Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

Opinion

Brexit is about Europe's future as well

  • Hard-line Brexit voters see “no deal” with the EU and reverting to WTO terms as the best outcome. (Photo: Paul Lloyd)

The UK has begun the formal process of Brexit. The next month will be critical in shaping the EU-27’s priorities in the negotiations, which will be led by the European Commission.

Even if both sides desire it, an orderly and cooperative Brexit is not a given. Brexit is the most complex deal ever attempted, and is being conducted inside an unprecedentedly short timescale.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The repeated failure of international trade talks should be a stark warning that domestic politics and technical complexities can derail even the best laid-out plans of negotiators.

The Brexit referendum was a result of internal tensions in the UK Conservative Party, and not a natural surge of UK public opinion against the EU.

UK politics on Brexit is dominated by the battle between prime minister Theresa May and the “Brexit Ultras” who represent a quarter of her party’s MPs and have the support of many of the UK’s right-wing newspapers.

Strengthening her hand against these forces was a significant part of May’s motivation for calling a snap general election.

The Brexit Ultras will do their best to disrupt the negotiations. The Ultras see “no deal” with the EU and reverting to WTO terms as the best outcome. They want complete freedom to negotiate new trade deals with the US, Australia and China.

They also want to break any links between UK and EU regulation on environmental, climate change, health and safety and labour issues, and have recently launched a public deregulation campaign.

They will try to render any concessions on the UK’s EU financial contributions politically toxic, while arguing for absolute immigration limits and against oversight by the European Court of Justice on any future or transitional agreements.

But these voices do not represent the British people. A majority of British people under 55 voted to remain in the EU. A strong majority of Conservative voters support maintaining high environmental and climate protection.

The future of the UK is aligned with European values and cooperation, but that doesn’t mean that those who want a different future for UK-EU relations cannot win now.

Results matter

The outcome of the negotiations would have a significant impact on the rest of the EU, and the results matter to Europeans.

Geography is still the largest determinant of economic relations. If the UK became a deregulatory state just offshore from the EU, it would chill progress on environmental, health and social standards, and empower similar deregulatory and nationalist forces across Europe.

To avoid unfair competition, the EU must make the maintenance of equivalent environmental and labour standards a red line in the Brexit negotiations, and a condition for continued open trade which is fully embedded with binding effect in any future trade agreement.

But beyond this, the risk of negotiation failure cannot be sufficiently mitigated through setting clear negotiating instructions with the EU commission.

It is necessary to have a political strategy that includes European citizens and their representatives in the European Parliament.

Safely traversing the Brexit labyrinth will require statesmanship and courage from European – and UK – leaders.

Not only is it essential that the negotiations are as transparent and consultative as possible, they will require vibrant public debate across the EU and with UK citizens, parliamentarians and organisations over the terms of withdrawal and future cooperation.

The key lesson of TTIP is that if negotiations are seen as secretive, and focused on the interests of powerful lobby groups, then they will lose their public legitimacy. Brexit must not appear to be an argument between Siemens, Nissan and Goldman Sachs over their relative market access rights.

The structure of the negotiations currently supported by the European Council and European Parliament does not explicitly set out a process of broad cooperation.

Positive atmosphere

A positive negotiation atmosphere must be built by focusing, from the outset, on building new EU-UK cooperative arrangements in areas such as security, organised crime, defence, environment, energy and fisheries – instead of postponing these to after an agreement on the exit terms.

Action in these areas will bring tangible benefits to European citizens and businesses, all of which must be fairly weighed alongside the debate over UK financial contributions - which, at most, represent 6% of the current EU budget and under 0.01% of the EU's economic output.

Negotiations always lead to hard choices. There is a temptation to leave the complexities of Brexit to the European Commission's negotiators to drive a hard technical bargain focused on short-term issues. But this would be a mistake for the EU.

Europe’s long term interests lie in being seen to deliver a positive and constructive relationship with the UK that benefits its citizens. That is also the wish of the majority of the British people.

Brexit is an opportunity to build a new EU approach to trade and investment negotiations. This must maximise transparency and accountability, and demonstrate how new deals support the interests of EU citizens on issues such as health, sustainability, quality public services and climate change.

Achieving this may be less emotionally satisfying than extracting the maximum price from the UK’s departure, but it is the best foundation on which to build a Better Europe.

The writers work for Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G): CEO Nick Mabey, Head of Berlin Office Sabrina Schulz, and Head of Brussels Office Manon Dufour

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

MEPs endorse EP red lines on Brexit

Juncker said the EU is looking for success with the UK during talks, as the European Parliament outlines its position on citizens, borders, and the bill that will have to be settled before London can move on to future discussions.

No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Following the 2030 renewable target of 32 percent, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee Adina Valean argues in order to reach our climate and energy goals, we need both public and private investment over the next decade and beyond.

News in Brief

  1. UK opposition demand election if parliament rejects Brexit plan
  2. EU to have coordinated plan on AI by December
  3. No UK election before Brexit, says May
  4. Former French PM wants to be mayor of Barcelona
  5. Merkel's wingman in surprise defeat in internal party vote
  6. Orban sends thank-you letters to supportive MEPs
  7. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  8. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. EU agrees 'hair-trigger' chemical weapons sanctions
  2. World upside down as EU and Russia unite against US
  3. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  4. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  5. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  6. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  7. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  8. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us