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‘Brexit’ Impact on EU’s Future

Original Broadcast Date:
June 11, 2016(UTC)

June 23 2016 will mark a momentous moment for Britain, and for Europe as a whole, as the United Kingdom holds a referendum on whether or not to remain a member of the European Union.

Among the British public, opinion is fiercely divided into two camps: those in favor of leaving, who feel the UK should take charge of its own affairs, free from EU regulations. On the other hand, "Remain" campaigners cite the benefits that the UK will gain from staying in the EU, such as access to European markets, free movement for citizens, and the potential to influence the collective decisions of the European Union from within.

Whatever the ultimate decision, it is sure to have a significant influence on the future of Europe. As such, the upcoming referendum is the focus of widespread attention, not only from Britain's fellow EU members, which are unanimously in favor the country remaining a member of the organization, but also from no less a figure than US President Barack Obama, who has also voiced his hopes that the UK will not sever its ties with its neighbors.

What are some of the arguments surrounding the so-called "Brexit"? This edition of Global Agenda gathered together four experts with decades of experience observing European politics and economics, for a debate in Brussels, base of the European Union.

The Leave position is represented by Professor Patrick Minford of Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, a firm believer in the notion that the UK could prosper outside the EU. He is joined by German economist Fabian Zuleeg of Belgium-based think tank the European Policy Centre, who stresses the importance of unity for Europe's continued development, and points out the flaws in the argument of the "leave" campaign. The US perspective on Brexit comes from Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations, and former special assistant to President Barack Obama. Another passionate European voice in favor of unity is Dominique Moïsi, senior advisor at the French Institute of International Relations. Moderator Kaori Nagao is chief of NHK's Brussels Bureau, a long-term Europe watcher.

The first segment of the debate focused on the case for and against. Prof. Minford envisaged an independent Britain after the model of Japan, an island nation in charge of its own destiny, but with a diverse network of partnerships across its region and around the world, which in Britain's case would still include close ties to Europe.

Dr. Zuleeg questioned whether such an arrangement would be so easy to achieve. He foresaw the deleterious impact of the uncertainty that would surely accompany a British exit, and the likelihood that UK would find its bargaining hand weakened when it came to foreign trade, and the imposition of tariffs by its former EU partners.

This position was echoed by Prof. Moïsi, who questioned whether the UK was strong enough to thrive on its own, and saw the Brexit as a lose-lose outcome for all parties. Dr. Gordon also raised the idea that US enterprises would be less likely to make their base in Britain if the country suddenly found itself isolated from the rest of Europe.

Discussion then moved on to the rise of anti-establishment populism illustrated by the rise across Europe of anti-immigration, right-wing parties such as Farage's UKIP and France's National Front led by the rabble-rousing Marie Le Pen, and mirrored in the US by the emergence of Donald Trump as a legitimate political contender.

Prof. Moïsi saw these trends as a rejection of the European elite, while Prof. Minford pointed out the dangers in dismissing anti-EU sentiment as populism when it was in many cases underlain by well-thought out economic and policy arguments.

Dr. Zuleeg opined that such movements invoked the rather specious caricature of an unelected European "super-state" trying to dominate the lives of ordinary people, an idea he saw as being rather far from the truth. Dr. Gordon also said that the position of figures such as Trump had a habit of ignoring the benefits that their own countries had derived from globalization.

The next topic for analysis was the issue of whether or not European integration had been a success, and what lay ahead for the region. Dr. Zuleeg conceded that the collective nature of the body sometimes hampered efforts to create consensus and move in a unified direction to solve issues together.

He refuted however Prof. Minford's claims that the EU was prone to passing blindly idealistic policies without thinking out the processes necessary to achieve those by pointing out that the vast majority of European Union policies were actually passed with British input and consent.

The debate closed with an assessment of the EU's worth as a role model for other similar regional partnerships around the world. Despite Prof. Minford's belief that it was not the right arrangement for Europe or the UK, Dr. Gordon pointed out the prolonged stability the union had achieved, and stressed the importance of such continuity to the US.


Patrick Minford

Professor of Applied Economics, Cardiff University

Dominique Moisi

Senior Advisor, French Institute of International Relations

Fabian Zuleeg

Chief Executive and Chief Economist, European Policy Centre

Philip Gordon

Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Former Special Assistant to President Obama


Kaori Nagao

Bureau Chief, NHK Brussels