The results of the Brexit referendum came to many as a big surprise. The level of uncertainty causes concern on both sides of the Channel. As negotiations have not started yet, there is no clear picture about what the future holds for the relationship between the EU and the UK. Our ambassadors have wrapped their heads around it and share their insights in our second common article. How should the EU handle Brexit? What are the models for future cooperation? What do the dynamics surrounding Brexit reveal about the Union? Is there a chance that both the EU and the UK can profit from the British departure? These are the questions our ambassadors will address in this second edition and we hope that you find their analyses insightful.
Belgium – by Adnane Lachheb
BREXIT: Which path for the European Union?
As with every traditional crisis situation that history has faced, existential questions emerge. This year has been one of these situations and the BREXIT case is one of it most revealing syndrome. What is the future of the European Union?
Moody’s rating agency declared that Belgium might be one of the most notable victims of a BREXIT, based on the economic consequences. But the case of the UK leaving the European Community has to be analyzed in broader terms than just applying an economical framework.
This situation is, in my opinion, a clear step back against a deeper union of law, a rejection of the idea regarding a Political European Union. The EU is a community strongly attached to its normative function, meaning the rules of conduct or ethical content that allow all European citizens common living standards. The United Kingdom is not an advocate of this philosophy anymore.
Belgium, through the last action conducted by its regional parliaments concerning the CETA, drove a path towards a Union of Law disconnected from the ancestor of the EU, the European Economic Community. The fate of the European Union will, therefore, be based on the outcome of these negotiations. Indeed, The Union’s future project will depend on the treatment granted to the British separation. The choice of Michel Barnier, known as a tough negotiator with firm hands on EU rules, as the representative of the European Commission at the bargaining table, is a preview on which way the EU is taking. After all, I strongly believe in a greater Union following this crisis, because as Nietzsche said: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Bulgaria – by Aleko Stoyanov
Brexit came to many as a shock. Probably most of the people, both in the UK and in Europe, hoped for a better outcome. Nonetheless, Brexit is a fact and we need to deal with it. The more puzzling question is how?
The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker was among the supporters of the so-called hard Brexit. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, summoned for a more mild and pragmatic approach. If the EU tries to punish Great Britain for its choice, this would give arguments to other eurosceptic political parties across the continent to claim that the EU is an illegitimate entity that dictates its will on the sovereign European nations. In that case, the anti-EU messages could spread further and gain support for EU referendums in other member states, thus (possibly) unleashing an epidemic of different “exits”.
Not punishing the UK does not mean, however, that the EU should give London a preferential access to the single market or allow the UK to cherry-pick. Having in mind the recent decision of the British High Court – that parliament alone, and not the government, has the right to trigger article 50, there is still hope that Brexit will not happen after all.
Until then, as the American mathematician, John Allen Paul, says “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
Bosnia & Herzegovina – by Enna Zone Donlic
Even though Brexit carries a risk, it can be turned into the opportunity
The United Kingdom became a member of European Economic Community in 1972, since then it passed all the phases of integration and was an important part of the Community. As one of the largest countries alongside with Germany and France, the UK´s role in the European Union and the eventual relations between the two were of significant importance. Draw-out of negotiations, which are right around the corner, is something new for both the EU and the UK. In order to get the best outcome from the negotiations, the EU and UK need to decide on their short- and long-term goals and be ready for the compromise.
For the UK, there are four possible options on the table: (1) Adopt the Norwegian model and join to European Economic Area (EEA) in order to remain part of a single market and minimize trade costs of Brexit; (2) bilateral deal negotiations such as the case with the Switzerland; (3) free trade agreement signing (as Canada) or (4) simply trade under the World Trade Organisation rules. These are costly models for the United Kingdom´s economy.
The United Kingdom is a key partner of the European Union, and besides the possible disapprovals from the other states, there is a need for the creation of a completely new model, strategy or partnership. From its very beginning, the EU was a political project, so the future relations with the UK need to be addressed in the same way. Even though Brexit carries a risk, it can be turned into an opportunity for a completely new intergovernmental cooperation – so-called “continental partnership”. In my opinion, this is the best solution since it would ensure close cooperation on foreign policy, security, economic and labour mobility, common decision-making and enforcement on the matters of common interests while still contributing to the EU budget.
The United Kingdom and the European Union are and will remain interdependent, Brexit cannot change that fact, thereby giving the “special status” to the UK is of a high importance.
Czech Republic – by Jasper Gruiters
I have been taught a simple life lesson: If something happens to you that don’t agree on or with, something that makes you angry, mad, irritated and frustrated, you keep your calm. You stay the person you have always been: fair and reasonable. And whatever you might do, never lower your morality in discontent with the decisions of others. It’s something that seems more than logical, something that is taught to a youngster. Shamefully, however, it seems some have never been taught this lesson, or have simply forgotten it.
The reaction of the European Union after the result of the Brexit referendum, from commissioners to the Council and members of the European Parliament alike, has been understandable. Politicians like Guy Verhofstadt have battled with anti-European Union parties for years, trying to convince the public that Europe is the way forward. Losing such a battle is more than difficult, and the willingness to drop the United Kingdom, moving it out of the single market, is therefore understandably tempting.
However, this is not part of the principles that the European Union stands for. The EU should stand for cooperation, stability, and development. It should, therefore, in a positive way, show what the United Kingdom will be missing once it leaves the European Union. In that way, and only in that way, can the European Union convince citizens of the positive influence it has on the European continent. As Michelle Obama said a couple of months ago: “If they go low, we go high”. In this way, the European Union should show its strength, by being fair and honest even with those who you don’t agree with. A youngster would understand.
Germany – by Nora Szabo-Jilek
It’s a democratic decision, whether you like it or not
The result of the Brexit referendum was a painful slap in the face for the EU, the UK and Europeans across the continent. But no matter how disappointed or even angry you might be, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the EU is a union operating based on certain rules and regulations. You adhere to them, you get the privileges. If for whatever reason exceptions start to happen, it would significantly undermine the EU’s credibility and even worsen its current image.
With regard to future talks, it would probably be the most comfortable choice to give the UK access to the single market in exchange for allowing EU nationals the right to live and work in the UK. A win-win situation one might assume. But that leads to another problem with exceptions: it weakens the validity of the referendum and questions the worth of a democratic vote in general. In a vote you have to choose between A or B. If the majority votes for A and nonetheless you try to push for B or A with a little bit of B, can that still be considered a democratic decision?
The harsher, more frustrating, unlikely to happen but in the long-term correct way, to handle Brexit would be to trigger Article 50. Then have the UK start from scratch with no special privileges and enter accession talks with the EU, provided that the British people want to rejoin. Since this is the first time any member state has ever wanted to leave, it will be a nerve-wracking time for both parties, no doubt. Regardless of the outcome, the referendum unveils previously not acknowledged fundamental problems and the result hopefully served as a wake-up call for the EU, the UK, and Europeans across the continent.
Hungary – by Géza Kovács-Dobák
The referendum outside of Hungary
It stroked us with great despair hearing the news in Hungary that one country may actually leave the European Union. The precedence it sets is worrying. However, politics always moves on and tries to utilize the action of others to justify movement.
Euroscepticism has risen all over Europe, and it is no news that Hungary with Great Britain was leading this from the start. In May it was even said that Orbán and Cameron may start to be best friends because of their common leading position on Euroscepticism. Ever since then, Orbán promised to lobby against Brexit in June. In the wake of Brexit, Orbán blamed the European Union for letting this happen and claimed it was triggered by the wake of the unresolved migration crisis. He also projected “Referendum Tsunami”, to call the attention to his own referendum on the common European migration policy.
But soon it was realized that by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty the United Kingdom would lose its access free labour movement. This explicitly affects Hungary, whose citizens are one of the largest immigrant labour forces in the country.
Realizing this, and also looking at the fact that Theresa May is reluctant to ensure the staying of EU citizens after Brexit, the Hungarian Government took a stronger stance in the talks. Péter Szijjártó, Hungarian foreign minister, has reiterated that Hungary will be though on the Brexit negotiations. As he phrased it: “We want to fully protect the rights of those Hungarians and EU citizens who have already been working here in the U.K.”
