Today, Article 50 will officially be triggered by Theresa May. After long months of speeches and debates on each side of the Channel, the European Union now more than ever must prove its courage for decisive action. Because with the outset of the Brexit negotiations come many dossiers and uncertainties to the table.
A Comment by Adrian Eppel and David Tschorr
Maybe it is to the benefit of the overall negotiating process that it took over nine months for the British government to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. But it seems that almost a year later, sentiments have calmed down and now lead to negotiating teams and positions.
The departure of one of the EU’s biggest member states is above all very painful for the people. Yet the impact on core issues such as security, defence and foreign policy should not be underestimated. One of the major uncertainties is how the financial shortfall in the EU’s annual budget created by Brexit can be made up. Not only needs the EU to engage in complicated, gruelling divorce negotiations with the UK. The European Union has to also restructure its budget to make sure that relevant programmes will not suffer financially.
Time to Team Up and Focus
The main positions are well known. The UK can no longer be a member of the single market because freedom of movement was the main argument for Brexit. At the same time, the Union will not grant the UK a deal that helps to be better off outside the EU. As the British government is aware that they cannot be part of the single market any more, all signs point towards a hard Brexit. Other than that, little is known in terms of how the negotiation will proceed and to what outcome it will lead.
Brexit might dominate the debates in the Houses of Parliament as well as in the Conservative Party in the next two years. Furthermore, the British government will have to deal with the Scottish attempt to hold yet another independence referendum. This however does not mean that the EU can lean back and watch events unfolding in the United Kingdom. Because despite the fact that each of the remaining 27 member states has different and sometimes conflicting priorities, it is undeniable that these countries must present themselves as a united front against all uncertainties, even though finding common ground on what continental Europe expects from the negotiations will not be an easy task.
No Cherry-Picking for Britain?
We have to bear in mind that new deals between the EU and the UK will not be struck by lawyers but by politicians rather defending their interests and not EU treaties. The laws that will define Brexit thus have to be adapted to the political interests of the parties and not the other way round. The mantra of the past months may have been that “there will be no cherry-picking”. However, it would be naïve to think that there is no horse-trading to satisfy the interests of each side during the Brexit talks.
With that in mind, the EU must defend its interest when it comes to intergovernmental cooperation in particular areas. For one thing, it has to protect the rights of its citizens living in the UK. Many people from Ireland, Poland or Eastern and Southern European countries currently reside in the UK which is why this is an important issue for several countries.
Months of Horse Trading in Different Areas
The EU needs to also focus on the areas where it can benefit from further cooperation with the UK. The great global financial hub, the City of London has unquestionably brought financial benefits to the entire European Union. This is why the EU should not aim to redirect business from the City to financial hubs on the continent such as Frankfurt or Paris. It should instead examine how it can continue profitable trade with London even after the UK has left the EU (it remains in the EU’s interest to continue benefitting from all profitable sources of income).
Contrary to common belief, EU legislation is not a static body of law with an one-size-fits-all approach. Member states have often had generous wriggle-room when it comes to translating EU legislation into national law as well as the interpretation of said legislation such as Germany’s non-adherence to the convergence criteria for the Euro or the gradual implementation of freedom of movement for citizens from countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, just to name but two. This means that we will be able to expect flexibility of the negotiating parties in the next two years.
Although Britain’s single political weight might decline on the global stage, it remains a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Plus its military is one of the strongest in Europe. In times where US military commitments cannot necessarily be relied upon, it is in the interest of the EU to cooperate closely with the UK in military affairs as Polis 180 member Chris Ruff has indicated. Continued security cooperation could thus be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for an item of particular interest to the British negotiating team.
As the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd pointed out, her European counterparts are also open to maintain cooperation in security affairs. In order to ensure the highest degree of security for its citizens in times of increased threats from terrorists, it is therefore of utmost importance to continue to work together.
Negotiate with a Cool Head and a Warm Heart
Hopefully, Europe’s leaders will not suffer from a paralysing birthday hangover after celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. By taking inspiration from the positive spirit displayed by pro-European movements in European cities, the negotiations will certainly kick off with a fresh start. This might help to breathe new life into the European project as set out in the recent White Paper. Only then the remaining member states are able to weather the upcoming challenges and find a vision for the next 60 years.
The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image source: “Brexit”, freestocks.org, http://bit.ly/2owJc4f, lizensiert unter Creative Commons license 1.0.: https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
Adrian studied in the UK, France and Germany and has a MA in International Relations. He is currently doing his PhD in political science at the FU Berlin. As a Polis 180 member, he works in the Post-Brexit Europe Area on policies regarding the future of the EU.
David studied International Politics and European Studies in Germany and the United Kingdom. He focused on topics surrounding the European Security Policy as well as the EU-UK relationship. As a Polis 180 member, he works in the Post-Brexit Europe area on the future relationship of the UK with the EU as well as the potential impact of Brexit on the Irish Island.