Europe Without Britain (Assessing the Impact on the EU of a British Withdrawal) is the title of a paper by Tim Oliver from the German Institute for International & Security affairs. A paper very kindly brought to my attention by Sean O’Hare in the comments of my previous blog piece.
Undoubtedly the irony will not be lost that the Germans appear to have considered the wider implications of the UK leaving more than the UK itself, despite us being by some distance the most Eurosceptic of all EU nations, a feeling promoted often by ill-disguised German-phobia. As yet we still haven’t seen an official ‘EU-exit’ paper by the biggest Eurosceptic party in the UK.
Instead, as Mark B observes on the same blog piece, when it comes to all matters EU “[the UK’s] political class have a tendency to talk to the electorate as if we were like children. The “let’s give them one last chance“, sounds like a mother warning their wayward child before punishment”.
Onto the paper itself, regular readers will recognise many of the themes that run through the paper – themes which have been rehearsed many times on numerous Eurosceptic blogs – only in this case it has been fleshed out to 30 pages and largely concentrates on the impact on the EU of a UK exit.
What the paper acknowledges, far more than our own House of Commons research paper, are the problems the EU itself would face were the UK to leave. It’s tempting to take an indifferent view to this, but the fact remains that it will still exist on our doorstop, and we would still have to trade and deal with it. Further exacerbating the EU’s problems, and consequently the Eurozone, is not in our own self-interest given that circa 40% of our exports depend on it.
Tim Oliver specifically highlights three problems for the EU on UK exit. The first of these is that it will be unprecedented and until now “something of a taboo”. As the report notes:
The withdrawals of Greenland in 1985 and Algeria in 1962 had prompted concerns they set precedents for the withdrawal of a member state, but as overseas territories they provided little by way of a guide to how an actual member state might withdraw.
Not only would the EU be concerned with future relations with the UK but far more pressing for itself and its own survival are internal problems and their resolution. The necessity to prop up a fragile Eurozone would be paramount but also, as the report notes, negotiations would need to take place within the EU to amend its own institutions, voting allocations, and quotas. These are issues which are rarely settled easily. Not least the EU budget which would need to be rebalanced, requiring inevitably more contributions from France and Germany undoubtedly to the dissatisfaction of their taxpayers.
There would also need to be decisions on changes to the system of QMV, so as to reflect the disappearance of the UK with its 29 votes. In the ensuing negotiations, all the nation states will be mindful of the numerous scenarios for how this could change the balance of power within the Council. Undoubtedly this would cause conflict and protracted negotiations between smaller states versus large states, northern countries versus southern ones, protectionist versus more liberal and so on. Given the enormity of the consequences and ramifications both economically and politically of the UK leaving and the uncertainty and vagueness of Article 50 one wonders whether it would better for a smaller country to leave first, ahead of the UK, as a kind of dry run.
The UK’s 73 seats in the European Parliament would need to be redistributed. The report notes that the process of allocating seats has always been an unclear one, subject as it is to numerous formulas, solutions and political horse-trading. Depending on the date of a UK withdrawal arrangements may need to be put in place for British MEPs to leave the Parliament before the elections due in 2019.
Other institutional changes would mean the loss of an EU Commissioner, the loss of UK judges from the ECJ. Then the question would be whether English would remain the working language of the EU, as a UK exit would leave only Ireland and Malta remaining as the only countries where English is the official language. Given France’s track record on that issue this would be in serious doubt – putting the Eurozone at further disadvantage in trading relations with the rest of the world. All of these problems leave us in no doubt that a new EU treaty would be required as changes have to be made to the founding treaties.
The second issue the EU faces is the lost of one of its biggest members. A country that provides an important link to the United States, a country that holds a unique position in the world and one that gives the EU extra credibility, as a member. The EU is bound to lose self-confidence, feel more isolated and probably move further towards protectionism as a result. It would also alter the balance of power within the EU…
A British withdrawal raises a whole host of possibilities about changes to the balance of power and leadership of the EU. A withdrawal could boost the Franco-German axis. This, however, ignores that both Paris and Berlin have often used London to balance the other, something London has often gone along with in the hope of turning the axis into a triangle. Even with other states such as Poland or Italy filling the UK’s place, we cannot overlook how the Franco-German axis has struggled to provide leadership thanks to the widening of the EU. The Franco-German axis and the wider EU have also struggled to adapt to Germany’s increasingly dominant position. The disappearance of a large state such as the UK, one often willing to use its weight to challenge EU thinking, could further embolden Germany’s position and agenda.
The final issue is how the EU deals with the UK after exit….
Despite what British Eurosceptics and Britain’s critics in the rest of the EU might wish, Britain and the EU will remain deeply interconnected. Indeed, the title of this paper itself highlights a common way of thinking that needs to be qualified: a withdrawal could never mean the end of Britain in Europe, only of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. A withdrawal itself may take several years to action, and there exists the possibility of formal relations continuing afterwards in some way
Both the EU and UK would need to come to terms with the ongoing relevance each would have for the other. For the EU, the UK would remain a European power if not an EU-power. A European power that would remain part of the Commonwealth, the UN and NATO. If the UK leaves it sets a precendent, clearing the way for other members to do so thus unravelling quickly the project itself.
The paper is by no means comprehensive, issues such as; free movement of people, civil aviation, overland transport, agriculture, technical barriers to trade, public procurement, scientific research, Schengen, fraud, education, statistics, environment, media, taxation of savings, pensions, Europol and Eurojus are not discussed in detail.
But what it does illustrate is that negotiations of our exit will be just as taxing for the EU as it will for the UK – a point made via a German paper.
Meanwhile in the UK we have to suffer the superficial nonsense of Cameron at a Tory party conference.