Let’s hope together that these rights will be protected.
Latvia – by Algimants Kontauts
EU-UK post Brexit dynamics
I must start with the fact that I am one of those people who were not very surprised when the UK referendum results were announced. I remember a lot of speculation started half a year before the referendum happened. But while most of media and academia would mock the idea of a referendum itself and did not take it seriously enough, I knew that if there was a country within EU who could actually pull that off, it must have been the United Kingdom. I remember in spring I had a chance to attend a panel in Eltville, Germany, where around 10 students from Canada and several professors from Canada and Germany gave a very one-sided performance on why the UK would never leave the EU, how much they would lose and how laughable and populist the idea of Brexit was. That it was probably nothing more than British attempts to remind the EU of their uniqueness or that it may be even just a Kremlins secret evil project on destabilizing our “United in Diversity” happy family. I had a chance to state that we should take it more seriously and ask a question in a Q&A session, which was straight away intercepted and answered by a euro-fanatic professor, who made it clear that the UK will drown without the EU.
We all know what happened when Brexit happened. A couple weeks of shock and all the sudden the same politicians and scholars want the UK out of their lives as soon as possible, while the UK itself took a comfortable sit on the fence. I see a lot of inconsistency in our big house. And I hope that our policy makers know what they are doing. Unfortunately, I will be able to join them only after I finish my masters.
Northern Ireland – by Sean McLaughlin
The UK is going through arguably the biggest political crisis since the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956 and will require unprecedented amounts of our diplomatic energy and resources. So much is at stake and at the moment we appear to be unable to decide amongst ourselves and as a unit what we want going forward. In spite of recent mutterings that a hard Brexit is on the cards, consensus has grown that Northern Ireland will remain in the Customs Union and that Scotland wishes to say in the single market. Negotiating what the UK wants for its different constituent nations, as well as what it, therefore, wants in the negotiations from the EU, are two sides of the same coin.
During the referendum, it was repeatedly said that any given country cannot ‘cherry-pick’ any of the four freedoms it likes, discarding the ones it doesn’t like. This remains true – it is very dangerous to offer some members states unfettered single market access without free movement, but not others. This will be the essence of the negotiations. Cosmetic adjustments to free movement, however, should not be ruled out. This could take the form of an emergency brake on EU passports in peak times of entrance. (This is already a tool available to EEA countries). I will argue in other pieces that, although Brexit has to happen, opportunities lie with Britain in championing an ‘outer belt’ of states, including EEA members, Switzerland, and other non-Eurozone members. Britain should take advantage of this political capital found in other like-minded states, that share attitudes concerns towards European integration.
Russia – by Angelique Truijens
Britain: The Spoiled Brat of Europe
Great Britain joined the European Community in 1973 after years of negotiations. In 2016 Britain has decided to leave the EU and end this epic partnership that has profited both parties so much. And now the question remains – what should the future relations between the EU and the UK be? What about the four freedoms?
The four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and persons – have been at the center of European policymaking since the beginning in the 1950s. These basic legal principles aim at creating a completely free market within the EU. Britain does not want to be part of the EU anymore. The simplest logic would be to say then that Britain couldn’t be part of any of the four freedoms unless it accepts all provisions of all four freedoms and contributes to the solutions within the EU to problems that also affect them.
I believe that the only way to make the Brexit as profitable as possible to both parties is to give a similar treaty with the EU to the UK as other EEA countries have. EEA members have special provisions with the EU, which allow them to be part of the internal market to some extent. Both parties profit from the internal market and therefore the EEA members need to financially contribute to the EU and comply with EU legislation. However, all parties still make a substantial profit.
One way or another, Britain will need to stay connected to the European Union. That also means that they will have to contribute to the EU financially and let the EU influence their domestic policies. So in the end, the brat threw a fit and nothing changed for him. As always.
Serbia – by Strahinja Subotic
I have to admit, Brexit came to me as a big surprise. However, once it happened I started looking at the EU from a different perspective. At that moment I realized that this critical juncture could actually lead the EU for the better, and not for the worse, as many have envisioned it.
