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Event Summaries
June 30, 2016

Event Summary: ‘The Aftermath of the UK Referendum’

by
Henry Jackson Society

TIME: 13:00 – 14:00, Wednesday 29th June 2016

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower,
21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

SPEAKER: Giles Merritt, Author of Slippery Slope- Europe’s Troubled Future &
Founder and Secretary General at Friends of Europe

For a full transcript of this event click here

By Ruta Valaityte

On the 29th of June, as Great Britain was still grappling with the results of the EU referendum, the Henry Jackson Society had the honour to host a talk by Giles Merritt. Mr. Merritt has spent a long time in Brussels, initially, since 1978, as the Financial Times correspondent and more recently as the Founder and Secretary General of ‘Friends of Europe’ – a think tank focusing on high-level EU policy proposals. This extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of EU institutions allowed Mr Merritt to put the implications of the referendum in the long term perspective and address key concerns for Britain and all of Europe.

Mr. Merritt started off by pointing out that the decisive vote of the British people will serve either as a catalyst for the badly needed EU reform or will end up being the biggest red herring ever invented. In contrast to the popular relatively short-term concern over the post Brexit EU-British trade deal, Mr. Merritt emphasised the long term demographic, economic and geopolitical challenges that Europe will face the in the 21st century. Due to its demographic decline and the growth of Asian and African economies Europe’s geopolitical and economic role will eventually decline and a new international system no longer favouring the developed Western economies will emerge, making things much more difficult for persistently complacent Europeans.

During his presentation and discussion that followed Mr. Merritt sharply criticised the current European system at the same time making clear that he nevertheless remains a ‘very sceptical Europhile’. He was cautiously hopeful that the British vote would trigger more democratic reforms in the EU and suggested that the pan-European Union would work better if instead of overwhelmingly secretive council of ministers, unelected commissioners and a parliament of disputable functionality and reputation the EU should have an elected executive body supported by a bicameral parliament with a senate. For Mr Merritt, the possible solution for EU parliament was less technocracy and more actual politics.

Some of the guests expressed scepticism over the possibility of reforming the EU which resulted in a lively discussion. The question of sovereignty was a recurrent topic throughout the event. It was indicated by some that the EU in its current form is curbing national sovereignty. As a response Mr. Merritt alluded to the difficulties of defining sovereignty and pointed out that decisions in the international economy depend on economic clout rather than such abstract notions as sovereignty and in negotiations with Asian partners the EU has a much bigger clout than any single European country could have, including Great Britain. In contrast to the popular will to curb immigration, Mr Merritt persistently argued for the dire need of new labour force in a rapidly aging Europe.

While talking about the immediate aftermath of the British referendum Mr. Merritt focused on the potential rise of the fringe parties in Europe, such as Front National in France, the German AFD, or Podemos in Spain. According to Mr, Merritt the fear of these political forces should deter mainstream European politicians from the current scaremongering stance they have taken towards the seceding UK. This should eventually result in a climate more favourable for peaceful negotiations. For Great Britain Mr. Merritt predicted that snap elections will follow the current the leadership competition. In the long term perspective Mr Merritt remained hopeful that Brexit will allow Europeans to rethink their identity and will eventually lead to a more democratic and vibrant system of governance.