Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Europe's Post-Brexit Future Is Looking Scary

| Feb. 06, 2020

The continent is suddenly facing serious questions about its future role in world politics—and even in the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Elvis has left the building, and Britain has left the European Union. Although a few pundits claimed it would never actually occur, Brexit did in fact happen. The full ramifications won't be known for some time, but the EU slogan of "ever-deeper union" clearly took a hit on Jan. 31.

This setback is the latest in a series of body blows that the EU has endured over the past two decades. The first was the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, where the EU proved unable to handle the conflict without calling in the United States. The next blow was the protracted eurozone crisis, which led to severe economic hardships in several countries, fueled considerable resentment between creditor and debtor nations, and ate up vast amounts of time and political capital. The third was the 2015 refugee crisis, which exposed deep divisions within the EU and gave far-right nationalist movements and illiberal leaders like Hungary's Viktor Orban a major boost.

Brexit came next, followed by U.S. President Donald Trump, whose hostility to the EU and repeated threats to leave NATO have sent shock waves through European capitals. Past U.S. presidents have complained that NATO members weren't pulling their weight, but none of them ever made a credible threat to actually withdraw from the alliance. Trump is different: nobody in Europe is completely sure he won't get up some morning and decide to take the United States out of NATO.

For those of us who admire the values the European Union stands for and its many achievements over the years, these developments are deeply disheartening. For an eloquent but gloomy reflection along these lines, see the columnist Roger Cohen's eulogy here. But I fear the problems Europe is facing go far beyond Britain's decision to leave and raise serious questions about Europe's future role in world politics. They also cast further doubts about the future of trans-Atlantic relations....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Europe's Post-Brexit Future Is Looking Scary.” Foreign Policy, February 6, 2020.

The Author

Stephen Walt