• The narrow victory for the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum campaign promised to reverse the slippage in British economic performance and global influence by quitting the ‘failed’ EU project. Yet barely two years after what Brexiteers celebrated as ‘Independence Day’, the bold promises made by the ‘Leave’ side in the referendum campaign have not—or have not yet—materialised. The national mood now, as evidenced in public opinion surveys, is increasingly unconvinced that Brexit is the answer to the UK’s current problems or impending challenges.

    The paper examines how the Brexit that was promised was always unrealisable because it naively overlooked the marked asymmetry of power between the EU27 and its former member state. The issues raised by the UK government’s preferred ‘hard Brexit’ were bound to face serious challenges that could not be wished away by simplistic ‘cherry-picking’ solutions. During the withdrawal negotiations the three British prime ministers (in just five years) preferred hubris to pragmatism and fantasy over fact, with the eventual outcome being one that was far removed from what was promised in the referendum. Indeed, Brexit has brought the UK serious challenges and unanticipated consequences, both domestically and in terms of its external policy.

    These were harsh lessons that successive British governments needed to face and that they avoided by defying the realities of hard power. The latest incumbent in Downing Street has finally begun to confront these unpalatable truths, acknowledging momentous challenges in the near and far abroad that point to the need to reset UK–EU relations. The time is not quite right for this though, as Brexit was a seismic, even a traumatic event for both sides. For that very reason the recent improvement in relations by no means ensures a prompt return to the status quo ante. It does however point to a more constructive relationship.

    Brexit European Union

    Brexit: Navigating the Politics of Discord

    Policy Briefs

    20 Dec 2023

  • Brexit European Union Migration
    BTC March Thumbnail Windsor Agreement Northern Ireland Illegal Migration Bill

    Bridge The Channel – The Windsor Framework and the UK’s Illegal Migration Bill

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    16 Mar 2023

  • Much of the analysis of the recent Windsor Framework between Britain and the EU naturally focuses on the specifics of the accord. From the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to the extent of customs checks at Northern Ireland ports, the compromises on both sides are compared against the previous years of fraught negotiations.

    Yet, irrespective of the internal politics of Northern Ireland – and the uncertain response of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the Windsor Agreement highlights one key political issue. Namely, that nearly seven years after the Brexit referendum, both London and Brussels finally understand that they have bigger things to worry about than Northern Ireland.

    Prime Minister Sunak’s signalling that he will continue with this deal irrespective of DUP misgivings illustrates the changed political landscape in Britain. The COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, inflation, rising interest rates and falling house prices – not to mention a Conservative Party 22 points behind in the polls – is not the vista imagined by most Brexit voters in 2016.

    In this context, settling the Northern Ireland issue (with or without the DUP) marks the first step in Westminster’s normalisation of relations with the EU. This is the start of a process that will likely last over a decade, require at least one more change of government in London, but ultimately will bring Britain closer to Brussels on key issues related to security and defence, climate change and global trade. It should also repair the Anglo-Irish relationship which has been badly undermined over the last decade, but which is vital to future peace in Northern Ireland.

    If Sunak can surmount the short term risk of a hard Brexiteer/Boris Johnson rebellion, British-EU relations will stabilise on a firmer footing. It will also strengthen Sunak’s own position within the Conservative Party. And that’s a much bigger prize for Westminster (and the Prime Minister) than keeping the bleating hearts of the DUP happy in Belfast. Especially when it negates the non-too subtle warnings from President Biden about the importance of maintaining the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

    The reality is that the socio-economic challenges facing Britain should not be underestimated. Leaving the EU – and the last seven years of tedious Brexit-centric focus – have led to a period of decision making drift. This, at least in part, symbolises a broader feeling that socio-economic conditions are diminishing relative to comparator countries. It’s reflective of a feeling of discontent that is common across most aspects of the British public service. It has also manifested itself in an ongoing series of strikes in the health, transport and education systems.

    And this is why the past experience of Germany is key to aiding Britain’s recovery.

    Germany in the late 1990s and early 2000s was infamously referred to as “the sick man of Europe”. Berlin was viewed as the driver of the EU’s economic weakness and as incapable of reinventing itself for the post-Cold War age. Despite being home to many world-leading companies, an industrial heartland and a well-developed education system, it seemed that the financial burden of reunification would drag down overall living standards for generations to come. Rising public debt (it doubled between 1989 and 1995) and increasing unemployment came to symbolise Germany’s waning international influence.

    And while Britain’s self-inflicted choice to leave the EU is fundamentally different from German reunification, the economic results of both processes are broadly similar. And much of the simplistic analysis of Britain’s economic woes are characterised by the monotone narratives which surrounded Germany’s struggles in the late 1990s.

    Britain’s current economic position – a public debt of around 100% of GDP, unemployment under 5%, marginal economic growth and deep public discontent – is no worse than that faced by Germany over two decades ago. And Germany’s response – most commonly associated with the Agenda 2010 policies of Chancellor Schröder – provide a possible pathway for a British economic renaissance in the decade ahead.

    Those reforms tackled the key structural blockages impacting Germany at that time – inflexible employment contracts and a reduced incentive to work owing to the structure of social security. An upturn in the global economy and booming exports provided the macroeconomic support for the subsequent terms of Chancellor Merkel’s rule.

    Britain’s core issue relates not to labour market flexibility or social security largesse. Britain is already a flexible, deregulated and small state economy by continental European standards. Its long-term average of public spending at around 40% of GDP is well below its EU comparators of France (59%), Italy (55%) and Germany (51%).

    But Britain does face a crippling shortage of both workers and skills. A cluster of world class universities shields a wider education system that is ill-prepared to produce the skills employers require in the post-COVID age. Britain needs to tackle its teacher shortage, improve vocational options and boost life-long learning. It needs to empower the private sector to invest more in innovation, research and upskilling. It needs to make work pay by cutting some of the highest childcare costs in the developed world.

    Just like Germany in the 2000s, Britain is neither a sick man or a declining economy in 2023. But, as with Germany two decades ago,  it requires fundamental structural reforms to boost productivity, growth and employment. 

    However, closer relations with the EU (even membership of the Single Market) will not fix Britain’s structural flaws. As with Germany, the only real solutions are difficult domestic economic reforms. The Windsor Agreement can give Prime Minister Sunak the space to focus on the challenging decisions ahead. And that’s why Britain should remember Germany’s recent economic history.

    Eoin Drea Brexit Economy Leadership

    Eoin Drea

    The Windsor Framework Shows that Germany is Key to a British Recovery


    03 Mar 2023

  • 2023 Brexit European Union Future of Europe United Kingdom

    Bridge The Channel – Our Predictions For 2023

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    19 Jan 2023

  • Brexit EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy UK United Kingdom

    Bridge the Channel – December 2022

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    20 Dec 2022

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Bridge the Channel June 2022

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    17 Jun 2022

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit Transatlantic relations

    Bridge the Channel May 2022

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    20 May 2022

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit Transatlantic relations

    Bridge the Channel April 2022

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    14 Apr 2022

  • Brexit Ukraine

    Bridge the Channel March 2022

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    17 Mar 2022

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer December 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    21 Dec 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer November 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    29 Nov 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer October 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    29 Oct 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer September 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    28 Sep 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer July 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    22 Jul 2021

  • Angelos is back from London with another Brexitometer episode! This time, he speaks about the UK going back to normal, Dominic Cummings’ testimony, the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Switzerland-EU relation, and even Eurovision.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit Trade

    Brexitometer June 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    03 Jun 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit Trade

    Brexitometer April 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    30 Apr 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos tells us about the latest developments in the UK during the first anniversary of both the arrival of COVID-19 to the country and their official departure of the EU.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer March 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    26 Mar 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos explains the main issues in the new Brexit reality: the economic effects EU-UK trade, customs charges for online orders, fishing, Northern Ireland, Covid-19 vaccines, and even the limitations for British artists when they’ll want to tour in the EU.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer February 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    25 Feb 2021

  • The EU finds itself in the midst of a vaccine crisis, with the slow rollout of its vaccination program compounded by a feud with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and a diplomatic faux pas over the application of its vaccine export controls to Northern Ireland. It is clear that the EU’s vaccine debacle creates major questions for both its internal governance and its international standing. However, less attention has been paid to a more immediate and uncomfortable truth made clear by this episode: that Brexit has weakened not only Britain, but also the EU itself.

    The early success of the UK vaccination campaign, whose comparison to the EU’s rates partly triggered the crisis, is a palpable demonstration of what its departure deprives the EU of. By most accounts, the EU was timid about partnering with private companies and addressing their financial demands. The UK, on the other hand, was more proactive in helping partner scientific with market actors like Oxford and AstraZeneca, as well as quicker in signing procurement deals and approving vaccines for use.

    The stereotypes about a ‘flexible’ and ‘pro-free market’ UK versus a ‘rigid’ and ‘bureaucratic’ EU are often unhelpful, but it is hard to see how they do not apply in the case of the vaccine. It is difficult to admit, but it has now become clear that, with the UK in the fold, the EU’s vaccination strategy most probably would have been more effective. Access to UK universities and companies, a more commercial perspective of the needs of pharmaceutical actors, and a greater sense of urgency in the process for regulatory approval of vaccines would all have benefited the EU.

    The struggles of a UK-deprived EU on the issue of vaccines may be a sneak preview of challenges to come in other policy areas. Security, finance, and digital governance are all areas that hold big challenges and where disruption is always possible in the future. They are also areas where the UK holds significant expertise and, as an EU member, historically took the lead in shaping EU policies. The vaccine debacle presages a future where the EU, unless it radically rethinks its ways, is poorer in ideas and less agile as an actor on the international stage.

    For the UK, its vaccination success should not be interpreted as a vindication of Brexit or absolution of the Johnson government for all its previous failures in managing almost every other aspect of the pandemic. The exposure of the UK vaccine supply to the floated EU export controls should be a reminder that Britain will continue to need Europe. The British government avoided outright triumphalism this time, instead reaching out through diplomatic channels to the EU to clarify the application of the export ban to Northern Ireland. It is uncertain however that this or future British governments will resist the temptation to celebrate momentary ‘wins’ against the EU, with all this will entail for both sides’ ability to discuss and cooperate when common interests are at stake.

    In any case, the EU should be humble to admit that this episode has exposed how, without the UK, it loses some of the necessary deftness and flexibility in dealing with market actors and adapting to crises, but also how antagonistic and disruptive Britain can be for its economy, health, and security. Although there is no indication that the UK purposefully sabotaged the EU’s vaccine efforts – as opposed to securing as much supply as possible with little regards for Europe – the very fact that a third country’s strategy created such adversity in Europe should be a wake-up call. However different in size, the EU can sustain important injuries by a UK that is disengaged and uninterested in its needs.

    For too long, Europeans indulged in a stereotypical view of Brexit made up of chaos in Westminster and empty supermarket shelves. However, the vaccine crisis revealed after just a month that both the EU and the UK have been significantly weakened as a result of Brexit. Coming to terms with their mutual dependence, the two sides must use this episode as an opportunity to move closer in areas where their security and resilience can only be realised in partnership.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Angelos Chryssogelos

    The Vaccine Debacle Reveals That the EU is not Immune From Brexit


    03 Feb 2021

  • Who knew that the negative impacts of Brexit could be so easily mitigated by Ireland? After years of conjuring up vistas of hard borders and economic wastelands, Dublin now seems ready, willing, and able to embark on a beautiful European dream.

    But such views bely a worrying naivety about Ireland’s real economic and cultural dependencies.  

    Because Brexit won’t make Ireland more European. It won’t usher in a new dawn of Irish diversification across Europe.

    Rather, it will simply reinforce Ireland’s dependence on an Anglo-American economic model. A model which has become the backbone of Ireland’s entire approach to job creation, taxation, and education.  

    What Brexit actually means is that Ireland is about to get a whole lot more British.

    In reality, the recent Brexit trade agreement condemns the British to a process of constant negotiation with the EU.  Talks about market access (for the vast majority of the British economy, like financial services) will be a process of perpetual motion. This will be topped off with annual bust-ups over fish quotas and accusations of bullying behaviour from both sides. 

    Like the Swiss before them, Downing Street will discover the technocratic underbelly of the EU’s Single Market rules-making machine. 

    But in Ireland’s case, such a degree of uncertainty for British businesses has clear implications. Namely, that Dublin will – slowly, but discernibly – become the focus of British activity in attempting to influence, lobby, cajole, and circumvent barriers to providing services in the EU.  

    Take Dublin’s Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC). The success of Ireland’s entire financial services industry was originally based on operating as a satellite location for the City of London.  Even today, for all the talk about global diversification, 65% of funds domiciled in Dublin originate from fund managers in Britain or the US. This will likely increase in the years ahead as both New York and London seek the certainty of an operational base in the EU.  

    Nor will this trend be limited to financial services. Legal advisory services and entertainment/audio-visual services (due to French insistence on excluding British-based providers) are among several sectors where Britain’s presence in Ireland will further increase.  Britain is home to about 30% of all TV channels in the EU. Ireland is ideally suited to allow them to continue to operate on a pan-European basis. 

    In some ways, it’s like the 1930s all over again. Back then, the Irish government sought to use legislation to ensure that new manufacturing industries would be Irish-owned.  The dreams were of self-sufficiency and lessening dependence on Britain. The reality turned out to be the establishment of a plethora of British-controlled subsidiaries in Ireland.

    British influence on the Irish economy simply continued on in an altered form. 

    Only by balancing Ireland’s embedded position in the Anglo-American economy with our membership of the EU can Dublin ever hope to build a sustainable, successful, and truly European Irish state. 

    One other characteristic of the Irish economy will serve to magnify Britain’s role in Ireland in the coming years. Namely, Dublin’s support of US policy priorities on a Brussels stage. Hardly surprising, given that well over 10% of all jobs in Ireland are tied to US multinationals. 

    But the US also remains a key element of Britain’s more globalist strategy. So Ireland will become the perfect location for an Anglo-US rapprochement, even under an openly pro-Irish President Biden.  Shared economic interests – lower business taxes, softer data protection laws, more languid financial regulation – will drive further investments in Ireland as a conduit to influence EU decision-making and restore London’s relations with Washington. 

    Ireland has proved a reliable cypher for US goals in the past. Brexit will simply enlarge this role to act as a combined Anglo-American advocate on a European stage. Make no mistake, the structure of Ireland’s economy is not continental, it is a distinctly Anglosphere construct, significantly different from the more statist model prevalent in most of Europe. 

    In Brussels, these trends (and Ireland’s past behaviours) will ultimately reveal a more peripheral and more distrusted Ireland. This view, despite the grandiose protestations of solidarity from the continent, will drive the EU’s engagement with Ireland in the coming years as it seeks to capitalise on the current momentum for deeper integration. 

    In reality, Ireland’s European future will not be determined by how many continental languages are introduced into the Irish education system, what proportion of Irish exports go to the EU27, or by how many student exchanges Dublin liberally funds (such as students from Northern Ireland).   

    Rather, it is only by balancing Ireland’s embedded position in the Anglo-American economy with our membership of the EU that Dublin can ever hope to build a sustainable, successful, and truly European Irish state. Ireland should take the lead in developing and leading proposals on issues like data protection and corporate taxes; issues which currently limit the ability of the EU, the UK, and the US to successfully shape global norms. 

    It’s time Ireland stopped being afraid of Europe. And started believing in the globalist, fair trading model, upon which its prosperity largely lies.

    However, the quest to become more European cannot ignore the much longer-term economic relationships that link Ireland to Washington and London. Ironically, far from setting Ireland free from Britain, Brexit will do much to remind Dublin of the older economic ties that bind.

    Eoin Drea Brexit Economy EU-US

    Eoin Drea

    Ireland is About to Get a Whole Lot More British


    20 Jan 2021

  • The first episode of 2021 and of the post-agreement era is out. Don’t miss Angelos’ analysis of the deal, including the three major winners (Johnson, the Scottish independentists, and British fish) and losers (pro-EU parties and people, British students, and pets) according to him!

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer January 2021

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    08 Jan 2021

  • Angelos Chryssogelos brings you an ’emergency’ Brexitometer episode with the latest news from London, including the quick approval of a Covid-19 vaccine and the more and more certain ‘No-Deal’ situation.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer December 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    05 Dec 2020

  • The November Brexitometer is out! As usual, our London-based expert Angelos Chryssogelos tells us the latest developments and political situation for the post-EU Great Britain. “Just 6 weeks until the end of the transition period and no Deal in the horizon!”

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer November 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    24 Nov 2020

  • Exactly a century ago, the British Parliament passed “An Act to provide for the better government of Ireland”. Commonly referred to as the Government of Ireland Act, this Westminster legislation effectively provided for the partition of the island of Ireland. This law, more than any other British action, has defined Anglo-Irish relations in the proceeding decades. Only with the peace process of the 1990s (and significant US and EU support) was the concept of the Irish border, as a symbol of either oppression or loyalty, finally overcome.

    Yet, because of the current British government’s approach to leaving the European Union (rather than Brexit itself), the people of Northern Ireland find themselves again at the mercy of legislation tabled in Westminster. They are centre stage in political events of which they have no control. Unfortunately, the myopic nature of negotiations between London and Brussels leaves little scope for finding solutions that will actually benefit Northern Ireland’s population. The British government’s bombast about sovereignty and “taking back control” bely an administration following increasingly English interests, not great big British ones. Similarly, Brussels’ technically-driven approach is proving ill-suited to pinning down an opponent who constantly changes the rules of the game. Shadow boxing and Twitter spats about blockades, state aid, or fisheries won’t solve the Irish border question. It won’t deliver a manageable Brexit for either party involved.

    Rather, what is required is a much more fundamental reset of Anglo-Irish/EU relations, that is informed by practical realities, not political manoeuvring. And that’s why an independent Northern Ireland would give this contested region a real shot at progress and stability.

    An independent Belfast administration guaranteed by the Irish and British governments (with EU and US support) could, if all existing member states agree, stay as a member of the European Union. A clear majority of Northern Irish (56%) voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. Many provisions of the Good Friday peace agreement could remain in place, including the ability of Northern Irish citizens to gain additional citizenship, both from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland would form part of the British Commonwealth, thus maintaining the British monarch (with all its associated finery) as the titular head of state. The Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Britain could continue to operate a relatively free travel area within the British Isles.

    Detractors will argue that Ulster Unionists will never accept any dilution of their relationship with Westminster. However, as they know well, such devotion – “too much loyalty” – has seldom been reciprocated in Westminster, especially by the Conservative Party. Sure, Ulster Unionism can continue to fight against the fading of the light, but that’s not going to change the increasing fluidity of identities within Northern Ireland. Just ask the golfer Rory McIlroy (who struggled to choose between Ireland or Team GB for the Rio Olympics). Or the 50% of Northern Ireland’s population who now view themselves as neither “unionist or nationalist” (up from 33% in 1998).

    An independent Northern Ireland, however, would enable Ulster Unionists to circumvent the slow moving – but noticeable – demographic drive towards Irish unity. It would empower them to turn their Stormont administration into a true government, without the fear of direct Dublin (or London) interference. It would protect them against their fear of being subsumed against their will into a united Ireland. A fear that remains blissfully ignored by Dublin.

    A political commitment to forsake any referendum on Irish unity (or re-joining the UK) for at least two decades would equip all sides in Northern Ireland with the incentive to work towards normalising political life in still deeply polarised communities. An incentive that could be further sweetened by a joint financial package underwritten by Dublin, London, the EU, and the US in order to mitigate the loss of direct payments from Westminster. In effect, Northern Ireland should become a new Belgium. Hopelessly divided, but perfectly viable and with a chance for real material improvements in living standards.

