The 27 have stuck together so far—but nothing is guaranteed as we enter the second year of negotiationsby Simon Usherwood / March 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
As we move into the second year of Article 50, it’s useful to consider whether the European Union will be able to maintain the impressive level of coordination and unity that it has displayed to date, for while that has worked so far, we are now entering more difficult terrain.
The reasons for that unity are clear enough.
Firstly, the EU might reasonably be described as a standing negotiation. Member states work in constant interaction with their counterparts and with the union’s own institutions, both on specific pieces of legislation and on more strategic planning. The rules and protocols of such interactions create an environment where the need to create and maintain good working relations across the union is paramount.
Importantly, there is a high degree of awareness and understanding of EU partners’ positions and interests, coupled with a desire to keep a high degree of consensus: a problem for one becomes a problem for all, in many cases.
Secondly, Brexit has challenged some of the core values of the EU, which has in turn triggered a strongly defensive and coordinated response. Not only is a major member leaving the organisation, but its stated desire to secure a preferential future relationship has risked undermining the value of membership for those who remain.
Finally, the confused British approach towards the negotiations—chasing incomplete and somewhat incompatible goals—has made it relatively easy for the EU to secure a number of major concessions so far. From finances to citizens’ rights and the creation of the backstop for the Irish dimension, the most productive route for EU member states looks to be simply to stick together.
But now several clouds loom on the horizon for the prospect of EU unity.
Most obviously, we are now entering the period of tough decisions. While some difficult choices have been made already, the next six months will be even more politically fraught.
The most challenging issue is Ireland. While a backstop option is in place to prevent a hard border, the British government has indicated that it does not wish to resort to that: whatever plans it might advance in the coming weeks, there is a chance that this might test and weaken EU unity. In particular, if only the Irish issue remains outstanding in October, some other member states might begin to wonder whether it is worth giving quite such weight to what looks like a…