Brexit & Trump strive to divide - but they are uniting Europe
2017-06-15 11:36:46 -
There is widespread dismay in Brussels that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, but it is absolutely clear that the EU is determined not to allow the Brexit vote to damage the European project. In fact, it appears that the reaction across the other 27 member states is one of solidarity within the EU and a determination to stick together and co-operate.

Although Ireland’s Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan has expressed his concerns over Brexit, describing the situation as “a mess”, he has made clear his view that it is in the interest of the prosperity and security of each member state to make a stronger union going forward.

Since the Brexit vote, Minister Flanagan has been active in spelling out to both the UK and the EU the benefits of European co-operation and its achievements, which include the EU’s role in the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. He says that the duty of Ireland and the UK, as co-guarantors of that 1998 peace deal, is to avoid any negative consequences of Brexit.

The minister emphasised that the situation today on the island of Ireland, which was unimaginable 20 years ago given the history of conflict and division during the Troubles, 
has enjoyed consistent support from the EU.

Elsewhere in Europe, there have been encouraging developments in support of co-operation as a result of recent elections. Despite many forecasts of doom and gloom, these polls have resulted in a boost for the EU.

In Austria, a pro-EU candidate was elected president despite all predictions to the contrary, while in the Netherlands, again despite many forecasts, the anti-EU party did not lead in the polls.

In France, the anti-EU (and anti-immigration) National Front was unsuccessful in recent presidential elections, as the country turned the other direction, towards the notion of a stronger, united Europe. New President Emmanuel Macron even celebrated his election victory to the accompaniment of Brahms’ ‘Ode to Joy’, the EU anthem.

There is also developing in Europe an awareness that some major powers in the world would like to divide the EU, such as Russia and now even the United States. It’s prompted a change of mood, with EU countries becoming more determined to work together.

Many countries across Europe feel the Brexit vote to be a disaster for the UK, but are resolute that the EU must negotiate with the UK as one voice – and that the UK needs to understand there is only one path of negotiating with a united EU.

It is now crucial for the EU to seek more support from civil society, from NGOs, trade unions, political parties and the world of science. If this succeeds, there will be more optimism about the future of the EU compared with a year ago.

There is no doubt that US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Europe caused irritation, and that his attitude to climate change and how he treated his so-called partners were deplored. But his visit has ironically convinced the union’s member states to work more closely together.

Trump’s hostility towards the EU and its leaders, including Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, has led to greater solidarity among member states. His decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change appears to have encouraged its signees to commit to its goals with greater effort, contrary to what many had feared.

The message from Brussels is loud and clear. Despite some in the UK who wish to distance themselves from their neighbours in the EU, and whatever the anti-European antics of Donald Trump and his opposition to tackling climate change, the European Union is determined to go forward in confidence, solidarity and unity.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
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