Britain’s departure will shift power dynamics in EU

BRUSSELS – Britain’s departure from the European Union will deprive the bloc of one of its few truly heavyweight members, a diplomatic, economic and military powerhouse. Britain accounts for more than 60 million of the EU’s 500 million people, has the world’s fifth-biggest economy and is a nuclear power. Its exit will shift the power dynamics of a bloc that has long relied on trade-offs and compromise between countries that have different ideas about what they want out of a united Europe.

Here’s a look at shifting powers in the 28-nation bloc:



Germany and France have combined over the decades as the motor of European integration. The two countries often draw up joint proposals for major policy issues before summits of the full bloc — something smaller EU nations can view with suspicion. That frequently requires a balance between different political philosophies, with Germany tending toward a free-market approach while France favouring more state intervention in the economy.

“When we agree about everything, then the others are worried. When, which is seldom the case, we do not agree, then people are even more worried,” French President Francois Hollande said Monday during a visit to Berlin. “So we have decided that we prefer to agree.”

Amid tensions over Europe’s debt crisis, the French-German partnership hasn’t been much of a romance over recent years. And it has looked increasingly unbalanced as German Chancellor Angela Merkel presides over a strong economy while the deeply unpopular Hollande struggles to reform France.

Germany, France and Italy are the only three EU countries other than Britain with more than 60 million people. Merkel also invited Italian Premier Matteo Renzi to Berlin on Monday ahead of a summit where EU leaders pondered how to keep their union together.

The big EU countries are keen not to be seen as dominating their smaller partners.

“The European Union has no directorate,” Renzi said.



Nineteen of the EU’s 28 members use the shared euro currency. Britain never joined this inner circle, which brings together countries as diverse as Germany, Slovakia and Greece. Denmark also opted out of the euro and Swedish voters rejected the currency in a 2003 referendum.

The club doesn’t look likely to expand anytime soon — even though all the many eastern European countries that joined the EU starting in 2004 are on paper committed to joining the euro. Still, governments in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are paying lip service at most to that requirement. They’re waiting to see how the currency zone resolves the debt problems that saw Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus bailed out.



Four independent-minded eastern European countries that have been increasingly assertive over the past year will demand to have their voice heard as the EU figures out how to move forward: Poland — the biggest of the EU’s eastern members with 38 million people — along with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The four have already resisted calls by Merkel for all EU countries to share the burden of hosting the massive influx of refugees to the bloc. Nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary, in particular, have little appetite for further EU integration and have bristled at scrutiny from Brussels of their own domestic policy moves.

Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s foreign minister, described officials at EU headquarters this week as out of touch with regular people, saying they should be “beating themselves on the chest” in remorse at the British referendum result.



The European Union’s Brussels-based executive Commission has acquired increased influence and confidence over recent years under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which governs the way the bloc is run and was meant to make it more effective and accountable.

Yet there’s a widespread perception in many European countries that the bloc’s leaders are too willing to interfere on matters they don’t need to. Britain’s exit could make governments elsewhere in Europe more inclined to assert themselves against Brussels officials.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday that the EU should keep in mind “the guiding principle — national solutions where possible, and European solutions where necessary.”


Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.