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THE FUTURE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

The EU has had a tough year in 2016 with the results of the Brexit which will lead Britain to leave the European Union. There are numerous questions on whether the EU will maintain its status as a united and steady influential player in the international scene. The internal developments within the EU will have significant impact on its international influence in 2017. The two main questions for the EU in 2017 are related to its ability to maintain its unity and its response to security vulnerabilities.

The Brexit negotiation will be an unprecedented situation for the EU and it is difficult to predict how much the EU’s ability to maintain a united front in the face of negotiations. The way the EU will conduct the negotiation and how it will come out from the Brexit will impact the momentum of the waves of Euroscepticism in the continent.

The EU is struggling with the mildly Eurosceptic Government of Poland and the radical Government of Hungary. Brexit in parallel with increased friction between these

Governments and the Governments of Western Europe (mainly France and Germany), or EU institutions, and the rise of Euroscepticism due to free movement of workers would widen the division between the two parts of Europe.

The recent referendum in the Netherlands which opposed the free trade agreement with Ukraine illustrates the rise of Euroscepticism within the EU countries and the division between Western and Eastern Europe. An important factor in the rise of Euroscepticism in the UK, regardless of its legitimacy, is due to migration from Eastern Europe. Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) has risen from being a rightwing gadfly of the Dutch establishment to one of the most powerful forces in national politics, remaking the image of a nation once regarded as a beacon of liberal values. It is currently leading in polls ahead of national elections in 2017. Although, it seems difficult to see this party leading a government in the Netherlands, in case the elections confirm the polls, it will be another strong signal for the EU to take into consideration.

The French presidential elections will impact the EU’s future. While the right-wing candidate, the most likely winner, Francois Fillon is committed to the EU, he is passionate about rapprochement with Russia. The extreme right candidate, Le Penn, is pushing for France’s withdrawal from the EU. Therefore, whoever wins will pave the way for further issues for the EU.

Added to that, the relationship with Russia remains a question of differences amongst different countries within the EU as to the cost of containing Russia through sanctions increases. Given that there is some concern in France, Germany and Italy regarding the trade cost of containing Russia and many within these countries even argue that Russia presents no threat to their countries and they should bear these costs for their eastern neighbours.  Moreover, the two sides of Europe have different views on the question of the refugees. Given all that, Brexit could be a catalyst bringing this division to the agenda of countries from different parts of Europe. Options in the opposite directions of the greater ever union will be considered more seriously by different countries.