Jasmine Faudone (DCU Brexit Institute)
On 12th December 2019, the Brexit Institute hosted an event on ‘Brexit and the New EU Institutional Cycle’, organized in partnership with the German – Italian Centre for European Excellence at Villa Vigoni, with the support of the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland. The event featured a keynote speech given by Dr Hans–Gert Pöttering, President Emeritus of the European Parliament and former Member of the European Parliament. The following panel discussion was chaired by Gráinne Ní Aodha (The Journal) and included Dr. Veronica Corcodel (DCU), Amb. Michele Valensise (President of the German – Italian Centre for European Excellence at Villa Vigoni and Former Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), James Temple Smithson (Head of the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland) and Prof. Joachim Fischer (University of Limerick).
Federico Fabbrini – Director of the Brexit Institute – opened the floor, introducing the first speaker, Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering. On this occasion, he also announced the new partnership with the German – Italian Centre for European Excellence at Villa Vigoni. Prof. Fabbrini also presented the new DCU Master Program on European Law and Policy.
Keynote speech given by Dr Hans-Gert Pöttering
Dr Pöttering introduce his keynote with a reference to the current ongoing Brexit process, defining Brexit as the biggest defeat in the history of EU. In his view, Brexit is a tragic development because of its consequences, especially its impact on the relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, in the Brexit process, the other 26 EU Member State supported Ireland because of its difficult position and he believes that this is an emblematic example of solidarity within the EU. Then, he stressed the importance of the EU values, without which there is no future. He mentioned in particular human dignity, peace, democracy, freedom and rule of law: the values upon which the European Union is based. Dr Pöttering subsequently quoted Jean-Monnet, saying that “nothing is impossible without human beings”; in fact he believes that we do not need great reforms of the Treaties, but political will and determination to do what is necessary for the EU.
The European institutions, such as the European Commission, are fundamental in the defence of the these values. The European Parliament is an important pillar to keep together different levels of democracy, and the national identity is only one part of our European political identity.
In the end, Dr Pöttering said that the EU is not an ideal place but it is a very good place to live in peace. It is the best place in the world in terms of respect of human being’s dignity. He concluded by saying that if we act together we have a future, if don’t we will lose our values and our role in the world.
The first panelist – Dr Veronica Corcodel (DCU) – spoke about migration policy. The European Union, she said, is contradictory when it comes to migration policy. Irregular migration appears to be the worst threat in Europe. Moreover, the idea of integration is always presented as the opposite of border control. For instance, refugees are always opposed to irregular migrants. She thinks that Europe has failed to address its colonial history and post-colonial present. She concluded arising an important question: is Brexit deriving from the inability of UK to address his colonial past, turning against Europe to embrace the Commonwealth?
The second panelist, Prof. Joachim Fischer (University of Limerick) mentioned the importance of looking at the European Union not only from one, but from different perspectives. He also talked about the importance of the Erasmus exchange in creating European consciousness. Regarding Brexit, he said that it is certainly a defeat, but it is also a crucial point and an opportunity, especially for Ireland. New challenges and difficulties arise from Brexit, but it represents the chance to Europeanizing Ireland. Moreover, other EU countries have moved much closer together (at least on this matter). He believes that the EU point of view should be included in the education programs in all the Member States, in order to strengthen the sense of European identity. Finally, he thinks that, even though English will remain the main language of communication, all the other languages will raise in terms of percentage and it will be an advantage in terms of linguistic diversity.
The third panelist was Amb. Michele Valensise (President of the German – Italian Centre for European Excellence at Villa Vigoni and Former Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). He defined 2016 as the “annus horribilis” of the European integration. He underlined the impact of fake news and the media in the political processes, such as the Brexit referendum. He questioned the Brexit referendum, in terms of what it is the right object to put under the judgement of the people.
The EU, he continued, is composed of small States, and States that do not know they are small. A single European State cannot change the balance. He stressed the fact that, in the Brexit negotiations, the EU countries demonstrated cohesion and patience. Finally, he said that we need a EU closer to its citizens. He is positive about the future of EU, since Europe has shown its power and capacity to face external and internal issues.
The last speaker, James Temple Smithson (Head of the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland), focused on the role of Ireland in the Brexit process. He said that, even though Brexit appeared as a huge problem in the beginning, now we have three years of experience in dealing with this. He underlined that, thanks to the lead of Michel Barnier, the Irish concerns about Brexit are fully internalized and part of the EU debate. He also explained the upcoming tasks for the new EU Commission. He thinks that the upcoming discussion about the new Multiannual Financial Framework will be a first yardstick question for the EU Commission. Finally, the panel was followed by a vibrant discussion.
Jasmine Faudone is a Research Intern at the DCU Brexit Institute. She has an LLM in Comparative Constitutional Law from the University of Bologna.