Commentaries European integration

Brexit and the implications for Central Eastern Europe

After two years of negotiations, the Brexit drama between Brussels and London is coming to an end. The deadline to reach a final withdrawal agreement has been set for March 29, two years after the Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered article 50 in 2017.

The international community is experiencing a troubled and unprecedented moment as a country is about to leave for the first time in history the European Union. Romania holds the presidency of the Council of the EU as the UK is getting ready to exit the Union and by itself, this combination is of utmost interest. Indeed, in the years leading to the membership of the Central Eastern Europeans, London has been one of the most vocal supporters of the entrance of new countries in the Union. Today, the countries whose membership it supported back in 2004 and 2007 are attentively watching the dipartite of a key partner in the Union.

The 29 of March deadline will open the gate to two further years of transition, ending only in December 2020. As the time is running out, the chance to see the deadline extended beyond the first plenary session of the new European Parliament in July 2019 scares and threaten a complication of EU affairs. However, Britain is struggling to find a commonly accepted way to exit the Union. In January, the House of Commons refuted the withdrawal agreement, endorsed by the leaders of the 27 EU member states and the UK Government. The rejection of the agreement endangered the domestic confrontation in Britain and sparked a sense of indecisiveness in the rest of Europe.

The old continent, indeed, has confronted a widespread set of effects and consequences for what is an historical moment for the European Union at large. Among the most affected in Europe, the Central Eastern European Countries (CEECs) have attentively watched the events as they were unfolding in the Union and in their close political partner, that is Britain. London is a strong ally for the Easterners, that would prefer the UK to remain in the EU. Indeed, Britain has been one of the strongest opponents of the proposals to create a two-speed Europe led by Germany and France. The anti-federalist stances adopted by London have reinforced the idea that a stronger UK in the EU would have resulted in a more intergovernmental Union. The exit of London from the EU would weaken the front of those who want to maintain an intergovernmental Union and increase the threat to sovereignty felt in the East.

London and the CEECs share also similar views on the most important topic discussed at the European level. One of these is without doubts the role NATO needs to have in European security. Aware of the feeble capacities of the European security framework, both of them see in the Atlantic Alliance the key guarantor of security in Europe.

However, the CEECs will have to confront more stringent questions as a consequence of Brexit. Indeed, due to the large amount of Central Eastern people living and working in the UK at the moment, the governments of these countries will need to assess the return of an important share of expats (including 900,000 Poles and 400,000 Romanians).

The economic consequences of Brexit for the CEECs will be particularly challenging for the Central Eastern region as a whole. The exit of London from the Union will have detrimental effects for trade inside Europe, that will in turn affect and damage the demand for EU exports in UK as a consequence of a UK-EU customs border[1]. As argued by CEPA, between 1.3% and 3% of Slovakia’s and Hungary’s GDP rely on exports to the UK mainly for the machinery sector and Poland and Lithuania also export food products, worth almost 2% of their GDP. Moreover, for the Southern Eastern countries, Brexit may mean a reduction of 10-15% in funding to poorer areas.

Notwithstanding the always greater Euroscepticism in Eastern Europe, Brexit did not provok an increase in number of those who support the exit of their country from the Union. The criticism against Brussels continues to spread, especially among governing parties in Poland and Hungary, that will not follow London’s path. Indeed, opinion polls confirm a positive trend in the support for the Union in the countries with the most Eurosceptic leaders.

Poland, furthermore, sees in the dipartite of London from the Union a chance and a possibility to reinforce its role in the European security framework. Indeed, beside the UK, Poland is the second most influent partner that Washington has in the old Continent. Brexit will shift the special relationship the US has had with London, to a younger and more challenging partnership between Washington and Warsaw, who is also getting ready to see the Trump Fort project finalized.





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