    Two further points should be considered in the context of an independent Northern Ireland. First, this area is far from the economic basket case that it is sometimes portrayed. It has an excellent university system, young adults that consistently out-perform their English, Scottish and Welsh peers in state examinations, and a sophisticated digital infrastructure ( Northern Ireland has the highest full-fibre coverage within the UK), all hint at the potential of an independent Northern Irish economy. An economy free to compete for international investment, owing to full tax autonomy. Second, it is a lazy assumption to believe that Northern Ireland’s independence would automatically result in Scotland following a similar path, or have ramifications for other EU member states. The emergence of an independent Northern Ireland would occur as part of a legal political agreement between London, Belfast, and Dublin. In Scotland, although more ethnically homogeneous, and with a significantly deeper history of nationhood, the 2014 independence referendum highlighted the much more embedded nature of Scotland’s union with England and Wales. Northern Ireland’s prospects shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of possible future events in a decentralising United Kingdom.

    In opening the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921, King George V asked for people to “to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment, and goodwill”. Northern Ireland deserves a chance, and neither London, Dublin, or Brussels should stand in their way.

    Eoin Drea Brexit Democracy Leadership

    Eoin Drea

    Doesn’t an independent Northern Ireland deserve a chance?


    07 Oct 2020

  • Angelos Chryssogelos tells us about the shared feeling of uncertainty in the UK at the intersection of Brexit and the Corona crisis, the unilateral changes to the withdrawal agreement signed with the EU -on issues related to Northern Ireland-, or the new border to be established in Kent, which is actually the county closest to Europe.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer October 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    06 Oct 2020

  • Britain leaving the European Union has ushered in a new chapter in Anglo-EU relations. Yet, regardless of the nature of the future trading relationship, the political landscape in Westminster is facing an uncertain future. The onset of COVID-19 and its catastrophic impact upon the British, European, and global economies has created an additional headache for the Westminster government and its attempts to build a ‘Global Britain’ model. The crisis has also refocused the British public discussion towards domestic policy issues such as unemployment, the health service (NHS), and education.

    To mark the launch of our latest research paper, the Martens Centre is pleased to welcome a distinguished panel of experts to discuss the future of British politics in the aftermath of Brexit.

    How will the Conservative Party respond to reinvigorated opposition under new leadership? Is an independent Scotland finally a possibility? What now for the Anglo-Irish relationship? What are the key economic and social priorities for the British public in a post-Brexit environment? Will Brexit actually mean a more isolated Britain on the global and European stage?

    Eoin Drea Garvan Walshe Brexit

    Online Event ‘The Return of the King: What does Brexit mean for Britain?’

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    29 Sep 2020

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer July 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    29 Jul 2020

  • Today, Roland asked London-based Angelos Chryssogelos 7 questions on Brexit and other UK-related issues, and about 80’s rock music!

    Angelos Chryssogelos Roland Freudenstein Brexit

    The Week in 7 Questions with Angelos Chryssogelos

    Multimedia - Other videos

    19 Jun 2020

  • Don’t miss our expert Angelos Chryssogelos’ latest analysis on the political situation in the UK during these past weeks of the Corona Crisis and its implications for the Brexit negotiations with the EU.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer June 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    11 Jun 2020

  • Even during these difficult times of COVID-19, Brexit continues and our UK-based specialist Angelos Chryssogelos will give you the latest insights.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit COVID-19

    Brexitometer April 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    30 Apr 2020

  • Watch Jan Techau answering 7 questions about Germany, Angela Merkel, France, the EU, UK, Russia, China, COVID-10, and even Super Heroes!

    Roland Freudenstein Brexit China COVID-19 EU Member States EU-Russia

    The Week In 7 Questions with Jan Techau

    Multimedia - Other videos

    17 Apr 2020

  • The COVID-19 outbreak, and its deep financial aftermath, will put the European Union under unprecedented stress over the next five years or more. Brexit will add to these tensions for some members, notably Ireland. It is a matter of vital national interest for Ireland, that the EU gets its response to the crisis right, and does not allow it to create dangerous social distancing between the states of the EU.

    The existing structure of the EU is unfitted to a crisis like this. The public expects the EU to act, but has not been given the EU the powers it needs to do so. Unlike the states of the EU, the EU itself has no capacity to borrow money, and no capacity to raise taxation. So it often lacks the financial clout to take decisive action. The amount it is allowed to spend is a mere 1% of GDP, whereas EU member states can and do spend around 40% of their GDP.

    The countries and regions that gain most from the EU Single Market, are either unaware of the gains, or mistakenly think it is all due to their own efforts. A recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation showed that the big objectors to Eurobonds (Germany, Austria and the Netherlands) gain almost three times as much per capita from the EU Single Market as do the assumed beneficiaries of the Eurobonds, Spain and Italy!

    If the Single Market were to fail, the objectors would lose the most. But their national politicians fail to tell them this. Incidentally, the study showed Ireland to be a big gainer from the Single Market.

    Meanwhile, the countries and regions that gain comparatively less from the Single Market resent this, and fail to acknowledge that they too are gaining from being in the EU Single Market, albeit a bit less than the others are gaining. Envy blinds some to reality.

    Of course, these contradictory feelings are rarely expressed publicly, but they are there under the surface, ready to emerge when a crisis happens and decisions have to be made quickly.

    COVID-19 has been such a crisis.

    The restrictions on economic activity, as well as the direct health and income support costs, arising from COVID-19 will dramatically increase the debts of all states in the EU. At the same time, the initial reactions in some member states – from Germany blocking sales of vital equipment to Austria closing its border – have left bitter feelings in Southern member states, especially Italy.

    Assuming a 20% drop in GDP as a result of COVID-19, an economist in the Bruegel Institute in Brussels has estimated that the Debt/GDP ratio of Italy could rise from 136% of GDP to 189%, that of France from 99% to 147%, that of Spain from 97% to 139%, and that of Germany from 59% to 94%.

    As all these countries can expect their workforces to decrease in the next 20 years, because of past low birth rates, this is a very troubling prospect. A way needs to be found to spread the debt as widely as possible and as far as possible into the future.

    The EU faces an unprecedented situation which justifies unprecedented actions.

    One of the proposals made to do this is Eurobonds/Coronabonds which would enable countries to borrow with a guarantee from all eurozone states. The interest rate might be lower but it is still just another form of borrowing. If Italy issued a Eurobond, it would still be increasing its overall debt, and might face a higher interest rate on its ordinary bond issues. Another objection is that it might take 18 months or more to get these Eurobonds up and running, and the markets need something quicker.

    Another proposal, favoured by some Northern member states,  is that distressed countries borrow from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Some believe that the ESM is too small for all that needs to be done. Others worry about the conditions that might be imposed.

    Meanwhile, the European Central Bank (ECB) continues to buy the bonds of member states. For example, it owns 26% of all German government bonds and 22% of all Spain’s bonds. This bond buying by the ECB enables governments to continue borrowing, but its support is confined to members who are in the euro. It is using monetary policy to achieve the goals of fiscal policy, which is controversial.

    I suggest that a better solution would be to allow the European Union itself to borrow, up to a limit of (say) 0.5% of the EU GDP, to spend exclusively on COVID-19 related expenditures.

    Article 122 of the Treaty already makes provision for the EU to give aid to help states suffering from “natural disasters and exceptional occurrences” beyond the control of a member state or states. COVID-19 meets this criterion.

    But the EU is not using this power, because its budget is fully committed to other things. It has no room to respond to sudden emergencies. It would have such room if it was allowed to borrow. This power could then be activated to allow direct transfers of funds to a state in acute distress because of COVID-19 or the like, without adding to the recipient state’s debt. 

    Doing this would require an amendment to Article 310 (1) of the Treaty. This article presently requires the EU always to run a balanced budget. This could be amended to allow borrowing that was confined to spending on matters, like COVID-19,  that had arisen suddenly and were beyond the control of the state looking for help. Such a limited borrowing authority would command a lot of support from the electorate.

    It would also be borrowing under the democratic control by the Council of Ministers and  European Parliament, something that does not apply to bond buying by the ECB.

    The EU faces an unprecedented situation which justifies unprecedented actions.

    John Bruton Brexit COVID-19 Crisis Economy EU Institutions EU Member States

    John Bruton

    Increasing our firepower: Where can the EU find the ammunition to fight a Coronavirus induced economic slump?


    07 Apr 2020

  • The coronavirus has affected all of us and, equally, scared all of us. We are forced to change our daily lives and habits, along with the way we work and interact with others. It has reminded us how fragile and vulnerable we are, but also how we take many things for granted. It would be wise to use this time for self-reflection ahead of new challenges.

    Our European community has stagnated for years, if not decades. We established the Single Market, introduced the Schengen area, and got stuck with adopting more red tape, which is constantly growing. However, we are afraid to move forward with European Common Defense. We argue that neither a German nor a Slovak soldier will deploy his life for a European interest. We have created a separate institution for European Foreign Policy, yet foreign policy continues to be decided at the national level. Every seven years, we fight the same endless battles: whether the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) should subsidise farmers, infrastructure, or support Research and Development (R&D). This time, we are also discussing the future of the Spitzenkandidaten process and the introduction of transnational lists. 

    COVID-19 represents a great threat, but also a unique opportunity. Let’s use the lockdown and teleworking period to reassess our priorities. 

    We cannot expect the European Commission to find solutions to all of our problems. The European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism was the response to the global financial crisis, a solution that can withstand other similar challenges. Our answer to the migration crisis is to strengthen the control of our external borders. Many propose to declare war on globalisation and multilateralism. But where do we set the bar to tackle the coronavirus?

    We need to review our priorities, but also the methods and tools of our policy. We must move forward towards a real, functional, determined federation of European nations. Our Union should be based on the principle of subsidiarity where the EU institutions and Member States are respected. This model would lead to more effective decision-making procedures and will put the common European interest above national egoism. It will also require respect for the values ​​we share, as well as our traditions and our “way of life”. This formation will represent our European Common House.

    I am glad that the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies is ready to contribute towards building this house. Since 2016, we have been developing the vision ‘For a New Europeanism’. This project is our recommendation in finding a response to the global challenges we face: from the aggressiveness of China, protectionism of the US, Brexit, to migration and the current pandemic. When the time comes, and our lives are back to normal, we would like to present this project within the framework of the conference on the Future of Europe. In the meantime, we will continue to work tirelessly to come up with solutions to mitigate the impact of this pandemic. We struggle, we overcome.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

    Brexit Crisis Economy European Union Society

    Thinking Europe, Our Common House

    Other News

    19 Mar 2020

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer February 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    24 Feb 2020

  • Although the final number of seats obtained by each political party won’t be finalized for several days, the results of the Irish election indicate a marked shift in Ireland’s staid political landscape. Dominated by two centrist political parties since the foundation of the state in 1922 – Fine Gael (EPP) and Fianna Fáil (Renew Europe) – the recent election marks a significant milestone in Irish politics.

    Although Europe was almost entirely absent from the recent campaign, Sinn Féin (GUE/NGL) represents a clear challenge to Ireland’s traditional, pro-European stance at a policy and decision-making level. While Sinn Féin’s historic “anti-Europe” policy has moderated in recent years, this is mostly attributable to very high Irish public support for Brussels and to the EU’s support for Ireland during the Brexit process. However, Sinn Féin remains a deeply Eurosceptic party far removed from positions of influence in the European institutions. After a very disappointing European election campaign in 2019, Sinn Féin retains only one MEP in the European Parliament. Their 2020 election manifesto retains a commitment to “radically reform” the EU.

    The policies of Sinn Féin in power – likely as an equal partner (almost) in coalition with the more centrist Fianna Fáil – sets an uncertain context for Ireland’s future relationship with the EU. In particular, there are three areas – the Eurozone, taxation and trade – where Sinn Féin’s priorities could seriously impact on Ireland’s traditional national consensus (and relationship with Brussels).

    Sinn Féin’s policies regarding the Eurozone are copied from the standard hard left response to the global financial crisis starting in 2008. They are based around vague notions of ending “the Eurozone straitjacket” through flouting European fiscal rules and reforming the European Central Bank. The overall objective appears to be the “direct transfer of newly created money to governments so they can engage in green investment and by quantitative easing for the people”. These proposals highlight a party completely out of touch with both the realities of Brussels based decision making and the operational structure of the Eurozone (not to mention the pro-market economics which underpin it).  They also evidence scant understanding with the complexities of Ireland’s existing public debt and its obligations under existing agreements.

    It is in the areas of the Eurozone and Trade policy that Sinn Féin’s policies have the potential to seriously undermine Ireland’s position in Brussels

    On taxation, Sinn Féin’s positions are more nuanced and not completely out of tune with the Brussels establishment or companies investing (or invested) in Ireland. Although, they call for the continuation of national vetoes on taxation matters in the European Council and the retention of the 12.5% Corporation Tax rate, they support global efforts (presumably at OECD level) to update the global tax system. Sinn Féin wants Ireland to adopt a more transparent approach to dealing with foreign multinationals including ending the appeal against the European Commission’s Apple ruling on alleged unlawful tax arrangements with Ireland. 

    In recent years Sinn Féin’s policies on the Irish economic model (and its attraction of FDI) has moderated considerably. As noted, they now support both national tax vetoes at EU level and Ireland’s present rate of Corporation Tax. Their focus lies more on their traditional wish to create a state agency “to support the growth of indigenous small businesses”. Sinn Féin’s policies, in this area, will continue the longstanding Irish consensus of advocating for national competence on tax matters (including Corporation Tax) while helping to alleviate some EU (predominantly French) concerns regarding the transparency of the Irish tax system.

    On trade, Sinn Féin’s policies conflict directly with both EU objectives and traditional Irish policymaking. Their plan to veto the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) follows the example of other hard-left movements throughout Europe. As with their disjointed Eurozone policies, their promise to promote “fair global trade rules and policies” seems to deliberately ignore the fact that the EU has emerged as the global leader in delivering transparent and accountable trade deals since 2014. Sinn Féin’s stance could also prove problematic given the ongoing negotiations between the EU-UK on future trading arrangements given that it’s  Sinn Féin’s raison d’être to achieve a United Ireland.

    This brief analysis highlights that it is in the areas of the Eurozone and Trade policy that Sinn Féin’s policies have the potential to seriously undermine Ireland’s position in Brussels.  However, a number of factors mitigate these dangers.

    First, Sinn Féin will, at best, form just half a coalition government. Its ability to deliver its more extreme policy pledges will be significantly constrained by the political realities. Second, and as noted, Sinn Féin’s overarching objectives are national – namely trying to attain a United Ireland and increasing public involvement in housing to remedy the current domestic crisis – so its primary gaze will be fixed in places other than Brussels.  Third, Ireland remains a very pro-EU country and Sinn Féin understands this explicitly. This limits their potential to adopt anti-Brussels positions consistently. Fourth, the recent example of Syriza in Greece highlights the real constraints imposed on radical left parties that assume political power. The compromise of power will challenge directly Sinn Féin’s mantra of being the radical alternative.

    Eoin Drea Brexit Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Eurozone Trade

    Eoin Drea

    Much ado about nothing? What Sinn Féin in power will mean for Ireland in the EU


    11 Feb 2020

  • Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit

    Brexitometer January 2020

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    28 Jan 2020

  • In international affairs, the year 2020 has begun dramatically. On 3 January, the US killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, General Qasem Soleimani, in a targeted airstrike in Iraq. The strike came only days after protesters had assaulted the US embassy in Baghdad in an attack for which the Pentagon blamed Iran and Soleimani in particular.

    Iran retaliated on 8 January by hitting American air bases in Iraq with missiles. No American troops were killed and Washington has seemed to accept them as a tit-for-tat response for the earlier strike on Soleimani. Yet, the standoff has also produced casualties: hours after the missile strikes, Iran accidentally shot down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board.

    As tensions between the US and Iran have peaked, the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful diplomatic role in the Middle East, despite the fact the region is located on its own doorstep. The Union’s response has been—as it often is when the EU is confronted with a crisis—haphazard and devoid of strategy.

    The EU has made little effort to speak in one voice. Following the American strike on Soleimani, EU leaders issued different and poorly coordinated statements. The first one to do so was European Council President Charles Michel, who emphasised that further escalation needs to be avoided ‘at all cost’. His statement was followed by additional reactions from High Representative Josep Borrell and the President of the new ‘geopolitical’ European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

    Confusion over who is really speaking for “Europe” was increased further by the separate diplomatic initiatives of France, Germany and the UK—the “E3” European signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. At the height of the standoff, France spoke to Iraq, Germany engaged Iran and the UK put the Royal Navy on standby in the Gulf. The E3 also released a separate joint statement to add to the pile of European reactions.

    As tensions between the US and Iran have peaked, the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful diplomatic role in the Middle East, despite the fact the region is located on its own doorstep.

    The various European statements have two things in common. First, they emphasise the need to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East in order to avoid a spiral of violence. Second, they emphasise the need to preserve the JCPoA, which has been on life support ever since the US decision to withdraw from it in 2018. Yet, Europe doesn’t seem to be in a strong position to impact the former and the latter seems little more than a dead letter, especially after Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the JCPOA’s uranium enrichment limits.

    EU foreign ministers did discuss the situation in the Middle East in an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting on 10 January and they mandated the High Representative to carry out diplomatic efforts with all parties to the standoff to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions. Beyond this, the outcomes of the FAC were meagre (i.e. call for de-escalation and restraint, rhetorical support for Iraq’s stability and the preservation of the JCPoA).

    The most significant European move took place on 14 January when the E3 triggered the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism in order to bring Iran back into full compliance with the agreement. High Representative Borrell will oversee the dispute resolution process but the EU doesn’t seem to have an Iran strategy beyond the preservation of the JCPOA, which may well collapse entirely if the process fails and UN sanctions are re-imposed on Tehran.

    The causes of Europe’s strategy deficiency are multiple and would take an entire book to address sufficiently. However, it suffices to say here that the EU suffers from multiple problems. These include, inter alia, a leadership vacuum in foreign policy, difficulties in taking decisions that do not create positive win-win outcomes, an unwillingness to make political sacrifices in international affairs, and a lack of appetite for strategic thinking.

    None of these problems can be fixed with a single silver bullet such as expanding the use of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in EU foreign policy. This is because the Union’s problems are either structural in character or rooted in strategic culture, which means that they cannot be overcome by simply moving away from unanimity decision making in the Council.

    Yet, there are things the EU could do. The current practice in which the presidents of different EU institutions issue separate statements on major foreign policy events should stop. This is confusing to audiences both within and outside the EU who seek to understand the Union’s position on a given issue. Ideally, there should be a single joint statement by the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council and the High Representative if a statement by the latter alone is considered insufficient.

    There should also be a permanent operational contact group consisting of the major European powers, which inevitably are expected to take charge in a crisis. It could take the form of a European Security Council, under the umbrella of which major European countries could coordinate their diplomatic activities. Such a structure could be based outside the EU to make it politically feasible to include post-Brexit UK as well.

    The current practice in which the presidents of different EU institutions issue separate statements on major foreign policy events should stop.

    Finally, there should be a permanent EU level strategy development process, which should lead to the adoption of a new European Security Strategy (ESS) every five years. At the moment, documents such as the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) are developed on ad hoc basis whenever the member states have an interest in them. This is why there was a 13-year gap between the 2003 ESS and the 2016 EUGS. A more formalised process would push the EU to think about what it wants to achieve on the world stage in regular intervals.

    These are small steps, but smalls steps are preferable to doing nothing. The risk is that Europe will continue to sink into further strategic irrelevance and that EU foreign policy will be reduced to empty slogans, hollow statements and photo opportunities.

    At a time when tensions in the Middle East remain high, when Russia continues to be assertive, when China’s rise is challenging the established international order, muddling through—Europe’s default foreign policy strategy—should be rejected as an option. Continuing to follow it would be detrimental to Europe’s ability to defend its interests as well as those of its partners.

