It was never meant to be this way.
The script said that after seven decades of economic growth, togetherness, and expansion, all borders would crumble and Europeans would thank the EU for engineering all progress.
Then Brexit happened.
Then Italy, more recently, gave a clear indication it’s not happy in giving up its sovereignty. The script has been torn up, and the EU is on the back foot.
‘No pick and mix and give us your fish’
Donald Tusk has been charged with punishing the UK for wanting to leave the party so early.
After May’s Brexit speech last week, Tusk battled back; claiming the EU wants continued control over British waters, and will reject any ‘pick and mix’ deal:
“A pick and mix approach for a nonmember state is out of the question. We are not going to sacrifice these principles. It’s simply not in our interest,” he added — a reference to the U.K.’s desire for privileged access to the single market in some sectors but divergence in others.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) March 7, 2018
The fishing angle will, and has, caused the predictable outrage, but it’s merely a calculation on the part of Tusk. Make the UK angry over its waters, concede it’s unreasonable, and then make the UK agree to less evocative points, which the EU wanted all along.
EU27 wants UK as close friend & partner and will enter talks on future with open, positive mind. But given UK red lines only an FTA is possible. It will be the first FTA in history to loosen, not strengthen economic ties. Drifting apart is essence of #Brexit.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 7, 2018
The UK government will claim victory in defending its waters, and the EU will have, in turn, agreed to drop the fishing in order to gain more of what it really wants.
The underlying message is clear: the UK, or indeed any nation, must see that leaving the EU is a catastrophe.
Both sides have it all to lose
A clear analysis would, intuition would dictate, claim the UK has more to lose than the EU.
The EU are the UK’s biggest trading partner and for all the guff about the block’s diminishing economic influence, it will continue to be their biggest importer, Brexit or otherwise, for years to come.
However, the EU’s budget – signed off last month – is running at a deficit. It’s well into its overdraft, and the bills keep on coming.
The UK remaining would not solve this issue. But if any other nation(s) followed suit, it would spell the end, at least economically for the EU.
What the UK has to lose is quite simply, lots of money.
A detailed examination of the WTO can be found here.
but one of the terrifying prospects for consumers and businesses alike are the restrictions.
Leaving the EU with no deal would almost certainly mean trading under the World Trading Organisations rules.
No bespoke agreements can be struck: the first principle of the WTO is that every country must be treated equally. This means, to take agriculture, beef imported from a nation which has low standards of welfare, would have to be treated the same as a nation with exemplary standards. Then, once in the UK, our owned British reared beef could not be given preferential treatment.
Article two of the WTO states:
‘Imported and locally-produced goods should be treated equally.’
In short, it would no longer matter where your food came from – as this would be breaking WTO rules.
The EU could lose the EU
The stakes are high for the UK, but if the EU is perceived as weak; this will galvanise the rising tide of nationalism across the continent even further.
The rise of populist parties across Italy, the openly anti-EU demonstrations across Hungary, and the ever-present EU-scepticism across Greece does not bode well for the fat cats in Brussels.
“Brexit has shown us that escape is possible, and we must take action now,” said one Italian politician; “Brexit provided confidence that we can be free,” said another.
Taken out of the hands of the elite, nationalism no longer holds the poisonous connotations it once did. With it, comes a reassessment as to why a nation should be forging ever closer ties to a federal union, at the expense of its own rights and laws.
The EU is acting bullish because it knows if it fails to deter other outbreaks across the continent, the 70-year experiment will soon become a footnote to history.
Whether or not this is the final scene is yet to be seen; but beyond the posturing and headlines is a simple truth: the EU is fighting for its very existence.