After Brexit, Whither Europe?

After months of anticipation, the United Kingdom triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this week, marking the beginning of the end of its membership in the European Union. As an aspiring futurist living in England, I had a front-row seat to last year’s “Brexit” referendum – and it’s unexpected outcome. Thankfully, I had already contemplated the future of the EU in one of my University of Houston foresight courses, and realized the breakup of this bloc is but one of several plausible scenarios:

EU Unraveling: “Brexit” may inspire copycats, as other EU members demand concessions, threaten to leave, or even eject underperforming states. In this scenario, the Schengen agreement would likely break down as border controls are restored amid social, economic, and security concerns.

Continental System: A chaotic “Brexit” would offer a cautionary tale for Eurosceptics, as the EU balance of power shifts back to Germany and France, potentially leading the way to closer integration. If EU leaders find a way to address security concerns and refugee flows through closer cooperation and burden sharing, and the Eurozone improves economic performance through greater fiscal union, progress towards a federated EU “superstate” could eventually resume.

Europe à la Carte: A “never closer union” is the most likely scenario, with core EU members committing to case-by-case integration while others opt out or are left behind in a “two-speed” Europe. More policy areas would be subjected to intergovernmental control, relaxing Schengen and Eurozone commitments to preserve political consensus, while the European Commission and Parliament further decline in influence.

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