    Niklas Nováky Brexit Crisis EU Institutions European Union Foreign Policy Middle East

    Niklas Nováky

    Iran-US standoff: A missed chance for the EU to speak with one voice


    15 Jan 2020

  • Brexit has consumed, humiliated and frustrated Britain and its political leaders. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty unleashed it is easy to overlook some of the longer-term trends and changes it represents, not least how European the UK is and how Brexit is not a one-way movement of the UK away from the rest of Europe but in many ways has actually moved Britain closer to European norms. 

    The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. That reality is that the past forty years has seen the UK’s politics, constitution, economy, society and place in the world grow more European. This is a reality many UK governments have accepted and quietly worked with in searching to build and shape the UK’s relations with the rest of the EU. 

    It’s also a reality that has been on display in a General Election defined by European-style multi-party politics; commitments to welfare spending that would put the UK closer to European norms than US ones; and a growing realisation – if not acceptance – of Britain’s economic and security interdependences with the rest of Europe. 

    Many of the formal EU-centred links might now be severed or altered by a UK withdrawal. However, future negotiations about the UK-EU relationship mean those links could once again be formalized or reconstituted in new ways. Calls for this will be helped by Britain’s new-found pro-European voices who have been created, or in some cases brought out of the shadows, by the UK’s vote to leave. 

    The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. 

    Close alignment between Britain and the EU, however, should not be taken for granted in a post-Brexit environment. As recent debates about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have highlighted, on both the Right and Left some continue to hope that withdrawal will allow the UK to diverge significantly from European standards. 

    Such efforts, however, will run into the problem of the Europeanised state of Britain and the ever-present strategic need on the part of the UK’s government, businesses and civil society to engage closely with the continent to which the country is forever bound. The success of the EU and the UK’s need to shape it will therefore remain two of Britain’s leading concerns. 

    Does this mean the departure of a Europeanised Britain will inevitably lead to it rejoining? This is unlikely because the UK’s terms of membership would not be the same as now. Opt-outs from the Euro, Schengen, some areas of Justice and Home Affairs matters, and the British rebate are unlikely to be offered. The feelings of regret this creates could boost pro-European sentiments. But accepting such conditions will make for a very difficult sell in any referendum on rejoining. 

    As the Norway and Switzerland examples also show, support can also decline if the EU’s approach to future negotiations and relations appears abrasive, bullying or overbearing. It is important not to overlook how corrosive this could be on UK public support for links with the EU. 

    This should not be taken to mean that the UK and EU cannot negotiate a new relationship where the UK can continue to come to terms with its overlapping European and global identities. Negotiations have so far focused on the UK’s withdrawal. The future relationship remains an undiscovered country. 

    Nor does this mean the UK has to withdraw to become more European or recognise how European it is. Our forthcoming research into whether Brexit has made Britain more European might be taken to mean a non-EU Europeanised UK will pose no problems and that Brexit should not be resisted or regretted.

    However, in an emerging multipolar world Brexit carries significant economic, political, constitutional, security, defence, social and diplomatic risks for the UK. It will also cause significant ongoing problems for the EU to have to manage relations with a Europeanised but estranged UK struggling to come to terms with the fallout of Brexit. Far easier to face this with the UK inside the EU.

    Tim Oliver Garvan Walshe Brexit Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Political Parties

    Tim Oliver

    Garvan Walshe

    The Brexit election and the making of a European Britain


    12 Dec 2019

  • I say Europe, you say…?

    When I think of the European Union, I always think of an old Irish word: “meitheal.” It’s an old tradition where people from the neighbouring farms came together to help each other, to save the crops, to save the hay. The essence of it was to be reciprocal, and it benefited everybody. This is the way I feel about Europe. When we come together, we devise a way in which we can work together. We share our sovereignty to some extent, but we help each other. And I think that Ireland, my own country, can certainly be a testament to this kind of solidarity.

    What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?

    Yeah, the first thing I suppose in my own portfolio, I had to debunk the myth that farmers were not needed in order to ensure that we achieved a number of our objectives in relation to public goods. You cannot actually have a good environment, a good landscape, you cannot have good conditions of food standards and food security without the participation of our farmers.

    So, I had to convince people that if we want to have action on all these public goods, including growing ambitions on environment and climate action, we need people in the rural areas who will do this work for us. And I don’t know of any other sector that can do this work except farmers, and we have to reward them. So, the common agricultural policy is a good vehicle in order to ensure that we achieve a lot in our public goods agenda.

    You grew up on a family farm, so we wanted to ask you what your favourite chore was.

    Well, first of all as a young person I was really thrilled when I could drive the tractor. And then of course, when I was a little bit older, I liked managing the dairy herd, particularly in the summertime, it’s not so easy in the wintertime. But it was wonderful to see the cows eating the fresh grass and seeing the flow of high quality milk during the summer months.

    You have said that the Common Agricultural Policy is “constantly evolving to meet the challenges of the day.” What are the major challenges for agriculture going to be over the next decade or so?

    I suppose generational renewal is always going to be an issue. We need to get more young people involved, it’s a big disappointment that only 6% of the farmers of Europe are under 40 years old. And equally then we have to get our farmers to do more on the climate and environment agenda. They are the big challenges; protection of our natural resources, climate action, and getting more young people into the area of agriculture and the food business.

    You have developed a reputation as a tough negotiator over your political career. What do you do to avoid “having beef” with your counterparts?

    I respect everyone’s point of view. And, you know, I think if we are good negotiators, we have to understand that there has to be an outcome that each side can sell to their respective stakeholders and constituents. And this is the basic principle which I apply to all politics: negotiation is a people business, and therefore if you respect people and understand their personal objectives in any negotiation you will hopefully be able to find an accommodation that is good for both sides.

    This May, you said “we urgently need to tackle climate change and the degradation of our ecosystems if we want to preserve the planet for future generations.” What is the EU doing to make the agri-food sector more environmentally sustainable?

    Well, as we see in the Common Agricultural Policy proposals that we published in June 2018, we have doubled the amount of funding in relation to actions on climate, and we have to make sure that these targets are met by every member state, and by each sector, in line with the Paris international agreements. Also, we are linking every cent of the Common Agricultural Policy to climate and environment action in areas of conditionality, and in areas of direct investments. So, we have to make sure that our farmers play their part.

    Your home county, Kilkenny is famous for its success in hurling, Ireland’s national sport. Which Commissioner do you think would make the most formidable hurler?

    Oh, I would certainly say the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, he has mastered the concept of the political side-step – which is very important in hurling. He’s always one step ahead of the game as well.

    According to Eurostat, by 2050, the population of Europe’s urban regions is projected to increase by 24.1 million people. By contrast, the population of rural regions is projected to fall by 7.9 million. How is the Commission going to tackle rural depopulation and revitalise our rural areas?

    Well I am very conscious of this major challenge for the vitality and vibrancy of our rural communities. And this is why I convened all stakeholders in 2016 to a conference in Ireland, and we adopted the Cork 2.0 declaration for rural areas. And we are now implementing these proposals in the Common Agricultural Policy reform; which require investments by every member’s state in rural areas.

    Also in broadband connectivity, and in the concept of smart villages – which is putting the focus on village settlements to ensure that they have all the connectivity and social, economic and environmental capital that they need for people to live there. And if we focus on these issues in the context of our pillared funding in our Common Agricultural Policies and our Rural Development Policies, I think this would make a big difference in the next 7 years.

    What are the three things you must have in your suitcase when you travel?

    Well apart from the usual necessities I need an iPad, I need a good book to read for the long-haul flights, and of course I need to have the latest proposals and policy papers from the Martens Centre!

    Ireland is going to be the EU member state most impacted by Brexit. How is the Commission preparing to shield Ireland’s vital agri-food sector from the effects of the UK’s withdrawal?

    Well first of all the European Commission on the whole has really acknowledged the unique difficulties that would emerge in Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit, and this is appreciated by the Irish people. We now have 95% of the people of Ireland in recent surveys saying that they are very pro-European. So, I am very pleased about this. And Mr. Barnier and Mr. Juncker have made it clear on many occasions that it’s Ireland first.

    But of course, we are developing the necessary responses in all of the Commission to help all member states, including Ireland, in the event of a hard Brexit. And we will see in the event of a hard or soft Brexit that we’re able to cope with some of the difficulties in Ireland. We want to maintain the peace process, and we want to maintain the strong trading relationships between Ireland and the rest of Europe in the event that we are cut off from some of the opportunities in mainland Europe by the bridge that we have through the UK at the moment.

    So, many challenges, but European solidarity is very much appreciated in Ireland.

    The EU recently signed off on a free trade agreement with Japan. What will the benefits for Europe be?

    Well most of the tariffs have been eliminated, and particularly on industrial goods, and we have the biggest trade deal ever achieved by the European Union. Japan represents 120 million people, but it represents about a quarter of the world’s GDP, and therefore it is certainly a contributing factor to the enormous amount of purchasing power for European and Japanese consumers alike, when we join together as 630 million people. So, this in agriculture and industry is a wonderful opportunity, and we already see the benefits of it.

    Guinness or Kilkenny Beer?

    Kilkenny; it’s brewed in Kilkenny, my native city.

    Which comes next: US or China trade deal?

    US is to be expected, if they start to behave themselves a bit better.

    The ‘1-hectare Initiative’ or ‘Trees for Kids’?

    ‘Trees for Kids’ because it’s nice to see the young generation embracing the climate and environment impact of more deforestation as quickly as possible.

    Agriculture Brexit Centre-Right EU Institutions Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Phil Hogan

    I Say Europe

    27 Jun 2019

  • 5 things to remember from the last four weeks:

    1. OMG. Turnout increased, for the first time in years, reversing decades of decline. In some member states, like Germany and Poland, the increase in the number of voters going to the polls was spectacular. With more than 50% turnout, the European Parliament elections performed better than the US midterm elections.

    This will certainly give a boost to the legitimacy of the European Parliament, but the effect will be short-lived, as in half a year nobody will talk about it anymore. If you’re not convinced of this, ask yourself: did the low turnout in 2009 affect the European Parliament, except for in the immediate post-election analysis season?

    2. Wow. The opinion polls were right. A Green wave was expected, but only in the North-West of the Union. Similarly, the Liberals grew, but only because of electoral doping, not because of winning the elections: the extra seats won by the LibDems (a temporary effect that will wear off once Brexit has taken place) and the alliance with Macron’s Renaissance.

    Also as predicted, the Grand Coalition of EPP and S&D is not so grand anymore, since it lost its absolute majority for the first time since the direct elections of the Parliament in 1979. But here too there is more continuity than change, as the Grand Coalition already ceased to exist in the second half of the 2014-2019 legislature. Remember that Antonio Tajani was elected President without the support of the S&D Group.

    3. Relax. The populists caused a wave, but not a tidal wave. Matteo Salvini and his friends gained seats but have not been able to put together the 3rd largest EP Group. This is basically because of internal disagreements in the ‘populist’ family and because of the decreased popularity of parties like FPÖ and the Danish People’s Party. In other words: the populists are here to stay, but with winners and losers, like everyone else.

    4. More representative? Seriously? Some claimed the new European Parliament is more representative. Fine, but wait, more representative vis-à-vis what or whom? Thanks to the Green and the populist wave, the new Parliament is certainly differently composed – and much more fragmented – compared with the outgoing Parliament; but that is exactly what elections are for.

    Or are some claiming that the votes in 2014 were not representative? Or that voters in 2014 did not vote for the right parties? If it means that a new parliament is more up to date with the voters’ opinion, then it applies to every election, not only this one, and as such the statement is meaningless.

    5. Stability versus change. During the campaign, but also when the votes are cast and the battle for interpretation starts, some favour stability, while some favour change. Interestingly, on election night EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber made a plea for stability, stating that now it is not the time for revolution.

    ALDE Spitzenkandidat Margrethe Vestager, by contrast, reminded the audience that as the Commissioner responsible for Competition Policy, she worked to break corporate monopolies, and announced her intention to do the same with political monopolies. Clearly, Vestager wants to oust the EPP from the Commission Presidency.

    PES Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans was much more diplomatic – after all, that is his profession. He had probably already foreseen that an anti-EPP-coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the extreme-left would still narrowly lack a majority.

    5 things to look forward in the coming days and weeks:

    1. The informal European Council two days after the elections resulted in a draw. Neither the heads of state and government nor the European Parliament group leaders were able to impose something, neither a Spitzenkandidat nor the end of the Spitzenkandidaten system.

    While the Europarty delegations meet in order to help forward the search for a package deal (Commission, European Council, Parliament and European Central Bank presidents), Donald Tusk has the formal task of finding a majority within the European Council for the nomination of a new Commission President. If he fails to do so by 20-21 June, there is still some time left for an extra Summit before the new Parliament meets on 2 July.

    2. The first thing the European Parliament has to do, however, is to vote on a president. Likely, this will indicate the composition of the working majority for the 2019-2024 legislature.

    3. Next, onto the positions, where there is an ongoing battle over content. Formally, the Commission is in charge of setting the agenda for the next five years, given its prerogative of legislative initiative. However, both the European Council and the European Parliament want to have a say on this strategic agenda. In other words: will the new deputies or the member state governments decide what the priorities of the new Commission will be?

    4. Once the Commission President-elect is known, national governments will be asked to nominate their Commissioners. This raises the question: what kind of strategy will the governments of Poland, Hungary, etc. follow? Will they oppose the Commission by sending candidates with clear Eurosceptic profiles, relying on these Trojan horses to undermine from within? Or will they accommodate the new Commission President, hoping to receive powerful portfolios for their Commissioners in return?

    5. Brexit. Exactly in the same period, the Tories will choose a new leader. He (there are no female candidates left) will become the new UK Prime Minister. In any case, October 31st is the new Brexit deadline. Preparing for a no-deal scenario or granting another extension will be the responsibility of the ancien regime, but whatever the outcome will be, it will be an issue on the table for everyone taking up political responsibility in the EU for the forthcoming 5 years.

    Steven Van Hecke Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party Leadership

    Steven Van Hecke

    4 weeks after the European Elections: what to remember and what to watch out for?


    19 Jun 2019

  • It’s one of the more naïve, but appealing, narratives circulating around disbelieving Brussels at the moment. Britain – sick of the convulsions of this never-ending Brexit – will eventually allow pragmatism to win out.

    Parliamentary compromise (however tortured) will restore Britain to its rightful place in the EU, or in a worst-case scenario, to a cashmere-soft Brexit complete with a customs union and possible membership of the single market. Teresa May will resign with the Tories destined for the opposition benches amidst an in-house civil war.

    But this is a delusion. Rather than cause a British (or English) political revolution, Brexit will actually solidify existing British political structures. Brexit – soft, but real – will strengthen Tory rule. This is disturbing, but inevitable.

    As the Fabian Society have pointed out, Labour is becoming increasingly concentrated in major cities with higher levels of ethnic diversity and young adults.  But, even more importantly, in areas most commonly defined as ‘working class’ there has been a noticeable swing to the Conservatives since 2005.

    Although, the current ‘first past the post’ system mitigates against dramatic upheaval the longer-term implications are clear. Limited potential for future electoral gains for the Labour Party in urban areas (for example, Labour already holds 23 out of 27 seats in Greater Manchester) coupled with the potential for the Conservatives to gain traction, if not seats at first, in staunchly Labour, but Brexit supporting areas.

    This isn’t science fiction, or even political fantasy. It’s the new politics of the vulnerable, disconnected masses.  Nor is this unique to Britain, electoral maps and traditional voting patterns have been eviscerated in states as diverse as Italy and the Netherlands in recent years.

    A Tory party – with an engaging and coherent leader (if this exists) – should be able to act as an umbrella for all Brexit supporters from the hard right to the more malleable centre. Will Jacob Rees-Mogg and his European Research Group (ERG) friends really prefer the principled isolation of Westminster to the Conservative high table? The Tories are too fond of power for that.  In fact, the composition of the “Independent Group” in Westminster shows that while the Tories may splinter, Labour might lose a whole branch. 

    The absence of a coordinated Remainer group in the Conservatives also renders their overall strategic position relatively clear.  Hard Brexit or soft Brexit is up for discussion, but Brexit it will be. Those who will leave the Tories over Europe have, in fact, already left.  Closet Remainers, such as Phillip Hammond, will never jeopardise party unity for Europe. 

    They simply don’t care enough about Brussels to make that leap.  Moderate, pro-European Tories – such as Ana Soubry and Nick Boles – have already been written out of Conservative Party history.  Ken Clarke stands as a noble and proud throwback to a different age, and a different Tory party.

    Finally, any sort of Brexit – be it May’s deal or anything softer – will allow the Tories to make a coherent election pitch lifted straight from Labour Party policy: we delivered Brexit but simultaneously protected jobs and trade in the long run.  This isn’t really coherent policy or even good for Britain, but its clever politics and would make the most of Teresa May’s dreadful period in charge. This approach will also allow the Ulster Unionist’s to sing loudly of the United Kingdom’s territorial integrity.

    Of course, in a political context, the fissures of Brexit aren’t that unique.  The Suez crisis of 1955/56 was marked by Conservative Party splits (including a ‘Suez Group’ whose emotionally charged nationalism echoes clearly in today’s ERG), divided families and ultimately the fall of a once well regarded Tory Prime Minister.  But Suez, driven by an almost visceral need to sustain a global role, ultimately failed because of economic realities and American pressure.

    But Suez is more important because it shows a pathway forward for the Conservatives.  Suez did not spell electoral disaster for the Tory party or for the British economy. Under Harold Macmillan (ironically one of the staunchest initial backers of military action in Suez) the Conservative Party successfully retained power in 1959 with a larger majority.  Increasing middle-class mobility, economic growth and a recast Anglo-American alliance (albeit with Britain as very much the junior partner) sustained a relatively harmonious political landscape for the Tories up to the early 1960s.

    Clever Conservatives should now prioritise delivering a cashmere Brexit; soft to the touch but warm enough to repel the chill from the political extremes.  This is not the best solution for Britain, nor for Europe.  But Brussels has resigned itself to Britain leaving and now understands that Britain in Europe is no longer possible.

    It’s simply too destabilising for the entire European project. Nobody in Brussels believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts lie anywhere other than in a dated view of the EU blocking his socialist revolution. In that context, for both Britain and Europe, there can be no turning back.

    Eoin Drea Brexit EU Member States Leadership Political Parties

    Eoin Drea

    Why a cashmere Brexit will save the Tories


    09 Apr 2019

  • Everybody here in continental Europe knows how attached the British are to their military victories. Waterloo, on the outskirts of Brussels, remains a little shrine to British might in the face of dastardly French imperialism. Dunkirk – although hardly a victory – has been evoked many times in the context of leaving the EU. Yet, behind the easy historical analogies lies a fundamental truth about the rationale for Brexit. Put simply, the idealised memories of British victories in the Great Wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are impossible to reconcile with the reality of Britain’s actual global role in 2019.

    Eoin Drea Brexit

    Britain fought wars to save Europe

    Articles and Op-Eds - In the Media

    02 Apr 2019

  • The perspective that the Union is a project is holding us back. The Union simply needs to be pragmatic.

    In 2008-2010 I served as secretary general of Felipe Gonzalez’s reflection group on the future of Europe. The title of its final report was “Project Europe 2030”. While several recommendations remain valid, I have been gradually realizing that the title was a mistake.

    That it is exactly this kind of understating of the European Union that is holding us back. The Union is not a project. It is not an unfinished project. It is a product. It is a product of countless thinkers, politicians, civil servants and citizens. It is a result of centuries of dreams and decades of institution building.

    The Union is here to be utilised. It is not here to be upgraded, rebuilt or reformed. With the coming European elections, political parties and politicians are publishing their election platforms. Promising change has always been an effective political strategy. Almost everyone is promising some kind of a reform of the Union.

    The other usual strategy to motivate voters is creating some kind of sense of urgency. It is supposed to be urgent to reform the Union. Because of populism, economic crisis, Brexit, migration … What I will explain is that most reforms are neither urgent, nor possible, nor reasonable.

    Project ‘socially just Europe’?

