A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Rosa BalfourSenior fellow in the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Of course the EU can survive without Britain; the question is what kind of Europe it will be. Will it find the drive to reinvent itself for the twenty-first century, capable of addressing citizens’ concerns about the future and helping shape a changing world? Or will it wither into an inward-looking rump EU focused on defending past glories and pursuing half-baked initiatives for short-term gains, doomed to decline? This is what is at stake.
#Brexit accelerates the EU's need to reinvent itself.Tweet This
The British departure accelerates the EU’s need to reinvent itself but is not its cause. Believing that removing the British obstacle will set European integration in motion is fallacious. Brexit can be a transformational moment only if the EU seizes the opportunity to understand the causes of today’s crises, rather than focus on the symptoms, and rethink the terms of integration.
Current European leaders seem to be dodging these issues. All the signs in the run-up to the first brainstorm among the 27 remaining member states in Bratislava on September 16 to discuss the future of Europe without the UK suggest that more muddling through will be on the menu for the year to come. European elites do not have the mandate from citizens to rejuvenate the EU; the upcoming electoral cycle is unlikely to allow for any bold initiative; and the sentiments that led a majority of British people to vote to leave the EU are shared by many across the Channel, making any path toward reinventing the EU mired by pitfalls.
Kris BledowskiCouncil director and senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
Yes, the EU can live on without the UK. After all, the union had functioned prior to 1973 as a small group without supposedly important members such as Poland, Spain, Sweden, or the UK. Over time, Britain became an influential component of the union but not an indispensable one, such as Germany.
The EU won't collapse after #Brexit.Tweet This
The future heft of the European Union—with or without the UK—will hinge on its members agreeing to more than their narrow economic interests. The prominence of the UK in the EU lies in infusing Europe’s policies with strategic thinking. On relations with Africa, India, Russia, or the United States, Britain sees far and wide. With its notable military weight and a history of deploying force, the UK brings a muscular complement to the EU’s traditional soft power.
Britain also contributes comparative advantages to the EU through the country’s financial services, diplomatic corps, and excellence in higher education. Members in the East and North of the union look up to the UK for help in building consensus when the going gets tough in ministerial deliberations. The European Union won’t collapse after Brexit, but it will lose an influential voice.
Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Russia Center
Of course the EU can survive without Britain, but the question is: What kind of EU will it be? Losing the world’s fifth-largest economy and the EU’s strongest military power is a severe blow. The EU could possibly recover if it had more of a sense of purpose.
The EU can survive #Brexit, but what kind of EU will it be?Tweet This
But the sense of drift in the EU has been apparent for many years, accentuated by a lack of vision, solidarity, and leadership. There is no consensus among the large member states on basic questions, but above all on economic policy. Far from cementing the union, the eurozone has contributed to its fracturing, while the refugee crisis has displayed an alarming deficit in solidarity. The design flaws in the euro were replicated in the Schengen passport-free zone, which without properly controlled external borders was destined to fail.
Even though not in the eurozone or Schengen, the UK was often used as a scapegoat, while others conveniently hid behind the all too frequent British veto. Without Britain, the EU has the chance to redefine itself and move forward. But discussions in advance of the September 16 summit in Bratislava of the remaining 27 member states show just how divided the EU is on most big issues.
The EU will no doubt survive. But unless it can restore economic growth, tackle the scourge of youth unemployment, and make itself more relevant to its citizens, there may be more exits around the corner.
István HegedűsChairman of the Hungarian Europe Society
Yes, the EU can survive without Britain.
The European project has suffered an unprecedented blow from #Brexit.Tweet This
I disagree with arguments that it will be easier to reform the EU without the awkward Brits. Symbolically, the historic European project has suffered an unprecedented blow from the British vote to leave the union. Now, it will be much more difficult to energize the European elites to push the reset button for deeper political integration and a more supranational decisionmaking setup. Still, as a surprising number of demonstrations have shown in the UK since the shocking result of the June 23 referendum, pro-EU parties and politicians are not so lonely in their often uncertain efforts to keep the European construction working.
The multiple challenges facing the EU have strengthened populist forces all over the continent; many present not a cure but a clear danger to the European liberal democratic order. Some future political scenarios at the European and national levels may look shocking. Still, if democrats are able to change the general framing of public discourse from the politics of fear to the politics of vision, including a new narrative of a reinvented Europe, they might win in the long run. They have to find an emotional tone to supplement the rational arguments in favor of the EU cause.
Yet, politics is not just about smart communication techniques and a renewed language. The EU also needs self-confident democratic politicians in each member state.
Josef JanningHead of the Berlin office and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
Yes, the EU can survive, because it must—and it will do so for its own reasons. The June 23 popular vote in the UK to exit the European Union does not contradict the logic of integration, which is to sustain or regain the ability to shape Europe’s destiny by pooling sovereignty. Europeans fare better together, to use the British government’s slogan in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign. It just so happens that a majority of British voters begged to differ when it came to EU membership. None of the goals of deeper integration—be it the single market, the Schengen passport-free zone, the common currency, or even the prospect of a common defense—has lost its plausibility because of Britain’s refusal to participate.
With #Brexit, EU integration has become a two-way street.Tweet This
However, some of the thinking traditionally associated with the EU will wither away. With the UK leaving, integration has become a two-way street; member states can travel in both directions. Britain’s move may indeed tempt others and inspire more à la carte thinking, so there’s a need to consider issues that countries can opt into as well as out of. Also, the notion of states maturing over the time of their engagement in the EU seems overly ambitious. Europe’s nation-states have been around too long to adapt easily; integration should therefore build on strengthening the cooperative layers between governments rather than relying on the transformative power of supranational institutions.
