The president of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium, has said the UK could join a new North Sea union to link countries with common trading and energy interests after Brexit.
Geert Bourgeois, the conservative leader of Belgium’s dominant and most populous region, said it would be a mistake to try to “punish” Britain after the Brexit vote.
He suggested that forming the new, rival block would be a creative way of turning Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) into a positive economic development.
Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Norway have been mentioned as possible members. A similar Mediterranean block was set up in 2008.
The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) brings together 43 countries from Europe and the Mediterranean Basin; 28 member states of the European Union and 15 in North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Europe.
“I am not proposing a new EU,” Mr. Bourgeois told the Telegraph.
However, he explained: “I can’t imagine a situation where we have more barriers on trade in both directions. You are our fourth biggest export market. It is in our mutual interest to find a solution, and the majority of the EU now agrees that anything other than a soft Brexit would have a huge cost”.
Adding: “We will be able to negotiate a trade agreement. It may be sui generis but it can be done.”
The bloc would promote an integrated energy infrastructure and common energy policies, which would hopefully drive down costs. It could also have a defence and security component.
“My idea is a light structure on an intergovernmental basis, like the Mediterranean Union”, continued Mr. Bourgeois.
“There are so many areas in which we can work together on the enormous potential of ‘blue industry’ in the oceans, whether it is pharmaceutical sector, health, or food production,” he said.