On January 31, Europhiles were dismayed, Eurosceptics danced the night away to English sparkling wine, and a countdown straight out of a New Year’s Eve celebration was projected onto the walls of 10 Downing Street.
Although Big Ben couldn’t be put into operation to signal such a monumental occasion, everyone was still aware of the moment the United Kingdom had officially left the European Union, at the stroke of 23:00.
For Britons, Brexit discourse has been incessant for nearly four years running, with many arguing how this will either bring down or prop up the country’s stature, depending on who voted for what. The UK will, of course, invariably suffer somehow when it comes to negotiating a deal, but we must also consider those sitting on the other side of the negotiating table: the EU.
With one of its strongest members out, how will the now 27-member bloc fare?
The UK has undeniably carved its place in the world as one of the key power players, and with it gone, the bloc may find it more difficult to flex the clout it once had.
‘Any room the EU walks into, it will carry less weight than when the UK was a member — on trade, climate, defence’, said Paul Taylor, a senior fellow at Friends of Europe, research institution.
Britain, economically speaking, was the second-largest economy, and was the second-largest contributor of the community, contributing approximately 12 per cent. EU members, with this supply now cut off, face a dilemma on how to approach the next seven-year budget without putting some members at a disadvantage — like cost-efficient Germany. Yes, Germany is the bloc’s largest economy, so it is capable of filling the hole Britain left behind. But Germany already contributes 40 per cent of the annual economic output, along with Italy.
That Brexiteers largely complained of how much money was being put into the community, and won the right to leave as a result, sets a dangerous precedent for other large European economies to potentially follow — especially if we take into account the alarming rise of right-wing groups. Germany, along with Ireland, also largely depends on its trade relationship with the UK. Since Ireland imports 93 per cent of British gas, it will stand to suffer the most, Germany following not too far behind. France, Belgium and the Netherlands will also have to bear the economic brunt of Brexit. Brexit aside, I am inclined to agree with Andrew Neil of the BBC that: ‘the Eurozone is [already] stagnating, France is rocked by strikes and unrest, Germany is in industrial recession, [and] Italy is in economic recession’. The future doesn’t look entirely promising for Europe.
With Britain gone, Europe will also have to deal with another loss. Its access to America. The Anglo-American relationship, made ever closer by the two eerily similar leaders, was essential for the community, as they could push their agenda across where they otherwise might not have been able to without an intermediary of sorts. As Washington and Europe often clash on particular issues — Qassem Suleimani’s assassination, for example, or Russia’s growing interference — Britain’s shared views with Europe offered the bloc more leverage when it came to matters of foreign policy or national security, says Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The EU also can’t negate the possibility of Britain drawing ever closer to America. Aside from the two leaders being uncannily similar, the Anglo-American trade deal could leave Europe vulnerable to Russia. Rosa Balfour, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, tells The New York Times that this would, ‘undermine Europe’s ability to pursue an independent foreign policy and hurt Europe’s ability to shape the international world of multilateralism and the rule of law, the basics on which the EU was built’.
Why does it matter so much if the bloc were to draw closer to Russia? Because the Eastern European giant does not play nicely on the world stage. The EU, if we remember, was formed to maintain cooperation and peace, whilst seeking to be inclusive and avoid combat discrimination. Considering Russia’s actions over the years — Crimea’s annexation, military intervention in Ukraine, the hacking of the 2016 US presidential elections — it’s no wonder that the EU is not keen to have it as a member. Britain’s departure is crucial, as it ‘changes the balance within the EU and creates a power vacuum’, elaborated Leonard. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia now has a chance to fill Britain’s spot, infiltrate, and most likely disintegrate the very structure of the bloc. A NATO critic as well, Putin could also hit two birds with one stone by taking down the vast military alliance, which includes many members from and ties with, the EU.
But can this potential threat to the bloc be entirely blamed on the meddling ways of Russia? Not really. Arguably, the EU became compromised when the UK revealed the majority’s desire to leave. However, we can go even further back to the moment when the referendum was proposed in the first place under the premiership of David Cameron, which undoubtedly undermined the integrity of, and steadfastness of the relationship with, Europe.
‘Brexit is a defeat, a rebellion against the concept that working together makes Europeans stronger,’ said Balfour. With Britain walking out the door, what’s to stop others from doing the same?
For Brussels, they have until the end of this year to showcase strength, and safeguard the bloc’s reputation. Assuming that Europeans will maintain a hard stance, it’ll hardly be surprising if the negotiation period is rife with disagreements and deadlocks to deter other members from packing up and leaving. Apparently, it’s already had the intended effect. Brexit has been so gruelling for Britain that it has, for the moment at least, discouraged European nationalists from carrying out their own exit.
With the EU’s future at stake in our current volatile political climate, let’s hope that’s the case.