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It took two Prime Ministers, 1274 days, three deadline extensions and two general elections for Britain to finally leave the bloc on January 31. While the impact of Brexit on the EU remains somewhat speculative until the precise terms of the UK’s trade relationship with the bloc becomes clear, unearthed reports reveal just how damaging the departure of British MEPs has been for Brussels. In an entry for the London School of Economics (LSE) blog published in February, Doru Frantescu and Davide Ferrari from the think-tank VoteWatchEU looked at how their departure affected the balance of power in the European Parliament.
Mr Frantescu and Mr Ferrari noted how the eurosceptic Identity and Democracy (ID) overtook the Greens/EFA as the fourth largest group in the European Parliament after British MEPs departed.
However, they revealed how their measurements showed that its bigger numbers were not translating into stronger influence.
They wrote: “This group is most often on the minority side, as the centrist forces refuse to cooperate with it and formed a cordon sanitaire to prevent it from getting any leadership positions in the Parliament.
“Additionally, its lack of cohesion still makes it difficult for the group to speak as one on many issues, including the economy and environment.”
Brexit hammer blow: How departure of British MEPs has put Brussels on ‘death row’ (Image: GETTY)
Brexit day celebrations on January 31 (Image: GETTY)
This move, however, is arguably sparking even more anti-EU sentiment across Europe.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk earlier this year, Italian MEP Marco Campomenosi launched a furious attack on Brussels for not letting his political group participate in the Brexit steering group of the European Parliament.
He said: “This is absolutely anti-democratic.
“They are crazy.
“It is an attempt by members of the steering group of the European Parliament to keep us out of the places where they decide.
“They know that we are friends with the British people, even if we do not have British MEPs in our group.
“In the Identity and Democracy Group, we have Italians, Germans, French, Austrians, Finnish.
“Our group is out of these rooms and so we hope, because we constantly talk to German, Italian, French producers who want an agreement, that there will be some common sense.”
When asked about Italexit, Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi added: “I don’t think Italexit is necessary because if Brussels continues like this, then it will crash on its own.
“Nothing needs to be done.”
The European Parliament (Image: GETTY)
Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage (Image: GETTY)
Moreover, Mr Frantescu and Mr Ferrari revealed how Brexit also affected the geographical balance in the European Parliament, as nearly half of the new seats went to French, Italian and Spanish policymakers – therefore boosting the presence of the ‘South’ in Brussels.
They added: “This also has legislative implications, as these three national groups tend to share similar policy preferences (such as an overall protectionist and interventionist economic orientation).”
Again, this could be argued to be incredibly problematic for the future of the EU.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the so-called Frugal Four, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, have been at the forefront of a campaign not to “give gifts” to Southern European countries and have rejected all the emergency financial measures that would lead to “debt mutualisation”.
These four countries regard “mutualised debt” as a mortal danger because it would open the door to the dreaded Eurobonds – meaning Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Austrian taxpayers could become liable for the debt of other countries.
The pressure that the pandemic poses on the EU as a whole might work in favour of the creation of an EU bond to raise €500billion (£447billion), though.
Andrew Watt, head of the unit for European economic policy at the Hans-Böckler Foundation, said: “The Frugals, on paper, have a fairly strong position in the sense that this whole thing is located within the European Union budget.
“In practice, though, none of them want to go down in the history books as the country that, faced with a pandemic, after all these countries have gone through, let them starve.”
The plan is, nonetheless, a dangerous step as, according to Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House, it might spark a Brexit domino effect – at least, in attitudes towards the bloc.
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Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz (Image: GETTY)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Image: GETTY)
In an entry for the London School of Economics (LSE) blog, he wrote: “The similarities with previous British positions in the EU are clear.
“The Frugal Four Prime Ministers value their rebates as much as Margaret Thatcher once did.
“It is not too much of a stretch to say that the current proposal would never have even made it to the table had the United Kingdom still been a member of the EU, as London would have almost certainly vetoed it.
“One of the arguments often put forward in favour of Brexit was that the UK should leave before it would inevitably get roped into the eurozone’s mess.
“During the euro crisis, the UK largely avoided this fate, only contributing to the bailouts of Portugal and Ireland.
“But having to pay for economic support for the southern euro countries is exactly what is now being asked from non-euro countries like Sweden, Denmark and Czechia.”
Moreover, Mr Bergsen argued, the comparison with the UK is also instructive because the Frugal Four were often closely aligned with London in EU debates.
They broadly share the British focus on free trade and on the EU as an economic project, as opposed to its political dimension, as Germany more often tends to focus on.
The academic noted: “Just like the UK, the Frugal Four also tend to have relatively eurosceptic electorates, albeit ones that continue to indicate in polls that they would vote to remain in the EU if asked.
“Governments and politicians in the Frugal Four largely continue to talk about European integration in the way most British politicians used to, using it as a handy scapegoat for unpopular policy and blustering in Brussels mainly to satisfy their domestic audience.
“In the short run, this strategy has led them to clash with, not just most of the rest of the bloc, but also their previous ally within the EU – Germany.
“In the long run, such a strategy raises questions over how the Frugal Four will deal with the secular pressure for more integration within the eurozone, particularly for the Netherlands and Austria as Denmark and Sweden are unlikely to join the single currency anytime soon.
“Even in areas other than the euro, there will be a push for more integration.
“This will create conflict with the vision of the EU that many of these member states share with the UK, which is now no longer in the club helping them to push back against this direction of integration.”
Mr Bergsen concluded that a clear appreciation of their small size and heft in the world and their deep economic integration with the rest of the EU might discourage them from following the UK out of the union.
However, the current episode once again highlights “the difficulty of deeper integration” between countries with a very different vision for the future of the EU.
Moreover, the post-Brexit geographical composition of the European Parliaments has arguably put these four countries on a collision course with their Southern neighbours even more.