Our Brussels Office Intern Emiel Dijkman focuses in his blog on the change in the balance of European power after the UK decided in their referendum to leave the Union.
Brexit is finally underway. The next two years of negotiations will not only determine the relationship between the EU and the UK, but will also determine the future of the 27 remaining member states. Crucially, the absence of the UK in the EU will significantly change the balance of power in the European Council and the Council of Ministers, especially when regarding the Qualified Majority Voting procedure (QMV).
Prior to Brexit, the Big Three (Germany, France and the UK) formed a semblance of a modern-day Concert of Europe, with a precarious balance of power and interests that the other (smaller) member states were able to leverage to achieve their own goals. In a sense, the Big Three were allowed to lead as long as they disagreed enough to balance each other out. This was also the reason why the other member states accepted the Lisbon Treaty reforms to the voting procedure, which greatly increased the voting power of the largest member states. The middle-sized member states gave away some of their power in favor of efficiency, because they could rely on the disagreement between the Big Three on many issues.
There are several scenarios conceivable on what the new division of power would look, the most likely being the Franco-German axis dominating the decision making, since the other member states could do very little to stop a proposal from passing.
Under the current rules, the middle-sized member states have little choice but to follow either France or Germany. It is questionable whether this is the most efficient and inclusive way to help the European project move forward, as diminished power over decision making might add fuel to the fire of Euroscepticism in many countries.It is of paramount importance that France and Germany don’t fall for the temptation of abusing their new position, and keep the spirit of consensus and cooperation within the EU alive.