Brexit: We need a strong French-German signal

Henrik Enderlein says the EU can cope.

The result of the referendum is not a good sign for Europe. But above all it is not a good sign for the UK. The EU’s political structures are strong. And unlike the case of a “Grexit” – i.e. if a country withdraws from monetary union, for which there is no legal basis – the procedure for leaving the EU is legally clearly laid out. The consequences for the European integration process will be less grave than people assume. Even if it’s difficult: the EU can cope with a UK exit.

  • A true UK exit is still not inevitable, even after the referendum. The procedure according to Article 50 is lengthy and complicated. We should be prepared for talks to last at least 2 years, and much can happen in this time. Britain has a lot to lose. It is not out of the question that the UK could retract its request to leave after a new referendum. Realpolitik is tough. And that’s good.
  • The talks with Britain that lie ahead are no negotiations. Great Britain will submit a request to withdraw. The key is to execute this in a technically well-ordered manner. This is primarily a legal challenge. There can be no horse-trading in the discussions whereby the EU is forced into making concessions to the UK. No other country in the EU should glean from this that a similar exit referendum would be beneficial to them.
  • In the medium to long term, Britain’s request to leave could also bear an opportunity: Europe urgently needs to think about different types of membership. A stronger form of associate membership could provide a clear long-term perspective for countries such as Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, and one day perhaps even the Ukraine. But if this is accomplished, it must be clear that voting rights in the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers are only possible with full membership. But in many other areas, a second group of countries could arise under the umbrella of the EU. “Half-membership” should not be taboo. But concessions must come from the UK, not from the EU.
  • Within Europe, the focus over the next few months should be on the deepening of the euro area. The euro crisis is still not over yet. The ECB has reached the limits of its mandate. Now the euro countries must agree as soon as possible on a stabilisation plan, which involves both sharing more risk (especially difficult for Germany) as well as relinquishing more sovereignty (especially difficult for France). But there is little time for such a plan.
  • Germany and France must send a strong joint signal in the coming weeks and months. If Berlin and Paris can’t successfully take a strong stance on the further strengthening of the EU and deepening of monetary union, it could have far-reaching consequences for the EU. Europe needs strong political leadership. Especially Germany must work for a strong Europe now.

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