The seminar titled "Brexit, Scotland and the Constitutional Future of Europe" was organized by the IED in collaboration with the Sabino Arana Fundazioa (Basque Country). It took place on Wednesday 9 November 2016 in Bilbao, Basque Country. The event welcomed three significant speakers who all specialize in the current European international affairs and who discussed the most important aspects of Britain's exit from the European Union. The speakers outlined the possible options for the EU-UK negotiations, when and how the Brexit would take place, whether there would be a "hard" or "soft" Brexit and what impact Britain's leave would have on the European Union and its people. The seminar was opened by the President of the Sabino Arana Fundazioa Juan Maria Atutxa and the Coordinator of the IED Flaminia Baffigo. They both responded to the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections announced just few hours before the start of the seminar and the impact of this victory on the EU. Mr Atutxa emphasized that despite there are many challenges the EU has to face such as the British vote for Brexit, migration crisis and populism, it is important that Europeans remain united and adhered to the principles the EU has been built upon. Mr Baffigo expressed that day's "American Brexit" should give Europe more strength to proceed to "an ever closer union" and return confidence of Europeans into the European project.
The first speaker was Antonios A.Nestoras, adjunct Professor of international affairs at the Vesalius College and researcher at the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, who is the author of a very recent working paper "The EU beyond Brexit: towards a new democratic foundation" which was published by the IED. According to Mr Nestoras, Brexit is unavoidable and the question is not whether Brexit will happen, but how it will happen. In his view, the so-called "hard Brexit" is the most plausible option which will bring fundamental changes for the EU – Brexit does not necessarily mean that the EU is going to collapse but it needs to and will change. Regardless of the Brexit negotiations, the EU needs to start thinking about its own future and reform in a meaningful way.
On the other hand, the Professor of International Relations at the University Complutense of Madrid Francisco Aldecoa Luzarraga argued that the result of British referendum does not necessarily mean that Brexit will really take place because the process of Brexit is still highly uncertain. Despite these concerns, he believes that 27 EU member states should use the British referendum as not only the opportunity but the obligation to improve functioning of the EU and move Europe towards deeper integration. "EU is not the destination but the journey," Mr Aldecoa highlighted.
The Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh Michael Keating focused on the possible alternatives which lie ahead for Scotland which population voted to stay in the EU by 62% in the June's referendum. He highlighted that Brexit did influence not only the external relations between the EU and Britain but also the internal relations among the parts of the United Kingdom. He argued that for Scotland it is impossible to remain in both the EU and the UK and the steps that Scotland will undertake depends on the actual Brexit process and Brexit negotiations. Mr Keating outlined three possible options for Scotland – either it will accept Brexit or it will create the new constitutional doctrine which will allow Scotland to consider the result of the referendum as not binding for them or Scotland will organize other referendum on independence from the UK. The seminar was moderated by Jokin Bildarratz Sorron, the Senator of the Basque Country in the State Parliament in Madrid. The session brought the general conclusion that Brexit is a symptom of the crisis that is going on in Europe and this crisis has to be removed by reforming the EU, by solving the internal problems the EU is facing currently, by creating new relations and rules, otherwise extremist political forces will change the face of Europe profoundly.
Main highlights and outcomes:
- Brexit is a symptom of the crisis that is going on in Europe – this crisis has to be removed by reforming the EU, by solving the internal problems the EU is facing currently, by creating new relations, rules, simply a real reform;
- The EU needs to be optimistic and see the Brexit as a real opportunity because it was the UK which had always been an obstacle for the deeper European integration;
- The EU needs to stay the partner with the UK which is the immediate neighbour of the EU;
- For Scotland it is impossible to remain in the EU as well as the UK – the steps that Scotland will undertake depends on the actual Brexit process and Brexit negotiations;
- EU needs to be reformed urgently otherwise extremist political forces will change the face of Europe profoundly
The event was organized with the financial support of the European Parliament.