Brexit: Does the the UK-less EU mean more Germany-centric EU?

Some observers are saying that Brexit will make the EU more Germany-centric (for better or worse). May I ask for your opinion. How do you see the position of Germany in the UK-less EU? Read few comments.

Jörg ForbrigSenior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe, German Marshall Fund

On the surface, an EU minus the UK will most certainly see a more dominant Germany. Just in numbers, the departure of a large member state like the UK cannot but amplify Germany’s economic and political weight in a smaller EU. In spirit, too, German advocacy of an ever closer Union will now be less mitigated, as with the UK, a key voice for more limited integration disappears. However, this will not lead to the German-led EU many may fear. First, Germany is not interested in becoming Europe’s hegemon. Instead, it is genuinely interested in making Europe work as a collective, and it remains willing to understate its relative weight. Second, Berlin understands that across many EU member states, there is strong reluctance to ceding ever more national sovereignty to Brussels. This opposition only increases if, as we saw in the Eurozone and migration crises, it appears that Germany rather than the EU overall is calling the shots.

Germany is trying to square this circle of advancing European integration despite rising opposition from many corners. Judging from the meeting of foreign ministers of the original EU-6, which Germany convened immediately after the Brexit referendum, Berlin is now set to go ahead with a “coalition of the willing” for more integration. This has several implications. One is that the EU would internally further differentiate; it would create further layers and circles of integration beyond the existing Schengen and Eurozone groups. This might accommodate the varying degrees, to which EU members are willing to integrate. Another consequence, certainly desired by Berlin, is that such a core Europe would obscure German dominance. Instead, a group of countries would sit at the EU’s centre and reduce the impression of a German-led EU.

It is surely too early to predict the exact shape of this emerging “new” EU. It is a big question mark whether even the original EU-6 will be able to go ahead with closer integration, given the strong EU-sceptic voices in France and the Netherlands. It is completely open, whether or not others outside the original six but with strong commitments to the EU will be allowed into the core. It is hard to predict how countries left out will respond, and if such a relegation will effectively fuel centrifugal forces.

Berlin certainly does not have the answers to all these questions. But there seems to be a clear sense that a major integrationist push is needed. The alternative, seen from here, would be the gradual erosion and unravelling of the EU, now that with Brexit, the precedent of a disintegrationist u-turn has been established.

Ulrich Speck, Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Academy

I don’t agree with this assessment. An exit of the UK, if this is really going to happen, would not change the balance of power in the EU’s inner circle. The reason for that is that Britain has partly never joined the inner circle (the Euro and Schengen), and partly it hasn’t been engaged in the EU in the last years. Britain is already on the periphery of the EU. That’s why today there are only two big powers who call the shots in the EU, Germany and France. The balance between those two has tilted to Berlin in the last years, because of Germany’s economic success, but also because Germany is still very pro-EU, very engaged. For a German chancellor, part of the job description is to make the EU work. But that doesn’t mean that Germany is a hegemon. It needs an agreement with France which has different positions on many issues. If the two find an agreement — in negotiations facilitated by the Pole Tusk, who is some kind of “master of ceremonies” as the President of the European Council — than there usually is a solution everybody in the EU can live with. This informal system of governance is not going to be affected by a British exit — Britain is not an important part of it anyway.

Ed TurnerLecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

When giving a talk in Germany recently about the referendum, a number of Germans approached me afterwards to indicate that Brexit would be rather welcome, as it would remove an important brake on establishing a more federal system, with greater pooling of sovereignty.

I suppose in such a system, Germany would be in a stronger position.  But the forces behind Brexit are not unique to the United Kingdom – advocates of a federalist agenda may find serious opposition in nations as diverse as France, Sweden, Poland, Austria, and even Germany itself.  Disaffection with political elites runs wide and deep across Europe, and so it is a question of one problem (UK opposition to further integration) gone, but another one (mass political disaffection increasingly manifesting itself in elections) becoming ever more present.

Eric Langenbacher, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

I am of two minds. On the one hand, I can’t foresee too much changing. Most German influence over the last few years has been exerted through the Eurogroup of which Britain was never a member. Besides, the UK has been a non-factor in most policy areas for quite a while. Did the UK even have a position on the migration crisis? Brexit is only formalizing what has long been a de facto situation.

On the other hand, I actually think that a UK-less EU will make it more difficult for Germans (at least the Merkel government) to impose their policy preferences. Britain was usually supportive of German positions on trade and regulation, acting as a counterweight to the more protectionist and statist tendencies emanating from France and Italy. Now it will be much easier for such countries and preferences to team up against German positions. Alternately, one could argue that there have always been competing policy preferences in Germany (more liberal and more statist). With Brexit, there will be less international support for the liberal position and more for the statist.

Kai Arzheimer, Professor of Political Science, University of Mainz

Brexit is something that all German governments have wanted to avoid in the past. The reason is that in many ways, German and British interests were aligned. Both the UK and Germany want close relationships with the US, free trade, a limited role from the state, and monetary stability. To put it bluntly : From a German point of view, the UK was a useful counter weight to France. The UK’s likely departure (I’m still not 100% sure how this will play out) will in many ways weaken the German position in a smaller EU.

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