Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union has delivered a profound shock to the continent. The looming departure of one of the EU’s strongest economic, diplomatic and military powers has raised doubts about the very survival of a Union already divided over management of the eurozone, the economy and the refugee crisis. Europe’s political certainties are questioned by the rise of populist forces both within and without – the external challenges including Russian belligerence, Middle Eastern turmoil, a truculent Turkey and Trumpism in the United States.
To address this toxic mix, Friends of Europe’s annual high-level roundtable gathered more than 200 influential figures. Their aim was to seek ways for Europe to move forward from the current morass. They looked at how to end infighting, so the remaining 27 EU member states can confront Europe’s raft of problems and present a united position on Brexit. Topics in the sessions ranged from Europe’s role in a fast-changing world, to finding the right economic models, to the impact of migration. However, the urgency of confronting the new wave of nationalist, protectionist and populist politics dominated much of the debate.
A key thread emerged on need to tackle both the immediate threats posed by populism and the root causes of voter discontent that have allowed populists to thrive. The first, delegates argued, involves building on Europe’s strengths, forging greater resolve among the defenders of Europe’s democracy and using pro-active communications to recapture the initiative from ‘post-truth’ politicians who present simple, populist ‘solutions’. The second requires longer-term action to spur growth in the European economy while avoiding social tensions between the winners and losers of technological advances and open markets.
Social inclusion must be a priority. Migration – including intra-EU labour movement – must be managed to avoid rifts between incoming and native communities. Crisis breeds opportunity: the current shocks to the system can be used to spur reforms that make the EU more transparent and accountable. Mainstream politicians need to re-connect with citizens – in particular young people. And Europe needs to build on its strengths as a motor of innovation, a driving force in the fight against global warming and the world’s biggest provider of development assistance.
Should you not be able to see the gallery, please click here.