Brexit, Once Again: Wandering in a Maze

After Brexit, Theresa May wants to retain all the privileges England had in the era of EU membership. But the EU understands that it would mean its further collapse, because if a country that quits the union could in fact retain about 80% of its membership privileges not paying its coffers – this is nonsense, since it undermines the union’s foundations. In July and August, May met with European leaders Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, discussing the conditions for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. In an interview with, Alexander Rahr discussed whether England will succeed in achieving a kind of “semi-membership” from the EU and stay in the win.

These summits are held because Europe’s situation remains critical. It is still unclear what the UK withdrawal from the EU will look like. All the options, including repeating the referendum on Brexit, are on the table. However, time is running out, and deciding what to do is one of the main tasks Europe is facing now. So far, there have been no precedents when a country wanted to quit – everyone wanted to get in and to cooperate. Now Britain is quitting, and Theresa May wants to retain all the privileges it had in the era of EU membership. But the EU understands that it would mean its further collapse, because if a country that quits the union could in fact retain about 80% of its membership privileges not paying its coffers – this is nonsense, since it undermines the union’s foundations.

For Theresa May, the main problem is that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU had a qualified, but not an absolute majority of votes. So the legitimacy of what she does during the negotiation is constantly under question, which also explains the struggle she had in her own party and the turmoil in the government. She will face many other problems, but the EU could not help her anyway, because the decision was made democratically, Britain must withdraw from the EU, and the privileges the prime minister wants to retain will not be retained. Therefore, I think that now England is going to take quite a different path, following the United States rather than Europe.

As for Macron and Merkel, it seems to me that their situation is very tough. They have to struggle for maintaining the leadership of France and Germany in the EU – since this leadership is constantly called into question. This is especially true with Germany, which ceased to be the model and the 100% leader for the entire Europe. Examples are numerous, but the most important one is the conflictual situation around the migration crisis. In Germany, society tends to accept refugees, while Eastern Europe flatly refuses even discussing the integration of Africans and Arabs. In a number of countries, right-wing parties are now in power, and if the German AfD party has only 15% support, the situation in other countries is different. The countries where the right-wing forces are in power or could seize it do not want to hear about accepting migratory flows, whereas Germany cannot betray its humanistic ethos. Thus, Europe is split.

On July 7, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the government decision to negotiate a “soft Brexit,” after which two ministers left the cabinet and the government was on the verge of collapse. Elena Ananyeva, Head of the Center for British Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke in an interview with about the current political crisis in the UK, scenarios for its development and prospects for the power struggle.

The negotiations that we see now are routine and forced, unable to lead to anything. Even the EU summit in Brussels in June, when Merkel asked Europeans to support her in making a positive step toward a joint migration policy, completely failed: everyone smiled and agreed first, but in fact no one changed their positions. For me, it indicates that the EU is becoming unmanageable and paralyzed.

Since Britain ceases to be a EU donor state, it has to decide by itself how to interact with the union afterwards. Europe is ready to cooperate as it does with Norway or Switzerland, where everything is quite clear and develops well. Creating a common free trade area is being debated now. It would be great for the EU, but bad for England, since it wants to retain the capabilities it has had for the past decades. Ireland is a serious issue here, too. It does not go anywhere, so it should not be cut off from the common EU ways to develop. In fact, Ireland is the new strong EU-UK border which everyone is trying to mitigate.

On the other hand, the negotiations mechanics are hard to understand for an outsider: there are Brexit-responsible commissioners, there is Jean-Claude Juncker, who is negotiating at the main stage, and there are Merkel and Macron who have summits of their own and interfere in the process. Thus, it seems impossible to me to speak about any pragmatic or controlled exit of Britain from the EU. Experts might think that everything is in order, but for Europe, it is a great shock nevertheless.

As for the question how consolidated the EU position on Brexit is, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. So far, it looks like all the EU member-states agreed that the European Commission should negotiate with Britain on its own.

How do the Europeans react? For Germany and France, it is a key question, because these two countries are responsible for the union’s integrity and the processes within it. So these countries will make the main decisions on Brexit: since Europe will not provide England with a “semi-membership”, it will be a “Swiss option” most likely.

The other countries – the Baltics, for example, – turn a blind eye to it. Most are more interested in Britain remaining part of NATO, rather than the EU. The southern countries are wondering what will happen to the common money and how to live on. There are also countries like Greece, which will curiously observe how England will go on a free voyage, and whether it will become economically stronger outside the EU after abandoning the commitments it still has.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.