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Germany and the European Union: Post-Brexit Hegemon

In late-March 2019 the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union. Will Brexit lead to Germany becoming the EU’s hegemon? The commentary explores the likely impact of Brexit on policy areas and intergovernmental politics in the EU. It focuses on the sources of German hegemony: structural, ideational and diplomatic power as well as the need for Germany’s role to be legitimate amongst partner states and to have domestic support. Two scenarios are suggested: the Franco-German partnership’s revival or a form of German hegemony.

Germany and the European Union Post-Brexit Hegemon

Introduction

The vote of the British people in June 2016 to exit the European Union (EU), initiating a process popularly known as Brexit, has opened up a wide range of questions about future political trajectories not only for Britain but also for the EU itself. The United Kingdom (UK) is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, two years after triggering the Article 50 exit process.1 One of the key questions in relation to the impact of Brexit on the EU is how will it impact intergovernmental politics and the balance between the remaining large member states? Who will provide the necessary leadership within the EU? Specifically, will Brexit lead to Germany assuming a more prominent role such that it becomes the EU’s hegemon?

In exploring the possibility of Germany taking on a greater role in the EU, I consider first of all the likely consequences of Brexit on policy dynamics within the EU. I then turn to the issue of leadership in the EU. During the EU’s ‘crisis years’ (the 2010s) Germany displayed the attributes of a dominant force in the EU, specifically in its economic strength. Historically, however, German governments had avoided leadership in the EU except in conjunction with France.

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