    The reform that the progressives are promising is in the direction of a fairer, more social Europe. What they understand by justice is redistributive justice. This is not something that can be achieved on the EU level. For the Union to redistribute between the rich and the poor it simply does not have the budget.

    Technically it could create such a budget but the citizens are willing to show solidarity within their group, their nation-state. It is quite unlikely that the, say, Germans would be willing to pay for Italian social benefits. Such promises are just creating expectations which, when unfulfilled will create the disillusionment with the European project.

    The other possible interpretation of more socially just Europe is for the Union to instruct member states how they should redistribute between the rich and the poor. But it does not have this competence. Indeed, it could be reformed to get it. But it would be stupid to centrally prescribe the social model, harmonize tax policies, social security policies etc.

    The strength of Europe has always been diversity and the opportunity for different countries to search for solutions in different directions. Then we have been quick to learn from each other. The social model innovation will be important because of the changes in the labour market caused by the technological revolution therefore it is important to keep Europe innovative in this regard. In summary, more social Europe is mostly hot air.

    Project ‘ever closer Union’?

    The reform that the liberals are advocating is an ever-closer Union. United States of Europe. Union of European Socialist (well, liberal) Republics. This is not impossible. An ever-closer union has been a kind of underlying belief of Brussels European, of the EU administration. It is the “project Europe” by excellence.

    The project would be unfinished until there is a European super-state. Such as state is possible. But it is not possible for it to be democratic. For one simple reason. Democracy assumes there is a demos. There is no European demos. There are demoi – Germans, French, Slovaks etc. Demos is not an intellectual construct that could be created by good PR coming from Brussels. It is a feeling of belonging. And according to Eurobarometer, Europeans identify with their nations an order of magnitude more than they identify with the European Union.

    A monolithic Europe is also not European. It does not matter if European competitors, like China, are growing stronger. China has always been a centralized empire. Europe’s strength has been its diversity. In fact, periods of fastest progress were when European entities were competing with each other – like rivalries among ancient Greek states, among city states of renaissance Italy, among the members of the Hanseatic league, among the kingdoms on the Atlantic competing for colonies.

    Even when it looked that the Catholic Church would create a single authority over the continent Martin Luther rebelled. The Italian renaissance from which Emmanuel Macron is borrowing a title for his vision was a result of a competition among many city-states of ununified Italy and not a centrally driven project.

    Generally, the Union is close enough. Macron’s plan is an “ever-closer union light” with a couple of new Brussels agencies, including the rather scary “European agency for the protection of democracies”. Centrally policing the political systems in member states sounds like something from the Warsaw pact playbook.

    Yes, human rights, freedoms and liberties need to be guaranteed at the European level and the EU would do well to position itself as the ultimate defender of human rights on the continent. But is should be the judicial arm, not the political executive that should be dealing with it.

    Project ‘Europe of Nations’?

    The far right rather unintelligibly pasted the idea of nation copied from a member state context to a Union context. While one can understand (though not endorse) the idea of the national populists to pit the original citizens against immigrants, the French against the Arabs, the Germans against the Turks, etc., Europe of nations suggests those ethnicities are represented at the European level.

    Which is very different from the Union of the member states, which is what we have today and works reasonably well. Member states are represented at the European Councils, states elect representatives into the European Parliament, states appoint one Commissioner to the European Commission. This reform too is hot air, a dangerous one.

    Even further to the right are those whose reform would be to dismantle the Union altogether. Which might get them some protest votes. But they can only advocate the breakup of the Union while there are enough of us who understand that the Union is a tremendously valuable achievement and want to protect it.

    Project Europe?

    The problem with projects is that they are by definition unfinished. They require attention. They are an excuse that work they should be doing is not done properly.

    Imagine a family starting a project of a summer home. As long as the summer home is a project they work on the summer home. They do not enjoy it for vacation. They don’t go sunbathing, they are adding another porch. If the stove is not working properly it is because it is a project. It will work when the project is finished, but not yet. Guests should tolerate some cold. Temporarily, of course.

    Thinking of the EU as a project is preventing us from exploiting in full what we have built so far. Instead of thinking how to solve problems at hand – such as migrations, terrorism, security, growth, innovation – the institutions are tempted to think how these problems could be solved if the institutions were reformed, if the project was more advanced, if only Brussels had this or that authority, if only this or that agency existed in Brussels.

    Instead of making use of what is available, administration is tempted to dream of what would be nice to have. For politicians too, advancing the project is a more noble call than using the institutional and legal tools the project has created so far.

    Of course, we need to work on improving the Union. Like living organisms, the Union needs to adapt to a changing environment. What could be needed is an evolution for which current treaties provide many possibilities. If the political will is there. It is the lack of political will not the inadequacies of the treaties that is preventing action.

    Perspective is important. And the perspective that the Union is a project is holding us back. The Union simply needs to be pragmatic. In the service of the citizens, businesses, regions, member states. It should provide services that make life safer, easier and the economy more competitive and productive.

    This does not sound as noble as starting a renaissance, but someone has to do this as well. As Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote, there is work to be done. Let’s just do it.

    This op-ed was originally published on Euractiv.com.

    Žiga Turk Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Integration Values

    Žiga Turk

    Europe is not a project!


    26 Mar 2019

  • You have to hand it to the French. They’ve got style, sophistication, confidence and in the Élysée Palace, they now have a President whose raison d’être is the resurrection of the European dream. Isn’t this exactly what Europe needs? The contrast President Macron seeks to draw is a stark one. In Brussels, the EU establishment frets over Brexit, US tariffs and the relentless rise of populism. But on the banks of the Seine, a young and dynamic leader sets out policy priorities for the good of all Europeans, not just short term policies designed to win the next national election.

    Eoin Drea Brexit

    French renaissance or European nightmare? Why Macron has the EU on edge

    Articles and Op-Eds - In the Media

    12 Mar 2019

  • This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Washington Treaty, which created NATO in 1949 and laid the foundations for the modern transatlantic relationship. Since then, the US and Europe have achieved much together: the Soviet Union has been relocated into history’s dustbin, Winston Churchill’s metaphorical Iron Curtain has come down, and the risk of nuclear Armageddon has faded. Not a bad resume.

    Although the world has changed, the transatlantic relationship remains as vital as ever. Through its war against Ukraine and hostile influence operations on both sides of the Atlantic, Russia has made it clear that it wants to be seen as a revisionist power and as an adversary of the West. An increasingly powerful and assertive China is also challenging the existing liberal international order, which the US helped to create with its allies after World War II. These challenges require common transatlantic solutions.

    Yet, the transatlantic bond is arguably weaker today than at any moment since 1949. Both sides are to blame for this.  Concerning the US, President Donald J. Trump has alienated many of America’s European allies through his hostile rhetoric. The President has shocked Europeans by calling the EU a foe and arguing—wrongly—that it was set up to take advantage of the US economically. Europeans have also been disturbed by his alleged desire to quit NATO, a move that would hand Russia the biggest grand strategic prize it could imagine.

    European Atlanticists are also dismayed by Trump’s affinity for European populists and ethno-nationalists. His world view seems often closer to that of former UK Independence Party leader and Brexit architect Nigel Farage than that of German Chancellor Angela Markel. This is evident, for example, from the administration’s hostility towards the EU.

    In December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech in Brussels that mentioned the EU only once, even though he was speaking a block away from the European Parliament. Moreover, this mention was delivered in the form of a thinly veiled punch to the gut of his European audience: Pompeo asked whether the EU is placing the interests of its members and their citizens before those of Brussels-based bureaucrats.

    Europeans are used to occasional transatlantic rifts and American straight talk. The two sides were bitterly divided over the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and many Europeans still have not fully forgiven former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for simplistically dividing the continent into ‘old Europe’ and ‘new Europe’. Yet, Europeans worry that the Trump administration represents something qualitatively different, implicitly if not explicitly hostile towards them, at least on certain issues.

    Yet, Europe itself has also contributed to the weakening of the transatlantic bond. The US is right to criticize Europeans for failing to reach NATO’s 2% of GDP defence spending target, due to an entrenched culture of free riding. European societies have also grown psychologically somewhat apart from the US, which manifest itself in popular opposition to initiatives such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

    Although it was President Trump who halted TTIP negotiations in 2018, there was little chance that a final deal would have been ratified in all EU countries.

    The US also has a point in arguing that Europe could do more to support American foreign policy goals, as Vice President Mike Pence suggested in his ill-received speech at the 2019 Munich Security Conference. On some issues such as the future of the so-called Iran Deal, the emergence of a common transatlantic position is unlikely, at least for now.

    On others such as the political crisis in Venezuela, in which the geostrategic implications for Europe itself are limited at best, there should be a more concerted effort on the European side to support the American line as a goodwill demonstration and also to project transatlantic unity to the outside world.

    Yet, even though Europeans can sometimes be frustrating allies, the US should not be sleepwalking away from the transatlantic relationship by siding with populists, treating the EU as a foe, and dismissing NATO. In a turbulent world where there are many threats to US national security, maintaining traditional alliances will help the current and future US administrations mitigate those threats.

    The defining international security issue of the 21st century is likely to be the Sino-American rivalry. As China’s power increases, the need for Washington to balance Beijing to protect its interests in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond will grow correspondingly. However, China’s economic power is already greater than that of America’s great power rivals in the 20th century: the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Imperial Germany and Imperial Japan. This means that the US cannot afford to alienate its existing allies.

    Collaborating with, at times, frustrating Europeans will therefore continue to be important for the US. America will need Europe to form an effective coalition to balance against the negative aspects of China’s growing influence around the world, including within Europe itself.

    It will also need Europe to preserve and protect the fundamental elements of the existing liberal international order, which is under unprecedented pressure. As Sparta needed allies to stand against a rising Athens in the fifth century BC, so too will the US need its allies to stand against a rising China today.

    In 1963, France and Germany signed the Elysée Treaty, which set the framework for their post-war relations and laid the foundations for further European integration. This January, France and Germany signed the Treaty of Aachen, to strengthen their bilateral ties and set future priorities.

    To recalibrate the transatlantic relationship in the 21st century, the 70th anniversary of the Washington Treaty could be celebrated with a new treaty in which the US and Europe would recommit to tackling common challenges. To increase its appeal to the White House, it could even be called the Mar-a-Lago Treaty.

    Niklas Nováky Brexit Defence EU-US Security Transatlantic

    Niklas Nováky

    America alienates Europe at its own peril


    19 Feb 2019

  • Democracy needs to be improved and updated. Today, due to the fast-changing nature of our society, democratic structures have difficulty to respond to the demands for more participative and transparent political processes, both at national and EU level.

    However, it is often easier to ask for an improvement than to propose solutions. This is also the case with the improvement of democracy, which is ultimately defined by the way people discuss, interact and come to an agreement. All these characteristics have not essentially changed even though the modern means of communication have.

    Events like Gilets jaunes demonstrations in France underline the importance of involvement in the democratic process of ordinary people. For some years now, high expectations have been put on the power of Internet to bring people closer to politics as well as on direct democracy tools such as direct voting. However, various Internet-based political initiatives have not been groundbreaking, and after the Brexit referendum doubts are increasing whether the direct vote is the way to go to improve democracy.

    The Irish Example

    Citizens’ Assembly, Ireland’s own example and experience with innovating deliberative democracy, is worth studying when tackling politically sensitive and potentially divisive topics.

    For years, the topic of abortion was seen in Ireland as a highly controversial theme. The establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly proceeded two previous assemblies (The independent We the Citizens initiative in 2011 and the government sponsored Convention on the Constitution from 2012-2014) which helped to create space and acceptance for the assembly.

    The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was launched in November 2016. Ninety-nine citizens from across Ireland gathered in Dublin to begin a national conversation on abortion. Assembly members were selected by a private marketing research firm hired by the government aiming to be broadly representative of the Irish society, based on citizens’ geographic location, gender, age and social class.

    The results of the Assembly’s final, highly anticipated vote were released on April 2017: 87% of the Assembly voted in favor of easing the Irish abortion restrictions. In their formal report to the Irish Parliament, participants recommended legislation legalising abortions.

    The Irish Citizens’ assembly showed that purposeful smaller representative groups can indeed make a difference. The Assembly facilitated the presentation of various views and insights on the topic. The media coverage of presentations triggered intensive discussion and expert input and the forum informed public opinion and thus facilitated greater understanding of the issues.

    However, the Assembly still had relatively limited public visibility and the majority of the population was not aware that the assembly actually took place. Thus, it is important that such a process is supported by the political system in order for the opinions to reach the public debate. For example, the University College of London organized a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, but due to total lack of visibility, the assembly did not have any impact on the public debate.

    An EU Citizens’ Assembly?

    The European Parliament has a clearly defined role to represent European citizens. However, the question whether a European Citizens’ Assembly, with an advisory role, could be valuable in engaging with the citizens when the EU has a clear decision to make, remains.

    The Irish example shows that a Citizens’ Assembly is the most effective when the debate is on a specific topic. An EU’s Citizens’ Assembly could take place when discussing enlargement, trade agreements or major EU institutional changes. The first Citizens’ Assembly should have a limited lifespan, related to a topic. If the Assembly was a success, it could be relaunched.

    A European Citizens’ Assembly with rotating members could enforce the view that the EU is accessible to ordinary citizens and enforce the dialogue between the EU institutions and its citizens. The Assembly could bring some fresh air to Brussels and provide the Brussels-based EU officials with a better sense on the concerns of citizens.

    In any case, the Citizens’ Assembly is a tested and useful idea when considering a referendum in EU member states. In the Irish case it created a basis for a passionate, yet rational debate leading to a decision which did not appeal to everyone, but which the Irish society was able to digest. In light of the current situation with Brexit, that is what one would hope from all referenda.

    Tomi Huhtanen Brexit Democracy EU Institutions Innovation Society

    Tomi Huhtanen

    An EU Citizens’ Assembly to enforce European democracy?


    19 Feb 2019

  • I say Europe you say…?

    Home. That’s what I say when you say Europe. I am Irish, I live in Ireland, it is my home. I work in Brussels, but I very much see Europe, the European Union, as also home. I hope that people look at it that way.

    You have been nominated by Marianne Thyssen and her question was: “What is your message to European citizens ahead of the upcoming European elections?”

    First of all, thanks to Marianne for nominating me. I think my message is a consistent one: to try and understand what Europe is rather than looking at what its failures are. I think we look only where the European Union is weak, but tend to forget where it is strong.

    I would say to people to look at the values the European Union has brought to their lives and the value of peace, the difficulty of working together, but also the importance of countries working together. The value of being around a table is much greater than when countries operating completely separately or drifting off, as it is happening with the United Kingdom. I think we are greater when we are together.

    You’ve been a presenter of the show “Ear to the ground” in Ireland. We wanted to ask you how do you manage to keep the ear to the ground and listen to the needs of your constituency?

    Wherever I am or whatever I am doing either working in plenary or in this office, I’m always thinking of the people I represent. When I am in Ireland, I am with the people I represent. So I never lose touch. I even use the phrase ‘keep my ear to the ground’ all the time, because it makes people connect with my past and with the television programme I worked on but it also says a great deal about the work I do and how I do it. I mean what would be the point of being in this job if we didn’t work tirelessly for and on behalf of the people who have elected us!

    Do you think that we are looking at a no deal Brexit and if so do you think that the EU is ready for possible scenarios?

    I think for all of us a no-deal Brexit is almost unthinkable. The EU and individual Member States and especially the United Kingdom, are putting plans in place for that possibility, but I don’t think there is anybody wishing for a no-deal Brexit, because every single aspect of all our lives will be negatively impacted. Sometimes I get the impression that some in the United Kingdom think that they will be

    immune to the negative impacts of no-deal, but in fact they will be hurt by a no-deal. I am really hoping that good politics will prevail over mediocre or bad politics and that we can see the value of the withdrawal agreement that is on the table and that it will be ratified, I hope, by the House of Commons in January.

    What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?

    Funnily enough, I think a lot of myths have been busted because of Brexit, which to some extent happened because there were so many myths out there that got oxygen in the UK press and that were never discredited. I think the expression I find most distasteful is ‘faceless Brussels bureaucrat’ – I have been called that when I have been on British media. It is a generic term of disrespect for anyone involved in the EU, elected or not.

    I am not faceless and I am not a bureaucrat. But I have great respect for bureaucrats. The people who work in this office with me could be termed faceless bureaucrats and in their work every day they have people front and centre in their minds, assisting them on an individual basis where required and collectively through work on legislation.

    How do you think that digitalisation and robotisation are impacting health systems of European countries? What is the EU doing to use the technological advancement to ensure healthy and active life for its citizens?

    I recently visited a company in my own constituency, a new company that was developing a robotic production line for sale to the US. I was mesmerized by the technology. These robotic production lines are going to replace some of the difficult jobs that individuals were doing. So I think at that level you are going to see a displacement of people by robotics and hopefully those people can be trained to do other work, which may be more stimulating and more beneficial.

    When it comes to the health systems, I recently had someone I know undergo surgery with robotics. So I think for our health systems and for the quality of the health care, robotics will be more common in diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries. The biggest challenge for the European Union and Member States is to ensure that our legislation and our rules keep up to speed with the pace of change in new technologies – this is part of our Medical Devices Regulation, which is currently being implemented. I think these issues will have huge impacts and what we all want to know is that they will be positive.

    As the VP of the European Parliament, could you share with us your favourite anecdote from a plenary or committee session? Which MEP has the best sense of humour in your view?

    What I love about chairing the session, especially when there are votes and there are issues, is the challenge of maintaining control. I think it is quite a mind game and I enjoy that. Funnily enough, I did use a gavel in the chamber recently, which was produced by a voluntary group called Men’s Sheds Ireland, who had won a European Citizen’s Prize. I bought the gavel from them and opened the voting session with it. I got a great warm round of applause.

    I think the Irish have a great sense of humour. And we have the ability to make people laugh, to laugh with others and laugh at ourselves. I hope we have scattered a little bit of our sense of humour across the Members States. Frankly, I think the more laughter we have, the more humour we have in our work in the plenary, I think the easier it is to get work done, because sometimes being too serious and too methodical and too rigid all the time doesn’t get the best for people. We all need to laugh more.

    Could you pick your three favourite Twitter Accounts?

    The Grand Auld Stretch (@theauldsthretch) is certainly one of my favourites. My next one would be an account dedicated to Seamus Heaney (@HeaneyDaily), one of our very famous poets. Every day somebody somewhere puts out a few lines written by him. On one occasion when I was chairing the plenary and it was a bit tense, I took an eye to what was up that day and I decided to read it at the end of the debate, and it fitted quite perfectly with the debate that was going on.

    The third one, well there’s a very interesting dairy farming family in Cork in Ireland. Their user name is @Peterhynes15, but it’s not just about Peter, but his wife Paula and their 3 daughters. They tweet all the time from their milking parlour, from their car, from their kitchen and it’s absolutely fantastic.

    Who of your colleagues would you team up with to sing Christmas carols?

    We were doing a picture with the EPP and Deirdre Clune, Eva Paunova and myself decided to sing along as well. So, the three of us have already sang, so we could do that again! I do like singing, I don’t have a great voice, but again I think in Ireland we sing regardless of the quality of our voices! Though there are some fantastic Irish singers.

    With a post Brexit pressure on the CAP budget, what can be done to create funding for new policy initiatives in agriculture?

    I think the problem Europe faces is that the more we do together, the more we want to do together. I think we’re going to have to have a very honest conversation amongst ourselves. If we’re going to have less money for those policies, what we need to do, and we’re doing it, is look at what the market failures are when it comes to food. We just signed off on legislation banning unfair trading practices in the food supply chain. I hope this legislation will help reduce the relentless pressure on producers and hopefully give them a better share of the final retail price.

    What it comes to getting more money for the EU budget, it is down to the member states. They will have to look into their hearts and ask themselves if they will match their words of support for agriculture and rural regions with hard cash. The more we have moved away from linking support payments to production, the more difficult it has become to find a system that is sustainable, that meets the needs of farmers and is fair.

