Brexit letter: Some clarity at last – And new momentum for Social Europe?

A personal commentary by Klaus Heeger, Secretary General of CESI, in response to the submission of the ‘Brexit letter’ by the UK government to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, earlier this week.

On March 29 2017, Brexit became a reality. Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the UK’s official letter of withdrawal from the EU over to European Council President Tusk.

On 24th of June 2016, the Brexit vote let the EU into a deep shock, and it seems, so did the official letter launching the exit procedure.

Personally, I welcome the decision to opt for a clear (and hard) Brexit.

Of course, the UK and the EU will face troubled times, of course the challenges of how to manage Britain’s exit from the EU will be enormous, of course the legal and administrative defiance of its completion within two years will be almost incommensurable, and of course the economic and political shockwaves of unknown magnitude are still to come.

But lavishing in uncertainty would have helped no one.

The leader of the EPP group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, tweeted: “From now on, only the interests of the remaining 440 million Europeans count for us!”

While the wording might appear slightly sulky, he is right: If the 27-member union does not want gamble away all its chances at a convincing new beginning with greater acceptance and support for European integration, it will have to clearly define its relations with and own interests towards Britain. And with such letter, the lines are clear.

Yes, the Brexit is certainly more than unfortunate. What is true also is that the Brexit negotiations will absorb a lot of resources of the EU during the next two years.

At the same time, in fields in which UK governments have often been difficult partners – such as in employment and social affairs- prospects for real progress may be improving. For the remaining EU-27 this requires a clear will to strive for further unity, and the will to clearly display that unity. CESI’s Presidium underlined in its latest statement that, while being aware that democratic legitimacy and mandating mainly occurs through traditional democratic channels at national levels, “it is also time for all political actors to be ready to put Europe first – not as a goal in itself but in the very interest of the citizens.”

For CESI, it most and foremost adds up to the completion of the EMU in terms of a real social dimension. If necessary, by the means of the European Commission’s recent White Paper’s scenario 3: ‘Those who want more do more’.

As Fabian Zuleeg and Janis Emmanouilidis from the European Policy Centre (EPC) state in a recent commentary, “a new reform momentum will require, first and foremost, an agreement between Berlin and Paris.”

Picture: CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger © CESI 2017