To remain in the EU or to leave it? That was the question British people had to answer on the 23rd June 2016. But who could have thought that the answer would have been « Leave »? Five months after the unexpected result, we can notice that the United Kingdom is likely to be known as the « Disunited Kingdom » into a few months. Actually, Scotland wants another referendum on its independence and Northern Ireland argues that it will try to reunify the Republic of Ireland. If the future for the UK seems to be dark, we do not know how it will affect other member states in the EU.
There are many ways in which Brexit would affect other member states. This paper focuses on the political and constitutional implications of Brexit, rather than economic and social impact.
How the EU would approach the Brexit process?
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty outlines the legal process by which a state can withdraw from the EU. Once a state has notified its intention to leave, the treaty specifies a two-year period for negotiating the terms of withdrawal. This period can be extended by unanimous agreement in the European Council. Otherwise, even if no deal has been reached, the withdrawing state automatically ceases to be an EU member.
Following a vote to leave, the UK has to decide when to invoke Article 50. Theresa May has declared that she will trigger Article 50 in March 2017, but it is still unclear what this agreement will look like, and there are a wide range of options on the table.
Moreover, the EU has to safeguard its economic and political interests, and will not accept everything from the UK. For example, the EU might want to present a united front towards the UK in order to avoid a domino effect all over the continent. The EU does not want to strengthen Eurosceptic parties.
How would the member states approach the negotiations?
The vote for Brexit is leading Europe to complex withdrawal negotiations between the UK and the EU. It is important to consider how different EU member states will approach the negotiations. Both economic and political factors will shape the EU’s negotiating stances.
From the UK’s point of view, its economic interests are to favor a smoothly departure, and to withdraw the EU with a generous trade deal. Theresa May, the British Prime Minister has a clear position on that: she wants to remain in the Common Market to take advantages of trade. But, if the UK succeeds in these trade negotiations, the EU could face a potential contagion effect. A trade deal in favour of the UK will not serve the EU’s political interests. As a consequence, the UK would not expect a painless departure.
On the one hand, the EU wants to prevent any Bexit domino effect. Consequently, Germany and France might want to « punish the UK for leaving » in order to safeguard wider European unity. But they also walk on eggshells : the Front National in France for instance, would seize any opportunity to accuse President Hollande of « punishing » British voters for exercising their democratic rights.
On the other hand, some other states have good reasons to treat the UK kindly. Ireland is among these states, due to its deep economic, political and social connections to the UK. Its strong interests are to preserve close relations. Brian O’Connell, the UK consultant Director of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, suggested that « Ireland will support the UK in any way possible ».
The Nordic member states, such as Denmark, Sweden or Finland, are the UK’s natural allies – they were part of the EFTA with the UK. We have to notice that Denmark has joined the EEC because the UK was joining it too. They did not have a strong interest or will to enter the former EEC. They all support free trade and open markets. If remaining in the single market is not possible for the UK, they will, at least, exert powerful influence on it.
Poland has also an interest in keeping the UK in the single market post-Brexit in as much as the UK is the second largest importer of Polish goods.
To sum up, even though the EU will likely play a hard game with the UK (and London will face a challenging period of negotiations), some member states will definitely be sympathetic to the UK’s case for domestic reasons.
Brexit and the strength of euroscepticism across Europe
Attitudes towards EU membership vary widely across the continent. Euroscepticism is rife in Denmark, Austria, Sweden and the Czech Republic. On the contrary, citizens of Malta, Spain, Ireland and Poland feel extremely positive about the EU.
For the moment, the rate of Euroscepticism in Europe is not higher after the referendum than it was before. But, in the next months, Brexit could embolden euroscepticism movements in other member states across the EU, especially if the negotiations favour the UK. Actually, if Great Britain negotiates a favorable withdrawal deal, with high levels of market access, it could be seized by Eurosceptics elsewhere, who would argue that their country should seek a similar deal or at least, should negotiate some reconfiguration of their relations with the EU. So, the withdrawal negotiations do not only concern the UK and the EU, but it concerns also every member state across the continent.
Some polls rank Denmark, Austria and Sweden as the most « at risk » of a Brexit-induced anti-EU reactions. For instance, in Denmark, the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party is now the second largest political party and its leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, wants a referendum on EU membership. In addition, the 2015 migrant crisis has strengthen the feeling that the EU is not so good for the country. Denmark is among these countries which refuse to open its doors ans borders to migrants. It is really something common for Danish authorities to close borders with Sweden when they think it is necessary. Then, the Oresund Bridge is closed and the train between Sweden and Copenhagen cannot link the two countries anymore. However, if eurosceptic movements are extremely important in Denmark, analysts and journalists doubt that Denmark would leave the EU due to a lack of political and public will for such a radical move.
Nonetheless, other eurosceptic parties could be strengthen by Brexit : Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France for instance, or the German Alternative für Deutschland. For the most pessimistic people in Europe, the Brexit could even lead to the unravelling of the EU. If other countries follow the UK out, the EU could eventually collapse, and consequently, Russia’s influence would be reinforced. The most eurosceptic countries or at least the countries where eurosceptic parties are growing, are the countries which have funded the EU in 1957. Germany, France, and even Italy are facing a backspace. They explain that they contribute more than they receive from the EU. However, after seeing some analyses, it shows that France, Germany, Italy and even the UK are the countries which receive a great amount of money from the EU.
Fortunately, on the other hand, some politicians and citizens argue that the EU has a good impact on their lives. They add that the EU had faced yet lots of crises and could even end up more united and cohesive after the UK has left the EU.
