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EU Notebook: Brexit Vote Deals Brussels A Body Blow

  • Rikard Jozwiak

European Council President Donald Tusk and other European leaders will seek to demonstrate that the EU is still functioning and that the rest of the European house is intact.

European Council President Donald Tusk and other European leaders will seek to demonstrate that the EU is still functioning and that the rest of the European house is intact.

BRUSSELS -- It is a Brussels in absolute shock this morning: an EU capital that is fighting for its very survival.

Following the "leave" campaign's victory in the United Kingdom, it's now up to leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to ensure that the remaining club of 27 doesn't disintegrate further.

This is the main topic of concern as the presidents of the three main EU institutions plus the Dutch prime minister meet this morning in Brussels. They know that they must now find a sufficiently common position when negotiating Britain's exit -- an arduous process likely to take two years or more.

But what they are doubtless striving to do today, more than anything else, is demonstrate that the EU is still functioning and that the rest of the European house is intact.

This will be a tough act. Currency and stock markets plummeted immediately on the news. The EU can hardly afford a new economic crisis after several years of high unemployment and austerity in a number of eurozone countries.

And then come the political issues. Antiestablishment elements all over the EU and beyond will rejoice today. Next year, we will see huge elections in two other key EU member states: France and Germany. Le Pen's National Front will be emboldened by the vote in Britain. More calls will be made to reform the EU to French tastes or possibly even leave the club.

Germany has -- as so often in recent years -- been an area of relative calm in European upheaval, but that might also change. The recent migration crisis, in which Berlin consented to accept 1 million refugees and migrants, has already soured the mood in many parts of the country. Brexit will now make it even tougher for Merkel and her pro-EU allies. The right-wing Alternative for Deutschland can become much stronger and slow down the European locomotive that Berlin has been so far.

And then there are the Mediterranean countries. In economic terms, they will be hit hardest if a new economic crisis breaks out, since they have barely recovered from the ones that hit them earlier this decade. And there are plenty of populist parties in countries like Italy, Spain ,and Greece ready to seize the opportunity to take power.

In the north, countries like the Netherlands and Denmark will wonder how to cope in a union without Britain, who often was their biggest ally. Can they also perhaps make a living outside the EU? The same question will be asked by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where the popular mood in places like the Czech Republic and Hungary already is highly Euroskeptical.

So, today -- and for the foreseeable future -- the EU will be engaged in a fire-fighting exercise so hot that the whole house might catch fire.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak covers the European Union and NATO for RFE/RL from his base in Brussels.​ Write to him at rikard.jozwiak@gmail.com


     

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