UK Minister for Brexit David Davis is just visiting Slovakia. How important is the CEE region for British government in upcoming Brexit negotiations? And what about the CEE, which is not the homogeneous group, but still what would you say CEE expect from Brexit? Read few comments.
Botond Feledy, Director of Saint Ignatius College, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy
CEE might be key actor in UK negotiations, as the region’s workers are most exposed in one of the leading Brexit debates about intra-EU migration. These countries are interested in safeguarding the basic rights of free movement of workers, and the acquired rights of those who moved there during EU years. They may even fight for that, as the exit-treaty must be adopted unanimously. Hence, Slovakia or any single CEE country has a strong position: the threat of veto, or rather, the chance to enforce consensus and package deals. UK let it slip that it might even drive bilateral negotiations in the future for making better positions in front of EU27.
CEE has some unified interests. The major question is how the position of the largest EU member states are going to be shaped and whether the CEE countries will see a chance to step up their unified voices in certain policy domains. It might lead to large package deals, where for example certain CEE countries give up some positions in the Brexit treaty in order to achieve better positions in the enhanced cooperation of a future deepened EU treaty or agreement. I expect a very dynamic diplomatic upheaval in the coming two years once London triggers the 5oth article.
Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University
I think the defeat of the Brexit bill in the House of Lords shows that the government is in a right mess with its ‘hard Brexit’ approach.
The defeat in the Lords of course centred on the government’s refusal to guarantee the right to remain for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. The reason for this is that May and her ministers essentially intend to use the EU citizens who currently reside in the UK as a bargaining chip in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. This will anger many continental EU governments and I would expect most of all the CEE countries, especially Poland, who have a substantial number of their citizens living in the UK.
David Davis is currently doing a tour of EU capitals in an ongoing attempt to strike individual bilateral deals amongst the remaining EU-27 governments. This is because the British government realises that it is unlikely to get a good deal when it negotiates with the EU collectively, given that it shows an uncompromising stance on the freedom of movement. The EU-27 led by Germany have so far however shown a united front in rejecting bilateral deals with the UK before the official Brexit negotiations begin.
I therefore expect Davis to fail to get any assurances from any of the CEE countries, including Slovakia. These countries are of course quite concerned about the impact of Brexit on the EU, most of all in the area of the budget, the Single Market and the EU’s overall military capabilities. On the other hand the fact that the Conservative government does not guarantee their citizens living in the UK the right to remain will make it unlikely that Davis will be able to win them over as sympathetic partners in the Brexit negotiations.
Even eurosceptics like Orban have clearly expressed that they will not accept their citizens to be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations. The CEEs are also keen to maintain the freedom of movement. If the May government steers towards hard Brexit and rejects to compromise on the freedom of movement it will not have the CEEs on its side.
I expect there to be little different between the position of more pragmatic pro-European governments like the Fico and eurosceptics like Orban or Szydlo towards the British government when it comes to Brexit.
Vihar Georgiev, Assistant Professor, European Studies Department, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski
The UK government is desperately looking to find some sympathy and to explore any fissures that can improve its bargaining position. The CEE region is quite important given that it includes in total 11 EU Member States. Those states have different interests and are still developing their positions on the Brexit deal.
One very important grouping for the UK government is the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). Yet, it would be difficult to develop a common position in the Visegrad Group, and even if it is developed, it won’t be very beneficial for the UK. Hungary, Poland and to some extent the Czech Republic are using Brexit as a proof that the EU must show more respect for the sovereignty of Member States. But when it comes to defending the interests of their citizens living and working in the UK, the Visegrad Group will definitely align around a common position.
In a separate group, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia may be even more careful towards any concessions to the UK . These countries rely on the EU budget for infrastructure investment, and will be quite affected by any limitations of the rights of their citizens in the UK.
In a third group, the Baltic Member States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) will vouch for the closest possible relationship between the UK and the EU. However, they will have little influence on the Brexit negotiation process.
Anna Visvizi, Head of Research, Institute of East-Central Europe (IESW), Assistant Professor, DEREE-The American College of Greece
There are two ways of looking at this issue. On the one hand, given the increasing marginalization of some Central and Eastern European countries (CEEs) on the EU scene, the CEE region is bound to be ignored in the Brexit negotiations. The CEEs’ real bargaining power at the EU scene is relatively weak at the moment. The only chance for this region to have its voice heard in the upcoming Brexit negotiations is to speak with one voice in the debate on the election of the President of the European Council. Should Donald Tusk be re-appointed for the post of the President of the European Council, a balanced consideration of all EU member-states’ interests and concerns, i.e. also the CEEs’, in the Brexit negotiations is to be expected.
From a different angle, in some policy areas the CEEs acquired the status of mavericks on the EU forum, whereas several other faux pas did not make them new friendships. Considering that the Polish diaspora in the UK belongs to the most sizeable ones and Poland is vitally interested in preserving those individuals’ rights and freedoms derived from the provisions underlying the functioning of the single market, there is a possibility that the case of the CEEs will be used by the UK negotiating team to undermine the EU’s negotiating position. Mind that the UK’s negotiating position towards the EU will not be identical with that towards individual member-states; hence the D. Davis’ visit to Slovakia today. For these two reasons, the CEE region may in fact be assigned by the UK government quite an important, even if passive, role in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
Even if a certain convergence of interests among the CEE countries – including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – exists, in that all of them, to a varying degree, are interested in preserving the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens leaving and working in the UK, it is very difficult to gauge if they’ll be able to act as a homogenous group on this issue in the Brexit negotiations. Overall, and this is the good news, we have not heard a lot about the EU’s planned negotiation strategy, whereas – no doubt about it – there is one. This, in my view, is the best indicator that the EU member-states will act as a homogenous bloc and the CEEs will comply.
Seán Hanley, Senior Lecturer in East European Politics, University College London
My impression is that the UK government is trying to use alliances it formed as an EU member – and hence in a sense the divisions in the EU27 – to leverage a better and less punitive Brexit deal. The CEE states, which like the British were often more sceptical of political integration and more in favour of economic liberalisation, are one such group that might take a softer line. Although I doubt it will be mentioned openly, the UK also has potential leverage over (some) CEE states on the issue categories of EU27 citizens will be allowed to live and work in the UK (and under what conditions).
I would think a mixture of securing rights for their citizens in the UK, access to UK markets, ensuring that Brexit does not leave too much of a hole in the EU budget (of which they are net recipients) and avoiding any future Trumpish scenario whereby a post-Brexit UK is struggling to adjust economically after a tough Brext deal and decides to scale back military commitments in (Eastern) Europe.