Saturday, October 23

UK and EU should realize “better devil you know” in post-Brexit world | View


This summer has been a broad demonstration of the difficulties in the relationship between the UK and the EU.

The constant roar of discontent over the Northern Ireland Protocol it has been accompanied by periodic British threats to walk away from him. Last weeks State of the European Union speech Commission President Ursula von der Leyen forgot to mention the UK at all. And this week talk cancellation On security, cooperation with France comes immediately after the AUKUS offer It strengthens the links between the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

In short, there are few signs on either side of the Channel that there is much appetite for trying to make the relationship work better than in its current semi-comatose state.

The reasons are very different, but the effect is very similar.

For the British, the deep allergy to engaging in any activity labeled ‘cooperation with the EU’, even when there is broad and clear internal support for it, means that even the legal commitments made in the Withdrawal agreement wave Trade and cooperation agreement they are treated as traps to avoid rather than opportunities to be seized.

Yes, the red-hot rhetoric in London has not turned into substantive action: the Protocol is still in force, the major revisions to the rules inherited from the EU have been anticipated to the future, but the current government steadfastly refuses to be in a position to work with Europeans on any issue. that might seem like a joint activity.

For the EU, both in Brussels and in national capitals, there is a mixture of exhaustion from the constant negative noises from the UK, especially as these often have no connection to the facts on the ground or even logic, and trust. that the British had no realistic alternative to the system built by the two Accords.

Certainly the British might not like the Protocol (for example), but lengthy negotiations after the 2016 referendum found it to be the least unpleasant option for both parties, and a legally binding treaty is a legally binding treaty. So probably all that noise is just for the show and eventually London will come.

At least the EU has many other major challenges on its agenda, from the Rule of law in various member states to post-Covid reconstruction – where you can and should force things. In the context of the EU’s broader neighborhood, the UK may be gruesome, but at least it is not a source of uncontrolled migration or a militarily aggressive threat.

And yet…

However, even though both parties find themselves with minimal interest in making things work better, the summer has also underscored that there are more important issues to consider.

The main takeaway from the AUKUS deal was not the magnitude of France’s displeasure at losing a major contract to build submarines, but rather that this was another example of the United States playing fast and loose with its allies.

Exhibit A in this was the debacle of the withdrawal from afghanistan; run to an arbitrary deadline, almost without warning the many European partners involved and with little more effort to regain lost goodwill.

Biden is not Trump, but that’s precisely why it hurts as much as it did, for both the EU and the UK: the US seems to be in a long-term turn to prioritize its own interests over him. maintenance of the international system that it helped create and sustain since World War II.

Indeed, Afghanistan underlined that, in most aspects of global positioning and security, the UK has at least as much in common with its EU neighbors as it does with its American cousins. The progressive disconnection of the latter from Europe, which has been the leitmotif of the last two decades, should raise questions about how to react.

More generally, the global power shift towards China will mean that the medium-term outlook is one in which instability in international cooperation and organizations is likely to increase and where domestic pressures to become less liberal and more protectionist as well. they will grow.

All parties are rightly aware of the uncertainty of the world order, but the least noticed is that national responses can be strengthened by building international ties. That doesn’t have to mean something like the EU, but it does require governments to recognize common cause wherever they find it.

Which brings us back to the EU-UK relationship.

Working together – on security, on climate change, on energy, on health – doesn’t have to mean begging. Recognizing that everyone brings something to the table and that cooperation can accomplish more than the sum of the parts, it is not too difficult to discern an agenda that serves the needs of both parties.

This should not mean compromising the interests that each one considers essential, but it will take a determined effort from all to look beyond the problems of recent years. For that, it will be essential to focus on what they share rather than what divides them.

Simon Usherwood is Professor of Politics and International Studies at the Open University, and president of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES).


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