The leaders of 27 EU nations are meeting in the Slovak capital to discuss migration, terrorism and globalisation. Britain had a lot to contribute in all three areas. It’s a crying shame we’re not there.
Brexiteers always downplayed our influence in Europe. To be fair, our governments have also been so half-hearted about membership that we have not made the most of our potential power.
But the EU is now focussing on an agenda that is right in the bulls-eye of our concerns: migration, terrorism and globalisation. This is not surprising. After all, many of the factors that drove people to vote Leave in June are not unique to Britain, as Donald Tusk, the European Council president, wrote in his letter to EU leaders in advance of the summit. Euroscepticism is rife across Europe as the EU has struggled to deal with the flood of migrants from outside the Schengen Area, terrorist attacks and the march of globalisation.
The UK is not part of the Schengen Area – and it has so far avoided the latest swathe of terrorist attacks. But it is not immune from either problem. Indeed, we would have a lot to contribute in tackling both if we were staying in the EU.
Migration from outside the EU, caused by political and economic turmoil in the Middle East and north Africa, will be a huge challenge in future years. The long-term solution is to stabilise the affected regions. The EU may be able to help with a joined up plan – combining trade, aid, diplomacy and, in selective cases, military intervention. Britain could have been a leader in such an initiative. Now it will probably be a bystander.
Meanwhile, the best way to combat terrorism is to work together with other countries, pooling information to track down jihadis. We have the EU’s strongest intelligence services. We should still be able to cooperate with other EU countries. But we won’t be in the driving seat.
Finally, it will be easier to manage globalisation so fewer people are left behind if we work with 27 other like-minded countries. Together, for example, it is easier to fight tax evasion by multinationals or stand up to China’s steel dumping. Post-Brexit, we will have to find our own solutions. On our own, we will be more vulnerable to bullying.
This is the tragedy of our empty seat at Bratislava.