PARIS – No one yet knows when the United Kingdom will present an agenda for negotiating its withdrawal from the European Union. But it is already clear that Brexit will reshape the map of Europe. And, especially given Britain’s stunning unpreparedness for the consequences of its own decision – its strategy, priorities, and even its timetable remain uncertain – that means that the EU must start figuring out how to make the best of it. Here’s how.
Let’s start with the only certainties: the Brexit negotiations will be long, complex, and acrimonious, and the divorce will have far-reaching geopolitical effects. The immediate impact is a halt to 60 years of integration momentum. Europe will suffer in the short and medium term as well, as considerable political energy is likely to be devoted to Brexit for the next five years, at a time when the EU needs the strength to confront internal and external dangers. Over the longer term, Brexit is likely to accelerate Europe’s exit from the top table of global decision-making.
Britain will not escape these consequences. Whereas it can leave the EU, it cannot relocate away from Europe.
That is why, though Britain’s European partners did not choose Brexit, they must manage its consequences successfully, which requires balancing two priorities. Their tactical goal must be to reach a deal with the UK that maintains the integrity of the EU. The strategic goal is to preserve Europe’s prosperity and influence.