Brexit: A key moment for Europe

Published 18.09.2019 00:40

The trouble is just about to start. The EU representatives are slowly but surely getting really tired with the U.K. and its hesitations and reversals. There is a total contradiction between the declarations made by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the answers (publicly or privately) given by the EU officials, who are only "fairly optimistic" about a deal.

Johnson tells the media and public that immense progress has been made regarding a "hard frontier" in Ireland, comparing himself to the famous "Incredible Hulk." High-ranking EU officials, however, declare that no "tangible" solution is on the table.

While Johnson tells the British media that a very important meeting will be held between himself and the outgoing EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the latter says nothing of the "working breakfast" he will have with Johnson, but invites Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator for Brexit, to attend the meeting. On the other hand, Ursula von der Leyen, the newly nominated president of the European Commission, warned the U.K. that if there would be another delay in the Brexit, the U.K. should be obligated to nominate a British commissioner.

As I wrote last week, the only goal that Johnson has in the short run is to get out of the EU, and before elections are organized. In doing so, he hopes (logically) that Tories will not lose any votes against the Brexit Party. The latter will lose its raison d'être once the U.K. is out of the EU.

What would happen then is totally unpredictable. In ancient portolan charts, undiscovered territories were described as "here must be dragons." A preliminary study concerning the possible consequences of a "no-deal" Brexit has been made public. This covers only the "positive" scenarios and is called the Yellowhammer report. According to the report, 12 key sectors would have important problems in distribution and supplies, including food, water, transportation, pharmaceuticals and border controls, with the possibility of "public disorders." This is only the "positive" scenario.

The EU is still waiting for tangible and concrete demands from the U.K. Such demands to establish a new deal and a smooth Brexit will probably never come because there is a huge division within the U.K. about what to do. Almost every kind of solution encounters greater opposition. With Westminster now suspended for a month, one can hardly imagine what kind of miracle is needed to carry out a revised Brexit deal in 15 days, with a government that does not have a majority on any issue.

It is almost widely accepted that the Brexit may ignite a full-fledged turmoil in the U.K., but the political consequences of such a blurry situation remain largely unknown. The Financial Times has been one of the first media outlets to panic, by raising the specter of a non-capitalist coalition of the Greens, the Labour Party and the Nationalist Parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is definitely a far-fetched scenario, but it still makes sense. The British voters have seen enough of the ineptitude of their conventional political forces. The Liberal Democrats look like the big future winner, but with a highly fluid political and economic environment, it is very difficult to foresee what would happen if elections are held six months after Brexit.

Similar developments in Turkey, France and Italy have demonstrated that the electorate can be very tempted to give a chance to new political movements. Back in 2002, that was the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Turkey; a few years ago Emmanuel Macron, who was almost unknown at that time, has succeeded in reviving a moribund centrist politics in France and was elected president. In Italy, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) came out of the blue, with almost no political program, and became the dominant party in Italy in both chambers.

Will Brexit ignite a much deeper change in European politics? It will depend very much on what kind of opposition and governance will emerge in the aftermath. However, we can already foresee that we are not heading toward a calm and quiet winter period in politics – this much is for sure.

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