Brexit Response The European Union Must Hold Its Nerve

European Union should make it clear what it has to offer in the negotiations with Great Britain and the United States and spot the opportunities as well as the challenges in a changing world, argues Handelsblatt’s foreign desk editor.
Europe must face its future with courage.

Theresa May certainly isn’t lacking in self-confidence. Britain is a great, global nation with so much to offer Europe and so much to offer the world, the British Prime Minister said Tuesday in her speech on her exit strategy for leaving the European Union.

If the right substitute trade deal isn’t found, she warned, then the European Union would suffer more than Great Britain.

Meanwhile, U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump applauds Britain for leaving the European Union, warns that many more countries will follow suit, and sides with other right-wing, anti-E.U. populists.

It is high time to look at things from the other perspective. The E.U. should act with more confidence. The bloc of nations is such a marvelous entity. It has much to offer its partners. And that is why, Ms. May, it isn’t about to let Great Britain shed all membership obligations but retain complete access to this magnificent single market as, for example, an associate member of the Customs Union, as you apparently want to do.

It is true that an agreement between the European Union and Great Britain would be in the interest of all companies and citizens – if it is a fair compromise. But if this isn’t achieved, then it is by no means certain that the European Union will suffer more because of it.

One lesson learned from Brexit is that it is important to seek a balance between the strength of the community and its diversity.

That doesn’t mean that the remaining 27 nations in the bloc must now in any case close ranks even more.

One lesson learned from Brexit is that it is important to seek a balance between the strength of the community and its diversity. Of course, there are flaws in the design of this federation of states and of course there is strife among its members and, of course, the proper degree of subsidiarity must repeatedly be wrestled over.

But the remaining 27 E.U. member states should appear self-confident to the outside world and realize that not every announcement from Britain or other countries is a threat. Occasionally it can be an opportunity.

This also holds true for the trans-Atlantic relationship that is so important for Europe. So the United States feels less responsibility for Europe. But this can also mean Europe gains more in a multipolar world, in which new powers are gaining strength in South America, in the Middle East and, above all, in Asia.

In this multipolar world, the voice of Europe perhaps will be heard precisely because the countries preferably speak with one voice.

The United States will retain its importance as a partner in NATO, trade and foreign policy, but also because it also has an interest in a stable market and a dependable and self-confident partner in Europe.

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