“The Changing of a Continent” is a column by journalist Kenneth R. Rosen that focuses on the US trans-Atlantic relationship and Europe’s future.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday at her summer retreat at Balmoral Castle in Scotland comes during a challenging new chapter for the Union Jack and the monarchy. Many existential and empirical questions will remain unanswered in the weeks after the sovereign’s 70-year rule. Of greatest concern is whether the Queen’s legacy of accepting pan-European relations will survive her rule.
Though a largely ceremonial holdover lacking legislative powers, the royal family recalls an era of courtly and reserved rule spanning the rise and dissolution of a British Empire on which the sun once never set. Impoverished and masticated by the Second World War, a once deferential and beguiling nation whose global power shrunk in the aftermath of war, yet later grew into a wealth-driven nation-state less concerned by pomp and respect as it was with self-centered tenacity. Elizabeth will be remembered for her high moral standards and reserved manner, while Britain will endure its ongoing struggle to define its relationship with a continent, and a world, that has largely left it behind.
Elizabeth will be remembered for her high moral standards and reserved manner, while Britain will endure its ongoing struggle to define its relationship with Europe.
No clearer was the ineffectual diffidence toward the crown than during “Brexit,” the name given to the country’s exit from the European Union in 2020, when age-old pageantry took a backseat to the Parliament’s frantic scramble to cement a deal with European negotiators, in part over how to handle trade between Britain and its neighbor Northern Ireland.
Overshadowed by worries surrounding indecision, Elizabeth gave her 65th opening of Parliament address as scandals and uncertainty surrounded then Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The politically-neutral head of state had little control over the constitutional monarchy and yet was used by Johnson’s office as a pawn in a scheme to pause Parliament in the hopes of passing Brexit without delay. For Britons, it was the beginning of years of soul-searching. For Europeans, it felt like abandonment.
Not a half-decade earlier had Elizabeth acknowledged the need for strategic partnership between the United Kingdom and Europe to ensure the safety and sovereignty of “our continent.” She said, “In our lives, we have seen the worst and the best of our continent,” at a banquet in Berlin in June 2015. “We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it.”
So with Elizabeth goes that vision. As the Conservative Party renews its position within Parliament under the newly-appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss, Eurosceptic Ministers of Parliament are likely to hinder her ability to compromise on accepting a broader view between a pan-European relationship. On Sept. 15, Downing Street must respond to infringement proceedings launched by the EU alleging failed commitments to a trade agreement with Northern Ireland. Sanctions are being threatened, and Brussels has accused the UK of having “not even engaged in any meaningful discussions” since February 2022.
Recalling Elizabeth’s remarks in 2015 should provide the foundation for negotiations in the trade deal and beyond. An undeniable link between Europe and Britain promotes peace and prosperity in the troubled partnership. As evidenced in the rising costs of goods and the limited access Britons now enjoy to supplies and materials, what Elizabeth knew, and spoke on, was the necessary acknowledgment that what impacts Europe ripples into the United Kingdom.
Kenneth R. Rosen is a columnist at Inkstick and an independent journalist based in Italy.