The leaders of the Baltic states, Nordic countries, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland, which were recently branded “Hanseatic League 2.0,” discussed a range of issues at the end of last year, including Eurozone reform, the next multiannual EU budget, and upcoming vacancies for top EU jobs. While there is nothing unusual for ministers to convene, this particular group of countries has attracted some attention due to its potential political weight following the Brexit.
After the UK leaves the EU, the political dynamic in Europe will change significantly. While a great deal of attention has been given to the big players such as France and Germany, the dynamic between smaller states has been not been a major focus yet. The departure of the UK – a large, liberal, northern country – will have a profound impact on the balance of power in the European Union. The Nordic countries and the Dutch are going to lose about 12 percent of their voting power in Brussels as a result of Brexit, and Southern states will gain prominence. This will ultimately change the way politics is done at the EU level. Two mutually reinforcing trends are already appearing.
First, there is a clear realignment going on throughout Europe. Particularly smaller states begin to realize that they will have to do much more coalition building and policymakers are already actively seeking new partnerships across the continent to make themselves heard more in Brussels. Second, Brexit has unified the EU in some regards. There is more unity and the ultimate balance of power is moving in that direction. This could have profound political implications from the long-term perspective.
This has also led some big wigs in Brussels, including Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament, to see fresh political energy emerging in Europe: “For the EU,” he says, “Brexit means losing capacity, because a large and influential country is leaving. But Brexit also means that we gain the capacity to act. We are fully on the move again. It will be a different union from now on.” The need to build new partnerships and coalitions permeates all post-Brexit strategic discussions in Europe. Member states that have relied heavily on the UK for years are realizing that there will not be one single replacement for it and smaller EU countries in particular are looking to identify with other EU states that share hopes or priorities.
It is fair to say that Brexit has triggered a major political movement across the continent. The direction of this new dynamic is not yet known, but it has implanted a new sense of unity among the EU’s twenty-seven remaining members. In stark contrast to what some analysts had predicted, Brexit has not unleashed more EU departures. On the contrary, member states have so far showed their willingness to work on the European future and explore new ways to stay together.
‘There Is Life for the EU After Brexit’ – Commentary by Caroline de Gruyter – Carnegie Europe.
(The Commentary can be downloaded here)