EU and UK: what comes after the farewells?

As of February 1, Britain is officially no longer a member of the EU and has no more say in Brussels. During the transition period which lasts until the end of 2020, much will remain the same as regards border traffic and trade, however. Commentators ask how the EU should deal with the British now and what the Brexit means not only for London, but also for the European project.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Europe no longer irresistible

The Brexit plunges the EU into an existential crisis, German diplomat Rudolf G. Adam writes in Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“For seventy years, the process of European unification has been a constant success story. The EU grew and deepened. The process seemed unstoppable and irreversible. The departure of Britain is the first serious setback on this path. ... With the Brexit, the United Kingdom is questioning the EU as an institution. The EU, for its part, has lost its mythic image as being irresistible and irreversible. It is no longer the 'manifest destiny' of the continent. This again raises the question of the finality of the EU: in which direction should it develop as an institution? What political goal does it serve?”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Not something to be repeated too often

Jutarnji list wonders how many departures the EU can tolerate without disintegrating:

“We spent the weekend without the United Kingdom, but also with the unpleasant news that in France Marine Le Pen's political position has once again become stronger and that the Dutch right is considering launching its own Brexit campaign. The European Union can survive without the United Kingdom, but if France or the Netherlands were to leave it would cease to exist. ... The question is whether a disintegration of the European Union would be as smooth as the Brexit, the consequences of which we cannot yet foresee.”

De Tijd (BE) /

Don't let the rifts become too deep

In the negotiations to determine future relations between London and Brussels the EU must also be self-critical, De Tijd warns:

“If a member leaves the club, it means that the club is not functioning well. The Brexit must act as an incentive to make the EU function better. This is not an easy task, because there is far less unanimity here than in the negotiating position towards the British. So far, Brexit has had a strong deterrent effect on other countries as regards terminating their membership. But what if the British plan succeeds while Europe remains in its old straitjacket? The Brexit is a historic break. But the depth and extent of the break will be decided over the next eleven months.”

The Times (GB) /

Emotions have triumphed over reason

The Times explains why, as far as the Brexiteers are concerned, Brexit cannot fail:

“Brexit was never an economic project for the Goves and Johnsons and Farages. It was, at the risk of emptying the term of meaning, a philosophical project. It was a liberation movement and there lies the secret of its success. Brexit is proof of what Aristotle pointed out in The Art of Rhetoric, that an appeal to the emotions trumps an appeal to the mind. The description of Brexit as a liberation from the European yoke is also a proof against failure. If Brexit is defined by detaching British law from Europe then success is guaranteed merely by enacting departure.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

An unprecedented act of self-harm

Britain loses all round with Brexit, The Irish Times concludes:

“No state in the modern era has committed such a senseless act of self-harm. Brexit will make Britain poorer; the British government's own analysis predicts as much. But the real impoverishment is far broader. Its citizens' freedoms will be curtailed. Its voice in the international arena will be weakened. Its reputation as an open, forward-looking country will be diminished. ... The EU will continue to be its biggest trading partner and home to its closest allies. As a European state, it will be affected in one way or another by EU policies in almost every key area. But Britain will have no say over these decisions.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Europe doesn't need a new enemy

The EU should resist the temptation to take revenge on Britain, Les Echos insists:

“Weakening the UK through isolation or levying additional tariffs on its exports would only weaken us as well. Need I remind you that if London were to lose its power and its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Paris would have no reason to keep its seat either? At the start of 2020, it is to be hoped that the 27 will do all they can to ensure that the UK remains as much as possible what it has been until now: a country that complies with our social and environmental standards and propagates European values. Threatened by China and ill-treated by the United States, Europe cannot afford to have a new enemy at its gates.”

