The UK finally left the EU at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020, following almost 50 years of membership. The bloc now has to fill the void left by the then second-largest economy in the EU. Former adviser to the European Commission and European Council, Professor Loukas Tsoukalis, says the departure of the UK has made the EU “more governable”.
But, Professor Loukas says any nation leaving the EU is a “real loss”, and points out “the UK is much more than just any European country”.
Writing for the think-tank, UK in a Changing Europe, he said: “The EU is surely weaker as a result of Brexit, but perhaps more governable.
“Let me explain what seems to me a rather obvious statement. The withdrawal of any European country from the common project would have been a real loss.
“But the UK is much more than just any European country. There is no doubt that Brexit constitutes a blow to European integration.
“It will be possibly an even bigger blow to the UK – but we’ll see.”
The UK and the EU spent more than four-and-a-half years negotiating a Brexit withdrawal agreement and then Trade and Corporation Agreement.
The Emeritus Professor of the University of Athens and Professor at the Paris School of International Affairs, says the negotiating process unified the European Union.
Professor Loukas adds this may also have warned off potential breakaway attempts from populist leaders Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy, but insists united approach would not last and new challenges will test to foundations of the bloc.
He said: “Brexit served as a unifying factor for the EU27. This helps to explain why we ended up with the EU being more united than the UK during the long divorce negotiations.
“It showed in the relative negotiating power of the two sides and sent a strong message to all kinds of Eurosceptics in other countries, be it Madame Le Pen or Mr Salvini.
“Hence the shift in their political stance: they now want to change the EU from inside rather than leave it. Of course, this positive effect will not last forever.
“The aftershocks of the pandemic and new crises, expected or otherwise, will test again and again the always fragile unity of the EU.”
Professor Loukas added: “The Commission was not at its most efficient in securing speedy delivery of those desirable objects called vaccines. And there is growing recrimination.
“Admittedly, the Commission had neither the experience nor the powers to deal with this emergency; it was learning by doing.
“It also committed a major blunder – something of an unforced error – when trying to activate the escape clause of the Northern Ireland protocol. Luckily, it was quickly withdrawn.”
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen appeared before the European Parliament this afternoon and acknowledged the bloc had made errors and been too slow on vaccines.
She said: “And yet it is a fact that we are not today where we want to be in the fight against the virus.
“We were late with the approval. We were too optimistic on mass production.
“And perhaps we were also too certain that the orders would actually be delivered on time.”