BRUSSELS – Britain, as a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, has long played a special role in the European Union and enjoys the ear of Washington. He was also a budget fanatic who insisted on keeping the block’s expenses under control.

Some EU officials feared that leaving the bloc would weaken the Union, which has been under pressure since the British voted to leave in 2016. This vote endangered the EU and encouraged Eurosceptic movements from Italy to Hungary.

Instead, as the UK prepares to leave the EU economic orbit on 1 January, the EU has made a number of changes. January to go, confidence regained, partly helped by a revitalized Franco-German partnership and the expected arrival of the Biden administration in Washington. Meanwhile, Paris, currently the block’s dominant foreign policy player, is debating everything from relations with Washington and Moscow to the expansion of the EU’s military capabilities.

Last week’s Brexit agreement must be approved by the EU governments on Tuesday and by the British Parliament on Wednesday, so that it can enter into force provisionally on Friday. For the first time in the new year, the European Parliament will debate the 1,246-page agreement, which was published in its entirety on Saturday. The agreement has already been welcomed by the main European legislators of the main parties in the Union.

During several years of intense Brexit negotiations, many feared that the failure of the EU and the UK to agree on their future relations would poison bilateral relations and even threaten the UK’s still important contribution to European security, from the Baltic States to the anti-terrorism campaign in the Sahel region of Africa.

Britain’s influence on the continent, which has long been a useful channel for Washington’s influence on EU trade, tax and foreign policy priorities, has been considerably weakened. But Thursday’s agreement between Britain and the EU on future economic, trade and security relations should prevent a permanent rift between America’s European allies.

The repeated political crises in Britain after the referendum show that support for EU membership has disappeared in other countries. Many anti-EU populists are now asking for a review rather than a withdrawal from the block.

This year, the EU decided to set up a huge stimulus fund to help the block out of the Coronavirus bankruptcy – an agreement that was unthinkable only a few years ago. With a Brexit agreement in the bag, some officials believe that the EU has taken a different path.

We’ve shown that when we’re under real pressure, we perform well.

Michael Klaus,

the German ambassador to the EU said in December. So we’ve really reached the top, and psychologically we all feel better now.

The Franco-German partnership, strengthened by the departure of the only EU Member State with an equal economic and strategic position, is at the heart of the revival of the euro area.

Only a year ago, France and Germany were at odds with many important issues for Europe.'s-Economic-Orbit.5.jpeg

-British Royal Air Force fighter planes took part in a NATO exercise in January 2020.


Johanna Heron/Reuters

Germany has watered down a large part of the French president.

Emmanuel Macron

Huge proposals to reform the eurozone, France blocks EU enlargement, German Chancellor.

Angela Merkel

Macron’s criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation resisted, while Berlin was wary of Paris’ attempts to unbundle relations with Russia.

That changed this spring.

After a decade of opposition to general debt issuance, Merkel supported a proposal in May that the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, would issue debt to finance a rescue plan that would distribute hundreds of billions of euros to the member states to help them in the event of a pandemic.

Two months later, the EU accepted a programme worth EUR 750 billion, or USD 920 billion.

If the UK was still a member of the EU, the bloc could take the UK out of the fund. Nevertheless, the British legislator should cede new fiscal powers to the European executive, which it does not wish to do.

The conflicts underlying the EU have not gone away. Just removing one player… could mean one less source of conflict. But that doesn’t mean we can make the leap to integration.

– Fabian Zuleg, Executive Director of the European Policy Centre in Brussels

With the departure of Great Britain, France, also a nuclear power force with a veto in the UN Security Council, is one of the few European countries with a global military presence and ready to deploy.

Mr Macron proposed a strategic autonomy programme including military reinforcement to allow the EU to act independently of major powers such as China and the United States. Together with Berlin, it aims to strengthen the EU defence sector and better protect critical industries.

France is taking a hard line in the escalation of the EU-Turkey conflict over Ankara’s natural gas resources and military activities in the area. Mr Macron continued to work in Moscow despite the poisoning of the opposition leader.

Alexei Navalny.

In some parts of the bloc there is distrust of Mr Macron’s policy, especially if it undermines NATO policy. But without the United Kingdom, these concerns will be pushed into the background.

As far as European defence is concerned, he said it seemed very French.

Ian Bond,

Director of Foreign Policy of the Centre for European Reform. Strategic autonomy would not have gone as far if the British were still at the negotiating table.

This can be problematic for Washington, even if European leaders say they are willing to cooperate with the President-elect.

Joe Biden.

For years, Britain blocked EU efforts that it feared would undermine or duplicate NATO’s work. The UK has also become a much tougher critic of China and would probably encourage the EU to closely coordinate Beijing’s concerns with the US.

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Instead, the EU opts for a middle way. Brussels has recently started a formal dialogue with the United States on China. However, at Berlin’s insistence, the EU is about to conclude a comprehensive investment agreement with Beijing, which Mr Biden’s team has warned.

The EU’s renewed confidence calls into question the strength and sustainability of the relaunched Franco-German partnership.

Paris and Berlin continue to disagree on reforms in the eurozone – a weakness that officials say could make them vulnerable to a new financial or banking crisis in the eurozone. The EU authorities have not been able to overcome the bloc’s divisions on migration policy or to bridge the poisonous gap between East and West in the application of the rule of law and democratic freedoms.

Mrs. Merkel, who has been chancellor for a decade and a half, is retiring next year. Some see a new period of uncertainty, although German diplomats insist that Berlin’s European policy is unlikely to change.

The conflicts underlying the EU have not gone away, he said.

Fabian Zulig,

Executive Director of the European Policy Centre in Brussels. Just removing one player… could mean one less source of conflict. But that doesn’t mean we can make the leap to integration.

Email Lawrence Norman at [email protected].

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