The panel discussion moderated by Deutsche Welle journalist Zulfikar Abbany on the topic of “Brexit – Keep calm and carry on?” was the final session of the lecture series “International Security in the 21st Century” organized by the Center for International Security and Governance (CISG) in Bonn. Today’s event was hosted in cooperation with the Center of European Economic Law of Bonn University. The implications of Brexit were addressed in a keynote speech by Sir Peter Torry (former UK ambassador to Germany and Spain) and then debated in a lively discussion by an expert panel consisting of Dr. Barbara Lippert (Director of Research at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), Josef Janning (Head of European Council on Foreign Affairs, Berlin Office) and Axel Voss (member of the European Parliament).
Michael Hoch, the rector of Bonn University gave some welcoming remarks uttering concern about what will follow after the Brexit, not sharing President Trump’s view “that the Brexit will be a great thing”. This was followed by an introductory speech by Professor James D. Bindenagel (Henry-Kissinger-Professor and head of the CISG), who briefly outlined the implications of the British vote, which rattled the foundations of the EU as the political and economic model for Europe. He argued that this vote has accelerated the unraveling of the world order and the question arises whether Britain and the EU can globally defend and promote liberal democratic norms.
To discuss the implications of the Brexit, Sir Peter Torry gave a keynote speech focusing on three main questions: Why did the Brexit happen? How will the negotiations go? And what will the future relationship between the EU and the UK look like? Torry stressed that there was no constitutional reason for having a referendum, but it was a clear political decision by prime minister at the time David Cameron. In the former UK ambassador to Germany’s opinion it was not just a protest vote, but the result of hostility towards the EU against the backdrop of 30 years of antagonism by the media and many British politicians towards Europe.
If the UK will leave the European Union around March 2019, many open questions will have to be answered, said Sir Peter Torry. Will it be a hard Brexit, cutting all ties, or a soft Brexit, moving towards a model like Switzerland or Norway? Torry clarified that Theresa May wants the UK to have full control of its borders and laws, escaping the “dominance of the EU court of justice”. However, in order to gain full access to the single market they will have to give the EU all “four freedoms” – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. On the question of the future relationship between the EU and Great Britain Sir Peter Torry clarified that even though Theresa May wants a clean break, the UK is not turning its back on Europe. Ties, for example in research and education or the fight against terrorism will remain of great importance. Torry concluded that negotiating an agreement that works for all parties is in everyone’s best interest and that the Brexit could be seen as a chance for Europe; “perhaps Brexit will be the shock the EU needs to take on necessary reforms”.
After his keynote speech, Sir Peter Torry joined the other panelists for a discussion, moderated by Deutsche Welle journalist Zulfikar Abbany, who started by engaging the audience in discussing what security actually means. This revealed a variety of security definitions – control of the border, job security, military intervention or food security.
European politician Axel Voss started off by giving some insights into the current mood in Brussels, stating that the financial crisis, the refugee situation, rising terrorism, the Brexit and now the inauguration of President Trump have created a lot of uncertainty in the European capital. Furthermore, he explained that the EU is not sure how the UK sees their future role and what they might want to negotiate. Dr. Barbara Lippert supported that statement, arguing that while the EU has decades of experience negotiating the joining of new states, executing article 50 is unknown territory. She and Josef Janning further clarified that article 50 is “advantageous to those who stay – not those who leave”; thus, at least economically, both saw Great Britain with a disadvantage.
In terms of future cooperation between the UK and the EU regarding security issues, Janning and Voss agreed, that the UK is an important member of the NATO and one of two European countries in the UN Security Council – cooperation in this regard will therefore be unequivocal. Nevertheless, both argued that the EU still needs to send a strong signal, showing its willingness to provide for their own security without the US and UK. Janning, an expert in security politics, emphasized the need for short-term solutions in this matter, calling for a re-commitment of the EU member states to their security promises. While Peter Torry agreed with the need of the EU to strengthen their commitment to security issues, he criticized the other EU member states, and especially Germany, for not paying their two percent of the GDP to the NATO – Torry saw this as an essential starting point to improve Europe’s security resources.
Lastly the debate focused on the issue of migration, with Axel Voss arguing that the EU has missed the point of finding a solution. For many years migration was regarded as a problem of the southern countries, referring to the Dublin agreement. Josef Janning added that there has been remarkable progress on the issue of migration – moving around has never been easier. Many new jobs were created and a lot of Europeans have worked in other member states.
In wrapping up the panel discussion, Zulfikar Abbany asked all panelists to briefly name the things that worry them most in the political future of the EU. For Sir Peter Torry, the situation in Northern Ireland after the Brexit was of biggest concern, seeing that the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the only land border the UK has with the EU, which may lead to a new era of unrest. The discussants agreed that the German elections would not have great implications for the Union, with Sir Peter Torry saying that the only open question will be whether Merkel will govern with the SPD or the Green party. Axel Voss and Dr. Barbara Lippert both looked at the French elections with great concern. Lippert argued that Le Pen, whose party comes in second in current polls, has criticized the EU and might want to leave the Union if elected. Lastly, Josef Janning argued that none of the elections were cause for concern, but rather the growing apathy and lack of political interest among citizens is something to worry about.
In his closing remarks Professor Herdegen, director at the CISG and director at the Center of European Economic Law thanked all panelists for their insight and expertise and concluded by giving a word of caution about not being too harsh in the negotiations with the UK, but rather work towards a mutual agreement.
This was the last event of the CISG lecture series „International Security in the 21st Century“ in winter semester 2016/17. Thanks to all our participants for their lectures, contributions to lively discussions, and interesting questions. We hope to see you soon to one of our upcoming CISG events.