MPIEP No. 19

Images of a Divorce. External Perceptions of Brexit in the USA and their Influence on Transatlantic Relations

Johanna Speyer / Arne Niemann


The European Union (EU) takes pride in having promoted integration, peace and democracy among its member states. This European success story, as perceived by third states interacting with the EU, has a huge bearing on the Union’s soft power and thus on the effectiveness of its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The British decision to leave the EU however tarnishes this image and might stir fears and resistance, but also hopes. Nevertheless, thus far, neither the scholarly nor the public debate has paid sufficient attention to third countries’ reactions to the Brexit.

Following a constructivist approach to Foreign Policy Analysis, our paper posits that the EU’s leadership capacity is not only determined by the EU itself, but crucially depends on external actors’ perceptions of the EU. Brexit is likely to have altered these perceptions and has thus restricted the range of motion for EU external action. This paper investigates the perception of Brexit and the “newEU-27” among the present US administration of Donald Trump by analysing remarks of the president himself as well as commentaries commissioned by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank ideologically close to the President. It finds that Brexit is understood as a confirmation of a realistic worldview that prefers national sovereignty to cooperation and sees the EU as a competitor in a zero-sum game.


Keywords: Brexit EU, USA, external perceptions, foreign policy analysis

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