As the EU enters a period of reflection after the UK referendum, some of its members seem to be moving towards a more variable geometry under which they seek to align by regional affinity.
Ahead of the Bratislava summit next week (16 September), when heads of state and government are gathering to discuss the post-Brexit union, a number of groups are either appearing or strengthening in the EU household.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has invited the leaders of Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta to meet in Athens on Friday (9 September) to form a strategic alliance of like-minded leaders.
The meeting in the Greek capital is expected to push for growth and investment, against the rigor preached by northern Europe, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel leading the way.
With Brexit, it is clear that southern Europe feels reinforced, even if the political situation in these countries prevents the union from exercising the influence it seeks to have.
Greece, Italy and France are massively in debt and heavily dependent on northern European member states. For Spain, which has been unable to form a government for more than six months, the union of the southern EU isn’t able to exercise its influence yet.
North Sea Union
In a move to take advantage of Britain leaving the EU, Flanders, over the summer, touted the idea of reviving efforts to forge a new North Sea union, in order to intensify cooperation and economic development.
Similar initiatives in recent years to strengthen ties between Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have failed to take off. Geert Bourgeois, prime minister of the autonomous region, said that was partly because all of those except Norway already shared EU status.
To the east, the Visegrad countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) have already announced that they will become increasingly vocal in shaping the post-Brexit EU reform process.
The four Central European states have called for ‘dramatic reforms’ of the bloc and its institutions at their first post-Brexit meeting on 29 June. The same call was reiterated on 22 July in Warsaw.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło said yesterday (6 September) that the four member states will stake out a joint position at next week’s Bratislava summit on the EU’s post-Brexit future.
The European Union requires reforms “to bring it closer to its citizens”, Szydło said, without elaborating.
“The Brexit vote has shaken the foundations of the European Union and is causing member states to re-evaluate their positions within the bloc — the Visegrad states are no exception,” said analysts.
“For them, the EU should be a conduit for political, economic and security cooperation but should not infringe on the sovereignty of national governments. Thus, all four Visegrad states supported the calls of former British Prime Minister David Cameron to repatriate power from the European Union and to allow national parliaments more authority to veto EU decisions,” said Stratfor’s Eugene Chausovsky.
“Now that the United Kingdom will be leaving the union, the Visegrad states are likely to take over from Cameron in making similar demands.”
In the same vein, Yves Bertoncini of the Jacques Delors institute told EURACTIV.com that the EU could run the risk of demise if there would be a formalisation of such inner unions within the bloc.
Mentioning the BENELUX and the Nordic Union, which are formalised groups but don’t coordinate activities, ahead of the European Council, Bertoncini seems to think the MED alliance will be a possible alliance.
“You can add to these light patterns like Merkel, Hollande, Renzi and before Merkel, Sarkozy, Monti. You can add the six founding members that are seeing each other more often with the upcoming sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome,” Bertoncini added.
But the caveat is not in these loose alliances, but in the more ‘worrying’ Visegrad.
“The Visegrad countries are in a logic of the Alamo fort desperadoes. They can also go and look for money in China or Russia. They can enter in a logic of stowaway, who would block the system,” Bertoncini added.
Take the posted workers directive as an example. France and other like-minded countries are trying to revise it. But the Visegrad countries and pulling Central European countries in trying to come up with a blocking minority. “This can prevent the EU to function properly.”