Tuesday

12th Dec 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level