The French-German relationship has traditionally been an engine of EU construction. This tandem has often been balanced by the influence of the United Kingdom. Without the UK, what new dynamics will emerge between Member States? Do the recent initiatives — led jointly by France, Germany, Italy and Spain (informal summits, digital economy proposals) — augur a new leading quartet for the EU, which will lean more towards Southern interests and concerns than it did in the past? These are some of the questions we discussed during the opening event of the Vinces Brussels office with Spain’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Jorge Toledo and a panel of experts.
What is clear is that there is a rationale for this shift to take place:
There is an opportunity – The UK’s departure will leave a void to fill. There are few countries of this size in terms of population and no equivalent in terms of its economic power and geopolitical reach. Germany’s current struggle to form a government might leave another place to fill, albeit temporarily. In terms of population size only Italy reaches the levels of these three countries (above the 60-million-mark), Spain and Poland are the next countries in terms of population size (47 and 39 millions respectively), with all other EU countries having significantly smaller populations. This means Brexit will create an opportunity for Southern States to take more power at EU level.
It is democratically legitimate – EU Southern States currently represent 39% of the EU population. After Brexit, EU Southern States will represent 45% of the EU population. This is almost half of the EU population.
These countries have joint interests – Southern States  have many common points. They share cultural roots and a certain lifestyle that’s recognised world-wise. Their economies have similar features (tourism, cultural industry, agriculture). They also share a strategic position for Europe at the door of North Africa and are therefore often the first point of entry for migrants from this region.
That being said, historically these countries seem to have had difficulties working together to develop joint priorities at EU level. Differences of views and the belief in being better off defending its own interests directly won over the quest for synergies.
Will the future be any different? Also, is there a country that is willing to take the lead in building up this alliance? And is France a Southern country anyway? We opened lots of questions during this evening debate, some of which would be worth panel debates on their own! What also came out of our discussion is that with great power, comes great responsibility. If Southern States would like to have a steering role for the EU, this might also mean moving from being net beneficiaries from EU funds to becoming net contributors to the EU budget.
This debate was the first of a series of three events on the topic of shifting power in Europe, a phenomenon Vinces is exploring through three angles according to the Vinces methodology: politics, regulation, and society. Our next event will be on the smart regulation agenda, and the last one on the societal trends that will impact the 2019 European elections. Do let us know if you’d like to join.
 France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Croatia, Cyprus and Malta, by order of population size.
 Spider-Man (paraphrased)