The state of votes
Brexit is the EU’s failure
Budai Péter|translated by: Kummer Livia
Brexit: lesson and opportunity for development
Szilágyi Eszter Soewarni| translated by: Kummer Livia
Budai Péter | translated by: Kummer Livia | 2018. July 31. 08:00
In a referendum in 2016 the majority of its population decided that the UK would be leaving the European Union. Negotiations began last March. One can claim that the EU is representing the region’s interests with relative efficiency and unity, nevertheless the phenomenon is the failure of the EU. The Brits’ withdrawal is detrimental to the internal processes of the Union and its international role also suffers.
It is obvious that Brexit became an important issue on the EU’s political agenda. In the last years, Member States and EU institutions alike have been preoccupied with the quick resolution of issues regarding the rights of citizens, finances, as well as the situation of Northern Ireland and the debate surrounding the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. These problems are really only the tip of the iceberg. Besides them, the legislation on future cooperation between the EU and the United Kingdom is still to be drawn up.
As long as Brexit occupies a central spot on the EU’s political agenda, it takes away capacities from other important questions.
The question of immigration is exemplary. Immigration is a core issue on past and coming elections but as of today, the EU has not found a solution in this area. This occurrence isn’t an isolated case in the EU. Around the time of the prolonged adoption and entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, among other states, Hungary also criticized that instead of finding solutions to the economic crisis beginning in 2008, the EU was still preoccupied with the Lisbon reform process in 2009.
As a consequence of Brexit, without a change of processes, the overbearing weight of Germany is further strengthened within the EU. France’s capacity to defend its own interests has diminished in the past years, as has Britain’s – because of its exit policy. This resulted in German predominance that can be clearly felt nowadays. Its impact is detectable, among other things, in the tackling of the Ukrainian crisis and the Union’s political resolution on immigration. It isn’t a coincidence that critics claim there was clear German preponderance in leading EU positions. Admittedly, if German influence is already so strong, the situation will only get worse once the British leave. This can lead to serious power-imbalances, the diminishing of the Member States’ ability to defend their interests, or even to unilaterally established regulations.
Beyond all this, Brexit can be perceived as a reaction. There is a typical tendency in that EU institutions handle all crises in such way that allow them to gain more and more competences. Such aspirations of the EU institutions necessarily result in more and more integration, which in certain cases can prove to be efficient crisis management. There are situation in which this can feel menacing though or in an unfortunate case it can result in the grave loss of a Members State’s trust. If there is precedent that one Member State left the EU, the likelihood of this happening again is higher. This chance however is quite low at the moment, in my opinion. Chances can be increased however by existing political divisions, such as the abyss between old and new member states.
The EU is still struggling with the problem of becoming a truly decisive player in an international political dimension. Since we’re talking about a “sui generis” entity, whose foreign policy coexists in parallel to the foreign policies of its Member States, it is much harder to implement a unified action. The Union is much less characterized by decisive and independent political steps in international politics. This can also restrict the representation of its interests on multilateral fora.
In case a Member State decides to leave, the EU obviously loses face. For any external viewer, sharing with such community becomes less attractive. This is fundamentally exacerbated when a State, considered a middle power player, leaves the Union. In the UK’s negotiation attitude – despite all its faults – the following factors cannot be dismissed. The United Kingdom is currently a dominant member of the British Commonwealth, traditionally maintains good relations with the United States of America and it is a nuclear power.
It is possible that the UK has to bear more responsibility due to the reasons of its departure than the EU does, nevertheless the exit itself presents the Union as a much less favorable alternative, in the eyes of candidate states. In addition, it might also implicate to the other players in international politics that the EU is less important in the international arena.
Szilágyi Eszter Soewarni | translated by: Kummer Livia | 2018. July 31. 08:00
There is no doubt that Brexit is a negative point in the European Union’s history, since it serves as a precedent of a country leaving the Union. It would be an exaggeration though to claim that concentrating on Brexit would distract the European Union from paying attention to other major measures. What could be more important than exploring and analyzing the reasons behind the United Kingdom’s decision? This is all the more essential, because if the EU processed and understood the real reasons behind Brexit, it could serve as a crunch to prevent further withdrawals.
In relation to Brexit, it is best not to deal with the United Kingdom’s decision per se, but rather to concentrate on the phenomenon itself: what can compel a Member State to make such a radical decision? And what can prevent the generation of a so-called domino effect, and persuade Member States to opt for cohesion instead of disintegration?
The first reaction to the causes of Brexit – which may already come without thinking – is none other than; “immigration and the EU’s faulty crisis management are the cause of everything.” This question however is far more complex and cannot be answered with any schematic answers. It is true that instead of the initial expectations in 2004 (5.000 – 13.000 immigrants) it might have come as a cold shower to the Brits that 129.000 immigrants arrived from the EU within the first year*. But that is only one aspect of the problem. Today's political arenas face a common, complex phenomenon both inside and outside the EU.
The so-called political and communicational openness, which conceal huge potential, rather incite menace and confusion in the Member States today. Thanks to globalization, today anyone can express their political opinion in almost any way. This in itself should not be a problem, since freedom of expression is one of the fundaments of democracy. At the same time, the above described phenomenon inevitably splits further an already heterogenic political arena, to which the European Union – with its institutions based on the representative democratic system – cannot give a comforting answer to. All this creates uncertainty and leaves room for the increase of sensationalist, populist voices. These, more often than not for lack of professional content, but with an able political stunt and the latest technological advancements of social media, find a way to exploit the situation. It would be a mistake to claim that the EU is the only participant that cannot always answer these political challenges with enough efficiency. It can be observed that – although on two separate continents – the same social class voted for Donald Trump, which also decided that the United Kingdom be leaving the EU. This shows that citizens’ trust wavered not only in classic political leaders, but also in the system. A general “shift to the right” can be explained by this, as well as the strengthening of overly nationalist and populist voices.
One of the biggest tasks of the EU is to regain the trust of its citizens and to strengthen its own credibility. It has to face the fact that its institutions and decision-making mechanisms are often incomprehensible to laymen, therefore its comprehension is limited to a “political elite”. It should aim to make its institutional system and its own values more understandable and tangible for those who are not experienced in political or legal questions but who represent an important voting mass. It is obvious that the EU’s most important driving force is its own, 28 member family. But considering the ever louder Eurosceptic voices, which try to turn people’s lack of information into their own weapon, it would be essential for the EU to elaborate such a general direction which can highlight – better than it is currently the case – the merits and legitimacy of the European Union.
Finally, the United Kingdom’s decision can indeed shed a negative light on the European Union. We cannot ignore however that standstills such as Brexit reach every (international) system and organization. Here’s the opportunity for the EU to turn this low point around and make it an advantage and to rethink, strengthen itself, for its existence and credibility to remain unshattered.
Budai Péter|translated by: Kummer Livia
Szilágyi Eszter Soewarni| translated by: Kummer Livia
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