View from the UK: Walking the tightrope

Londoners walking through Millennium Bridge with St.Paul's Cathedral at the background after sunset - London, UK

With the Brexit debacle still on everyone’s mind, stumbling towards a (hopeful) resolution one way or another at the end of October this year, the UK has been focused mainly on itself rather than the farther-flung regions of Europe. However, this is likely a temporary state of affairs, as pre-Brexit, the UK was known for making common cause with other EU countries outside of the euro, in particular Poland and the Czech Republic. Once Brexit concludes, either with the UK still in the European Union or just barely on the outside, it is probable that the UK will once again be looking to its partners in Central Europe.

In many ways, the economic policies and interests of the UK coincide more with the economic policies of emerging Europe than it does with the more ossified policies of the Franco-German core (although, to be fair, Germany’s role as driver of growth in the eurozone does make it fairly important to the UK economy). Being outside of the euro and fighting to keep the financial structure of the EU from overlapping 1:1 with the eurozone was a key area where the UK and Poland/Czech Republic were able to agree. With the UK outside of Europe, it would be to their advantage to maintain these ties, as an over-regulated financial sector in the EU helps no one.

The wrinkle in maintaining these alliances is, of course, the strain of economic nationalism and social populism which has lately been ascendant in Central Europe (and, to a lesser extent, could be said to underpin Brexit). While the economic messages of Brexit and Poland’s PiS may be very similar (anti-foreigner, pro-domestic industry), the expression of these urges via political institutions has led to very different outcomes. It remains to be seen if the UK can continue to forge an economic alliance of convenience with governments which have been less stalwart on rule of law and are at loggerheads with other values of the Enlightenment. Walking such a tightrope may prove as difficult to justify as Brexit.

About the author

Christopher A. Hartwell

Christopher A. Hartwell

Christopher A. Hartwell is Professor of Financial Systems Resilience at Bournemouth University (UK), Professor of International Management at Kozminski University (Poland), and fellow and former President of CASE-Center for Social and Economic Research in Warsaw. He is also the author of Two Roads Diverge: The Transition Experience of Poland and Ukraine (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and Institutional Barriers in the Transition to Market (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

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