The EU is made up of two unequal power blocs of countries. Firstly, there are the Founder members of Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries. The dominant partners are France and Germany, who both favour closer financial and economic union, a common foreign policy, a European Treasury with its own resources, and a European Army. But as of the 23rd June 2016, this federalist agenda has come under threat, having been rejected by the Brexit vote.
A stunned Angela Merkel now emphasises the streamlining of the EU plutocracy and an end to red tape, promoting the need for economic growth and further co-operation between member states. However, over the past four years the shock of mass migration has strengthened political support for far right nationalist factions, such as the Front National in France and Germany’s own Alternative fur Deutschland. Brexit has given these groups powerful leverage, sending shock-waves through Paris and Berlin.
The Second group of countries in the EU are relatively late arrivals. They include the UK (for now), Ireland, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Greece and Spain. In each of these countries, mass migration is proving unpopular. Further, the territorial integrity of Spain is threatened by Catalonian separatists. Great Britain itself faces an independence initiative from Scotland, with Irish nationalists looking once again at a united Ireland. Since June 23rd, alarm bells have been ringing across Europe.
Two countries in particular, Poland and Hungary, are alarmed by the UK’s exit vote. Poland has a high number of citizens living and working in the UK, contributing to the economic prosperity of this country. This, and the historical fact that many young Poles sacrificed their lives for Great Britain during World War 2, means many young Poles are passionate about remaining in the EU. They value EU trade, and above all the defence provided by NATO. Poland is unhappy with Angela Merkel’s rather soft line on trade sanctions with Russia, and they have previously counted on Britain’s support. They saw the UK in Europe as an essential counterbalance to the threat from Russia and the dominance of France and Germany in the West. For all these reasons, Brexit represents to Poland a shocking betrayal.
Hungarians bitterly resented Germany’s demand that they take masses of migrants, who are a drain on the country’s economic resources after decades of Soviet rule. Hungary is to hold its own exit referendum in the weeks ahead – Merkel’s nightmare of a fractured Europe post-Brexit is very real.
If there is a winner after the current continental melee, it may well be seen to be Russia, standing by and watching with interest. Brexit weakens NATO and isolates neighbouring Poland. For Putin, the UK’s exit from Europe is more a triumph of foreign policy, weakening both the UK and the EU as well as further illustrating the impotence of American foreign policy.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.