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11 june 2016, building the post-brexit boat

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Given it will be the biggest set-back to the project in its history (see 1 january 2016, the year of leaving), the eu is turning its attention to the consequences of the looming leave vote; pre-quake tremors are beginning to hit the surface. There are two schools. The first sees the uk as central brick of a wall holding back integration and though convulsive, exit will enable closer union. The second has britain more as the crest of a eurosceptic wave, with the vote loosening the tectonic plates that lead eventually to a more states-first, decentralised construct. Berlin, schauble at least, is already championing the middle-way status quo narrative. Uppermost in this view is denying the uk any rights and privileges as a stark warning to others of the ruinous perils of leaving. While that line is likely to hold in the immediate earthquake of the near-existential crisis the eu will face, it is ultimately unsustainable. Far from being impossible though, both tendencies may find a breakthrough as the vote brings the latent tension to the surface. The "keep them in the fold" countries are likely to strain every sinew to work with the uk on some form of association as similar to eu membership as possible. Norway, switzerland, iceland and (everyone's favourite) lichtenstein already have the eea/efta, and the insertion of the heavyweight uk into the mix should be more than enough to catalyse its reformation. This may prove sufficiently attractive for several other out-inclined member states (hungary, the example du jour) to peel off into too. This has two great attractions for the eu. Putting a safety net in place may well enable the core to start serious optioneering about further integration, likely around a reduced-schengen and the eurozone. An outer-ring is also an obvious answer to the increasingly-fraught question of what to do with turkey and the remaining balkan countries now that the highly-successful dangling-the-prospect-of-membership foreign policy tool has run out of road given political inability to actually bring in any new members for the foreseeable future. Once recriminations fade and passions calm, pro-actively creating this second-tier, unbound by the ecj (see court in the act), is likely to emerge as a potentially sturdy win-win vessel both the eu and britain can sail their now-separate but still interdependent futures together in.