Revista 22 (RO) /

SMEs betrayed

The weekly magazine Revista 22, which is run by the Romanian NGO Grupul pentru Dialog Social, believes the big losers of Brexit will be the UK's small and medium-sized businesses:

“The large global corporations, which also operate in Britain, will adapt relatively easily. They have long since done their homework. The small and medium-sized companies are those who will be really hard hit - in other words the very same 'dynamic' entrepreneurs whom the government promises are the top priority of Conservative dogma. ... In reality the politicians, whether Tory or Labour, have never lifted a finger for these entrepreneurs. It is not the small businesses that provide the consultancy jobs or supervisory board posts that politicians dream of for the time after their mandate. These jobs come from the multinationals, which are publicly pilloried but have the best chance of influencing all the politicians.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Back allies in the UK

In the upcoming negotiations the EU should rely above all on the support of Scotland and Northern Ireland, who wanted to stay in the EU, De Morgen stresses:

“The Scots and Northern Irish are planning referendums to leave the UK. The price they demand for not doing so will be a lasting and close trade relationship with the EU. If, against all reason, Prime Minister Johnson does not listen to his regions, he will go down in history not only as the prime minister who drew a new sea border in the English Channel, but also as the one who let the Scots go and was left standing all alone, like the emperor with no clothes.”

El País (ES) /

Brejoin not out of the question

After ten years Britain may start thinking about re-joining the EU, says historian Timothy Garton Ash in El País:

“What are the chances of Britain returning to the EU? This question is not on the agenda today. It will take us five years to find out what Brexit really means and another five years to see how it works out in practice. The EU will have changed by then. I am truly confident that by 2030 the British will be thinking about returning. Not out of a sense of fear or frustration, but because by then they will have greater clarity as to who they are and where they stand - and be able to accept it more calmly. But this possibility also depends on the EU being more attractive and dynamic than it is today. Then, and only then, will it be plausible that we go from talking about Brexit to talking about Brejoin.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Hopefully the start of an exit wave

Brexit points the way forward for other countries, the Daily Telegraph writes approvingly:

“We must hope that, over time, more countries choose - and are allowed - to leave, that there will one day be a Frexit and a Danexit, that the euro will be dissolved in orderly fashion, and that the entire project will wither away, replaced instead by looser, liberal cooperation. Euroscepticism was never a selfish ideology. It was never just about returning self-government to Britain. No genuine Eurosceptic ever claimed that it was fine for the Netherlands or Spain to have to swap democracy for technocracy, but unacceptable for the UK. If it was bad for us, it was also bad for them.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Real Brexit yet to come

Even though Brexit is imminent little will change for the time being, Jutarnji list suspects:

“Since the British parliamentary elections which Prime Minister Boris Johnson so convincingly won, the question 'What comes after Brexit?' has been one of the most searched terms on Google. The shortest answer is - very little. As of this date the transition period begins. It will last until 31 December 2020, during which time the same trade, labour and travel rights will apply as before. This date merely marks the beginning of negotiations with the European Union on future relations and the most difficult part - the second phase of Brexit.”

The Independent (GB) /

EU will resist further division

Also in the upcoming negotiations, the British government should be careful not to underestimate the EU states, The Independent advises:

“[Irish Taoiseach Leo] Varadkar is probably right to think that Johnson's intention to play 'divide and rule' among EU member states will not be any more successful in phase two of the Brexit process than it was for Theresa May in phase one. Team Boris believes it will work because different EU countries will have different goals in the trade talks. But it would be unwise to underestimate the EU's determination to stick together in the face of a common threat: the first country to leave the bloc becoming an economic rival on its doorstep.”

Le Monde (FR) /

No more black sheep Britain

After Brexit, politicians will have to assume more responsibility for their actions, historian Kevin O'Rourke writes in Le Monde:

“The European scapegoat will be gone. If the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, so much the better. But if it becomes 'the sick man of Europe' again, as it once was, it will only have itself to blame. The Brexit will also deprive the EU of a scapegoat on the other side of the Channel. If Europe fails to deepen integration, which seems necessary in several areas in the face of an increasingly dangerous world, it won't be the fault of the English. And that's also a good thing.”

hvg (HU) /

Johnson putting his hopes in Trump

The risk of a disorderly Brexit persists, hvg warns:

“If it proves impossible to reach an agreement on future relations within the next eleven months, the British government will have to ask for an extension. Failing that, the UK's exit from the EU will be a hard one. However, Johnson has declared by law that he doesn't want this and has clarified his previous rhetoric to that effect: an agreement must be reached no matter what happens, he said. But he's said many things in the past and then the opposite happened. This time he also hopes that with the support of his populist counterpart Donald Trump, he can conclude the free trade agreement with the United States.”