    What made the top of your New Year’s Resolutions list for 2019?

    I am going to be kinder to myself, to ourselves in the office. We work hard and we work long hours. We are very committed to do the best we can. I think that sometimes in all of that delivering and trying to answer everybody’s needs, we forget that we’re all human beings and that we need a little time off. And I suppose because of the elections, I’m going to have to make sure I don’t run at too fast a pace. I’m saying this knowing I’m going to fail in my own aspirations. But it is no harm to set out this, at least as an objective.

    Choose one of the following: radio or print journalism?

    Radio for the drama and communication. Print for endurance.

    Leprechauns or smurfs?

    I mean there is no choice here! Smurfs aren’t real, but leprechauns are.

    Guinness or Stella Artois?


    Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?

    I think you should interview Esteban González Pons. Maybe you could ask him about the Smurfs versus the leprechauns. Not as the first question, but just don’t forget to ask him that. I won’t explain why.

    Agriculture Brexit European People's Party Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Mairead McGuinness

    I Say Europe

    20 Dec 2018

  • I say Europe you say…?

    Next generation.

    What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?

    There are probably hundreds of myths, lots of misinformation, fake news, but probably the most classic one is about curved cucumbers – the one about how the EU, through its legislation, controls the producers of cucumbers. The logic behind the idea was that the EU wanted to help producers to fit as many cucumbers into the box as possible.

    With a euro-sceptical government in Italy, we’ve witnessed an increase in the discussion about the eurozone’s debt and deficit rules, as to are they befitting for crisis-fighting. What is your view on the current rules?

    Since the last financial crisis, we have advanced the leaps and bounds by introducing two pack, six pack ESN, Banking Union. They all take us in the right direction. It is important that the rules are followed and that we have mechanisms to ensure that everyone follows them. As our economies integrate and converge, we can, step by step, move towards more mutualisation.

    Right now, do you think we are looking at a no-deal Brexit scenario and if so, how could this affect the EU?

    I think we have three options – soft Brexit, hard Brexit or no deal (which could be called a cliff edge option as well). I would wish for a soft Brexit, but I think we will end up with a hard Brexit and I honestly hope that a no deal Brexit scenario will not take place. It would be economically and politically disastrous, both for the European Union and the United Kingdom.

    You often tweet about different projects EIB implements across Europe. Could you share your favourite one so far and explain why you picked that specific project?

    There are hundreds of favourite ones, but for instance we gave a loan to a Danish company which was working on a revolutionary antibiotic cream, that will help the lives of many people in Europe and across the world. But it can’t be slimmed down to a single project – for example every airport in Europe which we use to travel across our continent has been funded in one way or another by the EIB.

    Can you name your three favourite Twitter Accounts?

    As you might know already, I am a sports fan, let’s say I’d go for Tour du France for cycling, I would follow Jean-Claude Junker on European politics and from the media side, let’s say Politico.

    Speaking of your social media, you participated in a TEDx conference in Finland last year, you explained your 1+1+1 day rule for the year ahead of you (1hour for a book, 1 hour for exercise and only 1 hour for social media). Following your activity on social media one has to wonder have you been breaching it?

    Yes, I succeeded for over half a year to read a book for one hour. I had a little bit of a break, but now I am back at it. I have always succeeded in exercising for one hour, but my biggest problem indeed was staying away from social media and going over the one hour a day.

    What would be in your view a must-see in Helsinki, since we are less than a month away from the EPP Congress which will take place there?

    Ah, we are not going to see much because it is going to be so dark in November, but I would definitely check out the new Helsinki library, which will open in December.

    In your capacity of Chairman of the Crisis Management Initiative you’ve recently shared that only 8% of the peace negotiators are women. What can be concretely done to bring more women to the negotiating table in this regard?

    The worst joke I’ve ever heard in this context was “What is the similarity between flowers, a table, and a bottle of sparkling water, a notebook and men; they are more often in peace negotiating tables than women.” Having said this, I think we must raise awareness to the fact that women are not just needed at the peace negotiating table but are quite often better peace mediators than men are! And if we do that properly ourselves, I think we could end up getting more women at the peace negotiating table.

    In the process of preparing for this interview we learned that you always wanted to learn how to play guitar. If you could pick any person in the world to give you guitar lessons who would it be and which song would you like to master first?

    Bono. Well, I am a big fan of U2 and I have always been. I guess I belong to that generation. I like his way of thinking about Europe and I think he is doing a great service to Europe by waving the European flag in his concerts.

    The proposal for the EU Copyright Directive has been in the public eye since it has been initiated. It has received lot of criticism, especially from tech giants. What do you think about the proposal as it is now and do you think it will be adopted in January?

    I think it has a fairly good balance between copyright, privacy and tech giants. This is what Europe is and should be about. We are a regulatory superpower and it is challenging to find a right balance in between different stakeholders, but in this case I think it was done well.

    Choose one of the following: Twitter or Instagram?

    I’d have to say Twitter… Maybe I am a slightly more verbal than visual type of person.

    Politicians or bankers?

    Haha, the choice between two evils – probably politicians.

    Triathlon or trialogue?

    Oh, definitely a triathlon.

    Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?

    Marianne Thyssen: Marianne, you had a fantastic career in Belgian and European politics. You have been a role model for many of us in the EPP. What are you going to do next?

    Brexit European People's Party Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Alexander Stubb

    I Say Europe

    15 Oct 2018

  • Populists love blaming the EU for everything that goes wrong in our societies, proclaiming that a return to a Europe made up of nation states is the only path forward. But when doing so, they should go beyond the ideology and look at the real consequences of such a shift. They should talk about how this will end open trade as we know it, how this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU and how it will make the EU less safe.

    The European “super state” with its soulless bureaucracy and its ivory tower is an easy target cliché for those looking for a scapegoat. But people using that image swiftly find themselves in an awkward bind. If they say that citizens need a quid pro quo when paying taxes and only want their taxes to be used to build roads and bridges, they should also say that more often than not roads and bridges are payed for with EU funds. If they say that EU taxes would be an atrocity, they should stop saying that the EU’s external borders remain unprotected.

    So let’s speak the truth about the EU. The truth is that it wasn’t established by soulless bureaucrats but by people like Adenauer and Schuman and Spaak. Statesmen who had personally witnessed the horror and ruin of neighbours going to war with one another.

    Populists love blaming the EU for everything that goes wrong in our societies, proclaiming that a return to a Europe made up of nation states is the only path forward. But when doing so, they should go beyond the ideology and look at the real consequences of such a shift. They should talk about how this will end open trade as we know it, how this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU and how it will make the EU less safe.

    The European “super state” with its soulless bureaucracy and its ivory tower is an easy target cliché for those looking for a scapegoat. But people using that image swiftly find themselves in an awkward bind. If they say that citizens need a quid pro quo when paying taxes and only want their taxes to be used to build roads and bridges, they should also say that more often than not roads and bridges are payed for with EU funds. If they say that EU taxes would be an atrocity, they should stop saying that the EU’s external borders remain unprotected.

    So let’s speak the truth about the EU. The truth is that it wasn’t established by soulless bureaucrats but by people like Adenauer and Schuman and Spaak. Statesmen who had personally witnessed the horror and ruin of neighbours going to war with one another.

    A strong European Union  benefits every European citizen. Not in spite of, but because of its large scale.

    The EU started as a project to  safeguard peace across the continent. But over the years it became so much more, it became an ever-closer union. A Union of unprecedented economic and social welfare and shared values. Christian democrats have been the driving force behind that evolution, and the EPP remains the driving force to this day.

    We continue to ensure that the European Union is being democratically governed. Through the member states in the Council, through the representatives elected to the European Parliament by our people and through Commissioners who are delegated by the governments of their home nation.

    A strong European Union  benefits every European citizen. Not in spite of, but because of its large scale. We live in an era of fundamental geopolitical and economic shifts. The reality of today, the outside world in turmoil scares people, which is understandable. But capitalizing on those fears for electoral reasons and making protectionist pleas for a return to separate, individual nation states with closed borders, is reprehensible. In a world that is dominated by competing superpowers, even countries like France and Germany are small players.

    The European Union, representing 25% of the global economy, must speak with one voice on the global stage. It is the only way to defend our interests. Only in the Bible does David triumph over Goliath. If US President Donald Trump hasn’t yet implemented import tariffs on European steel, it is because the EU is taken seriously as a large trade block. I am sure he’d much rather negotiate directly and separately with Belgium or Italy or Hungary.

    Is this a plea for that infamous European “super state”? No, of course it isn’t. Our citizens aren’t interested in those kinds of institutional theologies that all too often dominate the debate on Europe. They don’t care about the colour of the cat, as long as it catches mice.

    Which mice should Europe catch?

    The EU is an economic success story. The internal market brings growth and prosperity, especially so for a very open economy such as Belgium’s. But the benefits and the added value become even clearer when things go wrong. With one member state preparing to leave the EU, the dark economic picture is getting clearer: for Belgium alone this may cost 2.2 billion euros in tariffs as well as the loss of 42,000 jobs.

    Yet I do not believe that Brexit will be the beginning of the end of the European Union. On the contrary, we already see that Brexit is bringing the remaining 27 members closer together.

    So, the European story is unfinished. We should get on with the creation of an Energy Union and a Digital Union because this is where tomorrow’s economic challenges lie. At the same time, we should recognize that Europe is more than a market. The European Union should protect its citizens. It should provide security and a level playing field.

    So no, we don’t find ourselves all of a sudden in a European demos that replaces the national identity. If nothing else, because our identity cannot be defined one-dimensionally.

    Under the guidance of Commissioner Thyssen and with the active support of the Belgian Government, we have taken significant steps towards a stronger social Europe and in the fight against social dumping. Equal pay for equal work in the same place has become a reality. We should build on this: before the European elections of 2019 we should reach an agreement on the creation of a European Labour Authority and on the Work-Life Balance Directive.

    In addition, the Union should continue its work in shaping a coherent migration policy and  better protection of our external borders. A European Union that is built on the rule of law and shared values owes it to itself to provide decent and humane assistance to refugees. We can manage this. But we cannot welcome the entire world to Europe.

    This is why we should focus more strongly on timely, quality assistance in the immediate vicinity of conflicts. And we need to know who is entering the EU. Controls at the European external borders need to be strengthened. That is why I plead for a further reinforcing of the European Coast and Border Guard and an increase in EU Border Guards from 1,200 to 10,000.

    Who will foot the bill?

    The EU Budget has for years amounted to more or less 1% of GNI. So, just 1% of our overall income goes to the EU; the other 99% is spent on other things. This is the order of magnitude and it will not change significantly. So let us not turn the 1% threshold into an obsession. I prefer 1.1% spent well, over 0.9% spent poorly. The proposal of the European Commission for the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework seems a good basis to me.

    I do not welcome every aspect of course: in the context of Brexit and increasing pressure on Customs services in frontline countries like Belgium, the proposed decrease of the retention of Customs collection costs from 20% to 10% is simply unacceptable. But I also find a lot of interesting ideas in this future-oriented budget: the increase in spending on innovation, investments in human capital and the doubling of the Erasmus+ program.

    And yes, new own resources should be a possibility in my view. The proposal of a tax on non-recycled plastic waste is a creative proposal that can help the EU achieve its climate and environmental goals and create a better world for our children and grandchildren.  

    The limits of the nation state

    So no, we don’t find ourselves all of a sudden in a European demos that replaces the national identity. If nothing else, because our identity cannot be defined one-dimensionally. The notion that we cannot be Flemish if we want to be Belgian, or Belgian if we want to be European, is completely outdated.

    Today’s reality is that we have a multi-layered identity. We can feel Flemish, Belgian and European at the same time. Because in all of those identities we find a common past and we see a joint future. And that multi-layered identity requires multilevel governance, with real competencies and the necessary striking force. European democracy coincides with local democracy. It is the only way the European Union can strengthen our nations and vice versa.

    Kris Peeters Brexit EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    Kris Peeters

    Let’s speak the truth about the European Union


    29 May 2018

  • During the 2018 February plenary session, the European Parliament voted on its future composition after the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) decided to redistribute 27 of the current 73 UK seats among several EU member states which have been previously under-represented. The full-list of the proposed allocations can be found here.

    The house also debated whether some of the remaining available seats should be taken by MEPs elected from an EU-wide electoral constituency and through a ‘transnational list’ which would complement the national lists in the 2019 European elections. The European Parliament (EP) eventually voted against the proposal for transnational lists.

    What happens to the UK seats if there is no actual Brexit?

    The current 73 UK MEPs have been democratically elected for a full mandate until May 2019. These seats will not be available to the UK after the withdrawal from the EU becomes legally effective (expected on 29 March 2019). The EP proposed text specifies that in case the UK is still a member of the EU at the time of the 2019 elections these changes will not take place.

    The idea of transnational lists is great because I would be able to vote for candidates who would represent the European Union interests, correct?

    Not really. This is already the case with the traditionally elected MEPs who are sworn to represent the European Union’s interests while also remaining accountable to their national constituencies. Current MEPs sit in pan-European political families which are at the centre of the everyday work of the Parliament.

    The political engagement of every MEP within his European political family is key for his successful committee and legislative file work. Historically, most traditionally elected MEPs have guarded the Union interest and advanced pro-integration legislation whilst serving as a link between the national electorate and the supranational institution. Why destroy this link with transnational MEPs?

    But don’t you want to see a new type of Parliamentarians?

    Transnational MEPs would actually have to choose a European political family to align with and sit together with the ‘traditional’ ones or become independent. These ‘new’ Parliamentarians could demand additional legitimacy from their political family due to their allegedly upgraded mandate but would essentially have exactly the same rights and obligations as a traditional MEP. Becoming independent would leave them with limited speaking time, visibility, resources and overall ability to influence legislation which would be the exact opposite of the ideal pan-European delegate.

    What about making the MEPs more visible and strengthening the connection between voters and elected Members?

    This is precisely why having transnational lists would be a bad idea. The question can be answered with a series of open questions. How would a Member who has been elected with a different number of votes from different member states be held accountable? With which national electorate would they spend time during the weeks designated for constituency work?

    In what language would they communicate to their electorate? If the delegate eventually opens offices in his/her native member state and interacts with a local audience, what would be the point of having a transnational mandate?

    The old proverb “One who is everywhere is nowhere” would apply fully in this case. 

    Why not have a truly European race for votes in a European-wide constituency?

    The European-wide constituency was previously proposed in 2015 as part of the reform to the Electoral law of the EU. The file is still pending in the Council of the EU which is effectively stopping its development because of a lack of member state support. Even if the EP had voted in favour of transnational lists for 2019, this probably wouldn`t have been implemented in practice as the decision requires the unanimous approval of European heads of state or government (European Council).

    Having a single constituency for the 2019 elections which is based on proportional representation remains practically impossible. Such changes would have to be agreed beforehand with national/regional parliaments and implemented in national electoral laws on very short notice. Practical issues remain regarding the feasibility of hundreds of candidates campaigning across the EU in a 30-day time period to audiences with diverse political, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

    Globally there is no country or federation with such a huge number of eligible voters which produces proportionally elected Members from a single constituency. One might argue that the Spitzenkandidat process brings about an informal EU-wide constituency which actually works because it produces a single winner (see below).

    So I guess being against transnational lists makes you anti-European?

    Quite the contrary. Rushing in transnational lists in 15 months would produce an unbalanced process which could achieve an anti-European effect. The system would naturally give an advantage to bigger member states as they would cast the biggest number of ballots and most likely produce additional ‘bonus’ seats for Germany, Spain, Italy and France.

    An attempt to balance such a system with national, gender and maximum member quotas would take a lot of time and additionally cause party/voter frustration. Such a hasty top-down decision would backfire and be seen as an elite-driven initiative for institutional legitimacy which would further discourage voters and cement the `second order` status EP elections.

    The short time-frame for actual campaigning and communicating such a change would create very polarized voter groups (convinced anti-EU and strong pro-federalist segments) and ultimately produce extremely diverging MEPs who wouldn`t represent true transnational sentiment.

    How about engaging more EU citizens and contributing to the formation of a European demos? 

    The million-euro question about active citizen engagement on a regional, national and European level remains indeed open. However, we shouldn`t expect supranational institutions to be the only inventors and promoters of a European identity which may turn out to be artificial. The European Citizens` Initiative has been operational for more than 5 years and has produced disappointing results. This is a good example of how a top-down idea promising citizen involvement defeats its own purpose.

    The sensible goal for the 2019 elections would be to promote the lead candidate process (Spitzenkandidat) in which the European political families campaign their manifestos along with their leading candidate who they nominate for President of the European Commission. This is a workable solution which de facto produces a European-wide constituency as it is best suited to present a single winner from an extremely large number of votes.

    The 2014 EP elections were the first in which the new Commission president was elected with the support of the winning party and not appointed after a high-level political compromise behind closed doors. This achievement essentially gives European political parties a campaign face and makes the small but necessary step for politicizing EP election campaigns further. 

    Dimitar Lilkov Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties

    Dimitar Lilkov

    Q&A: why introducing transnational lists in the 2019 European elections is a bad idea


    15 Feb 2018

  • The UK has traditionally played an ambivalent role in European security and defence policymaking. With Brexit, the EU loses one of its two serious military players. On the other hand, it has been liberated from the constraints imposed by London on the Common Security and Defence Policy, and this has created a new dynamism behind the defence project.

    There has been comparatively little commentary on the defence implications of Brexit, and the UK has been less than forthcoming in making concrete proposals for an ongoing UK–EU partnership. Both sides assert that they wish to maintain a strong cooperative relationship after Brexit, but the outlines of such an arrangement remain very unclear.

    This article suggests that the UK will have more to lose than the EU from any failure to reach agreement, and that UK ambivalence about links between the Common Security and Defence Policy and NATO will prove to be a major sticking point.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Jolyon Howorth Brexit Defence EU Member States Security

    Jolyon Howorth

    EU defence cooperation after Brexit: what role for the UK?


    30 Nov 2017

  • Since last year when the UK made the decision to leave the EU, we at the Martens Centre have been having an intensive discussion on how to deal with this issue, particularly how to avoid a risk of negative escalation between the UK and the EU. While emphasising constructive communication, just over a week ago we gathered in London to discuss with like-minded experts and decision-makers how to avoid disaster and make the best of it for those of both sides. Here are some of my personal recommendations on how to manage the ongoing negotiations, based on my own experience from the division of assets after the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia.

    1. Tackle strategy first, tactics second

    To begin with, it is necessary to define the end result, namely the expected outcome of the EU-UK negotiations: the shape of our long-term relationship after the UK leaves. Do we want to remain allies, or just friends and partners, or simply neighbours? If we want to remain allies, does this only apply to NATO or also to other areas of cooperation?  Depending on what conclusion the two sides will eventually agree upon, we can proceed to formulating the content of the new deals in all specific and relevant areas – the free movement of persons, trade, security and other topics.

     2. Define the “what”

    This regards the status of the EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and vice-versa, the final bill for the UK’s exit from the EU, the regime at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and that between Gibraltar and Spain, and possibly other issues directly related to Brexit.

    3. Be flexible on the “when” and the “where”

    When, at a relevant moment, the negotiations show that we are on the right track but more time is required to strike a good deal, we should agree on a transition period for the UK to leave the EU. Several factors should be taken into account for that transition period (such as conformity with the EU financial planning period).

    4. Consider Brexit irreversible

    There will be no second referendum. We should not work with this hypothesis, not even at a theoretical level; we should not fuel false hopes of those who continue to believe that the process of the UK’s exit from the EU can still be reversed.

    5. Remember: non-agreement is not an option

    Both sides should clearly declare their awareness of the fact that an uncontrolled exit of the UK from the EU in the absence of any agreement on mutual relations is the worst possible outcome for both sides. Brexit-related losses must be kept at a minimum on both sides. To this end, an agreement is inevitable: That means both an agreement on the future arrangement of mutual relations and one on the divorce.

