It is incumbent on both the EU and the UK to agree on an “Europe First” policy
Brexit is becoming such an obsession in Europe that it obfuscates some of the wider geopolitical challenges that are confronting the world. It is in the light of the consequences of the marginalization of both the EU and the UK in world affairs, as a result of Brexit, that both parties should reconsider where the vital interests of their population lie.
The introductory remarks of President Trump’s speech at the UN last September, in which he defended the virtues of putting national interests at the forefront of any self-respecting national government’s program, seems to have been fully reflected in the closing speech of PM Boris Johnson at the conservative party conference. However, a closer look will quickly uncover the imbedded contradiction between the protectionist “America First” approach of Donald Trump and the global open “free trade” policy advocated by the PM.
It is of course one thing to advocate “patriotism” with a population, the availability of own resources and an economy the size of the United States who can impose terms on its interlocutors by the weight of its military power and/or its financial (USD) muscle; it is quite another to be largely dependent on the goodwill of its current or future trading partners who will defend ruthlessly their own interests.
If EU Member States, reveling in the false glory of their “national sovereignty”, wish to pay heed to Trump’s advice, they should remember that the only path to exercising their freedom (patriotism) is by sharing their sovereignty in a number of key areas, in the same way as California or Alabama share with the other 48 American States a Constitution, Institutions, an army, a currency, a single foreign policy, a federal justice system etc., while retaining considerable autonomy at State and local levels.
It is therefore obvious that it is only at EU level that such freedom can be meaningful in an otherwise multipolar world, currently dominated by the United States and China. Their recent separate actions clearly demonstrate that, despite their own trade rivalry, which threatens the world economy, they share a common interest in undermining the EU that both consider – rightly –to be a potential rival.
It is in this context that I will unreservedly second Boris Johnson’s claim that the negotiations between the EU and the UK constitute a unique opportunity for Europe for which he so eloquently professed his love! This demands that both sides agree on what they can achieve together in order to present to the world a credible alternative to a US/China duopoly. This might involve, as I mentioned in a recent paper, a dialogue with Russia to increase the European bloc’s self-sufficiency in defense and access to raw materials, all prerequisites for ending the unacceptable overwhelming power of the US Dollar in world affairs that currently ensure the vassalization of both the EU and the UK to the whims of an unpredictable President.
It also means putting aside immediately their agenda of engineering a workable separation which would be damaging for both and reinforce, in the medium term, the premises for the disintegration of the EU with its attendant deep global crisis, the outcome of which is unknowable.
The next few days and weeks will be dominated by the elaboration of various scenarios relating to the “Brexit” process. These will focus in the UK on the likely outcome of new elections to be held shortly. As of now, common wisdom indicates that a Conservative victory is highly likely if an exit deal is concluded, it remains a good possibility in case of a “no deal” Brexit (currently the odds on outcome) and that an extension of Art. 50 would be fatal to the Tories. While this might seem to justify the posture of the current government, it fatefully overlooks what happens next.
Indeed, one can assume that a Conservative victory, Brexit being removed from the immediate concerns, would be largely based on the generous campaign promises that peppered the PM’s party conference speech. In the case of a “no deal” Brexit (that I believe he is not seeking) he has himself admitted that there would be severe disruptions to the economy which are clearly incompatible with the financing of his ambitious program. After campaigning on a “people versus establishment” slogan, his government would be the first to betray the people’s trust, having nevertheless delivered Brexit and it’s far from “democratic” legitimate underpinning. Indeed the absolute necessity to start the long process of reestablishing a viable relationship with the EU will quickly entail agreeing to most of the content of the defunct withdrawal agreement (citizens’ rights, payment of debts, etc.). Negotiating a FTA will prove a long and arduous task impeding talks with third countries who will wish to weigh their interests in dealing preferentially with the UK and/or the EU.
While all these events unfold, the world is becoming a far more dangerous place with the launching of an impeachment process in the United States (making the unpredictable President even more unpredictable), the growing tensions in the Middle East, the simmering confrontation between India and Pakistan, the riots in Hong Kong, and numerous other hot spots around the globe (Ukraine, Venezuela,…), not to mention the pressure wrought by climate change and surging migrations.
In the face of these realities and in the knowledge that a future global crises would bring further incalculable hardship to hundreds of millions of human beings, it is time for the world leaders to consider their personal responsibility in ensuring that our planet remains a welcoming and livable place for all its inhabitants.