Europe 2016: A year of challenges (II)

For quite a few experts in European Union issues – actually European issues, as most of the states of this continent are connected, one way or another, to this organization, the most important threat for Europe in 2016 is the so-called Brexit. Carl Bildt (photo), the Swedish politician with an undeniable political attachment to continental integration, considers that a positive result of referendum in Great Britain concerning the exit from the EU would be genuine disaster for Europe.

“A vote against continued EU membership would be a disaster of the first order for Europe”, Bildt wrote around New Year’s Eve. “With the EU’s geopolitical clout greatly reduced, anti-EU forces in other member countries would gain strength. After expanding for more than a half-century, the EU would suddenly start shrinking. Dealing with the consequences of a UK exit would consume too much political oxygen in the succeeding years to address the myriad other challenges Europe faces. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: a year or two from now, the EU will look very different.”(http://www.projectsyndicate.org/print/european-union-crises-brexit-by-carl-bildt-2015-12)

Although it was announced for 2017, British Prime Minister David Cameron , already engaged in negotiations with the EU for reviewing the treaties of the organization so that it would respond to British expectations, hinted to the fact that this referendum “in or out” the EU might even be held this summer in the absence of a positive answer during the Spring Summit in Brussels. This made an expert in European (Griff Witte) write for “The Washigton Post”, on January 3, 2016, that, under the circumstances that the chances of any outcome of the planned referendum are, at this point, 50 / 50, according to opinion polls, “A British exit could hasten a broader E.U. breakup, with continental leaders despairing that an already strained union may struggle to survive without one of its cornerstone members. Washington, too, has much to lose if the country that has traditionally bridged the Atlantic divide opts to sail off into the icy depths of the North Sea. And the United Kingdom itself could fall apart if Britain chooses to leave, with pro-E.U. Scotland likely to revive its demand for independence.”

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/a-british-exit-could-be-just-the-start-of-europes-unraveling-in-2016/2016/01/03/c86af2dc-a813-11e5-b596-113f59ee069a_story.html). And on January 6, Joseph Nye–jr openly presented the official position of the USA concerning the Brexit: “If Britain votes no and exits the EU, the impact on European morale will be severe – an outcome that the US has made clear should be avoided, though there is little it could do to prevent it.” (https://www.projectsyndicate.org/commentary/danger-of-a-week-europe-by-joseph-s–nye-2016-01#gG3Lsm6j0XgsrxUl.99)

Therefore, on short term, even more threatening than the dangers of terrorism, financial crisis or radical changes on the continent under the burden of the refugee flow, Brexit is seen as the greatest European issue. There are not only high-level politicians or prestigious expert who agree on this diagnosis, but also, there are countless persons who do not shy away from deciphering ways to avoid such denouement. Strategies of impact are discussed by British public opinion for the “yes” camp at the British referendum, so that the balance would be decisively inclined, ways of intervention in EU treaties are imagined, to thus accomodate London’s demands, possibilities of action for survival are taken into account, in case a “no” at the referendum would turn Brexit into a reality. To a similar extent, calculations also concern the influences the EU in the absence of Great Britain could have on global balances of power, thus emphasising a major concern not only in Europe, but also in other states of the planet regarding this immediate threat. Nye-jr outlined in the same article we quoted above, that “For US diplomats, however, the danger is not a Europe that becomes too strong, but one that is too weak. When Europe and America remain allied, their resources are mutually reinforcing. /…/ Neither a strong US nor a strong Europe threaten the vital or important interests of the other. But a Europe that weakens in 2016 could damage both sides.” Under the circumstances, the expert outlined that the US President would visit this April – just before the presumptive British referendum – to plead for the signing of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and Europe (TTIP) , destined to stimulate economical growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

An idea tends to make way, and it is actually a reiteration of similar previous attempts, claiming that the EU might survive Brexit if it applies different levels of integration. Obviously, the weight point, the heavy nucleus, would be the Eurozone (as it was frequently declared last year.) Besides articles concerning this topic or public declarations – that were frequently encountered last year, too, during the Grexit episode, there are regular readers as well revealing similar points of view. In a reader’s comment to the article authored by Nye-jr. (a reader based in Italy, according to his name), it is outlined that the strength of Europe might come from an integration on several levels: “To be strong Europe needs to be more united. But in the present circumstances it cannot be more united at 29. Different levels of integration are required, with an inner circle based on the Eurozone with a federal perspective, and an outer circle linked to the former by the single market and few other common policies. This could accommodate most of the UK demands and allow further enlargement to the Balkans and Turkey when the necessary conditions will be fulfilled”.

It is a possibility that this idea might spread and find a peak position in the range of political responses to the threat of Brexit.

An interesting scenario referring to Brexit was presented by Sven Bisop, who actually questions the legitimacy of one of the strongest arguments of the “out” camp for the referendum concerning Brexit (which is the fear of the construction of an European army that might undermine the national sovereignty, which would be inconvenient for “pocket superpower” as Great Britain was defined from military perspective by strategist Julian Lindley French). In this analysis, the British influence strategic decisions by NATO referring to Europe would be highly diminished, as the alliance includes almost all EU states, and recently, Sweden has launched a debate concerning the possibility of joining NATO. Especially now, when, as a result of the decisions reached by the Summit of the Alliance in Wales, in September 2014, a fast intervention force was created to grant the needed discouragement to any aggression in Eastern Europe – therefore, the substance of article no. 5 in the founding treaty – such position adopted by London concerning Europe would affect its needed influence in strategic decisions referring to continental security. And it does not only concern Europe’s security, but also the use of its own armed forces.

Only if Great Britain sought to leave NATO as well – a proposal that was actually made, in a programmatic manner, by the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – the argument of defence relied on by the “out” camp would gain credibility and weight, but it would mean an evolution of British foreign affairs not taken into account at all by the authors of the “out” proposition at the referendum (especially Conservatives). As Bishop puts it, “Leaving the EU would not affect the performance of British arms. But it would have an enormous and immediate impact on Britain’s ability to shape the strategies that will in ever more instances shape the context in which those arms will be used, be it under NATO or EU or UN command or in an ad hoc coalition. A Brexit would weaken the EU, but, (…), the UK itself ‘would certainly become a much-diminished diplomatic player, too” (http://www.europeangeostrategy.org/2016/01/brexit-and-defence-where-is-the-strategy/ ).

It is obvious that Brexit represents – on a short term – one of the major challenges to be faced by the EU in the near future, and it represents a priority concern for European decision makers and for Brussels, over the wave of refugees, terrorism or Russia’s assault over the present balances of power on the continent.
Which does not mean, though, that these are viewed as less of a priority, that they are granted less attention compared to the year before or that no solutions are being conceived that would be convenient for the consolidation of the EU.

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