    6. Keep it realistic

    We should strive for concluding the deals that will be enforceable, sustainable and feasible within the set deadlines. This is the only way to avoid misunderstandings in the future and to minimise the harm caused by any such misunderstanding.

    7. Communicate more, squabble less

    There is no doubt that Brexit is a lose/lose “game” for both sides (the EU and the UK). The time before the UK’s exit from the EU becomes final (March 2019) should thus be used to cut the losses. The squabbles over the amount of the bill to be paid by the UK could drag on for years (it took close to ten years to resolve the division of assets of former Czechoslovakia). But it would be a waste if those squabbles went on at the detriment of our citizens, trade, investment, or security cooperation.

    8. Let diplomats do their job

    Brexit talks are now an arena where every spoken word becomes the object of analyses, comments and, of course, reactions. In this kind of atmosphere, it is difficult to offer concessions. Yet we know that concessions are inevitable. Thus, in addition to official negotiations exposed to public scrutiny and media comments, it is also necessary to engage in an intensive “silent” diplomacy.

    9. Strive for a compromise…

    The most promising method in a win-win or lose-lose game is the search for a compromise.   Both sides must realise that compromise is a state where both sides leave the negotiation table (after reaching a compromise) either equally satisfied or equally dissatisfied.

    10. …and achieve a win-win

    The final decision will be political. It will be made by politicians at the time of ratifying the deals. Both the rhetoric and the expectations should be shaped accordingly. There is a need to work with public opinion right from the beginning. Public discourse should be dominated by the emphasis on mutual benefits and not by rivalry or even vengeance. The EU can only survive if it is built on a positive vision, on positive emotions and, in particular, if it brings added value to its member states.  

    At one moment, the Communist bloc collapsed like a house of cards in spite of being held together by force, threats and intimidation. It disintegrated because it was becoming an ever greater burden on, and not a benefit for, its member states. That is why the final deal will only be sustainable if it entails the best for both sides.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Brexit EU Member States Leadership

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    The ten commandments of Brexit negotiations


    05 Jul 2017

  • Angela Merkel put the fear of God in many Atlanticists when she remarked in Bavaria “the era when we could fully rely on others is partially over”.  This is classical Merkel speak and it means: “I’m seriously worried and I believe it’s a good idea to say so publicly while avoiding a too blunt statement “.  

    For a campaign crowd fully aware of her strange and strained interactions with Donald Trump in Washington, Brussels and Sicily, the meaning was clear: we aren’t going to put up with American boorishness on defense spending or foot dragging on climate change, refugees and other matters. To cap it off, the German leader announced that Europeans “…need to take our fate into our own hands”.  

    The most important aspect of this statement is that after Brussels, but especially after the G-7 summit in Sicily, she has to avoid looking like Trump’s poodle if she wants to be re-elected in September. Although opinion polls are looking better for her than in February, the three left-of-center parties could still topple her if they manage to convince enough voters that only they can confront Donald Trump, and credibly stand for a more independent Europe.

    After Brussels, but especially after the G-7 summit in Sicily, Merkel has to avoid looking like Trump’s poodle if she wants to be re-elected in September.

    While German politicians are quick to denounce populism, there is a long tradition of using populist rhetoric in the context of hotly contested campaigns going back to Willy Brandt. Certainly, Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder won an election on an anti-Bush and to a degree anti-American ticket in 2002.  Should we just interpret Merkel’s remarks as nothing more than a candidate feeding red meat to her base?

    The answer is yes and no. Donald Trump declared NATO as obsolete and criticized Europeans for not spending enough on their own defense because it sparked an enthusiastic reaction among his core followers who are tired of America’s military commitments in far flung places.   As European have discovered, he meant what he said about defense spending even if he has moderated his views on the Alliance. 

    Merkel was playing to the crowd and, once the campaign is over, we should expect a more open and conciliatory tone towards the United States if not towards President Trump – provided the current escalation can be kept in check.  But she is also serious about creating a Europe that is less dependent on the US and the UK in terms of the projection of military power, intelligence gathering and global diplomacy. 

    With the election of Emmanuel Macron in France, European ambitions have been rekindled.  Spring is in the air in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, after a period of gloom caused by Trump’s election victory and the Brexit referendum. Rather than worry about Russian threats or new waves of refugees, Europe’s great and good are now ready to talk about deeper integration, including deeper cooperation in defense and other spheres.

    But, honestly: Europeans have little choice over whom to depend on when it comes to the full scale of military threats from Russia. From hybrid to conventional to nuclear, Europe cannot defend itself, even 20 years from now, and will have to rely on the US. What Europe can and should do is improve its capacity to intervene in the Southern neighborhood. But even for that, good relations with the US and the UK would come in handy.

    The German Chancellor is also serious about creating a Europe that is less dependent on the US and the UK in terms of the projection of military power, intelligence gathering and global diplomacy.  

    Americans should take this ambition seriously for three reasons. First, they need to  understand the danger for the German Chancellor in being seen to kowtow to American hectoring. Second, they need to remind Europeans that this ambition does not have to be contrary to US interests but rather supports the American desire for more burden sharing.

    And, finally, they need to be clear that the ultimate US security guarantee is NATO and Article V. It is time for President Trump to rethink his rhetoric and actions and to focus on revitalizing the Atlantic partnership through a clear commitment to European defense.

    Chancellor Merkel may not have been signaling a pivot away from the United States, but her declaration should spark a serious debate in Europe and North America about how to remake the transatlantic alliance at a time when the problems and threats are quite different from the period following WWII.

    Both Merkel and Trump (and Obama before him) have sent out clear signals that the old Atlantic partnership is not working.  Now, we need to decide whether we will just let this once powerful community slide into disrepair and disarray or we will recognize its inherent potential and power for good and take the necessary steps to repair this struggling partnership. 

    Roland Freudenstein Craig Kennedy Brexit EU-US Transatlantic Values

    Roland Freudenstein

    Craig Kennedy

    End of the West or just politics as usual?


    01 May 2017

  • What is the alternative to a hard Brexit? 

    I believe conditions can be created in which the UK voters could decide not to leave the EU at all.  Ireland should work to create those conditions. The terms for Brexit set out by Mrs May will do incalculable damage to this island, politically, emotionally and economically.  We cannot simply wait for this to happen. While seeking to mitigate the effects of Mrs May’s chosen hard Brexit, we must also do everything we can to ensure that there is no Brexit.

    Apart from a few open questions, Theresa May has said what she wants. She wants out of the single market, out of the customs union, and “control” over immigration. The open questions she has avoided so far are about the financial terms of the divorce, the status of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and two aspects of a future trade agreement (if there ever is one), namely arbitrating disputes, and  third country imports getting into the EU via the UK.

    It is unlikely that the Article 50 letter she will send to Donald Tusk next month will tell us much more about the UK negotiating position than the Lancaster House speech did. So it is time now to start thinking about how the EU will respond to Mrs May’s letter.

    On the present schedule, the European Council would meet in April to agree the orientation it would give to the EU negotiators for the discussions with the UK that would start in June. These orientations would be agreed by consensus, so every EU head of government would have to be satisfied.  For Ireland, this April European Council meeting is potentially the most important European meeting a Taoiseach will ever attend.

    In working out the orientation to be given to the negotiators, the crucial thing is for the European Council to work out what would be its ”best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA). It is important to have an alternative ready because there is every possibility that no agreement will be reached within the two year time frame for negotiation, and ratification, of a withdrawal agreement. Mrs May has said that, for her, no deal at all preferable to a bad deal. Her BATNA, so to speak, is no deal at all.

    “No deal” would mean the UK simply crashing out of the EU overnight, sometime before the end of March 2019.  This “no deal” scenario would be an overnight halt to flights, to trade and to commerce. There would be immediate and massive currency instability.

    From the point of view of pure negotiating tactics, maybe it is no surprising that Mrs May would threaten with a “no deal”. But to do so, in the absence of a well-crafted fall-back position, is something the UK cannot really afford. It vindicates Tony Blair’s description of the UK government as “not driving the (Brexit) bus”, but rather “being driven” by partisan and ideological forces it has not tried to control. In the absence of a real alternative to a hard Brexit, it is on auto pilot heading towards a cliff.

    The EU country that would be worst affected by the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal is, of course, Ireland. So Ireland must use all its imagination and ingenuity to see if a creative way out for the UK and the EU can be found.

    Should the EU offer UK voters another option? 

    If the UK government is unable or unwilling, because of domestic politics, to work out a responsible “best available alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA), then the EU side should do so for it.  It should adopt it alongside its line by line response the UK’s negotiating demands. Having a BATNA would also strengthen the EU’s negotiating position. It would provide something with which an emerging deal could be compared. It would also provide a basis on which the UK could reconsider its decision of 23 June 2016, if it wants to do that.

    As Tony Blair said, UK voters have a ”right to change their minds”. After all, politicians are allowed to change their minds, so why not voters? If UK voters, in a referendum, sent their government on a mission towards Brexit, it would be reasonable that the same voters, rather than Parliament, should adjudicate on what will have been achieved (or not) by their delegates.

    If UK voters ever do change their minds about Brexit, it will happen slowly and incrementally. Parts of the Brexit scenario, obscured during the Referendum, will become clearer during the negotiation. The unavoidable interconnections between EU freedoms and EU rules will emerge. For this to happen, it will be in the EU side’s interest to ensure that there is maximum public understanding of the unfolding negotiation. Transparency will work in the EU’s interest.  A running commentary is exactly what is needed in the interest of public education!  

    If the alternative to EU rules is no rules at all, citizens in both the EU countries and the UK may come see EU membership in a different light. They may, for the first time in many cases, see the EU as something that simplifies their lives, rather than the reverse. In my view, the best BATNA that the EU side should adopt is an offer of continuing UK membership of the EU  broadly on the basis that the UK  was a member in 2015, before David Cameron’s ill fated “renegotiation”. 

    The 2015 terms were generous to the UK. They allowed it to opt out of the euro, of Schengen, of Justice and Policing cooperation, of the Stability and Growth Pact, and of the justiciability in the UK of the European Convention. Furthermore, the UK itself had also decided, without Brexit, that it would have a referendum of any new EU powers. In that sense the UK was already having its cake, while eating it, before it ever decided on Brexit. These 2015 terms should be left on the table by the EU side, but without the unjustifiable UK budget rebate.

    Of course, at this stage, the UK would reject such an offer out of hand.  But, as the inevitable consequences of Brexit become clearer, UK public opinion might begin to see merit in it, particularly when it is compared with the costs of simply crashing out of the EU, overnight, with no deal at all, which is Mrs May’s fall back negotiating scenario.

    The resistance to keeping such an offer on the table is more likely to come from some existing EU member states. Some members will point to the UK’s insatiable demands, when it was a member, for opt outs, rebates, and exceptions.  Arlene Foster’s analogy about feeding crocodiles may come to their minds. They will recall General de Gaulle’s original veto of UK membership, and his foresight that the UK would never settle in as a member. They might also argue that offering the UK a way back, after it has triggered Article 50, might encourage others to try it on too. 

    But if they sit back and think about it, they will, I believe, conclude that a UK that inside the EU is better for the EU than a UK that is outside. This will be so even if a trade deal is eventually concluded with the UK. Keeping the offer of resumed UK membership on the table would be good politics and good economics for the EU.

    The terms of the Lisbon Treaty do create some difficulty for this approach. Article 50 (3) says a country that has sought to leave the EU under that article will be automatically excluded from the EU two years after it has triggered Article 50 unless the EU side “unanimously decides to extend the period”. Article 50 (5) says that, if a state, that has withdrawn for the EU, asks to rejoin, it has to do under article 49, where the application would have to be ratified by all existing members.

    Others may argue that the UK cannot withdraw its Article 50 letter once it has sent it. This is a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide, but article 6.8 of the Vienna Convention on treaties explicitly allows revocation of a notice of intention to withdraw from a treaty.

    These problems are real, but not insurmountable. A political declaration by the EU heads of Government in April in favour of facilitating an eventual UK resumption of EU membership, on its 2015 terms minus the budget rebate, would create a realistic basis for comparison in the debate about Brexit that, in a sense, is only now starting in the UK.  

    John Bruton Brexit Economy Elections EU Member States European Union

    John Bruton

    Brexit out of the box


    28 Feb 2017

  • Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s election to President of the United States are events of historical proportion. In important ways, they challenge assumptions long taken for granted by both sides of the political spectrum. We publish below various contributions on the lessons the European People’s Party should draw from these political developments.

    Contributors are broadly connected to the European centre-right and offer a wide range of opinions on the topic under discussion. Some believe that an identitarian agitation is sweeping across the West, and that the centre-right should reclaim identity politics from anti-establishment movements and reconcile it with European integration, after having neglected it for too long. Others reject this analysis, downplay identitarian factors or see the return of identity politics as a purely populist phenomenon that should be opposed by all means.   

    A Europe of values and results

    Benjamin Dalle, 

    Director, CEDER Study Centre

    The recent developments in the UK and the US are reflections of discontent of large parts of the population with what is going on in their daily lives and their feelings about the future, which led to mistrust in traditional politics and in current leaders. The Brexit referendum is for many people the proof of a failing European Union, while the US presidential elections give rise to fears about the traditional multilateral approach and the strength of our transatlantic relations.

    We believe that the EPP must emphasise the importance of delivering tangible results on all levels of government; results that improve the lives of citizens and which take into account the concerns of all EU citizens. For the EPP this will require strong leadership, vision and more unified action and opinions. Deepening and strengthening the European Union is also necessary, on the basis of our common values, such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, solidarity and tolerance.

    The confidence and involvement of citizens will be of utmost importance to restore the ‘European Dream’. The dialogue between citizens and the European institutions therefore needs to be strengthened. That is why we believe the work of Luc Van den Brande as Special Adviser to EC Commission President Juncker to further strengthen the dialogue with the EU citizens is so important.

    Stay firm and united

    Gunnar Hökmark, 

    Member of the European Parliament

    Now it is serious. These are the times that the European Union once was founded to meet. To secure freedom, democracy and peace in Europe. To provide stability in a fragile world. To develop a dynamic economy for prosperity and social cohesion. This is not anymore about ideological speeches but brutal reality.

    It is a new world. More risky. More instable. It is the free world that is under threat and it is the world order from the years after the Second World War that is being challenged. The crises of today are not the crisis of the European Union, but it is these kinds of crises the EU was created to deal with. To give stability to Europe and give stability to the free world.

    This challenge might be the most difficult we have ever faced. It is more challenging than reforming agricultural policy, establishing the internal market or launching the service directive. It is even more challenging than fighting bureaucracy.

    The solution is simple but difficult. We must stand together, side by side. Reform our markets and deepen the internal market. Achieve an Energy union and a Capital Markets Union. Take the lead in the digitalisation of global economies. Stay firm to Russia and clarify that all parts of the Union are the European Union, be it Narva in Estonia or all the ancient capitals of Europe once behind the Iron Curtain.

    Control our borders in order to ensure that the processing of asylum procedures is worthy of civilised societies. We must strengthen our military defence capabilities in order to be able to make use of our soft powers and proceed with the enlargement when countries are prepared. Reform Europe rather than create new divisions in the EU by ever new ideas of institutional changes.

    Wanted: personalities with attitude and image

    Nico Lange, 

    Deputy Director for Political Consulting, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

    Nobody had seen it coming. But within hours of the US presidential elections, many people apparently understood perfectly what had happened. Donald Trump’s election was heralding the start of a ‘global era of populism’, newspapers said.

    Taking a more analytical view, it is clear that there are significant differences between the US and Europe. Electoral and party systems, the media and election campaigning, personalities and the topics dominating the debate in the US do not allow any clear conclusions to be drawn for future developments in Europe. And populist parties, which have been gaining ground in Europe for some time, also differ considerably from each other.

    However, there appear to be similarities in some of the underlying conditions that have facilitated the strengthening of populist mobilisation. The anxiety of the middle classes about losing status in the course of the processes of social change has increased noticeably in affluent Western societies. Differentiation in lifestyles and individualisation combined with high levels of immigration are causing feelings of one’s culture being under threat and fears of a collective loss of identity.

    There is evidently an added factor at play in that the aging section of the affluent society in particular perceives change as an imposition. People develop a defiant stance of rejection in the face of pressures to adapt to the consequences of the global economy. ‘Make America great again’ and ‘Take back control’ are populist responses to this frame of mind, which exert great attraction through the illusion of being able to return to a simpler, more predictable and manageable world.

    Instead of shaping the future constructively, this is about recreating an imaginary past that never existed in the first place.

    Brexit and Trump clearly illustrate that what we need are personalities with attitude and a good image, who look forward to shaping the future in a positive frame of mind and can develop ‘dynamics of hope’ rather than ‘dynamics of fear’ (Jean Monnet).  Trump was only strong because of Clinton’s weakness.

    Cultural pessimism, doomsday scenarios and scaremongering have no place in Christian democratic politics. When looking around Europe, one can easily identify the leading populists. On the side of those who want to manage change with a confident outlook, Angela Merkel now stands almost alone.

    We need to move beyond political correctness

    Giovanni Maddalena, 

    Professor of History of Philosophy, Università degli Studi del Molise, Italy

    From the recent US Presidential election and from Brexit we can learn some useful lessons. First, coalitions between the mainstream centre-right and centre-left do not work. The attempt to put together all ‘responsible’ people who belong to the mainstream intellectual culture of social-democratic values and globalised economic liberalism fails because it excludes the majority of the people. This coalition is doomed because it appears as an elitist project against which everyone else rebels and wins.

    Second, we learned that we need a real left-right dialectic in order to fight the so-called ‘populism’. An Italian example will clarify what I mean. In the recent municipal elections, the Five Stars Movement won in Rome and Turin where, at the second round, the race was between their candidate and the mainstream candidate. However, in Milan, where the centre-right and centre-left parties presented two different and credible candidates, the Five Stars Movement did not even qualify for the second round.

    Third, we need to reflect about populism. In order to rebuild a successful centre-right one should look at the needs expressed by those who are voting for the so-called ‘populists’ and offer clear centre-right solutions that are distinctly opposed to the centre-left perspective. On Europe, for example, the idea of a ‘slim federalism’ that is strong on security and foreign policy but weak on internal economic regulation (real subsidiarity) should be adopted, together with a recognition of the Christian roots of Western values.

    Finally, we should stop talking about populism as if it was an undifferentiated phenomenon. Although he gathered grassroots support from people who did not feel represented by US mainstream politics, Trump is a conservative. He won regular primaries of the GOP defeating 16 candidates. He then won the presidential election with sixty million votes and he has a strong political agenda. One might like or dislike his political platform, but make no mistake, he is not the same as Marine Le Pen or Beppe Grillo.

    It’s about communication, too!

    Konrad Niklewicz, 

    Deputy Director, Civic Institute, Poland

    Both the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election have demonstrated to what extent large parts of society disapprove of the political, economic and social status quo. One conclusion seems relevant to every liberal democracy: rapidly changing patterns in communication. The total dominance of online media – with the particular importance of social media – is coming.

    Only a few years ago many believed that social media would strengthen democracy by allowing people to have a say and freely share information. This year proved that they were wrong. To a large extent, social media have become a source of misinformation, not information. Instead of strengthening public debate, they poisoned it with lies and inflammatory language. Instead of being the harbour of free speech, online-based platforms became the amplifiers of hate.

    During the US presidential election, for the first time in history, fake news outpaced real news in terms of public engagement. More voters were exposed to lies than to the truth. Millions of voters were given a false picture of events. It would be foolish to think that this did not influence their voting decisions. In the last century, when new, revolutionary media appeared – the radio and later the TV – democracies decided to regulate them.

    Democratic oversight and independent regulatory bodies were established. Laws were enacted to protect the impartiality and truthfulness of the broadcast. Like the printed press, the radio and the TV broadcasters were legally responsible for the content they aired. In case of online-based social media, no such regulations exist. We urgently need to think how to fill this void.

