In the face of the UK’s uncompromising Brexit demands, it must be noted that the EU has begun to act beyond merely defending the values and principles enjoyed by its members. On the surface one sees the likes of Merkel, Hollande and Junker adopting rhetoric of solidarity, underlining the necessary respect for the EU’s institutions as the UK (un)diplomatically approaches its future relationship with the bloc. However, certain actors within the Union are successfully sharpening Brussels’ tone and are looking to make major political gains out of Brexit at the expense of the UK’s territorial integrity.
One would think immediately of warm European support for another potential Scottish referendum, considering the regional voting outcome and the SNP’s pro-EU stance. Though the EU reluctantly dismisses Scottish independence, whose succession from the UK would vindicate regionalist and independence movements in Belgium and Spain, the Union is now seemingly eying up land grabs of British territories which share land borders with the EU.
More specifically, territorial revisionism is being fanned on the Iberian Peninsula and in Ireland for political gain. Both Spain and the Republic of Ireland have longingly strived for the reintegration of the British territories of Gibraltar and Northern Ireland for longer than the EU’s existed. While the return of Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar is a truism of Spanish foreign / domestic policy, Spain can certainly see Gibraltar’s overwhelming 96% of votes for Remain as grounds on which to negotiate an exceptional case for Gibraltar if it wishes to retain its access to the EU, notwithstanding the UK’s hard Brexit line. Meanwhile, Red Poll C, the Republic of Ireland’s pollster of choice, reported that two thirds of its sampled electorate would vote for a reunited Ireland, reigniting the Ireland question, and entertaining the thought of an if not too idealistic border solution between the two Irelands.
The EU has identified an opportunity to present itself as a more paternalistic state, positioned to ambitiously unite regions whose distinctive political, ethnic and religious cultures stand in stark contrast with one another. I purposefully refer to the EU as a state here. Were a nation to leave a trading bloc like the ALADI (the Latin American Integration Association), it wouldn’t typically provoke such a furore. ‘Ah, well. That country’s loss’, would be a standard response. However, the European Union is treating Brexit like a case of succession. And this entails punitive actions beyond the scope of mere loss of membership. This points to continuity in the EU’s policy of sporadic and opportunistic expansion. But without a European army, the European Brexit negotiating team has instead drafted the provocative measures in its legalese.
The ‘East-German Clause’, which would see Northern Ireland seamlessly transition into the EU as the former German Democratic Republic did over 25 years ago, and Brussels’ offering Spain a veto right over the status of Gibraltatar are underhand actions which suggest opportunities for EU statecraft; further expansion.
On June 23rd the EU faced a turning point in its post-Maastricht method of governance. The eradication of euroscepticism thenceforth became the EU’s top priority, which meant kickstarting an ambiguous campaign to raise popular support. Further integration was dismissed, for as an argument it could not counter the pressure from eurosceptic voices in central and southern Europe, and was often pointed to as the source of the UK’s opposition to the Union. Since then, the EU has had to make statements of strength in its period of crisis.
European leaders have come out committed to the ‘project’. Francçois Hollande maintains that Britain must be punished for its decision to exit, with Juncker also wanting to make an example out of Britain for any member states dabbling with euroscepticism. Brexit has even become a point-scoring game in the French presidential election, where frontrunner Emmanuel Macron alluded to the renegotiation of Le Touquet border treaty which sees British and French borders extend to Calais and Dover, respectively. Again, this is an affront to what Britain has taken for granted as an extended border on the cliff-face of the continent.
The humiliation and physical removal of Britain is certainly on the Union’s agenda. Nobody in Brussels wants to see Britain come out on top over the next two years. Killing two birds with one stone the EU will make British concessions both benefit EU member states, in turn presenting the EU as rightfully having its member states’ interests at heart, while also serving as a stark warning to the less EU enthused states that they would be much worse off outside of the club.
As a British europhile, one sees the EU’s traditionally patient and accommodating character slipping away, and it presents a moral dilemma. One identifies neither with the May government, nor with the EU’s actions as of late. The UK has been hijacked by Brexit zealots, forcing the EU into a corner. Recent developments show just how far the EU will go to defend itself against europhobia.