Ursula von der Leyen made a speech in which she said the EU had goofed up over Brexit. I have a number of articles collected in response to this speech, which I will add to this page at a later stage. But today I have reproduced an article entitled “Goofy” from EuroIntelligence, because it is part of a daily digest and the article has no permalink, or even a reference. I also add some comments in reply.

The EuroIntelligence Article,

Ursula von der Leyen, like anyone else in power in Brussels in the last eight years, understands nothing about Brexit. When she says we goofed it up, calling on the next generation to fix the mistake, we are not sure what she means. The EU goofed up in several important ways: lending support to a second referendum campaign, pushing the UK into the hardest version of Brexit through Michel Barnier’s protectionist negotiating stance, or granting the UK all these opt-outs over the years that increased the alienation. We don’t think she means any of those. Von der Leyen deals in a world of appearances. It is the reputational damage of Brexit she is most worried about. And calling Brexit a mistake is a criticism of voters. It is about the most counter-productive way to re-start this debate, as we saw yesterday in the British parliament.

The UK will not rejoin in this decade. Sir Keir Starmer has already said he would seek a closer relationship but would not join the single market or the customs union. This means, not much will change at all. The earliest Sir Keir Starmer can ascend to power will be at the end of next year, or early 2025. Assuming that his next term of office will last five years, the following term won’t start at least until late 2029. It is possible that he might promise a referendum on UK membership. If he were to win an election with such a commitment, a multi-annual process would unroll, very similar to what happened in 2015 after David Cameron won the election. It is conceivable that there would be a referendum shortly after the election, but would the UK and the EU have already agreed the terms of the accession by then? Would it include the euro and Schengen? Would the EU be ready to grant the UK all of its old opt-outs, just to repair the reputational damage of Brexit? Von der Leyen may be inclined to do so. The sheer act of Britain rejoining would count as an important symbolic act. If you deal in a world of appearances, this is what you care about. Not everybody in the EU does though. Moreover, membership on that basis would be doomed. 

We also don’t think that all member states would agree to having the UK back with the same old opt-out. Nor do we see even the europhiles in the UK embracing the euro and the Schengen system. Remember that it was Gordon Brown in his role as chancellor who killed off the idea of a euro membership, by setting a whole series of unfulfillable tests. Those in the UK who are talking about rejoining the EU, and who have already started a quiet campaign, work on the implicit assumption that the UK would automatically get the same deal. It is not hard to see that even with the best intentions, the whole process would descend into chaos. 

If von der Leyen was really interested in strengthening the EU, she would campaign for a treaty change to create a new membership status. Call it associate membership, or sugar-coat the term the way you like. This would allow a group of countries that have no interest in joining the euro to be part of virtually all the things the EU does right now, with full voting rights, including of course the single market and trade policy. A dual membership structure would require treaty change. The new structure needs to be formally delineated. Voting weights would need to change. Enhanced co-operation procedures need to be further facilitated. Von der Leyen would no longer be in office if the UK were to rejoin, even if she were to gain a second term. But what she could do in the meantime is get the EU ready for UK membership. We see no signs of that happening,

Goofy Eurointelligence 30 Nov 2023

The list of failures over the years is useful although blaming Barnier/the EU for the hard brexit we have is a bit rich.

Will the EU grant a returning UK its opt-outs? I doubt it, no rebate on our contributions, although offering up the rebate will help win support from the member states, furthermore there should be no derogations on human rights. There may be a possibility of the Swedish compromise on the Euro and there are practical considerations on Schengen, but ideologically we should join Schengen and act in solidarity with the other border countries in welcoming workers and refugees. Some rejoiners may think we’ll get the opt-outs back, I don’t. Only when we are ready to be good citizens in the Union will we be let back in, and we should be looking to meet that expectation.

The final paragraph seems to echo the proposals from “Sailing the High Seas”, so “we see no sign of that happening” suggests a level of blindness. The proposals are on the table.

Also much of the British response fails to recognise that she has an audience in Europe too and that she sees it as a generational thing. In her eyes the UK rejoining isn’t happening tomorrow and they have more pressing problems for which it is important not to repeat the mistakes made with the UK over the last 10 or 15 years. In big letters, they don’t want to LOSE Poland due to carelessness. The überfederalists and their desire for full speed, “max power” anyone, are a problem.

Others comment,

  1. ursula-von-der-leyen-brexit-eu-chief-urges-youth-to-reverse from politico.eu
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/dec/02/alone-you-are-weak-top-german-politician-calls-for-closer-links-between-uk-and-eu
  3. UK and EU want closer relations. How close is up to Starmer (eastangliabylines.co.uk) , I say, “Improved relations with Europe is a free hit for Keir Starmer if he wishes, provided he’s willing to use the magic words: ‘European Union'” to which I add, “look at our weapons”. They say, provoked by Curtis’s demographic evidence, “As we have wondered before, who exactly is it that Labour is scared of? Does anybody know? Nobody in the Labour Party will tell you. Even down to the lowliest canvasser, they are all sworn to silence at pain of ex-communication. From here, it looks rather as though Keir Starmer and his team are just scared of the dark.”
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/nov/29/sunak-rejects-von-der-leyens-comments-that-uk-could-rejoin-eu
  5. https://www.euractiv.com/section/future-eu/news/eu-parliaments-slim-majority-triggers-convention-on-treaties-reform-centre-right-divided/
  6. https://citizenstakeover.eu/blog/ctoe-calls-for-citizens-participation-in-the-revision-of-the-eu-treaties/

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