Stefan LehneVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Certainly! Losing the UK is a sad outcome, but not a mortal blow, which the dropping out of Germany or France would be. In view of its opt-outs from the eurozone and the Schengen passport-free area, the UK has for a long time been a semidetached member state. Its departure weakens the EU but does not put its existence into question. In fact, polls across the continent following Britain’s June 23 referendum decision to leave indicated an increase in support for the EU.
#Brexit weakens the EU but does not put its existence into question.Tweet This
Sudden disintegration of the EU is therefore not a serious threat. The real risk is that the ongoing erosion of the cohesion and trust among member states will continue. In this case, the eurozone and Schengen would not be consolidated, important projects such as the energy union or a stronger EU foreign policy would remain stuck, and compliance with EU legislation would decay. This ever-looser union would formally still exist, but the real action would return to the (bigger) nation-states and to outside actors.
Reversing these trends is the main challenge of the September 16 summit of the 27 post-Brexit member states in Bratislava. This means rapidly pushing ahead with concrete action in priority areas like migration and security. But it also means gradually building consensus on a number of reform steps that could in the longer term deliver a more united and robust EU.
Bruno MaçãesNonresident associate at Carnegie Europe
No doubt. The EU is a multidimensional concept. In some of these dimensions, nothing of great significance will change. The euro area faces continuing challenges, but they have nothing to do with the United Kingdom. The EU as a regulatory power will very likely survive Britain’s exit unaffected. The single market will project its influence over the UK as it does on a global scale.
The EU as a regulatory power will likely survive #Brexit unaffected.Tweet This
The dimensions in which Brexit will be more deeply felt are foreign policy and security. The UK is a significant actor in these areas, and what is more, Brexit will leave the EU with reduced influence, prestige, and soft power. The image of disintegration in these areas is almost as negative as the reality. Therefore, whether the EU can survive as a major foreign policy actor without the UK is open to debate. My cautious answer is that it will struggle to do so.
John PeetPolitical (and Brexit) editor at the Economist
Yes, though it could be weaker and more fragmented. Britain has always been semidetached, refusing to join the club at first and then standing aside from the euro area, the Schengen passport-free zone, and large chunks of justice and home affairs cooperation. For this reason, Britain’s exit will do less damage to the EU than the departure of any other large country would.
#Brexit is likely to change the EU profoundly.Tweet This
Yet the EU will suffer from losing a big member that has long had the strongest liberal, free-trading instincts. EU countries not in the eurozone will feel more anxious as the single currency area pursues deeper integration; the arrival of a multitier Europe of concentric circles will become more obvious. If Britain prospers post-Brexit, that will also encourage Euroskeptic forces in many other countries.
So although Brexit is likely to change the EU profoundly, it is unlikely to destroy it.
Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Yes, it can and it will. But how well the EU survives depends on how the 27 governments of the smaller European Union will organize themselves.
Undoubtedly, there are negative sides to Britain’s decision to exit the EU. In economic terms, the EU is losing one of the three largest member countries. It is also losing a major diplomatic player and one of only two states (with France) with a sizable military projection capability.
The positive aspects of #Brexit are many, at least on paper.Tweet This
Yet the positive aspects of Brexit are many, at least on paper. First is the psychological factor. With Britain out, the element of suspicion will also go out of the door. The lingering feeling that British exceptionalism was always an impediment to truly European policies should disappear, removing an obstacle to bolder decisions by some of the EU 27.
Second, despite the massive technical and political difficulties ahead, a clear and effective relationship can be built in a reasonable timeframe between Britain and the EU of 27 members.
A third aspect is that the future UK-EU framework might constitute a formula to accommodate Turkey’s European ambitions, which cannot be fulfilled by accession.
Finally, Brexit gives an opportunity for some of the 27 members of the new EU to reorganize their relations in a stronger, more cohesive fashion. This may not necessarily involve all the remaining 27 governments and may lead to a core EU that subscribes to more ambitious goals than the rest of the bloc.
Eugeniusz SmolarSenior fellow at the Center for International Relations in Warsaw
Of course the EU can survive—and it (probably) will. There can be no time-out for deeper reflection, as a prolonged period of uncertainty would only deepen insecurity.
Of course the EU can survive #Brexit, and it (probably) will.Tweet This
The EU’s inner core will keep concentrating on solving the problems of the eurozone to create jobs around Europe. In the past, there was a lot of wheeling and dealing to keep the Brits, the Poles, the Swedes, and those in a few other non-eurozone states happy as they worried that decisions by members of the single currency might worsen their positions in the EU. With Britain’s vote to exit the EU, there will be less hesitation to do what is necessary without paying too much attention to the rest of the crowd.
The EU must do much more to reassure concerned Europeans about security, as uncontrolled migration might lead to the disintegration of the EU. The EU should also backtrack institutionally here and there—if only to signal to worried electorates that the whole process is under the control of national governments and parliaments. The time has come for good old politics at the expense of the much criticized but on the whole successful technocratic approach of yesteryear. The European Commission, whether that of President Jean-Claude Juncker or any other commission, will not be the source of solutions.
The most important priorities remain the EU’s internal cohesion and a sense of purpose from the pro-European elites to translate the European project into language with which the people can associate.