For the time being, if no extension is granted, D-day for Brexit is Friday, March 29. It is fast approaching and despite the apparent calm, both sides – the UK and the EU represented for the time being by the European Commission – are in a state of disarray.
The political symbolism of the signature of the Franco-German Friendship Treaty signed by Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, in the presence of European Council President Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission’s president, in Aachen on January 22, has also thrown a spanner into the works, as the EU’s major powers seem to have a more united front than ever.
The Treaty came soon after the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the United Kingdom could withdraw article 50 unilaterally and remain in the EU without consequences – if it so wishes. Indeed, behind closed doors, France and Germany have agreed to a unified approach to some of the important issues of the EU, including a common approach to Brexit which they hope to force unto the rest of the EU member states.
The Élysée Treaty, which was originally signed by French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer on January 22, 1963, was devised under by de Gaulle as a way to concentrate power, and exclude or isolate the UK from the alliance which turned into the EU. A macro look at the state of play with Brexit suggests that this time, it was Merkel who invoked de Gaulle’s legacy.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, some of the Commission’s best minds are working relentlessly for the upper echelon of the institution on Brexit, producing scenarios with alternatives for ‘the day after’. These documents are under lock and key, and very few in Berlaymont have access.
The Commission is rather cooperative with the German Chancellery on the broad strokes – as they are on most issues of importance, but upto a point. Common lines have been drawn on not providing any, or at least any significant concessions regarding the Brexit deal.
To complete the picture, several Commission services in Brussels – which deal directly with the Member States on issues including Agriculture, Research, Energy, Development and others – are flooded with questions about the day after Brexit from regional and local administrations, as well as from interest groups, agencies, NGOs, and many others. The services have been strictly instructed to behave calmly and ensure the inquirers that everything is “business as usual”. This, of course, causes both frustration and agitation towards the outside.
Unfortunately this reality contributes to reducing the credibility of the EU institutions in the Member States. This is the bread and butter of the many emerging Salvinis that one now sees popping up around Europe, and this will be certainly reflected in the outcome of the European elections in May.