EDITORIAL Brexit : The impact on the European Union

In July 2019, Boris Johnson who replaced Theresa May as the U.K.’s Prime Minister, promised to execute Brexit by October 31 with or without a deal.

Britain’s split from the EU is not only the first time a member state will leave the Union, but is also the most severe constitutional crisis the UK has known since 1973, when it joined the six-nation European Economic Community.

Initially, Britain’s departure date had been set to March 29, 2019, but the government was twice forced to request an extension. The new date has been set to October 31. However, there may yet be further extensions or unexpected twists and turns.

Due to factors such as austerity and frustration with traditional politics, Brexit has often been described as a nationalist project on the part of the English electorate. But there is no doubt that wider questions regarding the role of the nation state, especially in an age of globalization also came into play.

Nevertheless, there are concerns that it has caused a shift of focus away from major global challenges, including the growing phenomenon of climate change.
For many Europeans, the prospect of the UK’s split from the EU will come at a bad time…a time when the United States, Russia and China are increasingly asserting their powers.

THE DIVERGENT TRAJECTORY

Arguably, the EU has never been more fragmented than it is today. Divisions over policy preferences have become bitter. European solidarity has been undermined as a consequence of both long-term problems and more recent crises.
Nationalist parties have exploited the ever-growing distrust of European elites, as well as anti-immigration sentiment, to propose populist solutions to Europe’s problems.
The same arguments used to justify a ‘Yes’ vote in the UK referendum could also exert greater influence in other European states.
Anti-immigration and anti-globalisation political positions are hardly exclusive to the UK.
While there was no evidence of short-term contagion effects, in the sense of other member states planning on holding referendums, the British vote nonetheless poses a serious challenge to the political establishment across Europe, and that such effects might begin to be felt in the months and years ahead.

THE CONVERGENT TRAJECTORY

However, without the UK, the EU might be better equipped to move into crisis resolution mode. The Brexit negotiations, if handled well, could help the process of

rebuilding solidarity among the remaining 27 member states.
In the weeks following the UK referendum, it was argued that EU member states should ensure the UK doesn’t get ‘too good a deal’ so as to discourage Eurosceptic factions in other member states. In some quarters, the argument still carries some weight.

Of course, there has been a lack of solidarity among EU member states in recent years.
But this has not prevented the advent of new initiatives. The eurozone crisis has already led to new institutional reforms, new legislation, a new treaty, and even new institutional mechanisms to deal with the sovereign debt crisis and to prevent further financial melt-down.

It can therefore be argued that one of the consequences of the eurozone crisis has been to open the door to further European integration.
Brexit may make further steps in this direction even more likely.

Brexit is one of several crises to have hit the EU in recent years. The implications of Brexit on European integration are, therefore, also the consequences of those other crises.

THE UNCERTAINTIES

Crises, in general, can provide opportunities and act as sources of motivation for those who plan to use instability and uncertainty to their advantage in furthering particular agendas.

Those agendas may not be necessarily pro-integration, in the sense of unconditional transfer of national powers to supranational institutions, but they are associated with EU-level reform.

Alternatively, in times of political crisis, other agendas may seek to promote disintegration.
Political factions seeking the collapse of the EU and a return to exclusively national, or even nationalist politics will also see crises as an opportunity for them to push their own vision of the future.

Only the future will tell which of these competing plans will be successful. There are no clear indicators as to which agenda will win, as there is no mechanism that will at all times push forward the pro-cooperation agenda.

But the political winds that are blowing through the EU27 seem to have produced favourable conditions for another attempt at closer integration.
Provided that the EU ruling parties remain committed to European integration, Brexit may very well become the catalyst for another spell of intense activity, consolidating and bringing the remaining EU member states closer together.

The Editor-in-Chief

Trajan Dereville

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