    Identity matters

    Dr. Žiga Turk, 

    Professor, University of Ljubljana

    The message from the success of Brexit, Trump and some so-called populist movements in Europe is that identity matters. Identity matters, as particularly the US elections demonstrated, not only the minority identities of Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Gays, feminists, etc. Majority identity matters.

    The scientific explanation comes from Moral Foundations Theory. It claims that people – voters included – often decide intuitively and not necessarily rationally. We base our intuitive decisions on six different moral foundations: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. The progressives are generally associated with the first three of the six foundations. Conservatives, in addition, are associated with the foundations of loyalty, authority and sanctity as well.

    In his campaign Trump successfully addressed the loyalty to America and the need for authority in American leadership. Meanwhile, his running mate Mike Pence covered the issue of sanctity of American Christians.

    This is perfectly illustrated in a post-electoral tweet of Mr. Trump, addressed to protesters rioting against him: ‘Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one God saluting one flag. To those of us immersed in political correctness this sounds almost like ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’. But Trump’s message is just a warning of what happens if the centrist democratic politicians fail to base their policies firmly on the entire spectrum of people’s moral foundations.

    The values of the liberal world order are not only democracy, freedom, respect of law and respect of people regardless of their origin, the colour of their skin, their religion, gender, sexual orientation or their political beliefs. Our common values also include loyalty to our culture, love for our homeland and respect of our traditions and religions.

    It is the unique task of conservatives in general and the EPP in particular to bring those values back into the liberal world order in a positive and constructive way. The socialists and the liberals will not accomplish this because they lack intuitive understanding of it. If the EPP does not do it, someone else will. And then it will not be benign.

    This balance of values is a unique contribution for preserving the world as we know it, a contribution that only the EPP can and therefore should make.

    WMCES Editor Brexit Centre-Right Elections EU Member States EU-US Values

    WMCES Editor

    Brexit and Trump: lessons for the centre-right


    30 Nov 2016

  • Most analyses of the Brexit vote agree that immigration played a major role in the outcome of the referendum. What is interesting is that, next to extra-European immigration, the British debate was equally (if not more) preoccupied with intra-EU mobility – EU citizens coming to the UK to live and work.

    What can mainstream politicians in Europe learn from the British debate and the ways mobility is instrumentalised by Eurosceptics?

    Populist parties have already tried to politicise intra-EU mobility in Italy and the Netherlands, and are expected to do so more pronouncedly in France and Austria.

    In these (and other) old member-states, mainstream parties – especially of the centre-right – seem tempted to address free movement as a problem in need of reform. Brexit seems to send the message that this is necessary, lest populists take advantage of popular frustrations.

    I believe that the lesson from the UK referendum is exactly the opposite. By accepting the politicisation of free movement, mainstream parties play upon the populists’ strategy to merge their two staple issues, immigration and Europe, and present exit from the EU as a solution to immigration.

    The rise and fall of David Cameron should be a cautionary tale about tampering with intra-EU mobility, even if addressing external immigration is something centre-right parties should do.

    The story begins with David Cameron’s pre-electoral promise in 2010 to reduce net immigration to the UK to the ‘tens of thousands’, a promise that came back to haunt him. Given that almost half of that net immigration is made up of EU citizens, it was inevitable that EU free movement would acquire political importance.

    In the years between Cameron’s entry to power and the calling of the referendum, UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories raised the issue of benefits for EU migrants. In 2015 traditional fears with external immigration became entangled with the EU due to the refugee crisis. The Eurosceptic press reproduced ad nauseam images from Calais and explicitly linked them with EU membership.

    In response to the social benefits controversy, Cameron made free movement a key aspect of his renegotiation package with the EU in 2013. In the 2015 parliamentary election campaign his implicit promise was that the threat of the referendum would extract concessions from the EU to curtail immigration from the EU. Ultimately Cameron secured mild changes in his deal with the EU that were predictably decried by the Eurosceptic right as too weak to dissuade free movement.

    A few months before the renegotiation deal, Cameron had pledged to accept 20000 Syrian refugees, thus intensifying popular concerns that EU membership meant deeper entanglement of the UK in Europe’s refugee woes.

    If it is true that Cameron decided to accept Syrian refugees in order to placate Angela Merkel and other Europeans to get a better deal on UK membership, it becomes obvious what kind of mess he had dug himself in with regards to mobility.

    In this context, the potential for Eurosceptics to mutualise hostility towards the EU and fear of immigration in the referendum campaign was infinite. Tory Leavers claimed that with European migration reduced the UK could attract more people from the Commonwealth.

    Brexiteers of the right and of the left exploited the frustrations of working class people, including many of ethnic background, by promising that reduced immigration from Europe would lighten the burden on public services.

    And the populist right could for the first time sound practical when speaking about immigration. The solution was obvious and handy: leave the EU.

    What does this mean for the rest of Europe? In the UK, an already difficult situation became impossible when mainstream politicians accepted that EU free movement is a subset of immigration and the sociocultural concerns usually associated with it.

    The message to mainstream, and especially centre-right, politicians elsewhere in Europe is that, even if free movement does pose some practical problems, tampering with it offers very few immediate gains and many long-term risks.

    For parties that campaign in favour of European integration, nitpicking on the EU legal edifice undermines their credibility. Accepting that ‘something must be done’ about free movement allows populists to present exit from the EU as a magic bullet that can solve immigration.

    Calling for reform of free movement politicises and securitises internal borders, while what the EU should be aiming for is strengthening internal unity by building a more secure external border.

    Pro-EU parties must delegitimise and neutralise any effort by populists to politicise intra-EU mobility and free movement. Free movement and extra-EU immigration must be presented as two very different things.

    Mainstream parties must respond to popular concerns about immigration and security by stressing the need to defend and safeguard the external European border. Strengthening internal borders is inconsistent with effective management of extra-EU immigration because the latter can be effectively handled only if European states cooperate with each other.

    The EU is currently perceived as too porous externally and this strengthens the instinct to retrench behind stronger national borders. But solidarity and identity in political systems is created only when there is closure externally and openness internally.

    Pro-EU politicians must focus on making the EU external border safer. This is no easy task, but trying to score political points by talking about free movement as ‘immigration’ and by renationalising internal borders is naïve and dangerous.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit Centre-Right EU Member States Euroscepticism Immigration

    Angelos Chryssogelos

    Confusing immigration and free movement: lessons from the Brexit case


    26 Jul 2016

  • Everyone has the feeling that the UK referendum on EU membership was more than just merely a referendum. In search of the way out from what is now seen by many as a disaster, possible scenarios have been become blurred amid diverse and sometimes wild speculations, including the reversal of an actual Brexit process, dismantling the EU via ‘referenda spill-over’ by political extremists, equipping NATO with a new ‘European role’, among a multitude of other prospects.

    Still, one thing is clear – the referendum has already profoundly affected the world’s political landscape, including that of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, which are analysed much less in relation to the mess created by a potential Brexit. So how has the referendum influenced developments in EaP countries Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia?

    First, the EU now even more dominated by the rather asymmetric German-French leadership will most probably demonstrate more caution regarding any radical change of the status quo. It will have less enthusiasm on enlargement and greater engagement with the Eastern neighbourhood. Populists play not only with the fear of migration, but also enlargement.

    Furthermore, the new security strategy of the EU simply pays lip service to the notion of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). An astute eye can see in this that the Union has given up on the application of its transformative and democratising effort, and instead opts to increasingly rely on the resilience of the EaP countries. In other words – they have to take care of themselves.

    Second, despite Putin’s denial that he had nothing to do with the results of the Brexit referendum, hardly accepted for face value by anyone after so many lies and deceptions, there is little doubt that, whether genuine or opportunist, Russophiles gloated over the referendum’s outcome. The leverage of pro-Russian forces is also expected to rise in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, as the EU’s soft power is weakened.

    In the case of Georgia this would also mean the strengthening of pro-Russian parties, for Ukraine this would mean strong disappointment on part of the public who would realise there is now even less probability of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement, not to mention the return of Crimea; Moldova most probably will intensify its ‘normalisation’ process with Russia in reality leading to rapprochement, as the country is in urgent need of financial support.

    Third, Britain’s departure will not be a zero-sum game but will mean an essential economic loss for both the EU and the UK. Financial resources at the disposal of the EU will diminish, therefore the Union will have to reconsider the scale of financial support to the EaP countries. The remaining 27 countries will be more cautious if not parsimonious in spending money for such programmes, and sooner or later EU development cooperation instruments for the EaP will be revisited and revised, although most probably not towards an increase.

    Fourth – the security of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will become an issue. Brexit implies the loss of EU credibility in particular in the eyes of its neighbourhood, but also the reduction of its influence and leverage. Therefore a feeling of insecurity will rise among these EaP countries, which host an unfortunate burden of frozen conflicts, such as Transnistria (Moldovan territory – a self-declared state at the Ukrainian border), Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgian territories occupied and recognised by Russia) and Crimea – relatively new but not the final adventure of Russia.

    On all these conflicts where Russia has her grip, this is expected now to tighten further, in addition to testing NATO’s vulnerable points and resolve in other places.

    Finally, the Brexit referendum has put a big question mark on the political rationale and attractiveness of democratic transition and the Europeanisation process in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The rivalry between the modernisers still believing in the European model, and the traditionalists and pro-Russian reactionaries pointing toward the failure of the European project, might turn dangerous.

    However, in the case of the three EaP countries the situation may become even worse due to the deeply rooted mistrust toward the political class and massive anti-western propaganda that has now gained the new fodder with the Brexit.

    While being in the middle of democratic transition, if they feel that the EU has given up on its transformative power and withdrawn, this may unleash an unhappy scenario when Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia might find themselves abandoned in the ‘middle of nowhere’, while under the permanent threat and pressure for the resurgent and increasingly imperialist Russia.

    To sum up, the Brexit scenario, even before it happens, may damage and hurt the three aspiring pro-western states in the Eastern Neighbourhood, leaving them more insecure, with less support, and even worse, with less public enthusiasm to continue to move along the path of Europeanisation.

    This will have a rather negative impact on both their internal policies in these countries, weakening the appeal of democratic, free-market, European model of development, and on the other hand, on their foreign policies, as they will have to look for ways of how to deal with the existential threats emanating from Russia.

    The only hope is that on one hand a reformed EU will still care to help its eastern neighbours; and on the other, that the US and NATO, as well as the UK (whether within or without of the EU) will do their best to compensate for potential losses in terms of support and security.

    Teona Lavrelashvili Brexit Eastern Europe Enlargement Neighbourhood Policy

    Teona Lavrelashvili

    Brexit: five ways it might affect the Eastern Partnership countries


    12 Jul 2016

  • The result of the UK’s EU referendum has provided impetus for European political parties to rethink their communication strategies.

    The referendum result came as a shock here in Brussels because many of us in the Remain camp probably couldn’t name a single individual who would have voted for Leave. By the same logic, there are likely communities in England I could visit to become the only Remainer in the village.

    Once upon a time, in the days before Facebook, we revelled in finding like-minded souls.

    It was the British novelist CS Lewis who quipped that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one”. Today, however, it has never been easier to connect with people with whom you share common ground.

    In the internet age, we are surrounded by like-minded people. We tweet into echo-chambers, we take selfies to ‘get likes’ or we delete the posts if we don’t. We’re increasingly surrounded by Yes Men and Women and we’re unconsciously isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.

    As we reverberate in the Brexit aftershock, when we find ourselves asking ‘how did this happen?’ or ‘who voted to Leave?’ it is my opinion that we actually need to ask ourselves why didn’t we see this coming?

    Enabled by over-sharing, algorithms and trending topics, the echo-chamber as a concept is flourishing.

    To sum it up, it involves like-minded people sharing like-minded views and circulating contentedly and uninterrupted in like-minded circles. Whether espousing moderate centre-right values or advocating for attributes found elsewhere on the political spectrum, as we scroll through our social media feeds, in search of ‘likes’ or distributing themwe find ourselves increasingly unable to distinguish like from maybe too alike.

    The UK referendum, in this regard, is a wake-up call. Populist ideas must be addressed and this has to be done not with a giant POPULIST rubber stamp aimed at silencing the conversation, but by listening to the concerns of voters and effectively communicating the positive value of the European project.

    By virtue of the very nature of our echo-chambered existence, most of the people reading this blog will probably agree with me. That’s all well and good but ultimately we should seek to employ the echo-chamber to our advantage. There are two things we need to do. The first is instrumental in achieving the second. We need to utilise the circular nature of the echo-chamber in which we revolve to remind ourselves of the following message;

    The European construction is exactly that, a construct, and it is ours to build. The remaining 27 member states, their political parties, and our political family in particular, are under no obligation to subscribe to the British motto of Keep Calm and Carry On and to shrug our shoulders in the difficult discussions which will soon take place on the future of Europe and the need for reform. We do not need to ‘take back control’ because we already wield it but we do need to utilise it to strive for the Better Europe called for by Commission President Juncker.

    Once we have realised this, and structured our vision for an EU of 27, we need to break the sound barrier and defy the limits of the echo-chamber. This will involve sensible, sensitive discussion and debate. It is the role of everyone from think-tanks and political parties to ordinary citizens to recognise that we do not exist in a vacuum and that the opinions and ideas of others are to be listened to with respect because they serve to better inform us about Europe and our world.

    At the individual level, it is easy to break out of the echo-chamber. You can follow those whom you sometimes disagree with on Twitter or pick-up a newspaper different to your regular Sunday read. For political parties and think-tanks, it’s slightly more nuanced. A balance has to be found in order to avoid preaching, propaganda, or worse again, spam.

    Communication strategies have to be clever, they need to adapt to new media, embracing visuals, videos and Vines. There’s nothing to say a political party can’t SnapChat or Boomerang either. Aside from adding madness to the method, it is content that remains key. Twitter has grown its empire on the intrinsically human art of storytelling. Today more than ever people are hungry for narratives. Political think-tanks can offer genuine, credible narratives – not only about how we would like our world to be, but also about how it can be achieved. Reaching out to citizens beyond traditional circles can help to create a healthy diversity of narratives on the future of Europe.

    The European project has suffered from preaching to the converted for a little too long. Looking forward, the only ‘–exit’ on the horizon should be from the problematic depths of the politically divided echo-chambers. It is imperative that we create one inclusive conversation on the EU, unless we wish to succumb to the same fate of self-interest and repetitiveness that ultimately saw the end of Narcissus, and his estranged lover, Echo.

    Erica Lee Brexit Democracy Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union

    Erica Lee

    The Brexit Echo: how to break the “echo-chamber” effect in political communication


    06 Jul 2016

  • One of the questions frequently raised after the devastating Brexit vote is on the consequences for the relations between the West and Russia. Vladimir Putin must clearly benefit from the loosening ties between Western powers and the disarray now evident in Europe’s own house.

    The situation, however, is not as simple as it may seem, and this new dawn delivers new opportunities for the united European project, which were previously unheard of.

    First of all, something that’s evident for most, except the 17 million British who voted “Leave”, Britain will face dire economic consequences. The nation’s trade deficit is at a record high, and about two thirds of it comes from trade with the EU. UK businesses face huge losses from changes in trade rules

    Apart from economics, there’s politics: let’s not rush to make judgments as to whether Scotland, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar may really leave the UK, but there are clear cracks emerging in the British empire with the EU acting as a major center of gravity. It’s quite clear that the “Leave” camp has problems both with its leadership and with viable agenda going forward. The ruling UK conservative party is divided on the Brexit issue. By the time the Conservative party chooses a new Prime Minister in October, the country may well have spiralled into a political mess.

    The EU should waste no time in utilising this as a case in point for all the Eurosceptics: a sort of ‘look what happens when you quit’. This is where you’re heading.. The alternative: an incomparably successful project that brought so much freedom, prosperity, market integration and opportunities to its people. The European Union.

    As a pro-European outsider, I can’t help but express my regret that EU is so “undersold” globally as a success story. The EU is always portrayed as a bunch of boring bureaucrats who “were never elected” but always want to regulate everything. As a matter of fact, it’s the contrary: EU leaders are elected directly by the European Parliament in a more democratic manner that a lot of European Governments are.

    In recent years, the EU has undertaken a globally unprecedented effort to create a common space of freedom, market integration and liberalisation. Contrary to claims by those who label Eurocrats as people thirsty to regulate everything, it was Brussels which pushed forward liberalisation, meeting resistance from national governments and elites (The third energy package is just one example, and it works.). However, Brussels clearly has an image problem, which has been played against itself in the UK campaign, and which should be fixed.

    If a United Europe succeeds in seizing the momentum of this opportunity that has opened after the UK referendum, then it has a chance to strengthen the joint European project and take it to new heights. And this challenge in itself is good: Europe rested long enough on the comfortable remains of the Berlin Wall, which is already history – new times are coming.

    However, if the EU fails, and the momentum is seized by Eurosceptics – that’s when the global retrograde movement represented by Vladimir Putin and others will truly win. Make no mistake: Putin leads a systemic anti-European revisionist project (and he has a name for it: Eurasianism) whose aim is to dismantle democratic institutions and market freedoms wherever possible. These have already been dismantled in Eurasia, territory under Putin’s influence, and Ukraine, in this case, is just one of the battlegrounds, where people stood against being trampled under Putin’s feet.

    If the EU weakens as a result of the UK referendum, Putin will have a much greater space in which to operate – diminished Western unity against Putin’s neo-autocratic offensive at Europe’s Eastern frontiers, emerging “illiberal democracies” replacing yesterday’s democratic states, divided nations, markets, etc. – all left for the taking by that rising non-democratic force in the East.

    Despite Putin gaining tactical success, this now lies in the hands of Europe – it shall reassure those who want to resist the advance of resurgent authoritarianism and XIX century politics. Brexit, in this regard, is not only a challenge – it also offers a lot of opportunity to strengthen the united European project and push back Euroscepticism. It will require good leadership and a great deal of saving face, but let’s not waste this opportunity.

    Vladimir Milov Brexit EU-Russia Euroscepticism

    Vladimir Milov

    Brexit: consequences for the relations between the West and Russia


    04 Jul 2016

  • Ireland (that is the Republic of Ireland) is a small open economy that attracts investment and trades with countries from around the world. It is a pro-European, Anglo-Saxon economy with strong US influences. Ask most Irish people if they are more comfortable in Boston or Berlin, in Perth or Paris and the overwhelming response will be a recognition of Ireland’s positon within the wider “Anglo-sphere”. 

    Irish people tend not to understand how economies can even function with personal tax rates exceeding 50% of relatively low incomes. Irish people also don’t understand how some other EU member states seem to fear non-EU investment or are slow to realise the benefits of attracting workers from all over the world. As a small country dominated by your larger neighbour you learn to look outward at the possibilities on offer, rather than always seeking to protect old historical legacies.

    For Ireland, Britain leaving the EU is a disaster. Politically, economically, culturally and socially. Since 1973, both Britain and Ireland have used EU membership to grow a peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland, to remove borders and increase trade. Ireland could never enter Schengen without Britain, our Common Travel Area with the UK predates membership of the EU and indeed the declaration of a republic in 1948. 

    Ireland’s current close relationship with Britain seems far removed from a relationship that for centuries was dictated by violence and bigotry. It is in this context that the position of the main unionist party in Northern Ireland supporting Brexit should be viewed with concern and despair. As should nationalist calls for a referendum on Irish reunification.

    The Anglo-Irish relationship in 2016 is about much more than trade or jobs or passport checks.  It is about reconciling a bloody (and often despicable) past within the framework of European integration.  With Britain out of the EU, Ireland’s view towards Europe will change. Ireland’s view must change.

    “For Ireland, Britain leaving the EU is a disaster. Politically, economically, culturally and socially.”

