In 2017, citizens in the three largest EU member states have gone (or are due to go) to the ballot box. The general election in the UK was followed by the French legislative elections, while in September, Angela Merkel is facing German voters in her bid to become chancellor for the fourth consecutive time. One of the most pressing issues facing the EU is of course Brexit. And the outcome of this year’s elections in these three key member states will have a significant impact on the way the Brexit negotiations are conducted and the potential outcome. Contrary to most expectations, Theresa May could not increase her majority in the UK’s election and is now dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to govern. Even though in some respects to the right of the Conservative Party, the DUP has arguably a preference for a ‘softer’ Brexit given Northern Ireland’s close trade links to the Republic south of the border. Moreover, the strong performance of the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party with their socially liberal leader Ruth Davidson could potentially influence the balance of power within the party. Finally, against expectations, the Labour Party, which has a more ambivalent position on leaving the EU, increased its seat share, as did the decidedly pro-European Liberal Democrats.
It is increasingly clear that US President Donald Trump represents a departure when it comes to America’s global outlook and behavior. As a result, the United States will no longer play the leading international role that has defined its foreign policy for three quarters of a century, under Democratic and Republican presidents alike. We have already seen many examples of this change. The traditional US commitment to global organizations has been superseded by the idea of “America first.” Alliances and security guarantees once regarded as a given are increasingly conditioned on how much allies spend on defense and whether they are seen to derive unfair advantage from trade with the US. More broadly, foreign trade is viewed with suspicion – supposedly a source of job loss rather than an engine of investment, job creation, growth, and stability. Immigration and refugee policies have become more restrictive. Less emphasis is being placed on promoting democracy and human rights. More dollars are going to defense, but fewer resources are being devoted to supporting global health or development This is not to be confused with isolationism. Even Trump’s America will continue to play a meaningful role in the world. It is using military force in the Middle East and Afghanistan, increasing diplomatic pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. And the policies of states, cities, and companies will translate into an American commitment to climate change, despite Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris agreement.
Whoever ends up becoming Britain’s new prime minister faces a daunting five years in office, with the negotiations of the country’s withdrawal from the European Union topping the list of priorities. According to the authors, the five main challenges ahead consist of Brexit, terrorism and security, the economy, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
By accusing India of demanding “billions and billions and billions of dollars” as a condition for its participation in the Paris climate agreement, US President Donald Trump has ruffled what promised to be a close relationship between the world’s two largest democracies. After Trump singled out India in his speech renouncing the Paris accord, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj retorted that “there is absolutely no reality” in Trump’s allegation. According to Swaraj, India joined the agreement not “out of greed or fear,” but “because of our commitment to protecting the environment.” India thus has no choice but to build new coal plants in the medium term. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out when the Paris agreement was concluded, India still needs to “grow rapidly to meet the aspiration of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of whom are without access to energy.”
As one of the EU’s most powerful states, France will have a large say over the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Andrew Glencross assesses how Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential elections will impact on the process. Macron could pursue a tougher line on Brexit than his predecessor, while the current border arrangements between the UK and France could also be up for renegotiation. Amidst the turbulent past few weeks of UK-EU Brexit wrangling, relatively little attention has been paid to the effect the election of a new French president will have on these negotiations. UK tabloids have been busy instead making hay with their preferred EU bogey-figures, namely Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, who are both portrayed as bullies embittered by the very notion that a member state wants to leave the club. The victory of Emmanuel Macron – the insider’s outsider –suddenly means there could be another leader that comes to embody EU hostility to the UK after the Brexit referendum.
Brexit has set a hungry cat among the financial pigeons of the City of London. No one yet knows what kind of access to the European Union’s single financial market UK-based firms will have, and Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for a general election to be held on June 8 has further clouded the picture, at least in the short term. But there is a nagging assumption that things cannot remain the same, and that there will be a price to be paid for leaving the EU. So UK-based financial services firms, especially those that have chosen London as their European headquarters precisely in order to secure access to the whole EU market from one location, are reviewing their options. Indeed, regulators are obliging them to do so, by asking how they will maintain continuity of service to their clients in the event of a “hard” Brexit. (May’s government prefers to talk of a “clean” Brexit, but that is semantics). Rival European centers have spotted an opportunity to claw some of this business back to the continent (or to Ireland). Other governments have long resented London’s dominance. It was galling to have to acknowledge that the principal center for trading in euro-denominated instruments lay outside the eurozone.
The world needs the European Union now more than ever. Despite recent crises and the hard blow dealt by the Brexit vote, the EU may well be the world’s best line of defense against today’s most serious threats: isolationism, protectionism, nationalism, and extremism in all forms, all of which are once again growing in Europe and beyond. The key to enabling the EU to meet this potential – to save itself and the world from catastrophe – is for member states urgently to adopt a “European Union first” mantra. Unlike the “America first” credo embraced by US President Donald Trump, such a mantra would not be an exercise in damaging unilateralism. On the contrary, it would compel member states’ governments to look beyond narrow national interest, defend openness and multilateralism, and confront head-on the exclusionary political forces that have lately been gaining ground. It would drive member states to consolidate the EU, thereby enabling it to overcome the challenges it faces and help preserve the international order.
Upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany will be held in what is arguably the most febrile political environment since the European Union’s creation. The post-war liberal democratic order is under threat everywhere, but particularly in Europe, where the EU is confronting challenges that include an increasingly aggressive Russia, the constant threat of terrorism, democratic disenfranchisement, and uneven economic growth. Following the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as US president, the question facing Europe is straightforward: Will populist and nationalist forces exert the same influence in core countries of the EU?