The European Union after Brexit: Reform or Shrivel
On 1 February, some in Europe breathed a sigh of relief: that difficult partner, the UK, no longer sits at the EU decision-making tables, blocking initiatives, demanding rebates, and make life hard for European federalists. Privately, the view that once the UK is finally out the EU can ‘get on with things’ is common though few would express it publicly. Britain’s reputation as ‘an awkward partner’ (the title of Stephen George’s 1990 book on British membership to the EU) coupled with its retreat from Brussels life during the past few years have cast a shadow on what Britain contributed to European integration. This will be missed unless the EU takes the opportunity to change.
Aside from the most obvious example, the Single Market, the UK has played a shaping role on European foreign and security policy. However staunchly in favor of the primacy of NATO over EU defence, the UK and France have been the two countries pushing for more cooperation in European security and defence policy. On foreign affairs the influence of Britain has been less ambiguous: as a country with a top-notch diplomatic capacity and global vision, London has repeatedly supported a stronger EU in relations with neighbours. Enlargement, one of the EU’s most successful policies, was driven by British ambitions to stabilize the Balkans and to forge better ties with Turkey. On topics that divide continental Europeans, such as Russia and the Middle East, Britain has offered unequivocal guidance. It provided balance and synthesis between France and Germany, and been a listening ear to Central Europeans.