    In the short to medium term, the Irish government must press both EU members and the British government for special arrangements that reflect the interlinked nature of the Irish and British economies, both economically and politically. For Ireland, the advantages (or in previous times, the disadvantages) of proximity to Britain reflect not just economic priorities, but the cultural and social closeness of their development within the British Isles.

    For Ireland, the approach to further European integration must be balanced by a consideration of the relationship with Britain. In a sense, the Irish view of Brussels must become more nuanced and more challenging of how any further proposals will impact upon shared Anglo-Irish priorities. 

    Ireland must seek to become a bridge between the EU and a non-EU Britain.  A bridge which could (and should) be utilised by the European Union in the coming negotiations in order to seek the most amicable and beneficial new settlement for all parties. Anything else will draw into doubt the very real achievements of the last four decades of EU membership

    The Irish have a complicated relationship with the English. Unlike the relationship with the Scots or the Welsh, with the English the commonalities are harder to find, although cultural and social familiarities remains the same.  History can be a slow beast to retreat into the shadows. Now is not the time to give up this fight.

    Eoin Drea Brexit EU Member States European Union

    Eoin Drea

    Why Brexit changes everything for Ireland


    28 Jun 2016

  • Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, the first step has to be taken by the UK Government. It must decide what sort of relationship it wants to have, trade wise, with the rest of the world. At the moment, that is governed by agreements negotiated for the UK by the EU.

    If the UK simply leaves the EU, all those agreements will fall, as does UK membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Agreements with dozens of non EU countries will have to be negotiated again, at the same time as negotiating  with the EU. A lot of work.

    Basically the UK government will have to choose between three options: 

    1. Leave the EU and, like Norway, apply to join the European Economic Area (EEA)
    2. Negotiate a new special trade agreement, like the agreement Canada or Switzerland have with the EU
    3. Leave the EU without any trade agreement and apply, as a separate country, to join the WTO

    The EEA option

    The EEA option could be put in place quickly and would not disrupt trade all that much. The EEA is a readymade model for external association by a non member with the EU. It could be taken down from the shelf, so to speak.  But, as an EEA member, the UK would still have to implement EU regulations and contribute to the EU budget. It would not allow curbs on EU immigration. The EEA option has been dismissed by “Leave“ campaigners, but it does involve leaving the EU, and complies  with the literal terms of the  referendum decision.

    If the UK experiences severe balance of payments problems over the summer, the EEA option may become attractive. The UK already has a big balance of payments deficit anyway and capital inflows may be inhibited by the Leave vote. The EEA option would buy time, and would not preclude leaving altogether eventually.

    The trade agreement option

    The second option, a special trade deal, would be much more difficult. It would require a detailed negotiation on every type of product or service sale between the UK and the 27 member countries of the EU, including across our border.

    Such an agreement would take years to negotiate (probably 7 or 8 years), because it would be subject to domestic political constraints, and political blackmail attempts, in all EU countries, each of whom would have to ratify it. If it proposed curbs on immigration from the EU, the EU countries affected  would make difficulties with other aspects of the deal, as a bargaining counter.

    It is unlikely that a Trade Agreement would allow the UK to sell financial services into the EU. Indeed it would be in the interest of EU countries, that might hope to attract financial services, to make sure the UK got few concessions .

    Leave without any deal

    The third option, leaving the EU with no agreement, could come about, either because that was what the UK chose, or because the negotiations on a special trade deal broke down or were not ratified by one or two EU states. It would require the application of the EU common external tariff to UK or Northern Irish products crossing the border into the Republic.

    Average EU tariffs are around 4%, but on agricultural goods the mean tariff is 18%. The imposition of these tariffs is a key part of the Common Agricultural Policy, which protects the incomes of EU farmers. We would have no option but collect them at customs posts along our border. All forms of food manufacture and distribution within the two islands would be disrupted.

    The disruption of the complex supply chain of the modern food industry would be dramatic and the knock on effects impossible to calculate. A similar effect might be felt by the car parts industry, which is subject to tariffs, and is important to some parts of England.

    The EU response: more EU democracy

    Meanwhile the remaining 27 countries of the EU, and the EU institutions, will have a lot of thinking to do too. They need to respond decisivly to the (false) claim that the EU is not democratic.

    All EU legislation has to be passed by a democratically elected European Parliament, and also by a Council of Ministers who represent the democratically elected governments of the 28 EU countries. The members of the European Commission must be approved by the democratically elected European Parliament.

    But there is room to further improve  EU democracy. I would make two suggestions: 

    1. The President of the European Commission should be directly elected by the people of the EU in a two round election, at the same time as the European Parliament Elections every 5 years
    2. To create a closer link between national parliaments and the EU, a minimum of nine national parliaments agreeing should be sufficient to require the Commission to put forward a proposal on a topic allowed by the EU Treaties. National Parliaments can already delay EU legislation, so they should be free to make positive proposals too. This would give them an active interest in the potential of EU action to improve lives.

    Stop pretending the EU can do the job of member states

    That said, the EU should avoid over promising, and should not allow itself to be blamed for all the problems people face in their daily lives. The EU is not an all powerful monolith that can solve the problems caused by technological change and globalisation. It is just a loose voluntary confederation of 28 countries, with no tax raising powers of its own. Nor is the EU responsible for debts mistakenly taken on by its members.

    If the losers of globalisation and technological change are to be sheltered from misfortune, it is the 27 states, not the EU itself, that have the taxing power to redistribute money and opportunities from the winners of globalisation to the losers.  If member states fail to do so, that is their responsibility, not that of the EU.

    The UK has not been particularly generous in this regard. Its welfare system is modest, and its investment in productivity improvement has been poor. In some respects, UK voters  have just mistakenly blamed  the EU. for the effects of the  omissions, and under performance, of successive UK governments.

    The difference between the two Unions exposed

    The fact that English votes could take Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the EU, against their will, highlights the different natures of  the UK and European Unions. In the EU Union, each nation has a veto on major constitutional changes. In the UK Union, they do not.

    John Bruton Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism

    John Bruton

    Now what? Post-Brexit trade scenarios for the UK


    27 Jun 2016

  • As the shock waves continue to pass through Europe following the UK referendum, it is easy to draw a long list of mistakes that UK leading politicians have made. It is equally simple for continental Europeans to place the blame solely on the British and shake their heads at the referendum results.

    Already before the referendum, there was a school of thought within the EU that if Brexit happened, the separation should be as painful as possible in able to make sure that no other member states would follow suit. The more isolated the UK would be, the better it would be for European unity, or so the logic goes. However great the temptation towards an angry response, to punch back even, is, it will not help Europe or the EU – nor is it justified.

    First of all, the dynamics that led to the disappointing result of UK referendum exist in other EU member states. In fact, there is no guarantee as to how other member states would vote if they held similar referenda. The UK referendum result is mainly a responsibility for UK politicians, but obviously EU leaders and all of us working in promotion of the positive European development have a fair share of responsibility of not being able to show the EU for what it is – a necessity for our continent.

    Secondly, even with a strong desire from both the UK and EU sides to have as smooth negotiations as possible, the negotiations will not be easy. The two year timetable set for the completion of an exit is extremely short by any standards. Both in the EU and the UK only general emergency plans were made in case of Brexit, but detailed plans are yet to emerge.

    In other words, the challenge today is that we don’t even know all the challenges. 27 member states promoting their individual set of interests and the UK trying to guarantee the best possible deal while undoing 42 years of institutional cooperation will be a painful experience for everybody, even without additional hostility from the EU side.

    As a third point of consideration, despite the UK referendum result, the UK is an essential part of the western world and will stay that way. We should not forget that 48.1 % of the UK voters voted in favour of staying in the EU, despite the brutal campaign of misinformation and, at times, plain lies. Reading the text of UK citizens in social media and the articles and op-eds of journalists one understands that very large proportion of UK citizens are not only disappointed or sad, but heartbroken by the direction their country has taken.

    “Already before the referendum there was a school of thought within the EU that if Brexit happened, the separation should be as painful as possible in able to make sure that no other member states would follow suit.”

    Young people in the UK reacted to the referendum results with deep disappointment. Among citizens 50 years old and under, the Remain option had clear overwhelming support and among 18-24 years old 75%  of voters were in support of staying in the EU. The generational divide is evident. Should the UK referendum have taken place ten years later, the Remain side could have had a clear victory.

    A very large part of UK sees the importance of European unity, globalisation and openness. That part of the population is an important part of the future make-up of Europe, even if for a couple of years the relation between the UK and the EU will be reflected by this referendum result.

    The UK voters have decided the course of their country and we will respect the results. In consequence, we will conduct the exit negotiations with the UK aiming for the most advantageous result for the EU and its 27 member states. In this negotiation, the UK will be considered as an external 3rd country.

    However, when those negotiations are over, our goal needs to be to enhance and strengthen the relations with the UK as much as we can, because the values UK holds dear are still the same as those of the 27 member states. We should not discard decades of friendship and trust just because of one unfortunate referendum. 

    Tomi Huhtanen Brexit EU Member States European Union Leadership Trade

    Tomi Huhtanen

    Brexit: Revenge on the British will not help Europe


    27 Jun 2016

  • Brexit is still viewed in Europe as part of the populist revolt that swept much of the world in the last decade; a decade symbolised most clearly by Donald Trump’s victory in the US, months after the EU referendum in the UK. But while Trump’s (preliminary) defeat and the relatively orderly departure of the UK have allayed fears that English-speaking democracies could become hotbeds of right-populist destabilisation of the European project, a new crop of leftist identity politics in Britain poses a more insidious danger for the legitimacy and standing of the EU.

    Brexit Centre-Right Populism

    Why Brexit Britain is a Threat to the EU From the Left, not the Right


    11 Jan 2022

  • This paper sets out how Brexit is pushing the UK towards aligning more closely with the rest of Europe in its politics, society, economics and international position. This is the result of longrunning trends coupled with the political tumult created by the 2016 referendum and the effects of the negotiations that followed. The emergence of pro-Europeanism as a political force is one of the most important and obvious changes.

    Brexit has also confronted the British with several realities about the UK’s economy, society and place in the world that show it to be more European than many will have recognised. In addition, the process of withdrawal has exposed the decentralisation and fragmentation of the formerly exceptionally unitary UK state that began in the 1990s, with tensions emerging from Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to remain while England (with the exception of London) and Wales voted to leave.

    However, none of this should be taken to mean that divergence from Europe will not happen or be sought, or that the British people will eventually vote to rejoin.


    Making a More European Britain: The Political, Economic and Societal Impacts of Brexit

    Research Papers

    10 Mar 2020

  • The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy was launched in 1998 as a quest for ‘autonomy’. The EU sought the capacity to stabilise its volatile neighbourhood without undue reliance on the US. Almost two decades of efforts have failed to deliver on that objective. But as EU leaders, post-Brexit, re-launch the Common Security and Defence Policy, as the 2016 European Global Strategy rediscovers the virtues of ‘strategic autonomy’, and as the world juggles with a US president who appears to question the very bases of the Atlantic Alliance, it is time to radically re-think the relations between the EU and NATO.

    This paper argues that, in the longer term, it is through strengthening the EU–NATO relationship, rather than by focusing on defence initiatives undertaken by the Union alone, that EU strategic autonomy will become possible. This will, at the same time, consolidate rather than weaken the transatlantic bond.

    Brexit Defence Foreign Policy Security Transatlantic

    Strategic Autonomy: Why It’s Not About Europe Going it Alone

    Research Papers

    08 Aug 2019

  • For those seeking to understand the debate in Britain about leaving the EU, it is important to understand that history—or rather a certain Eurosceptic Tory interpretation of British and Imperial history—played a key role in building and sustaining the momentum for Brexit, both during and after the 2016 referendum. In this context, the process of Britain leaving the EU can be seen as the triumph of a misrepresented and selective view of British Imperial history and an unbending view of the primacy of the nation state. This narrative was combined (quite quickly and unpredictably) with a rise in economic nationalism and populism stimulated by the global economic crisis that commenced in 2007. This combination, in turn, challenged long-established political norms such as Britain’s membership of the EU. These were challenges that were largely based on a mutated form of British declinism and a fatalist view of the EU.

    Ultimately, this paper concludes that it is not in the interests of Brussels that Britain should either seek to remain (or gain re-admittance in the future) as a full member of the EU. Rather, Britain’s historical self-conception is more conducive to a looser, yet clearly defined relationship with Brussels, based on shared political, economic and security interests. Such an arrangement—a bespoke Anglo-Continental compact—is more consistent with Britain’s political realities and accepted historical narratives. It will also better preserve the integrity of the EU’s internal cohesiveness, which since 2016 has become unavoidably intertwined with Britain’s search for relevance in this post-colonial age.

    Brexit Economy EU Member States Euroscepticism Macroeconomics

    The Empire Strikes Back: Brexit, History and the Decline of Global Britain

    Research Papers

    12 Mar 2019

  • A no deal outcome to the Brexit saga has become increasingly likely because prime minister May has decided that her priority is to avoid a split in the conservative party. She has calculated that, if she tried to get her deal through with mainsteam labour support – her conservative party would break up. She would lose 50 to 100 members of parliament and cease to be prime minister.  She is trying instead to win over individual labour members by promising spending in their constituencies, a desperate tactic that corrupts the political system.

    Brexit EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties

    Catharsis, not compromise, is what Brexiteers want


    01 Mar 2019

  • The ‘known known’ in the basket of uncertainties that is Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is the intention of the Commission’s negotiating team to maintain the integrity of the four freedoms. On the British side the objective is to enjoy some of the benefits accruing from its EU membership, whilst at the same time seeking to fulfil the democratic mandate to leave the EU conferred by the referendum verdict.

    In large part the withdrawal negotiations that ensued after the British Government invoked Article 50 have been a contest between these quite different, indeed conflicting, mandates. Both sides, each from its own standpoint, have offered quite different solutions to the conundrum of the Irish border. With Brexit day fast approaching, this singular issue has become a proxy for the altogether wider question of future EU–UK relations.

    At the time of writing, the entire sweep of these tense negotiations is concentrated on resolving the ‘Irish Question’—without success until finally a ‘technical’ agreement’ was reached by the negotiators. Whether this ‘solution’ will survive resistance from arch-Brexiteers remains to be seen.

    Brexit EU Member States European Union Integration Leadership

    Brexit and the Irish question, Part Three: Solving the Border Conundrum?


    14 Nov 2018

  • Since 1998 the Irish border has become invisible, more conduit than barrier between Ireland North and South and at every level. Cross-border trade has expanded exponentially and increasing civic engagement is both entrenching and normalizing the peace process on both sides. The border region is slowly but surely becoming as much a shared civic and political, as a merely functional or economic space. The prospect of a reinstated border threatens that endeavor, concentrating minds in both communities, in government and in Brussels about the malign consequences of what seems to most observers to be an entirely retrograde move.

    In these uncertain times, the likelihood is that the significantly altered status of the post-Brexit border will have far-reaching and mostly negative consequences for future relations on the island of Ireland, and at every level. Brexit threatens a fundamental reversal of a tentative yet tangible peace process, a fundamental downshift in political, commercial and civic relations that means North-South co-operation cannot continue on present terms. Certainly not, if as seems likely, quite different economic and regulatory arrangements will pertain in the island’s respective political jurisdictions, a fact that will become even more conspicuous with a reinstated and formal border.

    Brexit EU Member States Leadership

    Brexit and the Irish question, part two: Brexit’s unintended consequences. Five key challenges


    09 Oct 2018

  • The outcome of the 2016 British referendum on EU membership will have significant and lasting consequences. For the United Kingdom and its relations with European neighbours, for the constitutional fabric of the British State and for the EU at a time of uncertainty over the future of the European project. The consequences of this decision will have no greater impact however than on the still-fragile peace process known as the ‘Good Friday’ or Belfast Agreement, negotiated  in  1998  by  parties  representing  Northern  Ireland’s principal cultural communities and the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This historic event brought to an end decades of political violence and centuries of sectarian bitterness, or so it was thought at the time. Brexit has thrown into doubt the future of that peace process.

    Brexit Elections EU Member States Leadership

    Brexit and the Irish question, Part one: Ireland’s Slow Road to Peace


    20 Sep 2018

  • On the eve of the invocation of Article 50, this policy brief disentangles the main components of the Brexit imbroglio and lays out the legal framework and political constraints of the negotiations that are about to start. It assesses the reversibility of Brexit, the likely duration and possible outcomes of the negotiations, the legal options for the transition period, and the probable impact of Brexit on the EU27 in general and Central Europe in particular.

    Because of the UK’s size, economic weight  and  political  clout,  as  well  as  its  peculiar  historical  background,  it  concludes that the new EU–UK relationship cannot be based on one of the existing ‘models’ of external arrangements. The new partnership between the UK and the EU27 will have to go beyond even the most comprehensive free-trade agreement and it should also include finance, energy and external economic policies, as well as covering foreign policy, security and defence.

    The author emphasises that any weakening of the free movement of persons as a result of the negotiations would be  a  serious  violation  of  the  essential  constitutional  principles  upon  which  the EU is built, and could damage the foundations of European integration. The brief considers managing internal differentiation without creating permanent divisions among groups of countries as the most important challenge ahead for the EU27. 

    It also argues  that, with  Brexit, Central Europeans will lose a powerful ally on many economic and constitutional issues, although their economic and geopolitical weight will be on the rise in the new EU27.

    Brexit Economy EU Member States European Union Trade

    Brexit. Brexit?

    Policy Briefs

    15 Mar 2017

  • The debate surrounding a potential BREXIT has largely focused on the costs and disadvantages for Britain of making such a move. However, Britain leaving the EU would also alter the strengths and profile of the European Union. Britain is the EU’s second largest economy, a significant net contributor to the EU budget, hosts Europe’s only global financial centre and is an important driver of single market reform on the European stage. 

    In her absence, the EU will lose a key proponent of the market economy and free trade as drivers of economic growth and prosperity.  In this context, while BREXIT would be a catastrophe for Britain, it would also, as this INFOCUS identifies, fundamentally change the profile and focus of the EU. 

    The ongoing debate over BREXIT symbolises Britain’s detachment from Brussels based European affairs, a process hastened by the economic crisis of recent years. From a London perspective, long term doubts over the viability of the Euro have been reinforced by the depth of Britain’s economic recovery (relative to the Euro zone) and by the EU’s rule based approach to furthering economic governance.

    This detachment is physically apparent across the EU’s institutions. Although currently accounting for over 12% of the EU’s total population the proportion of British nationals employed in policy influencing roles in the European Commission has declined to just 5.3% in 2014. Less than 3% of all applicants taking the EU civil service exam (the concours) were British in recent years.2 In a wider context, Britain leaving the EU (and the uncertainty over the exact nature of the future relationship) poses a number of significant challenges for Brussels based policymakers.

    IN FOCUS is a new series of commentaries in which the Martens Centre looks closely at current policy topics, dissects the available evidence and challenges prevailing opinions.

    Brexit Economy EU Member States Macroeconomics

    BREXIT: Six ways it will fundamentally change the EU


    26 Jun 2015

  • The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Initiative is the bridge which connects Europe to the countries in its eastern neighbourhood. Those countries were left out of the cycle of peaceful development, which the European project brought to the continent following the Second World War. It aspires to transform these countries into more democratic and prosperous societies. Over the last five years, the EaP has achieved more in some partner countries than in others. Structural policy weaknesses and different socio-economic realities of the partner states notwithstanding, the main challenge to the success of the EaP has come from Russia, which chose to view this policy as a zero-sum game for geopolitical dominance in its shared neighbourhood with Europe. This paper argues that in order to achieve the desired transformations, the EaP needs a fresh start, focusing on different players, methods and political technologies. Failure of the EaP to achieve its goal could deprive another generation of Georgians, Moldovans, Ukrainians and others in the EaP countries of an opportunity for a better life.

    Brexit Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargement EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy

    Building a Lifeline for Freedom: Eastern Partnership 2.0

    Research Papers

    07 Oct 2014