by Radu Magdin*
First, the European project is under threat: at a key moment for Europe, when the continent has challenges both inside (eurozone continued crisis, populists increasingly vocal and popular etc) and at its Eastern and Southern borders, one key country decides to exit. Symbolism of unity is lost, hope is diminishing on the future of our common project. We will survive and work this through, the case for both the EU and the UK, but it's clearly a critical moment in European history.
Second, Eastern Europe also loses a key US ally in its efforts to present Eastern challenges, and particularly neoimperial Russia, as crucial in Brussels. Of course, the UK stays in NATO, but its contribution to EU's foreign and security policy will be missed. In the balancing act between the countries worried about the Eastern flank more than the Southern one, the UK will be missed by Romania, Poland and the Baltics: the decisions taken at the NATO summit in Warsaw do not change EU realities, and the truth is London is becoming a lame duck in Brussels due to the result of the Brexit referendum. When people have the feeling you are no longer in their Club, they tend to ignore you, its "political psychology 101".
Third, but just as important, Brussels loses the champion of the liberal flank, where a lot of other Eastern European countries were present, promoting economic freedom and cutting red tape. Fourth, the UK is the biggest hub in Europe for Eastern European expats, whether we are talking about Poles, Baltics or the increasing number of Romanians in Great Britain. These people's situation during Brexit negotiations and immediately afterwards is a key concern for capitals from Warsaw to Bucharest. Fifth, we may have to increase our contributions to the EU budget: Brexit will cost us financially, there is a price tag on the exit for all of us.
Are there any opportunities that come with Brexit? Not really, except for the illusory joy of being able to perhaps host some additional EU agencies or jump a seat in terms of influence in Brussels: + 1 in a EU of 27, instead of 28 States. A multiple speed Europe, encouraged by Brexit, might prove an opportunity but mostly for countries that will manage to be in the driver's seat, in the primary speed group. The rest risk peripheral positioning, being stuck on the second of third lane of development in an accelerating EU. Consequently, it is key for Eastern European States to reform at high speed in the next 2-3 years to join the first half of the platoon.
*Radu Magdin is a Romanian analyst and consultant, former Prime Ministerial honorary adviser for external communications. He is vicepresident of Strategikon, a Romanian English-speaking think tank.