The UK and the EU are still at diplomatic loggerheads following the former’s decision to leave the latter [not news – get on with it!]. One particular point of contention is that of the Irish border – the only land border the UK shares with the EU – and one that has the potential to reignite the tension and conflict similar the period before the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement twenty years ago. This is looking more and more likely to be a rehash of the Irish Question nearly a century after the creation of the Irish Free State, as fresh calls for the unification of the island of Ireland can just about be heard over the dull roar of MaxFakking and border redrawing. On the surface, it is doubtful that we should ever see the unification of the two halves of Ireland, but no one could have predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the two halves of Germany nearly thirty years ago.*
While the Irish Boarder Question dominates this particular period of the Brexit negotiations, we should perhaps take a look at some of the individual nation-states with whom Britain is negotiating with:
- Austria is governed, in part, by the far-right populists (45%), who are in coalition with the centre-right (55%). The former have said that they would bring Austria out of the EU should Turkey be admitted into the Bloc;
- France nearly voted for the Euroskeptic right, but instead went too far the other way, which will only bolster Euroskeptic support in neighbouring countries;
- Germany now has far-right members of the Bundestag for the first time since reunification, who are the third party with over ninety seats (13%). This party was recently polling at 20%, which would make them the second largest party in the Bundestag;
- Greece is looking more and more stable, despite the coalition of far-right and far-left parties running the country. Though this does bode well for Italy;
- Hungary’s Orban has strengthened his grip in Hungary, and with it, galvanised the Visegrad Four – the Union’s comparatively-neglected periphery consiting of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic;
- Italy’s populist government have renegotiated their choice of Finance Minister after a recent veto, ending the possibility for another election in September. The 3rd largest economy, and second biggest debt, is set to come back to challenge the Bloc, as it will be able to blame it for vetoing the government’s spending plans;
- The populist, anti-migrant, and Euroskeptic right are the second biggest party in the Netherlands;
- Spain is still struggling to come to terms with its numerous internal separatist movements, which will come to a head soon with the ousting of Prime Minister Rajoy, and the new PM creating a coalition with Basque nationalists, two Catalan Independence parties, the socialists, and the new PM’s own centre-left party;
- Sweden’s Euroskeptic right is looking increasingly likely to be the largest party in September’s parliamentary election, running on an anti-Islam, anti-Migrant platform that is also calling for a referendum of EU membership and Schengen;
- Other countries with prominent populist Euroskeptic parties include Finland and Denmark, as well as the ruling party in Poland.
It looks as if whatever we negotiate today, could be ripped up tomorrow, depending on what colour the government is, in any given country, at any given time. Hell, I’ve had to re-write that above list twice already (Italy and Spain). Then there are next year’s European Parliament Elections… Even the recent developments we could consider “progressive” or “good” – such as Ireland’s vote to repeal the 8th Amendment, effectively legalising abortion, or Germany’s decision this week to allow further numbers of refugees – have been decided at national levels, before they can be implemented at the supranational level.
To add to the above list, we also have the recent Trump announcement regarding trade tariffs on the EU, which our current membership status also subjects us to. In fact, considering the apparent strength of the trading bloc giant – a prominent theme in UK Brexit discourse – it’s individual leaders have managed very little in terms of persuading the White House to rethink it’s agenda. Macron and May’s attempts to influence American foreign regarding trade tariffs, withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, and of course the Paris Climate Accord, have been wholly ineffective. Can we attribute this to the prevailing wisdom that Trump is stupid/a geopolitical genius [delete as appropriate], or to the internal warring within and between member states of the European Union?
In the days and weeks immediately after the Referendum in the UK, support for leaving the Bloc in other member states fell noticeably. As the days and weeks turned to months and year, and states have had their own internal debates in the form of general or presidential elections, populist Euroskepticism has recovered. Even in the case of France – whose electorate voted in favour of the arch-integrator Macron – did so despite neither of the two main parties in France gaining enough votes to make it to the second round of voting. Indeed, the incumbent Socialist Party came fifth, beaten by the Euroskeptic, herd-left Unsubmissive France party.
While there is no suggestion of sitting on our hands and doing nothing and waiting for a deal to come to us, we should be proactive enough to take the bull by the horns, take the coming shock, and know that the markets will recover – because they always do.
The EU is a barn ablaze, and we managed to get out with only light burns, and without too much lung damage from smoke inhalation**. Would it not be more productive to start laying the groundwork outside of the EU, helping our neighbours to better adjust for if or when they leave, or should the Bloc collapse? Any true internationalist, dedicated to the betterment of the international community, would have to say yes.
* The reason for my comparison stems from a family anecdote, which saw my dad in his office in early November 1989. He was asked by a colleague: “do you think we’ll ever see the fall of the Berlin Wall?” To which my dad replied “not in our lifetime.” The Wall fell less than a week later… Other than this perhaps-dubious citation, a colleague of mine – the son of a member of the West German Diplomatic Service living in West Berlin at the time – assured me that even with the acceptance of the movement of people from the East to the West via Czechoslovakia, the events of November 9th, 1989 were completely unseen, even hours before it happened.
** Insert your own meaning behind the metaphor, I’m not doing all the work for you.