Of course, the EU will have some economic losses by losing the UK, however, it might gain something in return that is even more important at the times of current crisis. I believe that this is the time for the EU to stop being an asymmetric union as it used to be while the UK was its member.
Now the EU can evolve into a symmetric union, with no double standards, special rules or special membership. It has the chance to promote equal rules for each member state. As a consequence, I hope that it will evolve into a stronger political union, which would be more united in the fight against the current existential crisis.
Overall, the negotiation talks will be long, slow and painful, however, the sooner it’s done the better for the symmetry of the Union.
Sweden – by Eliel Stenström
The easiest way to understand the impact of Brexit on Sweden is by asking a simple question: What type of European Union does Sweden envision? Rather worryingly, there is agreement amongst policy makers that one of its closest ideological partners in the Union recently decided it wanted to leave the Union.
The United Kingdom and Sweden have historically shared the vision of the EU as an economic rather than political project: promoting the market access and competition elements of the EU whilst resisting political integration.
Sweden’s three most recent prime ministers all agreed that the UK is one of Sweden’s closest ideological allies in the EU. Perhaps even more tellingly, I had a recent conversation with the deputy UK ambassador to Sweden who joked that when his government asked him what Sweden’s position is on EU policy, he tends to answer: “Look at your own position and you have the answer”.
Brexit will thus have a tremendous impact upon Sweden’s position in the EU, as it has lost one of its strongest ideological allies. If the reader is interested, a broader discussion on this will be detailed in an article this December from the Swedish Ambassadorship to EST.
Switzerland – by Amanda Wegener
A country’s geography is bound to have an effect on its politics. The United Kingdom is no exception and has throughout its history sought to be isolated, whether diplomatically or economically. Recent events concerning the UK’s withdrawal from the EU confirm this country’s desire to restore a complete sovereignty over its politics and ensure a firm grasp on its economy. The UK, however, is facing future times of uncertainty where domestic turmoil is exacerbated by predictions of a significant decrease in GDP. Studies have declared that British companies would suffer, as most of their supply networks lie within the EU. Moreover, the UK would lose its influence by entering the free market as an individual country since 45% of its exports go to the EU.
Indeed, Britain would take control of immigration policies and domestic issues that local businesses would benefit from. Hence, in the long term at a local level it seems that British businesses will thrive, yet, in the short term, multinational companies will experience a setback. Adding on, major investors will no longer have a lasting interest in the UK as Brexit hinders many previously engaging trade negotiations. It is unlikely EU countries’ relationship with major investors will be damaged. These will most likely not lose interest in trading with the EU as the UK had little influence in the EU to begin with. Hence Brexit changes little on the international level. Nevertheless, it is improbable that negotiations between the EU and the UK will be impaired. Free trade agreements are expected to be made and should guarantee mutual benefit, including economic growth on both sides.
Turkey – by Ipek Ince
In July 2014 I spent one month with an old English lady in Liverpool. Her 21-year-old grandson Alife was visiting us every Thursday. Eventually, all conversations, of course, ended up with politics. During this 4 weeks, I had a lot of opportunities to talk about politics with Anne and Alfie. My host Anne was a perfect example of Europe and unification. Her mom was from the Czech Republic, her dad was a soldier, during the Second World War they traveled all around Europe before they turned back to the UK when she was 19. She believed that geographical distances cannot only be seen on maps but also be felt. However once she told me “I have never described myself as a European, I am just English and little bit Liverpudlian”. But Alfie did not agree with his grandma; he believes in a Europe made of unified countries that dedicated themselves to a better life. Until Brexit, I have never thought about this disagreement. Anne lived through hard times, but contrary to Anne, Alfie and the new generation are living in a more harmonized world. Let us take a look at Spotify country charts and see how many songs are common in all lists. We all listen to the same music, watching Game of Thrones even with subtitles, studying abroad, attending Erasmus and exchange programs working in EU, UN, NATO bodies etc.: as the millennial generation defending culture differences makes no sense. Moreover, even if the argument or insurmountable cultural differences has some points, we should dedicate ourselves to break this understanding for a more indulgent Europe and world.