unizeit Schriftzug

Not a good model for Europe

Lorries queuing in front of the Eurotunnel, empty shelves in Northern Ireland – Brexit has been official since 1 January 2021, and its consequences are already being felt. What does this mean for the EU? Three years after the first article in unizeit on Great Britain's exit from the EU, Professor Stefan Reitz gives an assessment of the current situation.

UK flag, one-way-version
Grafik: pur.pur

Professor Stefan Reitz is hesitant to predict whether the trade logjam will now become a permanent feature: "We cannot yet accurately gauge the real impact of Brexit." The main issues that are now visible are adjustment problems, for which solutions must be found. "The lorry drivers are confronted with a lot of paperwork." Export and import documents must be completed, which means that processing at the border crossings is held up. Because although the partnership agreement between the European Union (EU) and Great Britain has averted a no-deal Brexit, it does not simultaneously mean a smooth exit. "The duty-free status remains, which means that the monetary side has not changed. But what is now coming into effect is the bureaucracy at the external borders, which is no less burdensome for trade," said Stefan Reitz. "The pressure to change this is being ratcheted up on both sides: the EU member states want to continue serving the market on the island. And Great Britain itself wants to simplify freight transport again," explained the economist. Like everything, this will probably come at a cost, because Great Britain for example still has billions in debt to repay, among other things from pension obligations and outstanding contributions to funding programmes.

Is Brexit the sign of an incipient erosion of the economic alliance? "I don't see who the next exit candidate might be. The bottom line is that most countries benefit from the EU." There are, of course, reasons for dissatisfaction with the alliance of states. "In Eastern European countries in particular, many expectations were raised among the population which could then not always be met. Thus the per capita income could be increased throughout, but the improvement in living standards was often very different. Joining the EU is something of a mini globalisation." In addition, according to Stefan Reitz, fewer rules and better communication of the benefits would be a starting point for improving the EU’s image. But that is far from easy, as "the reduction of bureaucracy has already been an issue for years."

Great Britain is now experiencing what it means to go it alone. Because it is not only the movement of goods between the EU and the United Kingdom (UK) that is affected by structural problems. There is also a lack of service agreements which regulate matters such as aircraft stopovers. This has led to London no longer serving as a hub, with other major cities on the continent becoming the destination. "The UK is now dependent on bilateral agreements. It is very expensive to reach and comply with them." This is also why it is not worthwhile for smaller member states to leave the EU, since "it does not work for them to reach trade agreements individually." The anti-European rhetoric of many member states is often also a diversionary tactic – with ulterior motives. "Among other things, the EU is used as a kind of scapegoat for internal problems. In addition, there is a mechanism of raising problems to EU level in order to obtain extra funding." This path is now closed to the British. By leaving the EU, they have also lost a business model: "The island opened the door for global companies that wanted to introduce products and services into the European Union. Competition between the remaining EU countries is now intensifying for this role." For example, Amsterdam recently replaced London as Europe's largest trading centre for shares. Despite all this, Reitz is certain that the British will not rejoin the EU for decades. "Their national pride alone will prevent this."

Author: Christin Beeck