The initial news of Brexit was greeted with dismay by a majority of people with a liberal internationalist outlook, myself included. Most saw it as a serious setback for the European Union (E.U.), with some even hailing it as the beginning of the end for the bloc. However, in the aftermath of this event, we are beginning to see a different picture emerging. The immediate after effect was not a propagation of nationalist movements, but rather a reaction against them. Geert Wilder’s Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) party failed to gain power in Denmark, as did Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale in France. In Germany, the previously expanding Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) experienced a precipitous decline in popular support. This lack of proliferation of nationalism is an encouraging sign, and the E.U. has not, as some may have feared or indeed hoped, experienced any similar shocks since Brexit.
Conversely, what we are instead seeing is the E.U. emerging as a new global core of liberalised free trade. As the U.S. withdraws from its dominant positon, due to the Trump government’s protectionist policies, we are seeing a greater role emerge for the E.U. as the norm entrepreneur of this era. Indeed, the fact that it was able to quickly and easily agree one of the largest free trade deals in history with Japan shows that the bloc’s prestige and capability is hardly damaged. This is particularly apparent in the nascent Brexit negotiations, where the E.U. has been proving to be remarkably united, in contrast to the disarray of the British government. Indeed, in all aspects of these negotiations Britain seems remarkably outmatched, while the E.U. seems to be united, with a strong common viewpoint going forward. As such, it seems unlikely that Britain will be able to leave with a deal that favours their own nationalistic interests, which in turn makes the prospect of secession even more unappealing for any likeminded nations. Therefore, in the year since Brexit, we have not seen the E.U. begin to disintegrate under the force of nationalist politics. Instead, we seen its popularity rise and, more importantly, its global position reassessed following the changes in America. With this in mind, it might be important to ask: what could come next for the E.U.?
It is important to note that Britain has somewhat been the black sheep of the E.U. family, blocking reforms, impeding integration, and all too often being at odds with the vision many other nations had for the bloc. This was most apparent in the field of security integration, with Britain often exploiting their veto to block any meaningful reforms in this area. Without Britain, much of this obstruction is likely gone. To compound this change, France’s President Macron has been elected on a position of European reform, and his prominent role in the E.U. bloc makes his aspirations likely to succeed. Indeed, these reforms are more probable after Brexit, as it may have shaken the E.U. out of complacency, and made it reassess its current position, and how it may need to change in the future.
As such, a combination of Britain’s impeding influence being removed, France’s new president being reform focused, and Brexit highlighting a need for change, means that the E.U. is in a better position to reform itself than it has ever been. More importantly, based upon the conclusions of the first paragraph, it has before it a new role to fulfil, the keystone of Western Liberalism that was previously being occupied by America. As such, and at this point I’m afraid I will rather diverge into my own hopes for the bloc, if the E.U. undergoes the correct reforms, most notably reduction of bureaucracy and heavy focus on democratization, I believe it would be well placed to succeed America’s position as the “Leader of the Free World”. Whether this is a mere aspiration or a realistic possibility depends upon the actions of a great many individuals, but from where I stand at this time, I see a great deal of potential for the future of the E.U.