An EU without Britain will look very different but the challenges are shared

GPLUS Consultants Emily Wallace and Carmen Bell attempt to look beyond Brexit to what might unite the UK and EU in the future

The European Parliamentary Research Service has produced an analysis of the ten issues to watch for 2019. It’s a must read for any public affairs professional who wants a focus on the changes and challenges ahead.

It is also a considered attempt to look beyond both Brexit and this year’s EP elections to provide some practical and useful analysis of what the priorities of the EU will be going forward.

It reminds us that we are too often focussed on today and on the minutiae of politics playing out in detail, but there are much bigger issues at stake and it is important to take the time to look upwards and to the future, and identify where international collaboration and cooperation can best help to shape a better world.

Brexit itself will have a hand in the changing demographic of the EP. The reduction of parliamentary seats threatens mainstream party dominance in Brussels as European voters move farther left and farther right, enabling smaller coalition interests to have more impact. The loss of British conservatives will force the centre-right to consider new alliances with socialist and liberal movements, while the emergence of new populist interests jeopardises the ability to reach consensus.

But inclusive democracy in Brussels is not necessarily a bad thing. As the EPRS analysis shows, the EP provides “a democratic forum for a high-profile exchange of views”, which can encourage “points of convergence” on complex issues such as trade, migration, eurozone reform, taxation, banking union and the European social model. The UK’s withdrawal from these debates increases the visibility of other member states to challenge the Franco-German leadership, as already exemplified by the growing political presence of the Netherlands and other northern countries.

No matter what happens with Brexit, no matter what impact the growth of populism might have in the redrawing of political boundaries and allegiances in the European Parliament, no matter what new face we might see as Commission President, or UK Prime Minister — the challenges facing both the EU and the UK are shared and stark:

  • The need for both Britain and the EU 27 to develop a new vision for their roles in the world, and to play their part in building and supporting emerging economies and reducing global poverty;
  • The need to respond to global trade threats from East and West alike to protect economic prosperity for their citizens;
  • The responsibility for ensuring that we can effectively protect all citizens from organised crime, terrorism and new digital and data security threats;
  • Being responsible citizens protecting our environment and oceans specifically from pollution and overfishing, while encouraging more sustainable projects and investments;
  • The need to support technological and digital transformation in a way that delivers effectively regulated markets and competition without stifling innovation;
  • Balancing the benefits of the increasingly digital dissemination of information and services with the shared value of preserving democracy and truth;
  • And to bring people with us, to be better advocates for multilateral cooperation and internationalism

As the Brexit discussions reach feverpitch, tensions rise and nerves frazzle the relationship between the EU and the UK is under greater strain than ever before. As we look ahead to our future relationship, we could do well to remember that there is more than a shared history that unites; there are shared future challenges too.

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