It’s a thesis that has been circulating for a couple of years and that has been resumed and explained by the New York Times after the chaotic events of the last days
Since in June 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, several politicians and analysts wondered whether the definitive phase of the European institutions had begun, and whether other countries would have decided to leave the Union. Two and a half years later, the perception of things has changed: the EU has found a common position during the negotiations on Brexit, protecting the member country that could have come out more damaged by a “hard Brexit”, ie Ireland, while the United Kingdom has deeply divided and has not yet managed to come out of the political chaos that has arisen with Brexit. In other words, wrote the journalist Steven Erlanger in the New York Times, “nothing has more united the EU than the chaotic break with the United Kingdom”.
Erlanger’s thesis – that is, the EU has strengthened with Brexit – has been circulating for a couple of years, but has found new arguments in recent weeks, especially with the rejection of the agreement on Brexit negotiated between the British government and the EU and with the successive difficulties of the London Parliament to find common positions and solutions to propose to European leaders. Two years after the Brexit referendum, Erlanger wrote, the UK’s exit from the EU “seems to be increasingly chaotic and self-destructive, and there is a common feeling, even in the most populist corners of the continent, that if you leave ‘EU means to pass all this, then no, thank you. “
Who supports Erlanger’s thesis argues that Brexit has somehow managed to compact the EU, despite the enormous challenges that the European institutions have been facing for some years, including reduced growth, migration flows from Africa and the Middle East, the question of border security and the growth of populist and eurosceptic forces. None of these problems has been solved – and we are probably very far from finding definitive solutions – and the divisions between European countries continue to be profound. The difficulties of the United Kingdom to go out neatly and profitably by the European Union have however convinced many political forces to change their speech and move away more and more from the idea of leaving the Union or, in some cases, abandoning the euro and returning to its national currency.
Among the populist and nationalist leaders who abandoned the idea of leaving the EU, Erlanger wrote, there are for example Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio in Italy, Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland. Even the German right-wing party Alternative for Germany has softened its positions. The new idea is to change the EU from within, challenging the current rules and institutions but no longer threatening to leave. Denis MacShane, writer and former minister for Europe of the British government of Tony Blair, told the New York Times: “Frexit, Grexit and Italexit and all the other -exit no longer exist. […] Everyone is looking at the United Kingdom, a country with a stable Parliament, with horror and boredom. Europe is not yet a happy place, and many people who have questioned EU membership have been elected, like Salvini, or otherwise they did well. But Brexit absolutely killed the idea of leaving. “
Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Italian think tank of international relations, added that the instability that is creating Brexit in the United Kingdom has become a “terrible lesson” for less stable countries like Italy, Spain, Greece and others Central Europe, which have less solid economies than the British and more volatile political equilibria.
It is difficult to say how long the Brexit effect will last on the renewed EU compactness, partly because the dividing themes remain many. In the coming months, and even more after the European Parliament elections scheduled for May, Eurosceptic political forces could increase their influence and try to increasingly change the EU from within, weakening the institutions and strengthening the sovereignty of individual states. Brexit has made it clear that it is almost impossible to leave the EU, Erlanger wrote, but has not solved all the other problems that have long plagued the Union.