PARIS — Amid the general bewilderment that surrounds Brexit, there is at least one strong certainty: leaving the European Union has lost any possible attractiveness. Those who feared that the British example would be followed by other countries exiting the EU, leading to its progressive disintegration, have been spectacularly incorrect. Even hardened Eurosceptic leaders avoid any declarations of plans to leave the Union.

The most emblematic are Matteo Salvini in Italy and Marine Le Pen in France. Though they have not renounced the demolition of Europe to restore their respective national sovereignties, they want to do so from the inside, not from the outside. The European construction will overcome Brexit, which has so far without a doubt been the greatest threat in the history of the EU. Whether Britain leaves or not, the Union will survive.

Will it be better off? The EU will survive but it will be weakened. The amputation will include the UK's population (66 million inhabitants, or 13%), military (the only other professional army than France), economy (15% of GDP), financial muscle and ideology. A weakened EU is a gift made for Donald Trump (who speaks of it as a "foe") and for Xi Jinping (who wants to put a ‘belt' around the entire continent from Beijing to Rome).

The British were at the forefront in many areas.

Hobbled, will the EU grow more united? That's the French gamble: without the British systematic blocking in Brussels, further integration will finally be possible. Cleared of the third "big", France and Germany find themselves in a position to lead and strengthen the "Berlin-Paris" axis. The road is clear for a Europe that is less free-market driven, a project built more around "protection", the deeper development of a finance cemented in the euro and an economy oriented toward supporting its own industries and technologies and the construction of an autonomous defense. In short, a transformation toward real sovereignty.

Still, the British will be missed. They were at the forefront in many areas such as the environment, genetic technologies, and of course, finance and defense. If military cooperation with France should survive, a fundamentally pacifist Germany will likely refuse to increase its budget. As for building a Europe of capital, as fluid and global as The City of London, it is a challenge that seems out of reach.

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French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel speak at a press conference in Berlin — Photo: Shan Yuqi

Moreover, among the EU's remaining 27, unity does not seem easier than 28. The departure of Britain leaves small countries that are not part of the Eurozone without their leader. They represent 24% of the bloc's habitants, but are marginalized. Others fear a "French Europe," a pessimistic budgetary framework and interventionist economy, and have revived the Hanseatic League to defend themselves under the banner of The Netherlands.

The most disappointing is the tension within the Franco-German duo. Emmanuel Macron is convinced that Europe has not moved forward in 30 years, and wants a significant European budget with oversight on asylum, climate change, innovation and defense. Germany instead is sticking to the idea of an inter-state rather than super-state Europe. And there looks to be little chance of reconciling the two contrasting visions.

This leads to the second certainty that comes with the departure of the UK: Europe will continue to advance, but very, very slowly.


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