By Dr. Filippos Proedrou, Vice President KEDISA
The new British leadership and government seem set to go along with the Brexit resolution of the 23rd June referendum, trigger the article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and initiate the country’s long withdrawal process. This notwithstanding, parliamentary processes, a Scottish veto and legal cases may delay or altogether block the process. The future of Britain in the EU, as a result, remains mired in confusion. This is nowhere better reflected than in Britain’s hesitance to get the process moving despite crystal-clear pledges of Europeans to do so.
Nevertheless, what remains beyond speculation is British distancing from European decision-making structures and processes. British resignation of its presidency of the European Council speaks this new reality. The outcome of the referendum, coupled with the existence of political elites ready to back this political shift, moreover, has rendered Brussels and European capitals less prone to co-operate with the British and treat them as partners in the same project. In this political setting, the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign affairs minister stands out as nothing but a mock, and personifies the inescapable fact that Britain will not be dealt as in the past; the decrease of British influence in European affairs is hence unfolding before our eyes. While future bilateral relations are yet to take concrete shape, Britain has definitely kicked away the privileges emanating from membership in the EU family and its ensuing extensive influence in the continent.
This cuts both ways. For one, many British policies have been embedded within broader European structures. Gas market integration and climate goals are indicative examples. Outside of the 20-20-20 (and the updated 40-40-27 for 2030) climate goals framework, for example, Britain will be free to choose either to perpetuate contemporary policies, or opt for less environment-friendly policies. Dirtier sources of energy, and most importantly shale gas exploration, may well serve as an investment and fiscal stimulus in light of the prospective recessionary outcomes of the unfolding Brexit.
On the other hand, liberalization, an ambitious climate agenda, a stronger military component and a more active foreign policy, have all been astutely supported by the British since the 1980s. These aspects of European integration will be deprived of their motor. It remains to be seen to what extent they will continue to be pursued, since the balance of power within Brussels, and the scope and direction of European integration, is shifting due to Britain’s withdrawal. Poland, for example, will be left alone fighting back forward-looking climate and energy policies and supporting the return to coal. The foreign and defense capabilities of the EU, furthermore, have been dealt a significant blow. It seems unlikely that Germany and France will be in position, and willing, to drive a more active and integrated foreign and defense policy, at the very moment that the multiple and interconnected crises (the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS, the refugee and migration crisis and the rise of terrorism at home) spark the discussion for a significant scaling up of the EU’s preventive and military wherewithal.
In a macroscopic theorization, the competition between the two contrasting visions of European integration draws to a close. Britain has led the camp that was envisioning a large, extended European Union that would constitute mostly a common market and remain sort of anything resembling a supra-state. This camp is now amputated. The group of EU members that has envisioned ever closer integration and a United States of Europe, as a result, will predominate in the post-Brexit era. The discussion has already begun as to how the EU will move closer to fulfilling this ideal, with the German-led axis preaching integration on stricter fiscal grounds and the European South calling for a relaxation of fiscal terms, increased solidarity and burden-sharing for the Union and on these terms further supranationalization.
Turkey has played a swing role the previous decades and the outcome of its candidacy would determine which form European integration would take. Britain has traditionally pushed for moving forward accession negotiations with Turkey, in the understanding that succeeding in this front would accomplish her vision for European integration. With Britain out of the picture, Turkey’s place in the EU lacks significant support from within the EU. Brexit, together with Turkey’s dangerous downhill and its failed coup d’ état, which only comes on top of a steadily de-stabilizing, opportunistic, chaotic, dilatory and counter-productive foreign policy that has systematically failed to live up to international law standards and norms and sound diplomatic rules and procedures, seems to draw the finishing lines in this episode of European integration history. A substantial Turkish recovery and a rejuvenated willingness of the EU to seriously re-consider, to the extent it ever did, Turkey’s potential membership in the EU seems too far away and can hence be dismissed for the mid-term as an impossible scenario.
By Dr. Filippos Proedrou, Vice President KEDISA