The European Union’s thought leaders will have undoubtedly weighed our new Prime Minister in the balances and found him wanting. In preparing to rebuff his advances, they will have identified his weaknesses, most notably perhaps: not believing in anything, not knowing anything and a propensity to bold gestures without consideration of practicalities. Easy meat then for the EU’s ruling technocrats who have the wherewithal to outsmart, out-stonewall and out- subvert the Downing Street Bubble.
Yet the EU’s ruling elite must also be worried in the event of a no-deal Brexit of: (1) a major Trumpian outpost appearing 35 km off the coast of mainland Europe; (2) damage to EU Member State economies, especially the Republic of Ireland and Germany; (3) the uncontrollable expansion of German hegemony of the EU; and (4) contagion across their emerging superstate especially of populist movements and Member States seeking financial bail-outs. Can then worryingly unstable and unpredictable elephants in the EU’s room provide a strong enough imperative for the EU to become more pragmatic in its dealing with Brexit?
Playing the Trump Card
Whilst the EU, in particular, Germany, needs American trade, technology, armed protection, and money, they hate feeling inferior to the World’s only military and economic superpower. Being put in their place by an assertive and pugnacious USA obviously grates even more. The UK then leaving EU control and aligning more closely with American interests weakens the EU’s hand in any negotiations or foreign policy.
If the Trump experiment actually works (or Texan style low regulation becomes the US national consensus), the EU would have their work cut out to show that their social, economic and regulatory models are better, affordable and sustainable in the long term. The visible example of the UK benefitting from close alignment with Mr Trump’s America would increase populist unrest and weaken German hegemony of the EU; calls to ‘drain the swamp’ could be replicated across Europe. In the worst-case substantial loss of EU trade with the UK could be compounded by a similar loss of EU trade with North America as a different, stronger and more competitive trading block emerges around the North Atlantic.
Any assistance to a Member State to alleviate adverse effects from a no-deal Brexit would set a precedent for bail-outs or debt cancellation elsewhere in the EU. It would be difficult to dismiss such demands without creating the impression of favouritism leading to ill will and tensions within the EU. Bail-outs then are prone to a demand-side escalator and increasing dependency. Why even try to balance the books or stand on your own economic feet when largesse is readily at hand? Just get out the begging bowl and hire Irish, Dutch or French advisors with the right contacts in Brussels and Berlin.
Unleashing the Populist Genie
Populism isn’t going away as disconnected electorates react to the obvious democratic deficient at the centre of power in the EU. Economic hardships and uncontrollable change exacerbate the feeling of helplessness, anger, alienation, and insecurity. The EU, by being seen to be uncaring, dogmatic and inflexible, must fan the flames of popular discontent. Contagion then is an ever-present danger across Member States as the EU focuses on creating its homogeneous superstate and pursuing unpopular policies, whilst dismantling stable homogeneous communities and countries.
Fear of Germany
The EU is effectively an extension of German influence in Europe. The EU either acts to contain that dominance (and alleviate genuine European fears from past history) or as a vehicle to facilitate German hegemony and expansion. The loss of British countervailing influence tends to increase the power of Germany working with France to set the EU’s agenda.
Following the May EU Parliament elections and selection of a new EU Commission, direct German influence is more blatant and likely to be more confident. Without some means of involving the UK as a stabilising and moderating influence, there are likely to be increasing tensions as the EU’s powerful ruling juggernaut (Germany and France) intimidates the less influential Member States.
Bending the Inflexible EU Rules
The EU does bend or even ignore completely its own rules when serving its interests, such as to expand its power or facilitate the creation of a homogenous centrally controlled European superstate. The draft Withdrawal Agreement is such an example and may not be actually legally compliant with the EU’s treaty obligations and ways of working. The EU’s double standards and more sinister dark statecraft then cannot remain a secret indefinitely with unpredictable consequences. Yet, there are ways for the EU to be flexible without compromising its fundamental aims or ways of working, for example, through the use of legal fictions and a more even-handed approach to the UK’s acquired rights.
The uniqueness of Brexit is a situation where it is in the EU’s interests to be flexible, even as a temporary expedient, until Britain is able to negotiate a long term stable relationship that facilitates economic and security cooperation whilst remaining sovereign outside the EU’s European Superstate. Whilst Brexit can be seen as a failure by the EU’s Technocracy, if the UK does choose a different way forward, (for example EFTA/EEA, see the Real Brexit at Never was), the EU needs to respond with neighbourly Realpolitik.