The impact of Brexit on member states’ position within the EU
As we have seen it above, Germany is in an undesirable position due to the Brexit. It has to lead a union of dependent countries. In addition, Europe’s other major powers, France, Italy and Spain, are in decline or in political turmoil. For instance, Spain has spent 10 months without government because the PSOE, the Socialist Party, refused Rajoy’s candidacy. Finally, they recently accepted it, but they had announced that they won’t vote the laws. As a consequence, Germany cannot rely on Spain or other major powers in Europe to lead the EU, that is why it needs the UK. After Brexit, Germany will have to assume a position of even greater leadership and authority, and some Germans do not want it. Moreover, it could also lead to more euroscepticism in countries that refuse Germany’s leadership and that are against its policies and its authority. Some analysts have also noted that without the UK in the EU, Germany is expected to contribute more to the European defense and security.
Poland is another country that could be weakened by the Brexit because it benefits from UK support. The state is currently in a dispute with the European Commission over concerns that its government does not respect European laws. In addition, the European Commission blame Poland for not having clarified the situation about the Constitutional Court and for not respecting its judgements. Brussels has several times gave Poland an ultimatum, but the country remains defiant in the face of the European capital. The former British Prime Minister, David Cameron has stood up for it at European Council meetings. Then, the Polish government sees London as its key ally, and consequently, Brexit will weaken Warsaw’s ability to resist from Brussels pressure.
Malta is also concerned by Brexit, because it would lose support from the UK. The island is against EU tax harmonisation. Actually, as a tax heaven, the country refuses the end of tax dumping. Moreover, it claims that it would damage its economy, which is true, considering that Malta earns money thanks to tax dumping and tax avoidance. Implementing such an harmonisation requires unanimous consent in the Council, which the UK has blocked. Without the UK, Malta will lack an opportunity to get its way.
Another impact of Brexit on other member states’ position is the « special status ». The negotiations between the UK and the EU have not begun yet, but it is almost clear that it will change everything in the EU and that it will affect more than just one country. For instance, other member states -especially those where a significant euroscepticism increase is likely – might seek to review their own membership. They might ask for opt-outs or other reforms. We clearly see that even five months after the referendum, the situation in the EU is still not obvious. Nevertheless, the vote to leave will have consequences on other member states because it will bowl the EU over. And the impact will be even more important for Ireland than for any other member state.
It’s an economic, political and historical problem
The impact of Brexit on the Republic of Ireland
Brexit will have greater impact on Ireland than on any other member state. First of all, because the level of trade between the two countries is so high that the Brexit could harm Ireland’s economy. Secondly because border controls may have to be established again between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
With a worth of £800 and £1billion per week, levels of trade between the UK and Ireland are extremely high. Ireland imports more from the UK than from any other country in Europe. In addition, it is the UK’s fifth largest export market. Brexit will undoubtedly have negative impact on this trade. Whichever type of trade deal is negotiated, there would be trade barriers, such as tariffs or red tape. Even if it is to early to have precise data, it will really damage Ireland’s economy.
From both side of the border, Prime Ministers are aware of these consequences. They both know that the Republic of Ireland will suffer more from Brexit than any other country in the EU. In July, 13th 2016, when Theresa May succeeded David Cameron in Downing Street, she immediately contacted Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister to talk about negotiations and withdrawal procedure. We can easily see how important it was for London to find a solution to the Irish case. It is at the same time an economic, political and historical problem.
No one is certain what the border between the Republic and the North will look like. In 1922, the Republic of Ireland became –finally– independent, after bloody fights against the UK. Nonetheless, the northern province remained under the British care. Since then, a very porous border subsist. A treaty (the Common Travel Area treaty) allows Irish citizens to cross the border whenever they want, with border controls very reduced. So, if this border exists administratively, it does not exist in the mind of Irish people. According to the Independent, almost 30 000 people cross the border each day. That is why the Brexit will change Irish citizens’ lives for ever. Firstly because it will give the UK government the opportunity to tighten border controls. It is very unlikely that the current Common Travel Area between the two countries could survive, insofar as the Republic of Ireland will be the EU’s backdoor to the UK. Northern Ireland has expressed its will to maintain free movements for Irish between the two regions of the island, but it is not mainstream opinion. In an article from RFI, the former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, in common with many experts argues that some border – whether a custom border or a passport border – is required. It is a way to « punish » the UK for having wanted to leave the EU. Unfortunately, this could have significant economic, political and symbolic impacts and be highly disruptive for people’s lives.
« Ireland will support the UK in any way possible »
– Brian O’Connell
Theresa May has another hot potato to tackle. After the will of Scotland to leave the UK, she has to preserve peace with Ireland. And she will have to propose very interesting things to the island, because rapidly after the referendum, Northern Ireland had expressed its will to reunify the Republic. Then, it will lead to a very « disunited kingdom », without Northern Ireland and Scotland. The nationalist Irish party, Sinn Fein has declared after the vote that the reunification between West and East Germany had been possible in 1990, so it will be also possible for Ireland to reunify. They argue that Irish people, from both side of the border want to stay in the EU : 55.6% of Northern Irish had voted « Remain » the past 23rd June. Consequently, thanks to the reunification, Irish citizens could stay in the EU.
To conclude, Brexit will affect every member state, but not the same way. It will have a significant economic, social and political impact on Ireland, which is the first concerned by the referendum result. The UK government and the Irish one are extremely aware of the negative consequences for their country. The EU has to prevent any potential contagion effect among its members, and so has to treat the UK severely to show states are better in than out. However, in my opinion, it is not in the EU’s interest to « punish » the UK for leaving, because such a behaviour could empower eurosceptic movements all over the continent