Opinion

The UK election viewed from continental Europe: Meh

It will take more than the vote on December 12 to make the continent pay attention to the UK. Viewed from the continent, the UK election is one more episode in a Brexit series that “jumped the shark” long ago.

By: Date: November 29, 2019 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

Viewed from the continent, the UK election is one more episode in a Brexit series that “jumped the shark” long ago. It is increasingly difficult for continental audiences, by and large, to feel emotionally connected to the British political drama.

Leaving aside the campaign’s superficial entertainment value, it is not even clear that very much is at stake from a continental perspective, given the UK government’s willingness to put off, repeatedly, its most difficult choices. It will take more than the vote on December 12 to make the continent pay attention to the UK.

To be sure, Europeans are diverse, and generalisations are always fallible. The Republic of Ireland, for example, is a special case, and this partial view does not intend to cover it. But when it comes to “continental Europe” there are some common threads to the mood about the UK.

The general feeling is one of estrangement. Among the UK’s main political parties and leaders, there are barely any that continentals find appealing. In 2016, in the aftermath of the referendum, there were political forces and constituencies across Europe that were happy to identify with the Brexit camp. France’s Marine Le Pen tweeted, “Victory for Freedom!” on the day after the vote, and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders declared, “Now it’s our turn.”

Three-and-a-half years on, by contrast, most if not all anti-elitist parties in the EU27 have pivoted from the idea of leaving the EU or euro area. Instead, they are urging transformation from within — the slogan is no longer Burn Brussels, but Change Brussels. The European Parliamentary election last May was illustrative of that shift. It also witnessed an unexpected trend reversal in turnout, which jumped by eight percentage points after decades of decline. It was a clear sign of interest, if not of confidence, in EU institutions.

Meanwhile, the “remain” camp does not offer much to inspire continentals. The Labour leadership looks lacklustre, rather than inspirational, and the Liberal Democrats seem to have slumped. Scottish nationalists may elicit more emotional support, but they remain a niche interest.

Some figures occasionally win popular appeal here on the continent, but they’re typically on the periphery. John Bercow was one, and, of course, the Queen. But in the main, Leavers have an unfortunate tendency to insult their European neighbours indiscriminately, and Remainers tend to be lukewarm in their commitment to an ever-closer union. Neither camp sparks much enthusiasm across the Channel.

The experts and decision-makers are left scratching their heads. The reaction to Britain’s current political plight covers a wide range. Some simply want to limit the damage at almost any price, while others want to take advantage of the UK’s weakness for their own benefit or that of the EU27 as a whole.

But, ultimately, this does not matter much, at least in the near term. The key parameters of the EU negotiating position were set long ago, and no one wants to change a negotiating stance that appears to have been very successful so far. From the continent’s perspective, the key decisions are in the hands of the British; the rest of Europe can only watch, and hopefully stay patient.

But this patience offers diminishing returns. Successive extensions to the Article 50 deadlines have persuaded continental onlookers that what the UK press calls “cliff-edges” are, at most, modest bumps on a rather gentle, if downward-tilting, slope. The commentator who in the last twelve months described a single step as “critical” now knows better.

An increasing number of participants, including from the business community, think nothing dramatic will happen any time soon. And they are probably correct. Talk of a “no-deal” scenario materialising on December 31, 2020 is less plausible than it was about last October 31, which itself was a less credible cliff-edge date than last March 29.

Neither the EU27 nor any half-responsible UK government has any interest in falling off a cliff. Irrespective of what they say, it is rational to anticipate they will find a way not to make the stupid leap, if only at the eleventh hour. That perpetuates the uncertainty and generates pain for everyone involved, but it is still better than the alternative.

In the meantime, a lot is happening in the wider world, much of it alarming, and most continental European countries have turbulent politics of their own. These occupy the minds of continental audiences far more than the Brexit drama, which seems never to end. And quite possibly, it never will.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Banks post-Brexit: regulatory divergence or parallel tracks?

Post-Brexit UK bank regulation is not likely to compromise on international standards, but will place greater emphasis on competition, making close UK-EU dialogue essential.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 6, 2021
Read article Download PDF More by this author
 

External Publication

European Parliament

UK banks in international markets

Implications of UK-euro area divergence in regulation and supervisory practice

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: European Parliament, Finance & Financial Regulation, Testimonies Date: June 25, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Parliamentary Testimony

House of Lords

The UK’s security and trade relationship with China

Testimony before the International Relations and Defence Committee at the House of Lords, British Parliament on the UK’s security and trade relationship with China.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance, House of Lords, Testimonies Date: May 27, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

New EU insolvency rules could underpin business rescue in the COVID-19 aftermath

Corporate bankruptcies are set to rise in the context of COVID-19. EU countries should speed up adoption of recent insolvency reforms and, in addition, offer consistent treatment to restructuring finance.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 24, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Financial services: The Brexit dust begins to settle

The phase of greatest Brexit-related uncertainty for the European financial sector ended on 1 January. Although too early to discern more than the broadest contours of the future landscape, it is increasingly apparent that London will be less dominant than before.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 11, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

The double irony of the new UK-EU trade relationship

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed between the European Union and the United Kingdom goes against six decades of UK efforts to avoid being economically disadvantaged in Europe. Tracking the evolution of the EU-UK relationship over the last 60 years can help in understanding this.

By: André Sapir Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 12, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

The future of EU-UK relations (again!)

At the eleventh hour of negotiations, what will the future of the EU-UK relationship look like?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 13, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

The Sound of Economics Live: The future of EU-UK relations (again!)


At the eleventh hour of negotiations, what will the future of the EU-UK relationship look like?

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Giuseppe Porcaro, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: October 13, 2020
Read article More by this author
 

Opinion

The EU’s Opportunity to Turn Its Markets Toward the Future

Meeting the fiscal demands of COVID-19 will require the European Union to borrow on capital markets more than ever, and for European pension funds and households to look more widely for ways to build their nest eggs safely. The EU should take the challenges of the pandemic and Brexit as a chance to get its financial infrastructure house in order.

By: Rebecca Christie Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 16, 2020
Read article More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

One rule to ring them all? Europe's financial markets after Brexit

What effect will brexit have on Europe's financial markets?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance Date: June 26, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

How will COVID-19 impact Brexit? The collision of two giant policy imperatives

The United Kingdom left the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020. Now, the U.K. must decide whether and how to extend the transition period, currently set to expire at the end of 2020.

By: Rebecca Christie Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 19, 2020
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Policy Contribution

The European Union’s post-Brexit reckoning with financial markets

In the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom over their future relationship, we see a high probability of a weak contractual outcome, given the dominance of politics over considerations of market efficiency.

By: Rebecca Christie and Thomas Wieser Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 13, 2020
Load more posts