Brexit and the Future of the European Union by Federico Fabbrini is a succinct work of just over 150 pages that lays out why the European Union is in dire need of constitutional reform, what the competing visions of EU integration are, and how to go about a revamp. It does so ‘through the prism of Brexit’, but it could have equally been entitled Future of the European Union.
There are five main chapters, and the first two cover Brexit negotiations, and the consequences of a delay in those negotiations on the EU, but the latter three chapters are distinct and examine other non-Brexit EU crises, the already long-standing need for EU constitutional reform, and a proposal for how that can be done through the central idea of a Political Compact that bypasses the obstacle course of unanimity and treaty-amendment, and through the channel of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The author does describe those later chapters as ‘besides Brexit’ or ‘beyond Brexit’, but the book could have stood alone fairly well without that angling: Brexit serves well as the starting point, but it can be disconnected from the remaining content. EU constitutional reform and reflection on the future course of EU integration would have been necessary with or without Brexit.
The overview provided of how Brexit unfolded, and how the EU reacted, from a bird’s eye view, is useful though, and the sections on how various EU institutions were internally impacted by Brexit are insightful – for example on how an additional Brexit extension procedurally led to a swing in the overall political leaning of the European Parliament to the right, slightly altered the course of how the European Commission was put in place, and threatened but wasn’t actually disruptive in the Council of the EU context. But those elements together are not convincing to show that Brexit really had such a phenomenal impact (and considering also how the MFF 2021-2027 budget negotiations have been completed irrespective of losing the fourth largest net-paying contributor). The overall view is actually how successfully the EU Institutions, Member States and related actors were unified to deal with it.
It would however have been interesting to know the author’s take on whether one crisis merely eclipsed the other – and whether the EU-Brexit scenario would have been much different in a non-pandemic context. For example, perhaps the politicisation and legislative output related to Brexit was stunted because the pandemic-catastrophe left no room for it, and there were simply no resources or time to pay more attention to it (considering how the machinery of the EU spurned out a great deal of novel legislation to adapt to the rapidly changing health crisis). Equally, it would be interesting to know the author’s analysis of why the Brexit crisis was handled so well – and why the other crises (on the euro, migration, the rule of law) have not been. Perhaps some perspective on the UK’s historically withdrawn stance (such as the constant vetoing during Thatcher’s time) could have gone some way to providing an explanation for that (see EU Law in the UK by Sylvia de Mars, ch.1 and p. 14).
Ultimately, the book’s main purpose is the case made for EU-constitutional and EU integration-reform, the message is strong, and the author’s proposed solution is to be celebrated even if it is a suggestion to bypass the treaties and unanimity voting altogether through a Political Compact signed outside of the EU legal order: it is always far more useful to have criticism followed by proposed alternatives than just criticism alone.
Overall, the book provides a refreshingly clear narrative to follow, bringing together a wide breadth of knowledge in a short space that showcases the author’s knowledge and expertise of EU affairs, and is therefore good for this overall pitching of how EU integration can generally move forward.
Anjum Shabbir is an Assistant Editor at EU Law Live