PARIS — First, there was Brexit, arguably the greatest blow to the European Union in its six decades of existence.
Then came nearly a year of uncertainty and waffling, of British leaders’ making promises and retracting them, as European officials sat ready to start divorce proceedings. Then, after months of deliberation, there was Article 50, when, in late March, Britain finally began its withdrawal from the multi-state bloc.
Then there was Britain’s snap election on Thursday, called by Prime Minister Theresa May in a botched effort to strengthen her mandate before Brexit talks formally begin later this month.
Now, reaction in Europe is sheer exasperation: The Europeans are ready to bid the island nation farewell.
At the highest echelons of E.U. leadership, the prevailing sentiment is that enough is enough, and that June 19 — when Brexit talks are still scheduled to begin — cannot come soon enough.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, in a letter of congratulations to May, who remains, for the moment, Britain’s prime minister, reiterated the need to move quickly on Brexit talks before the March 2019 deadline. “The timeframe set by Article 50 of the Treaty leaves us with no time to lose,” Tusk wrote.
Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which outlines the E.U.’s constitutional basis, is the provision by which member states can withdraw from the union. Once triggered, member states then have two years to work out an exit deal with Brussels. When May triggered Article 50 in late March, Britain became the first nation ever to utilize the provision in the history of the E.U.
Earlier Friday, Tusk also urged Britain not to let its current political landscape impede its ability to make a deal on its way out the door. “Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as a result of ‘no negotiations,’ ” he wrote on Twitter.
The sentiment was shared particularly by European officials and leaders from a French background.
“First, let’s not confuse these results with a new Brexit referendum — that’s already done,” said Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic and financial affairs and a former French finance minister, in an interview.
“It changes the force of the negotiations, to be sure,” Moscovici added. “The push for a ‘hard Brexit’ is weakened. But all is less clear — the political situation in Britain in general, the new minority government and its leadership.”
With May’s failure to secure an absolute majority in Parliament — and thus the strong mandate polls had predicted she would win — some in Europe were speculating whether the hard Brexit that May had promised could now be recast into a softer one and, possibly, abandoned altogether.
That notion was perhaps most pronounced in Ireland, where the reality of a future Brexit has threatened to reignite strife over the future of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom but voted last year to stay in the European Union. A further complication is that May will probably try to form a coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
“The results of the UK election indicate to me that there is no strong mandate to proceed with a hard Brexit, which represents an opportunity for Ireland,” Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister-designate, said in a statement.
A similar line emerged in Germany. “The British citizens have shown that they don’t want to let themselves be played with,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters. “The message of the election is: Have fair talks with the European Union and think again whether it’s actually a good thing for Great Britain to exit the European Union in this way.”
Along those lines, Michel Barnier, the E.U.’s principal Brexit negotiator, even seemed willing to play ball with a Britain thrust into internal turmoil. “Brexit negotiations should start when UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear,” he tweeted Friday. “Let’s put our minds together on striking a deal.”
But there was widespread concern throughout the E.U.’s political establishment that Britain, given its present political climate, might not even be able to engage with the complex negotiations that lie ahead. Almost unanimously, calls for the United Kingdom to quickly form a government were ultimately calls for beginning Brexit talks as soon as possible.
“We need a government that can act,” said Günther Oettinger, speaking on Deutschlandfunk, a German public radio station, Friday morning. “With a weak negotiating partner, there’s the danger that the negotiations will turn out badly for both sides.”
“The clock is ticking for Brexit,” wrote Manfred Weber, a conservative member of the European Parliament, on Twitter. “Therefore the UK needs a government soon.”
Given the magnitude of Brexit — and the lingering uncertainty as to what, exactly, the departure will mean — May called Thursday’s snap election as a means of strengthening her negotiating position beforehand. “Every vote for me and my team on 8 June will strengthen my hand in those negotiations,” she said during the campaign.
But with just 10 days to go before the talks are due to start, May’s hand has been anything but strengthened.
With the loss of an absolute Conservative majority in Parliament, on Friday morning the only foreseeable way her party could form a governing coalition was in partnership with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, a faction deeply skeptical of the hard Brexit May and her Conservative allies have defended for months.
While many political analysts agreed that a hard Brexit, given the weakened position of Britain’s Conservative party, seemed less likely, some said it was too early to tell in which direction the negotiations would shift.
“The standard feeling at the moment is that it probably tilts the balance of power in the talks toward the E.U., given that the U.K. side is not going to be particularly well organized,” said Richard Youngs, a professor of international relations at the University of Warwick. “It would probably force the government away from the hard-Brexit goals laid out during the campaign and the very confrontational line the prime minister has taken throughout.”
He added, though, that the election losses could leave May more beholden to the hard-line elements of the party.
For others, it was more a case of how much more turbulent Brexit would be, whenever the talks do begin.
“The big question is whether the story will end in a planned, organized way, with a deal that both sides can live with, or whether it ends chaotically with the U.K. falling out of Europe,” said Fabian Zuleeg, an economist and chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank. “Even though we know there will be Brexit, the nature of one versus the other is totally different.”
But for some E.U. lawmakers, the real objective was that those Brexit talks start — and fast.
“EU ready to negotiate since last year. UK not ready even now,” tweeted Siegfried Muresan, a spokesman for the European People’s Party, the largest party in the E.U. parliament. “Start of negotiations can be delayed, end very hard to delay.”
Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report.