Why you should care
Because Brexit might set off a series of events and decisions that could remake a continent.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? After a protracted negotiation period, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced this week that she has reached a deal with the European Union over Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc. But the following day, her government was hit by a series of resignations — including that of Dominic Raab, who quit his post of Brexit secretary. Now, May’s leadership is under threat, and a no-confidence vote could be triggered if 48 Conservative Party lawmakers submit letters in support of such a move. May’s draft plan for withdrawal proposes keeping the UK in a European customs union, perhaps indefinitely, and has been critized by the pro-Brexit camp for ceding too much sovereignty.
Why does it matter? The battle over Brexit has cast a renewed focus on efforts by other European leaders to strengthen continental unity. Among other things, it has reignited federalist notions like the idea of a single EU army — an idea both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron publicly supported this month. Combined with Merkel’s recently announced departure in 2021, speculation about the future of the Continent has intensified. Who will lead, and what will Europe look like in a few years?
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Still united? Some observers feared Brexit would spark a domino effect — and indeed, the far right has backed a Frexit in France and a Swexit in Sweden. But those voices have largely been silenced, perhaps after dire predictions of what awaits Britain when it leaves the EU on March 29, 2019. Experts say smaller countries have instead focused on coalition building with like-minded states to stand out among giants like France and Germany. There’s also been a fresh political impetus to pursue social and economic reforms, such as the French attempt to further centralize the eurozone. Still, populists in France and Austria are reportedly working together to dominate next year’s European Parliament elections, which could change — or dismantle — the EU from the inside.
Searching for their voice. There’s encouraging news for federalists: A poll conducted last month revealed that the bloc enjoys the highest levels of support among Europeans since 1983. Before the Brexit vote, only 37 percent said they believed their voice counted in the EU; after the referendum, that figure jumped to 48 percent. Still, most Europeans continue to believe they have the biggest say at home: Around 63 percent agree their voice counts at the national level rather than in the EU.
Growing pains. Given its political difficulties with current member states, the EU appears to have paused expansion efforts, which might lead to unintended consequences: For example, Serbia’s pro-European president, Aleksandar Vučić, has lost some incentive to mend fences with Kosovo in one of the Continent’s more bitter ongoing conflicts. Meanwhile, stalled membership for Turkey — thanks largely to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies — might result in even more antagonistic relations between Erdoğan and his European peers.
Fear not, Euro-skeptics. Critics of deeper European integration have used the term “federalism” as a pejorative, warning of a powerful European superstate with a heavy-handed central government with the ability to trump national laws. But observers say any association of countries into a hierarchy of states akin to a “United States of Europe” isn’t feasible. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suggested last year that they further centralize his role but met a cold reception from European leaders.
WHAT TO READ
What Happens Next if Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Passes? by Jennifer Rankin and Lisa O’Carroll in The Guardian
“Nobody knows whether the British Parliament will support this deal. Some EU member states may also raise problems, although all players have agreed that the true hurdle lies in London, not EU capitals.”
Is Europe Falling Apart? by Michael Hirsh in Foreign Policy
“According to Harold James, a Princeton University historian who specializes in Europe, what both the Italy and U.K. cases ‘really show is how absolutely impossible it is to try to leave the EU. And what bad things would happen if you try to do that.”’
WHAT TO WATCH
In Full: Theresa May Stands Defiant on Brexit Agreement
“I believe with every fiber of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people. From the very beginning I have known what I wanted to deliver for the British people to honor their vote in the referendum.”
Watch on Sky News on YouTube:
Angela Merkel Calls for Creation of a ‘True European Army’
“A common European army would show the world that there will never be another war between the European countries.”
Watch on NBC News on YouTube:
WHAT SO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Still divided. As far as the British public is concerned, opinion toward Brexit has soured, but the margins between the two camps are slim. There’s still no overwhelming evidence of an appetite for a second referendum: A snap poll conducted this week found 33 percent favoring another chance to vote. Meanwhile, less than one-third backs May’s deal, and 27 percent favor leaving the EU without any deal at all.