Report Influence

  • Open Europe’s second unique simulation of UK-EU negotiations, involving key politicians from across Europe, including two former prime ministers, nine ministers and one European Commissioner. Open Europe is the only body to have ever conducted such an exercise for the interested public.
  • Under the media spotlight, Open Europe played out two scenarios over day-long negotiations: the UK renegotiating EU reform from within and the UK seeking a new deal after having left the EU (Brexit.)
  • For over seven hours, we livestreamed our EU Wargames to thousands around the world. The hashtag #EUWargames was trending in the UK and Belgium throughout the day.

17 February 2016

160126_MailChimp itemprop=Credits: Claire Greenway, Getty Images

Open Europe’s EU Wargames highlight challenges facing UK negotiators inside or outside the EU

Ahead of this week’s crucial EU summit meeting, at which Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to finalise his EU renegotiation, Open Europe has published a new report setting out the conclusions and lessons of its ‘EU Wargames’ – a unique simulation of both the current UK-EU renegotiation and what might happen if there was a referendum result in favour of Brexit.

Open Europe’s EU Wargames, which assembled ‘players’ including former prime ministers and cabinet ministers to represent their countries or the EU institutions, took place in front of a live studio audience rather than behind closed doors – they are the closest the public can get to being inside the negotiating room. The simulated negotiations provided a number of lessons which are now being borne out in reality.

Highlights: EU Reform session

A deal looks likely this week but none of the UK’s reform demands are considered easy

Despite the consensus view in the UK that all the demands outside of those on EU migrants’ access to welfare are easy, our wargame suggested that there could yet be a number of stumbling blocks. We are now seeing disputes arise around the safeguards for non-Eurozone countries and, in particular, concerns around differential regulation between those inside the banking union and those outside. Of course, the debate around how long the ‘emergency brake’ on EU migrants’ access to benefits will apply for remains open, as does the exact nature of access to in-work benefits which will be eased over time. Despite these stumbling blocks a deal still looks on the cards. However, other EU states should be very careful about watering the deal down or they could very well be facing the reality of a Brexit in a few months.

Unwillingness of some states to discuss fundamental EU reform has limited scope of renegotiation

A growing question is why the deal has seemingly focused on the minutiae. The wargame may provide further lessons here. Ultimately, the EU has shown a lack of willingness to have a discussion about fundamental, structural reform. When the UK embarked on this process, there was a view that the Eurozone would also be undergoing serious structural changes. While that still seems possible and even likely, the discussion has been delayed until after the French and German elections in 2017. Ironically, after months and even years of the UK trying to talk of EU reform and linking its own concerns to the broader challenges facing the EU, other member states are actively pushing towards a narrow UK-only deal.

UK ideas lost in translation?

There was also an acute sense in the negotiations of the constraints which other governments are working under in terms of their own public opinions – there is a significant amount of concern (justified or not) around whether a deal for the UK will be sellable or encourage ‘populist’ forces in other states. Finally, there is also a sense that those involved still do not fully understand where one another is coming from, with many of the UK demands (for example on migration) not well understood and much of the other states resistance equally coming as a bit of a surprise. These lessons help to explain in part why the current negotiations have been so difficult.

Brexit talks could be acrimonious and emotional

But here is where the lessons from the simulated Brexit negotiations might be of use to both sides. If people believe the reform negotiations are difficult, irrational and emotional, then Brexit negotiations could well be even more challenging.

Highlights: Brexit session

Not Norway or Switzerland but ‘Canada+’?

In putting forward the framework for life outside the EU, the UK player, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Norman Lamont, shied away from the obvious templates to be found in Norway and Switzerland’s relationships with the EU in favour of something new. He decided the best approach would be to seek a comprehensive free trade agreement, citing the EU deal with Canada as a good starting point.

Brexit would add to the EU’s list of crises

For an organisation dealing with the Eurozone and refugee crises, Brexit could provide another existential threat. Some countries warned that doing a post-Brexit deal with the UK would not be a top priority – perhaps as a negotiating ploy – but the player representing the EU institutions, disagreed, saying that in reality a new trade deal with the UK would become the EU’s “top political priority.” This did not mean the UK would get an easy ride though.

Ireland is worried

Of all the individual member states, Ireland has the most to lose from a Brexit. Open Europe research has found that Ireland could see a permanent loss to GDP of between 3.1% and 1.1% if there were a Brexit. There could also be further complications for Northern Ireland, for example around the creation of a customs border and uncertainty about the free movement of people. As a result, Ireland was keen for a post-Brexit deal to be sealed with the UK as quickly as possible and potentially for a special arrangement to take into account the special nature of the Anglo-Irish relationship. While other countries expressed a desire for “solidarity” with Ireland, how far this would go was unclear.

Player League Blog Final itemprop=

EU Wargames:  Full length broadcast

If you cannot see the PDF reader below, please see here for the full report. 


Download PDF