On Wednesday 16th October 2019, the Academy of Ideas and deBuren revisited Brexit, using the occasion to look at the greater geopolitical context and the need for reform within the EU.
Image courtesy of Ilovetheeu CC BY-SA 4.0
Full-length audio recording of the debate:
After a very short Dutch introduction (15 secs), the debate proceeds in English
The rise of populism in Europe in recent years and the UK’s vote in 2016 to leave the European Union have prompted many to question if the EU can survive. Recently, however, there’s been renewed optimism about the prospects of reforming the EU. Increased voter turnout and a “green wave” of support for pro-EU environmentalist parties in the 2019 European Parliament elections are cited as evidence of renewal. Eurosceptic, nationalist and populist parties performed below expectations, while pro-EU liberal and social-democratic parties did better than expected. Afterwards, some argued that the EU had emerged from the elections with renewed legitimacy.
Perhaps more surprising is a reluctance amongst eurosceptic parties to push for a break with the EU. As one commentator put it, “instead of promising to protect people from the European Union, populists have started promising to make the EU protect people”. In 2016, at least 15 parties across Europe campaigned for a referendum on their country’s EU membership. Yet, today, populists in countries such as France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany now seem focused on securing change from within the EU. Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, captured the new mood by promoting the idea of a “common-sense Europe”: not an end to the EU, but a changed EU, one that focuses more on security, manages immigration more closely and takes a “nation-first” approach to the economy.
What accounts for these shifts and how significant are they? The UK’s protracted struggle to leave the EU certainly seems to demonstrate the difficulties confronting a state seeking to exit the bloc. Has the Brexit saga and Greece’s failed attempt in 2015 to resist EU/Eurozone tutelage dealt a fatal blow to the idea of restoring national sovereignty?
Many still question the viability of “remain and reform” and whether it is possible to democratise the EU. For example, the Spitzenkandidatensystem of nominating and electing the new Commission president dissolved when party groupings were ignored and appointments emerged via behind closed-doors discussions within the Council of Ministers.
Nevertheless, Yanis Varoufakis of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 believes that, through creating a citizen-oriented New Deal for Europe, the EU can become a democratic force for good. Would, for example, allowing the European Parliament to propose laws mean that MEPs become more important to the people who elect them? The Democracy in Europe Movement won little electoral support in the countries in which it stood. Does this suggest that few believe in the possibility of reforming the EU? Or, alternatively, that few see the need for reform as a priority?
Is the EU “an empire in decay”, can a case be made for the idea of “remain and reform” and for an evolved, more democratic EU in which nation states function democratically?
René Cuperus - Political Scientist & Anthropologist
René Cuperus is a senior associate fellow at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. Before that he was a resident scholar at the Strategy Unit of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he worked on European integration, globalisation and the populist backlash and China-EU / US relations.
Cuperus is also a research fellow at the German Institute at the University of Amsterdam. Until recently, he wrote a political column for De Volkskrant, he still writes a blog for the Social Europe Journal and he has published internationally on European politics and populism.Cuperus has also worked as the director of International Relations at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, the think tank of the PvdA.
Claire Fox - Director, Academy of Ideas & Brexit Party MEP
Claire Fox is the director of the Academy of Ideas, which she established to create a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint. She convenes the yearly Battle of Ideas festival and initiated the Debating Matters Competition for sixth-formers. She also co-founded a residential summer school, The Academy, with the aim of demonstrating "university as it should be".
In May 2019, she was elected as a Brexit Party MEP for the North West England constituency of the UK in the European elections. During her tenure, she is taking a temporary sabbatical as the Battle of Ideas festival convenor, but she remains on the festival's editorial board.
Claire Fox is a panelist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and is frequently invited to comment on developments in culture, education, media and free speech-related fields on TV and radio programmes in the UK, such as Newsnight and Any Questions?. Claire is a also a columnist for the Times Educational Supplement and the Municipal Journaland the author of I STILL Find That Offensive! (Biteback, 2018) and No Strings Attached! Why Arts Funding Should Say No to Instrumentalism (Arts&Business, 2007).
Claire is a board member of the international network of houses for debate, Time To Talk and, in 2018, she did a three-month residency as a presenter of the weekly three-hour radio magazine show, Fox News Friday, on LoveSportRadio.
Erik Edman - National Coordinator, DiEM25 Belgium
Erik Edman leads the Brussels office of the DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), founded by Yanis Varoufakis. He is also DiEM25's national coordinator for Belgium. Previously, he was the campaign leader for MeRA25, the new Greek party founded by DiEM25 during the European elections of May 2019.
Edman has also worked for a number of Brussels-based NGOs, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Europe and the European Students Union (ESU).
Erik studied Political Sociology at the London School of Economics (LSE) and history at the University of Exeter. He is half Greek, half Swedish and was born and raised in Athens.
Dave Sinardet - Professor of Political Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Dave Sinardet is a professor of political science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel as well as at the Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles. His expertise lies in nationalism, federalism, multilingual democracy and Belgian politics; topics on which he has published in various international scientific journals and books.
He has also written articles on the European public sphere and the democratic deficit of the EU and closely follows developments around the Brexit. Since 2007, Sinardet has had a regular column that is published in all Belgian broadsheets (De Standaard, De Morgen, De Tijd, Le Soir and La Libre Belgique) and, during this time, he has also written a monthly essay in the weekend version of De Standaard. He is also often consulted by the foreign press about his areas of expertise as well as about the Belgian political situation.
Jacob Reynolds - Partnerships Manager, Academy of Ideas
Jacob Reynolds is the Academy of Ideas' partnerships manager. He also works as a co-convenor for the Academy of Ideas organisations, Living Freedom, The Academy and the boi charity.
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This discussion was a Battle of Ideas satellite debate for the Battle of Ideas 2019. This is the 15th year of the annual debate platform organised by the Academy of Ideas, which, in its own words, seeks to provide a space for interrogating ideas, open discussion and civilised debate.
To find out more about this year’s Battle of Ideas, visit the festival website at https://www.battleofideas.org.uk/why-battle-ideas/.