feminist message. Six months later, a judge sentenced three of the girls to two years in prison (one was rapidly released) on a conspicuously apolitical conviction of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

These past five years, Russia’s involvement in crises in Syria and Ukraine has cast a dark shadow over relations with an increasingly cleaved-off West. The year 2015 saw opposition politician Boris Nemtsov murdered some 500 metres from the Kremlin walls.

Domestically, society has constricted people challenging the political status quo. However, low-key initiatives retain traction.

“Artists are simply silent,” says Russian curator and gallerist Marat Guelman, who left for Montenegro in early 2015. “It is better not to say anything about politics, it is better to bypass these issues.”

This is a major difference from five years ago. “Despite persecution against Pussy Riot, people were not afraid to defend them,” he says. “It was a better time.”

There are three topics artists and curators now avoid, says artist and feminist activist Mikaela. One is “homosexuality . . . especially if it involves adolescents”, she says, citing a 2015 exhibit about LGBT teens called “Be Yourself”. Authorities closed it and interrogated the galley owner. “Then the war in Ukraine,” she says. “Russian Orthodoxy is the third topic you cannot tackle.”

Marianna Muravyeva, a law professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that aside from the government completely discarding human rights rhetoric, the most significant legal change is the “gay propaganda” law and “legislation against those who insult the feelings of believers”.

The latter came into force in July 2013. Since then, the Orthodox Church has made deeper societal incursions. Muravyeva says that the secular nature of the Soviet Union led to residual feelings of guilt towards the Church – and now it uses that “capital”.

Mikaela observes a “cultural expansion”, citing a new TV channel, radio station and three new churches in her neighbourhood alone.

Orthodox activist attacks on exhibits have increased. In August 2015, they targeted an exhibit at one of Moscow’s most prominent art galleries. Its perpetrators were found guilty of “petty hooliganism” and handed a 1,000 rouble fine (£14 by today’s rates).

“Any word written in Old Slavonic lettering is spirituality,” says Guelman. “Any work of art by a modern artist . . . depravity, sin, the impact of the West.”

Similar groups are active across Russia, and galleries err on the side of caution. Perpetrators, while self-organised, believe their actions to be state-sanctioned, says Muravyeva. They are influenced by “the kinds of messages” conveyed by the government. 

Nowadays, self-organisation is integral to artistic expression. Mikaela witnessed educational institutions and foreign foundations telling artists “we are with you”, “we know you are smart” but they cannot host political works for fear of closure. Not knowing where the “invisible line” lies foments uncertainty. “It’s self-censorship,” she says.

Dissident artist Petr Pavlensky, notorious for nailing his scrotum to the Red Square in late 2013 (“Fixation”) and setting fire to the doors of the FSB in 2015, advocates personal agency.

“Fixation” was about a sense of helplessness in Russia that must be overcome; he tried to convey the amount of power the castrated have. “Pavlensky says, ‘Look, I have even less than you’,” says Guelman. The artist and his partner Oksana Shalygina are now in France intending to seek asylum after sexual assault accusations.

Some rise to the opportunity, such as Daria Serenko. She rides the Moscow Metro carrying political posters as part of Tikhy Piket or “Silent Protest”. Her 12 February sign depicted a girl with her head in her arms inundated by the comments received if a women alleges rape (“she was probably drunk”, “what was she wearing?”).

However, as a lone individual in a public space, she experienced hostility. “Men, as always, laughed,” she posted on Facebook afterwards. Earlier this month an anonymous group pasted painted plants accompanied by anti-domestic violence messages around Omsk, southwestern Siberia.

Their appearance corresponded with Putin signing legislation on 7 February decriminalising domestic abuse that causes “minor harm”. While it doesn’t specifically mention women, Muravyeva says that the message “women can manage on their own” is a “disaster”.

On 27 January, after Russia’s parliament passed the final draft, pro-Kremlin tabloid Life released a video (“He Beats You Because He Loves You”) showing how to inflict pain without leaving a mark.

Heightened social awareness is aided by online networks. Since “Punk Prayer”, the proportion of people using the internet in Russia has exploded. In 2011, it was 33 per cent, while in 2016 it was 73 per cent, according annual Freedom House reports. Authorities have concurrently exerted stronger controls over it, eg. targeting individual social media users through broadly-worded laws against “extremism”.

Last July, the hashtag #ЯНеБоюсьСказать (“#IamNotAfraidtoSay”) went viral. Women documented experiences of sexual violence. Russian organisation Сёстры (“Sisters”), which helps survivors receive psychological support, receives “250-350” crisis calls annually.

“Over the past year, the number of applications increased,” because of the hashtag, it says. New media platforms Meduza and Wonderzine also emerged as more “socially aware” outlets. Previously “all we had was LiveJournal communities,” Mikaela says.

Bottom-up challenges are partially due to a generational shift. “Nobody bothered before,” says Muravyeva. “Those children who were born after ‘95 . . . they were already born in a very free society – they don’t know what it is to be afraid, they don’t know what it is to be self-censoring, what it is to be really scared of the state.”

Aliide Naylor is a British journalist and former Arts and Ideas Editor of The Moscow Times.

> Now read Anoosh Chakelian’s interview with Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot