EU In The Backdrop Of Brexit And Catalonian Referendum

After the Second World War, European Union was formed by its founding fathers to end wars between European countries and to fulfill the dream of a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe[1]. EU consisted of six European countries at the time of its creation, now binds 28 countries together under its flag. With 21.7 trillion US Dollar GDP; making it the second highest in the world, EU enjoys overwhelming influence in world politics. However, recent turn of events including Brexit and Catalonian referendum indicates rise in nationalistic tendencies in Europe resultantly casting doubts on EU’s future.

Aim. To evaluate the effects of Brexit and Catalonian referendum on EU’s future.

Rise of Nationalism. Recent times have seen rise of nationalism in the west and gradual strengthening of protectionist views, especially in the back drop of influx of refugees and economic crisis in parts of Europe.

Brexit. After voting to leave EU, UK is scheduled to depart at 11 pm UK time on 29 Mar 2019. Before the formal departure, three divorce issues of citizens’ rights, the Brexit bill and the Northern Irish border are to be decided between the representatives of UK and EU[2]. However, recently talks between the two sides have almost frozen over the Irish border issue as EU insists its resolution before discussing other Brexit issues. Impact of Brexit will vary considerably across the European Union, with some regions bracing for severe costs and others less exposed[3]. As for the effects on UK itself, pound did lose against dollar immediately after announcement of Brexit but it has regained its losses since then[4]. UK’s economy maintains growth rate of 1.8% and unemployment has fallen to 40 years low 4.4%. Similarly, rate of increase in UK population has decreased with the decrease in immigration due to Brexit which was one of the major reasons for those who voted in favour of Brexit. However, there are several adverse effects on UK’s economy as well. International businesses with European Headquarters in London are shifting elsewhere within EU in the wake of Brexit decision which will affect the inflow of cash to London. Real estate has started taking adverse effects of Brexit especially in London and other major cities. Brexit bill or cash settlement which will be paid by UK to EU is estimated to be 40-55 billion euros[5]. Politically, it is said that UK may lose Scotland which is against Brexit and wants to stay in EU. For other European countries like Germany and France, Brexit may encourage anti-immigration force within these countries to force an anti-EU vote. On the other hand, some commentators feel that Brexit may result in more cohesiveness within EU as UK won’t be there to veto legislations which were usually favoured by rest of the member countries in the past[6].

Catalonian Referendum. 1st Oct 2017 marks the day when people of Catalonia voted for independence from Spain in a referendum which was declared illegal and against Spanish constitution by Spain’s Court. The referendum failed to win independence for Catalonia, yet it left long lasting impressions. EU’s apprehensions related to Catalonian Referendum were evident from uneasy silence that it maintained on the issue[7]. This is due to two major consequences of Catalonian independence[8]. First, Catalonian independence movement sets precedence for dissatisfied and nationalist Europeans elsewhere[9]. A successful independence from Spain could have rekindled existing yet dormant nationalist and separatist movements in Europe. Secondly, Catalonian independence could have adversely affected Eurozone due to its economic impacts as Catalan is leading contributor to Spain’s economy[10].

Trends in recent European Elections. On March 2018, final results of Italian elections have bestowed victory upon nationalists and anti Europeanists political parties as they won over 50% of casted votes. Italian elections do reflect a gradual spread of nationalist parties in Europe. The notion is further supported by Netherland’s 2016 election where nationalist Geert Wilders gathered 13% of votes, 2017 French elections where Marine Le Pen’s rightist National Front got 215 votes and in Austria conservative-populist party OVP formed alliance with far-right FPO[11]. All these trends when put together with Brexit and Catalonian Referendum cast doubts on the future of EU. However, for now nationalists have been effectively checked, future remains uncertain.

United States of Europe Growing Voices. In a speech to German SPD party in Berlin, party leader Martin Schluz (ex President of European Parliament) called for the creation of United States of Europe by 2025[12]. Such voices are not new in Europe and have been raised probably since 15th century Europe.

According to a survey carried out by Politico, around 305 Germans and 28% French favour Martin Schluz idea of United States of Europe while UK has the supported the idea with 10% people favouring this idea[13]. This idea is also being supported by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker who supports gradual increase in powers of European Commission[14].

Predictable Options for Future

Increased German Dominance

After announcement of Brexit, the prevailing confusion went in favour of Germany resulting in gradual increase in its dominance in EU. EU’s responses have been directed as well as lead by Germany in the face of recent crisis such as Eurozone, refugees and war in Ukraine. Fears of even greater German dominance explain why politicians in Rome, Paris and Warsaw are so horrified by the prospect of Brexit[15]. Germans themselves are not very comfortable with Brexit as it has put Germany in an awkward situation where it fears alliance of smaller European countries within EU against Germany[16]. This situation, if persists, may prove detrimental for the future of EU.

United States of Europe

Today this may seem to be a hypothetical scenario for the future of Europe. However, if EU continues to bless the member countries, especially the weaker economies, with more gains than losses, support for creation of United Staes of Europe may increase. European commission also favours the idea as it believes in further integration of European countries with more powers for EU. The commission believes that many problems being faced by Europe require more Europe[17].

Status Quo

On the other hand, yet another school of thought lead by President of European Council Donald Tusk refutes the idea of United States of United States of Europe and favours status quo. Donald Tusk has warned that more centralization would turn citizens of member states against the EU. Hubert Vedrine, the former French foreign minister had remarked, “You see governments and parties all over, jumping up and down asking for ‘more Europe, more Europe’. If you want people to massively reject Europe, just keep on.”[18]

Collapse

Collapse of EU isn’t in sight as the member states seem determined to keep the system intact owing to the economic and political benefits. Catalonian independence movement has lost steam and presently Brexit doesn’t seem to be having such a devastating impact to cause a collapse.

Conclusion

Alliances and unions are formed by common threats or political and economical advantages. Same factors govern the strength and duration of these alliances. By evaluating the role performed by EU vis a’ vis its raison d’etre, one comes to the conclusion that EU has been successful in averting war in Europe between historically inimical neighbouring states. This has been done by binding the member states in close economical and political ties. Where eastern European countries with comparatively weaker economies have benefitted, a sizeable population in richer countries such as Britain felt adversely affected to some extent. However, the effects of Brexit and Catalonian Referendum are not much pronounced and it seems that even after the Britain’s formal divorce, staus quo is likely to prevail amongst the remaining member states with mild power shifting for the time being. However, if the rising voices of dissent are not addressed and gradually growing nationalistic trends are not checked, EU may not have a reassuring future in times to come.

  1. https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/history_en (accessed on 3 March 2018)
  2. Barigazzi, Jacopo; Where Brexit will Hurt Most in Europe, Politico, 17 Jan 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/brexit-impact-on-european-regions-revealed-by-eu-report-phase-2-negotiations/ (accessed on 3 March 2018)
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887 (accessed 6 March 2018)
  4. Amadeo, Kimberley; Brexit Consequences for UK, the EU and the United States, The Balance, 6 March 2018, https://www.thebalance.com/brexit-consequences-4062999 (accessed on 12 March 2018)
  5. Russel Foster, Dr, The Great Disappointment Catalonia, Non-Independence and The Future of European Union, Huffpost, UK Edition, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-russell-foster/european-union_b_18235736.html (accessed on 6 March 2018)
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/02/ripples-from-catalan-referendum-could-extend-beyond-spain (accessed on 6 March 2018)
  7. Russel Foster, Dr, The Great Disappointment Catalonia, Non-Independence and The Future of European Union, Huffpost, UK Edition, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-russell-foster/european-union_b_18235736.html (accessed on 6 March 2018)
  8. Mazini, Silvia; Italy’s Elections should be a Wake Up call for the EU, ALJAZEERA, 9 Mar 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/italy-election-wake-call-eu-180308104414631.html (accessed on 12 Mar 2018)
  9. Martin Schluz wants United States of Europe within Eight Years, The Guardian, 7 Dec 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/07/martin-schulz-united-states-of-europe-germany-sdp (accessed on 10 Mar 2018)
  10. https://www.politico.eu/article/united-states-of-europe-germans-french-most-in-favor-poll/ (accessed 13 Mar 2018)
  11. Grant, Charles; The Impact of Brexit on EU, Centre for European Reform, 24 Jun 2016, https://www.cer.eu/insights/impact-brexit-eu (accessed on 6 March 2018)[18] Ibid.
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