The British vote to leave the European Union on Wednesday 23rd June sent shock waves throughout the Member States and is proving particularly costly for the Eastern countries that joined the EU in the last enlargement rounds (2004, 2007, 2013). The central banks of Poland, Hungary and Romania started the day of the 24th of June trying to calm the markets, the Polish zloty slid against the Euro by 3,8% (Onoszko et al, 2016), while political leaders across the region tried to reassure their respective electorate that the economy will not be significantly affected by the vote and the rights of their citizens working and living in the UK will not change in the short term. But this was also exploited as an opportunity to reflect on specific policies, on their role in an EU without the UK and this is particularly telling for the tensions within the EU and challenges for the future.
At a closer look their views on specific policies do not differ substantially from the concerns raised by David Cameron during the renegotiation deal that took place earlier in the year, in particular on immigration, economic policy and cutting red tape. However, they differ in terms of support for further integration, with the latest entrants Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia being clear about strengthening the EU, while the four Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) are being more concerned with further reform.
The Hungarian Government encouraged the EU to engage in pragmatic politics, not in ‘political correctness’ and to listen to people’s opinions (Peter Szijarto, Minister of Foreign Affairs). Hungary’s main policy concern of curtailing immigration and rejecting compulsory quotas is shared by Slovakia, together with economic governance worries that seem certain to dominate the agenda as the later country is next to take over the EU’s rotating presidency (Robert Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia, in BBC News, 2016). The Polish Government encouraged further reform in the EU including cutting red tape and increasing democratic legitimacy (MFA statement) and overall the feeling from Warsaw was that an important ally was lost in the fight for EU reform as a result of the UK’s decision to exit.
Seen as a triumph for ‘nationalists and populists’ by Bulgaria’s key politicians, the UK result prompted them to ask for further integration (Sofia Globe), while Romania declared its willingness to become ‘a proactive actor in the evolution of the EU, which will certainly continue after the UK vote’ (Dacian Ciolos, Prime Minister).
While Hungary supports more regional integration within the Visegrad group (Peter Szijarto, Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Polish President Andrzej Duda called for safeguards from further exits to be put in place, it looks like the region is still divided on specific issues, despite an overall declared disappointment with the result of the UK vote. The UK exit vote might have just provided the catalyst for reaching agreement on policies that have divided member states so far. Worry about a further economic downturn adds to the sense of urgency in pulling together despite some differences, which is ultimately what the EU is all about.
Dr Simona Davidescu is Associate Lecturer
at the University of York
and Research Associate at the EU-Asia Institute
(ESSCA School of Management)
BBC News ‘Brexit: World reaction as UK votes to leave EU’, 24 June 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36614643
Ciolos, Dacian ‘Declarații susținute de premierul Dacian Ciolos în contextul referendumului din Marea Britanie’, Romanian Government, 24 June 2016, http://gov.ro/ro/stiri/declaratii-sustinute-de-premierul-dacian-ciolos-in-contextul-referendumului-din-marea-britanie
Onoszko, M.; Levitov, M. and Chamonikolas, K. ‘Brexit Jolts EU’s Eastern Members as Polish Zloty Leads Plunge’, Bloomberg, June 24, 2016, 4:20 pm, www.bloomberg.com
Polish Government ‘MFA Statement after the announcement of results of the UK referendum on EU membership’, 24 June 2016, www.msz.gov.pl
Sofia Globe ‘Bulgaria on Brexit: A bad day for Europe, a triumph for nationalists and populists’, 24 June 2016, http://sofiaglobe.com/2016/06/24/bulgaria-on-brexit-a-bad-day-for-europe-a-triumph-for-nationalists-and-populists/
Szijarto, Peter ‘Europe must learn from Brexit, says Hungarian Foreign Minister, Jne 24, 2016, 3:19 pm, www.kormany.hu/en/hungary