Both on the LDEG Executive and on many of the European Movement's bodies, Richard Morris is a passionate, experienced pro-European. The following article is an abridged version of an edition of Brexit Watch, the weekly digest of all things Brexit, sent exclusively to members of European Movement UK (EMUK) every Saturday morning at 7am, with this particular digest having been curated by Richard himself.
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EM’s International Committee is preparing for the long fight: Promoting a Deeper Understanding of the EU
By Richard Morris
As International Officer of European Movement UK and a Board member of European Movement International (EMI), I was invited by the Brexit Watch team last summer to provide a personal perspective on the challenges we all face in returning the UK to the heart of Europe.
In that article, I drew attention to the narrowness of thought and discussion in the UK about both the EU itself and the continent-wide issues which it addresses. I suggested that, to be effective advocates, we as members of EMUK must develop a greater understanding of the union we wish our country to rejoin.
We must also recognise that, as for the UK itself, the EU is a dynamic entity facing the prospect of substantial change, whether by reason of external events or its own 2024 elections.
Over the past year, there has been a great deal of discussion on these and related issues at our National Executive, National Council and other fora.
These discussions culminated at the National Council meeting on 4th March this year with a decision to form an EMUK International Committee (IC). I currently chair the Committee, which comprises around 20 other members of the National Council. The IC is fully and very effectively supported by EMUK’s executive team, in particular by Mark English (Strategic Adviser, Policy and Media) and Michael Anderson (Communications and Campaigns Officer).
The formal summary Remit of IC is “to promote a deeper understanding of the EU, its structures, purposes, achievements, plans, opportunities and threats, in the context of EMUK’s overall mission for the UK to secure the closest possible ties with our neighbours across Europe”.
Over the past five months, the IC has held four online meetings, as follows:-
On 15th March, we discussed the draft IC Remit, followed by a presentation of 10 EU “hot topics” set out by Mark English, each of which has great relevance to EU/UK relations. These comprise: Divergence; Ukraine; State Aid; Rule of Law; Migration; China; Financial systems; European Parliament elections 2024; and Member State elections. We agreed to select one hot topic as the centrepiece for each subsequent meeting.
On 11th April, we endorsed the final version of the IC Remit, followed by a brainstorming session on ideas for achieving the Remit’s goals. Discussion centred on webinars, Brexit Watch, the EMUK website, educational outreach and materials. The selected hot issue was State Aid, led by Mark with a presentation that outlined the causes and implications of greatly increased future public funding by both the EU and the USA, demonstrating - in particular - the threats to the UK. There was also a brief introduction to EMI.
On 22nd May, we received a full presentation from Petros Fassoulas (Secretary-General of EMI) on the organisation and work of EMI followed by Q&A. The selected hot issue was Migration, on which Petros led the discussion with a report on EMI’s current large-scale consultation process on this subject. This consultation will lead to an EMI policy statement for submission to the EU authorities. The meeting also received an illuminating report from Chris Hammond on the recent Würzburg conference on Germany/UK relations.
On 21st June, the IC was privileged to receive a presentation from Camino Mortera-Martinez, Head of the Brussels office of the Centre for European Reform, an expert on EU law, politics and institutions. Camino’s talk concerned polarisation between EU member states and the threats to its fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law. She spoke in depth about the specific cases of Hungary and Poland, but also covered the then upcoming elections in her home country, Spain. Camino foresees the need for radical rethinking of the whole nature of the EU in the light of recent global events, pointing out for instance that the Ukraine war has transformed the EU from being a peace project to an arms supplier.
Our next event is a webinar to be given by Neil MacGregor, a passionate pro-European whose books and BBC Radio programmes on global themes have captivated audiences over many years. Neil will speak for around 40 minutes, followed by a conversation with me, on behalf of the IC, for about 20 minutes, followed by an audience Q&A. I set out below both Neil’s credentials and the theme of his talk:
Neil MacGregor OM - Imagining Europe : searching for new histories
Neil MacGregor is an art historian, writer and BBC broadcaster — and a committed European. His works include A History of the World in 100 Objects; Germany, Memories of a Nation; and Living with the Gods. He was Director of the National Gallery and the British Museum in London, a Founding Director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, and has worked extensively with the Louvre, the Hermitage and the Rijksmuseum.
In this talk, Neil will argue that, for a new European future, we need new European histories. He wants to ask where, and how, citizens can form an idea of Europe that speaks to the imagination? National identities have been forged and sustained, not by economic or administrative arguments, but by a potent mix of selective histories and rituals, images and institutions — and recent debates in every European country about the histories carried by street-names and statues have shown how difficult it is to move to a new understanding of what constitutes the nation.
Are there great historic moments, inspiring historical figures, that speak to shared European values across the whole continent? Where might the citizens come across them? What role are museums playing in shaping the way we think of Europe? Can we find a shared history on which to build? Or is the European Union such a radical break with the past that we can talk only of the future?
THE FUTURE OF THE IC
The future of the EU is riddled with uncertainty.
Camino’s presentation demonstrated the potential polarisation between member states due to growing right-wing nationalistic trends, which are not limited to her exemplars, Hungary and Poland. This trend may significantly impact the 2024 European elections. Added to this are the profound potential consequences of a parallel Trump victory in the USA.
Although the EU has shown considerable solidarity in regard to Ukraine, the continuing war and the uncertainty of its outcome may cause additional strains on unity. These will be exacerbated by forthcoming debates on EU enlargement, most of all in the case of Ukraine itself, whose accession - due to its size and relative poverty - would demand wholesale rethinking of the EU’s Treaties and economics.
Both the two massive longer-term issues, migration and climate change, are further immense threats to the maintenance of EU unity. Will the Northern member states prove willing to support the Southern and Eastern states that bear the front-line responsibilities and burdens of migration? Will the EU be able to hold its line on the Green Deal and Net Zero?
Amidst all these challenges, we need to remember that the EU - involving a limited pooling of sovereignty for the common good - is, in the words of the former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, “a noble cause”, which the UK has ignobly rejected.
Despite this rejection, the predominant attitude in Brussels towards the UK is not aggression, but rather a sense of loss, bewilderment and sympathy. Of course the EU cannot contemplate UK rejoining unless and until there is a substantial and settled favourable majority in both UK parliament and public opinion. But, given such conditions at a future date, the UK would be welcomed back for many reasons: as a major contributor to the EU Budget; as a major market; as a major addition to the geopolitical strength of the EU; and as a major positive force for reducing polarisation and upholding the EU’s fundamental values.
Above all, I believe that the return of the Prodigal Son would ultimately be a cause for celebration, a massive endorsement of the noble cause and a huge impediment to any other member state ever contemplating exit.
The International Committee will aim to monitor all these future EU developments and to hold meetings and webinars with expert speakers in fulfilment of its Remit.
I look forward to seeing many of you online, on Sep 6th, for our conversation with Neil MacGregor.