Brexit will be An­gela Merkel’s great­est test

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Judy Dempsey

DEEP down, An­gela Merkel hopes that Bri­tain’s exit from the Eu­ro­pean Union can be re­versed, even though she knows this might be against all the odds. The Ger­man chan­cel­lor holds the key to whether Bri­tain can re­tain a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the EU. Her legacy as a Eu­ro­pean leader will de­pend in large part on how she man­ages it. Brexit af­fects ev­ery EU mem­ber and those want­ing to join it. Bri­tain has chal­lenged Europe’s post-1945 ar­chi­tec­ture built on peace, democ­racy, free-mar­ket economies and sol­i­dar­ity.

These are now all up for grabs as Euroskep­tic and pop­ulist move­ments chal­lenge these achieve­ments. They be­lieve in­di­vid­ual coun­tries can pur­sue their own so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic agen­das, as if such poli­cies would make them fit to deal with glob­al­i­sa­tion. As a re­sult, Merkel, not the lead­ers of the EU in­sti­tu­tions who are largely un­known by most Euro­peans, is the only leader who still has the author­ity to shape the out­come of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and res­cue the Eu­ro­pean project from the Euroskep­tics. It will be a stiff chal­lenge.

In the af­ter­math of the Brexit vote, Merkel has al­ready set the agenda. She nei­ther seeks re­venge against Bri­tain nor seeks ne­go­ti­a­tions that would speed up Bri­tain’s exit from the EU. “I would not fight now for a short time frame,” she said. That dis­tin­guishes her from the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, the EU’s ex­ec­u­tive, and the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment, which want to wrap up the talks as quickly as pos­si­ble once the next Bri­tish prime min­is­ter trig­gers Ar­ti­cle 50 of the EU treaty that sets in mo­tion the pro­ce­dures to leave the bloc.

In­stead, vin­tage Merkel, she wants to play for time. She needs to win over many coun­tries, es­pe­cially those not be­long­ing to the eu­ro­zone, such as Poland. They dread the prospect of Bri­tain leav­ing. They iden­tify with Bri­tain’s ap­proach to economies based on com­pe­ti­tion, tight mone­tary poli­cies and open economies. And many of them have tens of thou­sands of their cit­i­zens liv­ing in Bri­tain whose fu­tures are now in jeop­ardy. They want and need Bri­tain to stay in the EU.

They also dread the idea that France and Ger­many might race ahead to es­tab­lish a two-speed Europe that would con­sist of an in­ner core of eu­ro­zone coun­tries, leav­ing non-users of the euro cur­rency as sec­ond-class mem­bers. That means putting a much­needed fis­cal and bank­ing union in place to un­der­pin the euro. But for now, fur­ther in­te­gra­tion, de­spite its need, is off the ta­ble. Euroskep­tic move­ments and lead­ers would make hay were it to pro­ceed.

Merkel also seeks to pre­serve the se­cu­rity and strate­gic role Bri­tain has played. Take Rus­sia: Merkel has been in­stru­men­tal in keep­ing Europe united over sanc­tions against Rus­sia. But now France, Italy and Merkel’s own coali­tion part­ners, the So­cial Democrats led by Sig­mar Gabriel and for­eign min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier, want the sanc­tions to be phased out. With London side­lined, Merkel loses a valu­able ally when it comes to her pol­icy to­ward Vladimir Putin. She must try to sway Poland, Europe’s sixth-largest coun­try, led by a na­tion­al­ist Euroskep­tic gov­ern­ment that has shifted its for­eign pol­icy away from Ger­many to Bri­tain. Brexit means that Poland needs Ger­many more than ever be­fore, espe- cially when it comes to Rus­sia.

The sec­ond big strate­gic is­sue is the transat­lantic re­la­tion­ship. Bri­tain has had a long and spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the United States. Yes, it has weak­ened, es­pe­cially be­cause of the US-led war against Iraq and the US shift to­ward Asia. Nev­er­the­less, in­side the EU, Bri­tain strength­ened the At­lanti­cist fac­tion. “A Bri­tish exit from the EU would be a blow to US in­flu­ence in Europe,” said James Sherr, a se­nior as­so­ciate fel­low at Chatham House. It would also strengthen the la­tent anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ments in Ger­many.

David Cameron cam­paigned for TTIP (Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship) talks be­cause he be­lieved it would strengthen the West — and serve Bri­tish and Eu­ro­pean trade in­ter­ests. Merkel has been luke­warm, un­will­ing to take on her op­po­nents. Brexit changes ev­ery­thing. If Merkel re­ally wants to make a dif­fer­ence — ei­ther by try­ing to keep Bri­tain in or ne­go­ti­ate an el­e­gant exit — her legacy will be sealed only by declar­ing once and for all how she sees Europe’s fu­ture. That speech is long over­due. — Courtesy: The Washington Post

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