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GEAB 138

The monthly bulletin of LEAP (European Laboratory of Political Anticipation) - 15 Oct 2019
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As an overview and introduction to our GlobalEurope Future Agenda in 56 dates, we anticipate a year’s end full of surprises and reversals – ‘surprises’ in terms of mainstream media thinking, but in line with many of our past analyses.

Brexit: Protectionist England or Protectionist Europe?

At the heart of these trend reversals, there is the upcoming Brexit, which is about to open a new era of globalised commercial relations, naturally placing its designers, the British, at the heart of the game. The link with The British victory at Trafalgar is obvious: the British were outnumbered and about to lose; their Admiral, Nelson, did not survive; but, in the end, Napoleon abandoned any hope of conquering the United Kingdom; and the British gained supremacy over the seas.

Let us take up these different points and apply them to the contemporary situation:

  • Little Britain, alone, isolated from the continent, was not supposed to survive its reckless exit
  • A certain England, the one that ruled the continent for about thirty years via the EU, is dead
  • Europe will not recover the United Kingdom on its own terms; on the contrary, it will be the one having to get in tune with the British
  • The British are about to reposition themselves at the heart of modern global dynamics

In April 2018, in our article, What if Brexit proved to be a success story,[1] we warned the Europeans against excessive arrogance. A few weeks before the actual Brexit, a scenario comes to our minds, which we deliver to your own judgment… and to the test of approaching reality.

An item of information, little covered in the media, strangely enough, indicates that Johnson plans to leave British customs barriers lowered after the exit.[2] No wonder, then, that Johnson and Varadkar seem to have reached an agreement on their Irish border problem. Nor that the Europeans are convening an emergency summit at the end of the month to adapt to this announcement.[3] In fact, on 1st November (the day after Brexit Day), it is the EU that will be seen as a protectionist entity – open internally, certainly, but ultimately extremely rigid in its exchanges with the rest of the world, as evidenced by the great difficulties encountered in signing free trade agreements with Canada, the USA or Mercosur, and the various accusations made against us of ‘normative protectionism’.

And we begin to understand that:

  • The British are leaving the EU not to close in on themselves but to open up to the world
  • If they leave the door open, they don’t really leave
  • On the contrary, the only obstacles to Anglo-European trade will come from the Continent
  • The Continent can be expected to think about lowering its customs barriers to the UK in the near future

Problem: if the UK is open to the world and the EU is open to the UK, the UK becomes the hub of EU-world trade – a bit like Hong Kong (or the Greater Bay Area) for China. As long as the EU has not opened up to the world as well, the UK, as soon as it leaves the EU, will become ultra-attractive to all the countries in the world that want to trade with Europe, completely reversing the country’s relative strangulation during the intermediate period between the referendum and Brexit (but “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” as they say).

The question then becomes: Will the Europeans stay there or will they start opening up the Continent (which would be very pleasing to Donald Trump, who insists greatly on our opening up to American products – something we have started to do btw)?

Why Johnson’s Brexit makes it possible to get everyone to agree:

  • Brexiteers have a Brexit on paper
  • Remainers do not have Brexit in practice
  • The City’s financiers will be repositioning themselves in the middle of tomorrow’s international trade
  • Purchasing power is not impacted since there are no price increases for products
  • The British economy can continue to export
  • Trump has its point of entry into the EU
  • The Brussels establishment sees its tedious commercial negotiations with the rest of the world suddenly being solved
  • European governments and economies are able to breathe again
  • The people of Europe don’t fully understand what happened, but they are told that this is good news

And, indeed, it is good news for the economy… if not for ecology and sovereignty. Although… remember what we wrote about pro-trade protectionism in March 2018?[4] The model of globalised trade that the United Kingdom will inaugurate on 31st October will consist in reaffirming national sovereignty at the expense of failed experiences of creating supra-national sovereignty. The trade routes will theoretically be wide open, but each government (or even each city) will regain its freedom of individual flexibility as a conclusion to impossible negotiations en bloc.

Countries and cities will be welcome to make any alliances of circumstances that they desire in order to strengthen certain positions project by project, theme by theme. But no unelected authority will decide for them anymore…

As you have understood, this is indeed the end of the EU as we have known it. And that is not a problem because that EU has become obsolete and will find in the British solution a motive for its own transformation. On paper, it will not disappear. But, as we have often said, it will be the EU Council, and therefore the Member States, setting the tone, coordinating an area of enhanced cooperation. The European Commission will confine itself to the role of common administration of common matters – because there will still be some, starting with a whole bunch of, still relevant, monitoring tools. The prospects are bleaker for the European Parliament which, as long as it has not reset itself on the modular model of the new Europe (we have already put forward the idea of a Parliament with “super-committees” – i.e. committees where not all EU countries are represented e.g. a eurozone super committee), risks focusing the last remaining anti-European energy.

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