Brexit is a huge blow – for the UK, not the EU
Pascal Boniface says that, with reluctant partner London preparing to leave and uncertainties emanating from the US, the European Union is poised to make a fresh start under a new Franco-German leadership
Many commentators see Brexit as a huge blow for the European Union and a sign of its decline. Brexit took leaders on both sides by surprise. The EU had been used to seeing its member numbers rising, from the initial six to today’s 28. For the first time in the union’s history, a country is now asking to leave. Will others follow, amid dissatisfaction with the EU and the rise of populist movements? Will it be the beginning of the EU’s demise?
Brexit is certainly bad news – but for the UK, not the EU. The pound has weakened sharply since the Brexit vote. Many jobs are being relocated to the continent. Many more will follow. Foreign direct investments are retreating and the UK faces a £60 billion (HK$582 billion) divorce bill.
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London wants to sign new trade deals with the rest of the world, including Commonwealth nations. But without open access to the continent, it will lose its draw for a lot of foreign investors, including China. Scotland, eager to stay within the EU, wants a new independence referendum. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, fears the return of a hard border with Ireland. Therefore, the United Kingdom will be disunited.
A UK outside the EU is less relevant for many countries. Even though US President Donald Trump has declared his support for Brexit, the UK will become a less important ally for Washington. Former French president Charles de Gaulle once said the UK was America’s Trojan horse in Europe. No longer part of the EU, the British will appear less interesting to a Washington thus deprived of strong leverage over Brussels.
For the EU, less should be better. The UK has always been a reluctant partner, mostly blocking any initiative discussed at the European level. Without the UK, it will be much easier to launch new projects with a core group of countries really interested in European cooperation. Brexit also gives France an enhanced status, as it will be the only EU member with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
In the Netherlands, many had predicted the victory of Geert Wilders, an anti-European leader, but pro-Europeans won the day. In France, the far-right, anti-European Marine Le Pen is sure to qualify for the second round of the presidential election. But she will be defeated, as all other parties contesting will feel compelled to make a coalition against her, as they did when her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it into the second round 15 years ago.
European citizens are realising that, contrary to what populists tell them repeatedly, leaving the EU presents more costs than benefits. After the French and German elections, in May and September respectively, and confronted with the uncertainty from the US, the EU will have the opportunity of a fresh start under a new Franco-German leadership.
Dr Pascal Boniface is the founding director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs – IRIS, based in Paris