As things stand now, there are about ten weeks to go until the United Kingdom will crash out of the EU. There is not much doubt that this will be disruptive—for the EU member countries, especially for Ireland, and for the UK, particularly for Northern Ireland.
The attempts to finally agree on a divorce settlement between the EU and Great Britain were realized. But there is little chance that this settlement will be accepted in the British parliament. The few alternatives—the ‘Norwegian’ option, or a new referendum—face equally dark prospects. To extend the period to allow for additional talks is also not possible. When the EU elections are held in May, everybody has to know whether or not British deputies are to be elected.
So what can we expect to happen in the case of a hard exit?
Tensions in the EU have been simmering for some time. There were ongoing quarrels and contradictions during the Euro crisis, and then, as a consequence of unregulated immigration flows. In addition, the Italian government is planning to seriously run up their debts, violating all relevant stability rules. The EU reactions to Russian assertiveness in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, the poisoning scandal in the UK (with fallout now in Switzerland) and, notorious violations of anti-doping rules also raised different levels of concern. The governments in Hungary, Italy and Cyprus have expressed understanding towards Russian leaders. More relevant, there are serious quarrels over perceived violations of the independence of the media, legal institutions and educational organizations in Poland and Hungary.
Until recently, the EU’s reactions have involved a mixture of talking and admonishing, but not much action. But now, both Poland and Hungary are exposed to different stages or Article 7 procedures which have been initiated by EU bodies. Even the conservative party grouping in the EU parliament is becoming agitated.
What is your expert view on these issues? Should the EU respond to rule violations by members in the same manner that they would when non-, or not-yet member states commit violations? What is the prospect of achieving success through further talks? What is the leverage of the EU? How do we factor-in the broader context of rising populism? Can the EU still defend its credibility against spoilers?
Like every year, we will have a look at the year to come:
what are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?
And what are the three developments you would welcome most in global politics next year?
Given the coming holidays, I would appreciate it if many of you would respond. It may be short.
Season’s greetings, and – despite your maybe skeptical forecasts: Happy New Year.
– Klaus Segbers
Recent visits by high-level guests (the Vice President, and the ministers for defense and the exterior) from D.C. to Europe were scrutinized as rarely a visit from the most important partner country has been before. Comments during and after the election campaign about NATO being ‘obsolete’, and the EU being ‘bound for a breakup’, in sync with welcoming anti-EU insurgents created an atmosphere of puzzlement.
As for defense matters, EU member state leaders suddenly rushed to assure their willingness to increase defense budgets to (a long ago agreed) 2% of their respective GDP, maybe until 2024. But they also started to get involved in number games – don’t we also have to consider development aid, expenses for refugees, or costs for stabilizing currencies? The guests from overseas were not visibly impressed. As for the EU, which this year faces up to four crucial elections (Netherlands, France, Germany, possibly Italy), ‘mainstream’ leaders (one of the populist battle cries) continued to borrow some topics from the populist activists: unaccepted refugee candidates shall be returned quicker, austerity policies should give way to state-sponsored spending for infrastructure, social niceties, etc.
Yes, the EU is undergoing its most serious crisis after it was created about 60 years ago, but it also remains a success story. The question is: what are Europe’s options for not just surviving, but regaining momentum and initiative?
– Klaus Segbers
Brexit has won. It is not yet possible to understand all of the serious consequences of this popular – and populist – decision.
Three aspects seem to be central at this early moment after the counting of votes.
One, divorce negotiations have to be led in a constructive and fair spirit, but also in a way to make clear to everybody that exit means good-bye. There are Norwegian models of formalizing a new relationship, as well as Canadian and Swiss models. That remains to be seen. But the EU side has to make absolutely clear that leaving does not come with a premium, thereby setting an incentive for others to follow.
Two, there are politicians who want to play domino. Erdogan, not even being a member (and looking at his policies without a chance to become one), prepares a referendum on terminating the accession negotiations. Wilders in the Netherlands wants to have a referendum on ‘Nexit’ now as well. Others will follow. While the EU cannot and should not prevent that when national legislation allows for a referendum, these options should not look attractive. And, as expected, the first economic trends look disastrous.
Thirdly, the underlying problem is the huge and growing wave of popular resentment toward politics and politicians. And yes, decision makers in most countries are underperforming. The EU was and is not able to convey the impression that it can cope successfully with the challenges like the Eurocrisis and overspending in some countries; terrorism and related security issues; conflicts and failing states in the MENA area, the growing relevance of social networks, and the resulting migration streams; an unpredictable, rule-violating and assertive Russia; an arc of frozen conflicts from Ukraine to the Trans- and Northern Caucasus; and others. All of this is fuelling populism.
I invite you today to share your opinion on any or all of these aspects.|
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers
The prospective of an exit of the UK from the EU has turned from a distant opportunity and a bargain chip into something quite real. It very well may happen that early this summer the EU will lose, for the first time, a member state.
For the EU, this could mark a potential watershed beyond which a much loser agglomeration of states would constitute a weaker union. Also, a less liberal one. There would be a whole range of agreements that have to be annulled, or re-negotiated. The EU also would have to secure its fabric and avoid that other member states also claim special rights for themselves.
For the UK a phase of deep uncertainties would begin. There are no bilateral trade agreements with individual member states of the EU. The future of the City of London would be even more uncertain. And Scotland may finally opt to leave the rest UK.
So would the EU become more consistent without a UK notoriously asking for a special relationship? Or would this indicate the beginning of the end?