Harare, Zimbabwe (News of the South) – A few capital cities acquire political personalities of their own, not always lovable ones. Donald Trump ran against “Washington” as much as he did against Hillary Clinton.
For many people in Europe, “Brussels” is a political character—a bureaucrat plotting an ever-closer European union. That caricature has just staged a recovery that would put Lazarus to shame.
On the eve of the Brexit vote in June 2016, many people sensed that Brussels’ pulse was fading. Two of the European Union’s great projects from the 1990s—the euro and the Schengen Area of free movement—were in different forms of chaos, even as the third, the single market, was still incomplete.
Businesspeople, especially from the Anglo-Saxon world, fumed at the EU’s unaccountable bureaucracy.
Mismanagement had left the continent with a sluggish economy, too many insolvent banks, and no major tech companies. Politically, the Franco-German alliance that had driven the union forward had collapsed. Even Angela Merkel, who’d fought so hard to keep Europe together, made it clear her success was in spite of the homunculi in Brussels.
Nobody from the EU had been publicly allowed near the Remain campaign in Britain for fear of dooming it; freedom from Brussels was the rallying call of the leavers. And the day after they won, many Brexiteers jubilantly predicted that other countries would follow. The EU was “a political project in denial,” trumpeted Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party.
Now Brussels is reborn. Two events have changed everything. The first, ironically, was Brexit. Far from killing the EU, Brexit has helped reunite it. The second was the election of Emmanuel Macron in May this year, which has given the European project a purpose—or the promise of one.
For all the public talk of sorrow, Brussels can barely contain its glee at Britain’s spectacular reversal of fortune. The nation that had been Brussels’ main critic and the most adept earner of opt-outs from EU projects hasn’t so much shot itself in the foot as machine-gunned both legs repeatedly.
Farage’s triumphant speech looks as premature as George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner after the invasion of Iraq. Far from acting as a beacon for other leavers, the chaos the Little Englanders created scared voters in the Netherlands and France into choosing pro-European leaders, while Theresa May’s mistaken desire to urge a hard Brexit united the other members of the EU against her.
She called an election in June to consolidate that mandate but lost her majority in Parliament and her credibility—and revived talk of Britain ultimately staying in.
Last month, with Britain’s economy turning downward and banks looking at other European capitals, Prime Minister May’s Brexit negotiators arrived in Brussels for an encounter with what Monty Python would have described as the bleedin’ obvious
The rules for leaving the EU all favor the club rather than the quitter. Meanwhile, for all May’s bluster about“no deal being better than a bad deal,” Britain relies on Europe for some 44 percent of its exports; for Europe, Britain represents just 9.5 percent. No deal would be a disaster.
May’s promise of a frictionless Brexit is impossible, as the main European negotiator has correctly pointed out. Some Britons are already trying to reopen the idea of remaining in the customs union.
Watching the arrogant British squirm, pontificate, and gradually capitulate on issue after issue will keep Brussels happy for months—all the more so because May has handed the job of negotiating with the EU to three Brexiteers: Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and David Davis. But Brussels is also feeling more ¬self-confident in its dealings with the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world.
Americans who used to titter at the sight of European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker representing Europe, alongside Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping, now spend their time apologizing for Donald Trump.
Rather than raging against the EU’s protectionism, U.S. business leaders now have to explain steel tariffs from Washington.
The EU recently reached a preliminary free-trade deal with Japan while Trump has let Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership founder. The euro-area economy is projected to grow 1.9 percent this year, faster than the U.K.’s (1.6 percent) and within range of the U.S.’s (2.2 percent).
The EU has begun to fix the banking crisis in Southern Europe—with Banco Santander SA buying Banco Popular SAin Spain and Italy arranging bailouts of its three most troubled lenders. There’s even some support in capitalist circles for Europe having the guts to rein in Google Inc. over its search monopoly-Bloomberg
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