Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Opinion

Brexit and rule of law: EU in summit driving seat on both

  • Poland is cracking, and Britain is flailing - if the EU presses its advantage at this week's summit, it has more political capital and leverage than might appear (Photo: European Council)

The EU summit this week (10-11 December) will seek to avert two impending crises by concluding deals on the €1.8 trillion budget and recovery package and the post-Brexit relationship with the UK.

While pessimism is rife, time short, and the gravity of the situation daunting, EU leaders are bolstered by favourable prevailing winds - including a surplus of political capital.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

If the EU presses its advantage, the bloc can successfully secure outcomes that both protect the EU's core democratic principles and promote its future prosperity and well-being.

The Polish and Hungarian governments have threatened to veto the EU recovery fund and multi-annual financial framework if they remain tied to rule of law provisions. The presumed bet is that southern European countries, still desperate for financial help after weathering the first coronavirus wave, will eventually force the bloc to relent.

No longer at loggerheads on stimulus spending, however, European governments, both North/South and East/West, are now instead uniting, unperturbed, on rule of law.

And they have the backing of an overwhelming majority of European citizens, with 77 percent of respondents in a survey commissioned by the European Parliament expressing support for a budgetary mechanism on rule of law.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, representing Germany in the role of EU presidency, has pragmatically called for compromise from "all sides" to "square the circle".

Little, if any, further ground need be given though beyond perhaps a symbolic gesture for the two governments to save face.

Warsaw and Budapest in fact are already being boxed in on all sides.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki can ill-afford another political quagmire.

His government is experiencing rapidly dwindling polling support following nationwide protests amid several domestic rows.

Poland cracking?

The current EU budget spat, furthermore, has seen members of the ruling coalition turn to open warfare, with deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Gowin expressing a desire to abandon the veto threat.

Prime minister Viktor Orbán's domestic support has also softened, with one poll indicating that his party could lose to a united opposition list in 2022.

This all before the recent Brussels sex scandal involving a prominent Fidesz MEP that has enveloped headlines.

Hungary, like Poland, has also endured a difficult second wave of the pandemic and risks facing a tumultuous economic downturn that will only worsen if the EU budget isn't approved.

Mainstream European leaders, by contrast, are benefitting from a sky-high political standing, with post-pandemic rallies from April still largely intact, which will provide them greater latitude to stand pat as the budget deadline is broached this week.

Merkel has seen her job satisfaction numbers, now at 71 percent (+7 from April and +18 from February), continue to soar as the pandemic has progressed.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte's government, meanwhile, sports a 56-percent approval score (+21 from February) and French president Emmanuel Macron earns a respectable 49 percent confidence rating (+11 from February).

Any delay incurred will threaten every economy and pundits warn that failure to secure a budget deal could tarnish political legacies. EU leaders, nonetheless, are endowed with the public trust necessary to avoid an ill-advised capitulation and pursue alternative budgetary routes including, for example, the use of enhanced cooperation or an intergovernmental treaty.

A similar dynamic is at play on negotiations for a post-Brexit deal as EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British prime minister Boris Johnson turn to last-ditch talks in an attempt to broker compromises on fisheries, fair competition, and dispute resolution protocols by a Wednesday (9 December) deadline.

Britain flailing

The British economy is in a tailspin - the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects the UK economy will experience an 11.2 percent drop this year followed by the weakest economic recovery of all major economies, with the exception of Argentina, in 2021.

Amid this tumult, British chancellor Rishi Sunak has introduced public sector pay freezes and moved to slash spending on foreign aid.

Johnson's political standing is no sight for sore eyes either. Unlike his European peers, not only has the British prime minister's post-Covid bounce dissipated but, at 56 percent disapproval, he is, conversely, grappling with record low support. His political party is faring no better.

Any post-Brexit agreement will shape rules on tariffs and quotas, environmental and labour standards, state aid, and adjudication for years to come. Neither partner will want to end up on the wrong side of a deal.

With the UK under greater economic strain and political pressure, however, now is likely as good a time as any for the EU to secure favourable terms that ensures a level playing field and wards off a future race to the bottom.

The EU has reached the end of two perilous and fraught processes that will fundamentally define the union for decades to come.

The recovery plan and budget, in particular, have seen the bloc chart out an "all for one" path that has given the union new common purpose in combating the climate crisis and advancing research and innovation.

To make this mission whole and maintain public confidence though, resolve is now needed on protecting the core values of the community and in ensuring that the EU single market continues to equate to a commitment to decent living conditions for all.

Author bio

Shane Markowitz is an associate fellow at the Globsec Policy Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia. He holds a doctorate in political science from Central European University. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, World Politics Review, EUobserver, Social Europe, openDemocracy, and the journal Populism.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Agenda

Brexit, Budget, Turkey on summit agenda this WEEK

Any post-Brexit deal achieved needs to be ratified by the European Parliament before the end of December (and then by national parliaments), while some member states want to see the agreement translated before they can agree to it.

Fish complicates last push for post-Brexit deal

"If the UK wants a deal here, there's a deal to be done. If the UK wants to use fish as an excuse not to have a deal, then that could happen too," Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned.

The rule-of-law deal that saved Merkel's legacy

Although the deal is much more a result of the unswerving positions of the Netherlands and the European Parliament than of the German presidency's negotiation skills, the success is an extremely important face-saving measure for Berlin.

What a No Deal Brexit is going to look like

Research by the London School of Economics forecasts that a no-deal Brexit could be three times as bad as the pandemic for the UK economy, writes mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the president of the Committee of the Regions.

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us