In a lot of the ongoing Brexit talks, it seems to sometimes be forgotten that any good negotiation has at least two sides involved. Of course, it sometimes feels like there are two competing factions on the British side alone, as remainers and leavers continue to fight the past battles of the referendum. But what is often forgotten is that it’s not one single, homogeneous entity sitting on the other side of the table. For as much as the EU27 claim to speak with one voice, and remarkably often do, they are still made up of 27 individual nations, with their own aims for these negotiations. So, as the Article 50 clock continues to tick, it seems sensible to examine what these are.
Loosely speaking, EU27 nations can be placed into one of three categories. The first is those that take a hard line towards negotiations. They generally favour preventing Britain’s departure from tearing a hole in the EU budget and strongly value preserving unity amongst the remaining EU nations. Leading the charge here are Germany and France, now the first and second most powerful EU member states. Germany’s stance since the beginning has been that Britain cannot “cherry pick” the best parts of EU membership, and the deal it is given must plug the hole in the EU budget, whilst not giving Britain a better set of circumstances than it enjoyed before. France has an additional motive, it is worried that its financial industry in Paris could lose out if Britain adopts looser financial regulations, and wants to maintain so-called “regulatory equivalence”. Luxembourg, another European financial centre, also wants to protect this equivalence. There is also a strong desire to prevent an EU funding shortfall by nations like Poland and Slovenia, which are net beneficiaries from it.
The second group of nations are those on the other end of the scale, who would prefer a softer touch to negotiations, and an outcome focused more on openness and cooperation. A lot of these countries have a special interest in continued cooperation with Britain. In Cyprus for example, 1% of the nation’s area is part of a UK military base, which would prove a great loss to their economy if the UK were forced to close them. Estonia has a large number of tech firms currently doing business in the British market, and it seems very keen to preserve open access for them. Being one of our closest neighbours and business partners, Ireland would suffer as much as any nation from a souring of relations. As such, the Irish are very focused on preserving the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland, and on maintaining the Northern Ireland peace process. And Spain will be keen to achieve concessions over Gibraltar, plus they want to discourage a possible independent Scotland from being able to join the EU, quelling hopes for its own Catalonian separatists.
This leaves the third and largest camp of nations, those who hold a viewpoint somewhere between the two, with things to gain both from continued good relations with the UK, and from stronger unity within the EU27. One good example here is Malta. As a previous part of the British empire it has strong historical links and loyalties to Britain, which were instrumental in achieved Malta’s ascension to the bloc. On the flipside, this leaves Malta, as an English speaking EU nation, in good stead to pick up any financial services business that Britain may lose. Malta held the rotating EU presidency when the Brexit process officially began, and many observers noted that it did a very good job of marshalling unity amongst EU states when it came to responding to the initial events of the Brexit process, which is perhaps a trend we will see continue.
The country is continuing its economic and fiscal revival under the current Labour government, part of which can be attributed to its Individual Investor Program, where foreign nationals can secure Maltese citizenship through a payment to the state, a mechanism unique amongst EU nations. This brought in over 160 million euros last year, and gains a lot of its effectiveness from the power of a Maltese passport through their EU membership, meaning it becomes one of a number of reasons against Malta wanting to do anything to risk the Union.
Italy is another such conflicted nation. It wants to preserve EU unity, protect its financial services from regulatory undercutting, and potentially steal some EU agencies currently based in the UK. However, it is also seeking to secure the rights of its citizens living in the UK, and according to diplomats wants the talks to progress such that they encourage other member states to stay, not scare them away from leaving. The views of the Italian government over the final year of Article 50 are also uncertain, with elections due to take place in March. If a right-wing coalition is elected to power, as appears a strong possibility from opinion polls, it may soften its views towards the UK, and harden them against Europe. A rise in anti-EU sentiment in the eurozone’s third largest economy would present another threat to European unity, and might fundamentally alter the dynamics of the Brexit talks. However, that deserves to be a topic for another article.
As can be seen from this, discussions about the Brexit process need to evolve from assuming the EU to be a homogeneous entity, and start to treat it as the multifaceted alliance that it is. This brings both pros and cons for Britain. Through playing to the wishes of individual nations, it may be possible to make them sympathetic to its cause, and undermine the position of the EU27 as a whole. However, EU decisions have to be agreed unanimously, and this strategy risks derailing the talks through alienating just one country with the power to block proceedings, as has happened to many European treaties before.
Want to know more about how the next year of Brexit negotiations might unfold? Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat and former Prime Minister of Italy Mario Monti will both be speaking at WES 2018. Tickets are on sale now, but hurry, only a few remain available!
“I found this article really interesting, as I hadn’t previously considered the differing views the various EU countries hold on Brexit, or how that would affect us during the negotiating process” – Jessica, English, Second Year