Columns, Opinion

Worldview: The unanticipated benefit of Brexit

By this point, it is safe to say Brexit has undeniably been a complete and utter disaster for the United Kingdom and for the European Union. From nearly every frame of view, the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU has been detrimental to itself.

Politically, the U.K. has become the laughing stock of the world, accomplishing the seemingly impossible feat of embarrassing itself more thoroughly than Washington does. Economically, the uncertainty induced by the Brexit vote has weakened the British currency and general economic outlook.

In a strange way, however, the U.K.’s fantastic faceplant has reinvigorated the EU in a way few could have anticipated. In the months leading up to the Brexit vote in June 2016, other EU members were considering following Britain’s lead and leaving the EU, as well. Horrific wordplay ensued: Frexit, Italeave or perhaps even a Czechout?

In spite of the humorous names, the very fact that these conversations were taking place presented a grave threat to the EU. While it was no doubt a disappointment that the U.K. voted to leave, the U.K.’s historical detachment from Europe and perpetual hesitation to cooperate fully with Brussels meant Brexit was far from a colossal shock.

However, if France or Italy — two of the original signatories of the Treaty of Rome, which created the foundation for the EU — were to leave, it is unclear whether or not the EU would survive the blow.

Serious discussions about leaving the EU have been tempered since Brexit, however. The U.K.’s disastrous experiment with leaving the EU has tempered the rhetoric from Euroskeptics in other countries.

Disgraced ex-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told The Washington Post last month that “the agony of Britain in the last two years has clearly been a subtext for ‘Let’s try to make this thing work.’”

Matteo Salvini, the head of the League, a far-right political party in Italy, was one of the most vociferous Euroskeptics calling for his country to follow the U.K.’s path and leave the EU, according to the Post. Nowadays, however, Salvini has changed his tune.

Now, instead of advocating for Italy to leave the EU, Salvini and the far right call for a transformation of the EU from within the organization itself. Slogans such as “Enough with the Euro” have been replaced with “And now we change Europe,” the Post reported.

Marine Le Pen, a far-right leader in France, has followed a similar trajectory to Salvini. While she had previously been adamant about withdrawing France from the Eurozone and perhaps from the EU altogether, she now talks about looking to “change the EU from within” through a coalition of right-wing parties in the European Parliament, according to TRT World.

These previously unabashed supporters of dismantling the EU have shifted their positions so drastically in large part due to the failure of Brexit. Support for leaving the EU is remarkably low among its member states, according to data from Axios, despite skepticism about the EU from the far right.

As of 2018, Italy and the Czech Republic had the highest percentage of voters who opposed remaining in the EU at just 24 percent, according to Axios. The average across Europe was a measly 17 percent the data reported. Therefore, one could argue that in spite of its obviously negative repercussions, Brexit has actually strengthened the EU rather than weakened it.

One should not be overly confident about the EU’s prospects going forward, as Euroskeptics are still scathingly critical of Brussels even if they are no longer advocating for complete withdrawal. Brexit has, it is important to remember, left an indelible mark on the heart of Europe that the far right will not soon forget.

For now, it is safe to say the EU will not be destroyed from within through a Frexit, Italeave or through any other horrific play on words. In this sense, Britain has given Brussels a new lease.

But if the EU is unable to assuage the concerns of its substantial right-wing populace in the coming years, the harsh memory of Brexit will be unable to keep the EU afloat for much longer.

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