Brexit further polarises EU statehood


Petr Kaniok is Assistant Professor at Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Just hours after the result of the Brexit referendum was announced, EU politicians, analysts and commentators had started to theorise the most probable scenarios for the future statehood of the EU’s remaining 27 members. Generally speaking, two basic ideas have been put forward. The first, and more pessimistic, bets on a looser and more intergovernmental cooperation that could lead to the slow process of European disintegration. The second calls for a deeper and more integrated EU resulting in a fully-fledged European federation. Could Brexit really turn out to be the impetus to resolve decades of disagreement on what the EU should be?

Attempts to define the EU in terms of statehood are controversial, and divide both the scholarly community and politicians into more or less irreconcilable camps. There is only a consensus that the EU is an unprecedented entity sui generis (of its own kind). But attempts to explain this feature of the EU have not been very successful, despite the remarkable efforts and appreciable creativity of political scientists in this regard. Offered descriptions include classical views of the EU as a confederation, if not a federation. Other attempts conceptualise the EU in terms of a regulatory state, a form of post-national governance. There is a much larger consensus, though, on what the EU is not – a Westphalian state, or even a union of Westphalian states.

Perhaps the most successful effort of the EU in terms of polity is its minimalist classification as a political system. In his famous textbook, “The Political System of the European Union”, British political scientist Simon Hix argued that the EU represents just this entity. The EU, according to Hix, disposes a set of stable institutions, citizens seek to realise their political desires through these institutions, decisions of the EU institutions have sufficient impact and there is a continuous feedback. Nothing more, nothing less – the EU is not a state but is more than any ordinary international organisation.

The departure of the United Kingdom will not substantially affect this picture. And if so, it will perhaps do so in a positive way. The EU’s decision-making system has so far absorbed several waves of EU enlargement, so it will undoubtedly remain stable after one country departs. Although the total number of the EU citizens will decrease after the United Kingdom’s departure, there will still be citizens seeking to realise their goals at the EU level. And perhaps more than already, as the general EU debate in the majority of member states has become more politicised in recent months. Even though this phenomenon is usually associated with an increase in euroscepticism, it does not necessarily weaken the EU. On the contrary, a higher level of EU contestation could lead to a more lively political competition at EU level, and thus help quality of feedback in the Union.

Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo