The re-election of Boris Johnson was also a vote for Brexit. Despite all the opposing reports in recent years, the people have expressed their will repeatedly and very strong. This has implications for our perspective on Europe – how we manage borders, national economies and national interests.
For the EU’s Brexit coordinator is all clear. Britain will leave the alliance, no doubt. The comments on the tweet below oscillate between defiant “that still wasn’t the majority” and condolences for Europe as we once knew it. But what is this “Europe” under a border and customs perspective?
The old Europe has a borderline of about approximately 61,000 kilometres and 19 neighbouring countries. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) with its actually 700 employees wants to staff-up to 10k personnel in the next eight years. It has to promote and to coordinate a common border and customs control system for Schengen area. That means coordinating 28 national customs authorities. Nevertheless, the agency is mostly focused on migration issues and trans-border crime.
It has been longly discussed what Brexit means for border control. The Conservatives pledged for tighter controls after Brexit. The issue of the Irish border is a special case and will certainly still determine the discussion in the next years. But what now begins is opening Pandora’s box.
There are several unsolved border problems within the EU. Firstly there is (no wonder) the very different situation at borders in every corner of the EU. Take Lithuania and Estonia. Here, we are having a frontline to Russia – almost always shortly before the outbreak of war. There is not without any reason a NATO Rapid Reaction Force stationed there, including regular alarm starts due to permanent border provocation. Or take Denmark. There has been just erected a border fence as farmers and people there are fearing swine flu, imported from Germany. It are only, of course, bad rumours, that such a fence will also make life a little harder for those human beings who want to enter Denmark illegally. The open situation at Gibraltar can also cook up easily, not only because of Brexit but because of ultra right-wing Spanish politicians and movements. Or take the Cyprian border between the North and the South, which is a buffer zone, controlled by United Nations – not to forget Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the so called “Sovereign Base Areas”. Cyprus as former colonial territory of Commonwealth consists of these distinguished naval bases with a special status under international law. All this is completed by different views on issues of national sovereignty, almost always accompanied by trade disputes. This applies not only at large-scale conflicts between the USA and Europe, but also within the European Union. New protective tariffs imposed by the USA on Germany or France explicitly do not apply to companies that produce in Poland and deliver from there. Thus, discord can also be sown quickly here. For the Eastern Europeans, a greater proximity to the USA is more than appreciated, especially since it is now possible to eliminate intra-European competition via detours.
It makes sense to see the Brexit as what it really is. It is the beginning of the dissolution of Europe. For Great Britain, way is open towards a revitalized Commonwealth and the Europeans become smaller. Many other countries in the European Union will take a close look at developments in Great Britain. Britain will by no means fail. If the British are even halfway successful with their new way of acting, other European countries will soon want to follow it. The process of dissolving the European Union has begun. It cannot and should not mean that Europe fails as a peace project. We must, however, be realistic and see that economic interests are firstly national interests. Weaker and smaller countries in particular will seek their salvation in renationalisation. In the UK, the people voted for this. Only a few years ago it was completely the reverse, when small and weak economies wanted to enter EU. Brexit is a consequence that derived from a very fundamental change. Bigger does not always mean stronger, especially when a big solution only covers many unsolved problems.