Mike Vickers' Blog

February 18, 2016

Understanding European Challenges – RSE 16 February 2016

Filed under: Europe, Politics, Scotland, War — derryvickers @ 8:57 pm

We attended a full day conference organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh under the above title. I believe it is the first of a series of seminars on various aspects of UK independence from the EU.

The agenda of the conference is given in the Appendix including the speakers.

I give below my impressions of the various sessions and speakers. I have made no attempt to give details of each session – this would take too long and in any case I will have not accurately captured all the details. I understand that sessions were being recorded and these recordings will become available on the RSE website.

The key note speech was given by Brigid Laffan. She concentrated on, as she said them the unprecedented challenges now facing the EU: the North South divide, the UK’s renegotiation, the refugee problem splitting the east and west, the Cleavage in the Real Economy centred on the Euro and dealing with Russia. On the positive side there is the Single Market, Community values and common laws. She acknowledged that the EU is centralist and there remains a problem of ‘redistribution’.

Anand Menon provided a more ‘pragmatic view’, he dwelt particularly on the impact of the coming referendum on British Politics; Cameron and Corbyn. He worried about the general apathy of the young to all politics; the relationship between the EU Executive and the European Parliament but stressed that in his view the Euro member countries must keep the Euro.

Paul Gillespie had considered a number of case of the UK in, the UK out, and half in and half out, (shake it all about) and stressed the impact on Eire and Northern Ireland relations if the UK left the EU including border control – I felt somewhat OTT as this situation had existed pre Ireland in the EU.   You can find Paul’s book at http://www.iiea.com/publications/brexit-legally-effective-alternatives.

Joanne Hunt was more concerned about the Westminster v Welsh Assembly relations / reserved matters as they already exist – the much favoured expression of the Elephant in Room came up.

Andrew Scott was also concerned that the EU membership is a reserved matter so that there is no legal opportunity for Scotland to apply to join the EU while remaining in the UK should the UK leave.

John Fossum considered the various options in principle to a country outside the EU working with the EU. He specially concentrated on the EEA – European Economic Area of which Norway as a member of EFTA participates in the free market of the EU without being a member of it. In Fossum’s view Norway suffered from all the downsides of the EU but failed to be part of the decision / policy making of it. Fossum noted that there is strong disagreement between the ordinary people in Norway and the politic elite as to membership of the EU

Ewen Stewart of Global Britain provided a whole set of statistics to show that the UK still holds a prominent place in the world and is being dragged down by as he sees it the failing EU so the UK should break away. Osborne would be proud. A closer look of the stats will be useful when these are made available through the RSE website. A couple would show that the UK is being boosted financially by London (the largest financial city in the World) and through speaking English; 70% of Chinese Contracts are in English – thanks to the US. Stewart quotes TINA – there is no alternative – support for free market, free trade and capitalist globalisation.

To the Discussion and Summary – all speakers except Joanne Hunt and Andrew Scott.

While the individual sessions had been delivery in a quiet tone the speakers in the discussion became more animated. Just a very few points that I caught:

  • European Regulation is OTT
  • Brussels is bureaucratic – but the Menon pointed out that the figures do not show Brussels as profligate – just the opposite
  • The EU requires ‘one size fits all’ – oddly a comment made by Willie Rennie later in the day about the Scottish Government
  • Life in the EU is now existential
  • Our vocabulary is outdated eg Nationalism, Sovereignty
  • Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on withdrawal from the EU
  • The voting on the UK referendum will be on the Constitution and on the Economics
  • Whether the UK stays in the EU is as much to do with the 27 other countries of Europe as it is to do with the One, the UK – a fact surfacing only today – Thursday 18 Feb 2016
  • Cameron’s position if the UK votes No. There are echoes here of the Repeal of the Corn Laws pushed through by Robert Peel ,a Tory PM, against the wishes of his Tory Party in 1846
  • London is English not European
  • The North South divide is not just a European problem, it exists in the UK too
  • Scotland has lost its control of fishing rights
  • There are 250,000 members of the EU in Scotland
  • A lady of Spain bemoaning that she could lose all her benefits of being in the UK if the UK goes independent even though she has been here for 43 years
  • Brigid Laffan reminding us that the forerunner of the EU was set up with the prime purpose of ensuring that the European Nations would never go to war almost themselves. This point, as far as I was concerned, had been omitted throughout the previous 6 hours.

My thoughts on the day

In general all the speakers other than Stewart were in favour of the UK remaining in the EU – although until the final discussion they hid their inclinations well.

I agree that we should remain in the EU, mainly to migrate the chances of another intra- European war.

Nevertheless the EU has serious problems that it must tackle: these include managing the refugees, sorting out the North South divide along with the Euro, supra national and national identities as stated by Laffan in her key note speech. But it does seem to me that the EU is falling between two stools: on the one stood is a loose confederation of sovereign nation states and the other is a federal Europe with an overall constitution rejected by the Lisbon Treaty. The former stool is the one that Cameron is aiming at; the other stool looks, at least till recently, preferred by Germany. There is unlikely to be peace in the EU countries until this dichotomy is resolved.


16 February, 2016 Royal Society of Edinburgh

16 February 2016 – 9am to 3.30pm at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Keynote speaker: Brigid Laffan MRIA, Director and Professor at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Director of the Global Governance Programme, European University Institute (EUI), Florence. The European Union is facing unprecedented challenges, including the problems of the Euro, the refugee crisis, and turbulence in its neighbourhood. The conference will address these questions and the different possible futures for Europe. It will examine the issues in the relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe, and the way they are seen in the nations and regions. It will also look at the alternatives to EU membership should the UK decide in the coming referendum that it wishes to withdraw.

Organised in partnership with The Centre on Constitutional Change and the ESRC’s The UK in a Changing Europe.

09.00-09.10 – 09.00-09.10: Welcome – Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, President, RSE 09.10-09.15: Introduction – Sir Muir Russell FRSE, Chairman 09.15-10.05: Challenges to Europe, Professor Brigid Laffan MRIA, European University Institute

10.05-10.50: Issues for UK, Professor Anand Menon, King’s College London, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe

11.15-12.30: Views from:

  •  Ireland – Dr Paul Gillespie, Irish Times and University College Dublin
  •  Wales – Dr Joanne Hunt, Cardiff University, ESRC Senior Fellow
  •  Scotland – Professor Andrew Scott, University of Edinburgh

12.30-13.30: Lunch 13.30-14.30: Alternatives to EU, Professor John Erik Fossum, University of Oslo and Ewen Stewart, Director, Global Britain

14.30- 15.30 Discussion and Summary

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