Editorial of the Secretary General: Brexit? Done. What about the EU?

Dear colleagues, members, partners and friends,

It is done.

Since Saturday, February 1, the UK is no longer a member of the EU…

Although I have ever since been advocating a clear cut instead of endless fiddling around, it was still a historically sad moment to see the UK leaving after 47 years of EU membership. For the first time in its history, the EU has declined in size. And not only that: It has lost an economic, military and political heavyweight – in times of increasing global challenges. Political tensions, migration flows, digitisation, artificial intelligence, climate change, demographic challenges will set the agenda for the coming decade, and it is hard to say if this tremendous loss is a first sign for a continuous decline of Europe’s geopolitical (and moral) weight in the world.

It will now be up to the negotiators to find new common grounds on which to place the EU-UK relationship. (According to the Withdrawal Agreement, a transition period will apply until the end of the year, and the Johnson government vehemently rules out a possible extension.) As Fabian Zuleeg, CEO of the European Policy Centre (EPC) and Brexit adviser of the Scottish government, stated during his intervention at a recent visit for a discussion in our premises: “It will either be a ‘no’ or a ‘bad’ deal, especially for the UK.” For Zuleeg, there will be no good Brexit and the blame game is far from being over.


Yet what will be the challenges for the remaining 27 members of the EU? After all, Brexit also opens a window of opportunity.

Firstly, Europe is probably well-advised to increasingly insist and set the tone in terms of soft skills: Diplomacy, negotiation, problem-solving, diversity management, awareness for non-discrimination etc. Many of the member states and the EU itself are already recognised mediators in many places of the world.


Secondly, however, it is not enough to preach soft skills: As generally known, diplomacy -the transformation of blood into ink- only functions if backed by credible power politics. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated recently, “Europe needs credible military capabilities.”

I would add: Europe not only needs capabilities but also the political will not to shy away from possible political conflicts if it wants to play a prominent role in the world and in crisis regions. If politics intend to be taken seriously, then ideas thrown into the ring without any readiness for commitment or engagement do not help – on the contrary. Only transparency and honesty can really establish credibility.  For this reason, CESI has been advocating for quite some years for a more structured engagement of all stakeholders in the framing of the so-called European Defence Union (EDU). Last week, we launched the so-called European Defence Round Table (EDRT), hoping that this paved the way to a regular and formalised platform for stakeholders, including representatives of the personnel of the armed forces.


Thirdly, Europe can set global trends in terms of green policies – if it invests sufficiently and in the right places! I continue having doubts about the possibility to remain economically sustainable and competitive with insufficient public investments, average skills and education systems, radical energy transitions away from coal and nuclear energies and weakened key industries, like for instance the German car industry. Yet as a good European and a strong believer in the necessity of transforming the economy towards climate neutrality, I am willing to follow Ms von der Leyen and the general attitude that “supported by investments in green technologies, sustainable solutions and new businesses, the Green Deal can be a new EU growth strategy.”  And by the way, this also seemed to be one of the key messages at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos: “Some say China has all the data, and the US has all the money. But in Europe, we have a purpose.” Let´s hope that all this is not just EU hubris, but that we can truly keep up with the US and China in the coming years and decades, not least to be able to stick to the green agenda.

At CESI, we will have to focus on the impacts and the policy choices flowing from the Green Deal, as we remain deeply convinced that such policies will fail if transitions are not socially fair. In the coming months and years, we will have to sharpen our positions and actions, and I am also planning to call for the establishment of a special advisory group on the subject.


Fourthly, Europe must continue its path towards more economic, social and political cohesion, meaning, let us be clear, more integration in some sensitive areas. According to the political guidelines of the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission’s work programme for 2020 and the Croatian Council Presidency’s priorities, the challenges that Europe is facing can only lead to and be tackled by more European unity; there is no other way. As a European trade union confederation, we must accompany these processes in the best possible way, and our so-called ‘Programme Commission’ met last week to set the agenda for the trade councils and commissions for the year to come.


On a final note, and as you will probably be aware already, the European Commission just presented its first ideas on how to make Europe more socially just and fair. In a communication entitled ‘A strong social Europe for just transitions’, the European Commission set out its social timetable and initiatives for the year ahead. This will mean extensive commitments and investment from our side too.

As you can see, a full agenda is awaiting us in 2020.

Let’s get to work. And thanks for joining us!

All workers count.