Our day began with a trip to the European Parliament in Brussels, where we had the opportunity to talk with MEP Richard Corbett, a representative from the Labour Party for Yorkshire. We discussed the likelihood and possible implications of the Brexit in the EU and the UK, and also heard his perspective on the situation. According to Mr. Corbett, he believes there are three reasons that Britain should remain an EU member: “idealistic, pragmatic, and selfish.” Regarding the first, he looked back to the original intent behind the establishment of the European Union. It has served to unite the region and prevent conflict between member states, as well as promote the pursuit of common interests. The second reason is related to the complex interactions between European countries- the EU has united a group of nations that are undeniably deeply interconnected, and has done so quite successfully, despite having flaws like any other international institution. Corbett’s last reason pertains to Great Britain itself, as its EU membership provides it with advantages such as access to the Single Market and allows it to have a say in important economic decisions. Leaving the EU would undoubtedly have serious economic effects, not the least of which would be leaving the single market. While some have suggested leaving the EU but retaining full access to the market, it is difficult to imagine this being very successful. If it went global, Great Britain would have to negotiate a divorce settlement with the EU as well as new trade negotiations with other nations, in which it would have decreased influence and leverage due to a smaller economy. UK citizens and businesses would then have to deal with tariffs and customs barriers, which would be particularly felt along the border with Northern Ireland, which would become a closed border. Additionally, we discussed the possibility that in the event of a Brexit, Scotland might push for a second referendum on secession from the UK to join the EU alone.
One of the most difficult challenges Mr. Corbett and other Bremain advocates have faced is combating the influence of an extremely Eurosceptic media. Slogans like “an undemocratic EU” are much catchier and easier to remember than explanations of the advantages of EU membership, which are very difficult to communicate in the short minute or two people are willing to stop and listen. Myths and beliefs propagated by the media include the idea Great Britain’s membership in the EU makes it subject to restrictions created by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. In response, Mr. Corbett pointed out that this argument completely neglects the MEP’s and the joint-decision making process, as well as the huge improvements in a more democratic decision making process implemented with EU treaties like Lisbon. He maintained that while the EU certainly has flaws, it remains a hugely valuable institution that many undervalue without understanding. To help in the campaign to remain, Corbett and his assistants have developed an app called Doorstep EU, which can reach more people more quickly than going door to door. In addition to the pro-EU “Stronger In” campaign, he is also involved in a campaign to remain geared specifically towards the Labour Party, particularly focusing on workers’ rights, which is a serious point of contention in the Brexit debate. We also discussed actions that might be taken if the Bremain side wins, as well as how Great Britain’s identity will change in the event that Brexit does happen.
He was both entertaining and convincing as he made the case for Great Britain remaining in the EU, and it will definitely be very interesting to see what happens after the referendum on June 23.
After leaving Parliament, we headed the Brussels European and Global Economy Laboratory, an economic think tank otherwise known as Bruegel. The Secretary General, Matt Dann, introduced the think tank as an organization that prioritizes “transparency and accountability,” an assessment that proved to be very true as he presented Bruegel’s mission, structure and research process. They are funded by 18 out of 27 EU countries, and 27 international organizations. Their mission is to “contribute to the quality of policy making through open, fact-based, policy-relevant research, analysis and discussion.” Mr. Dann was quick to clarify Bruegel’s role in economic policy; it does not take an institutional standpoint, and takes no views of its own, although its writers do. Additionally, when considering an issue, Bruegel will use its funds to look at evidence, and then produce recommendations (not forecasts) based on an analysis of that evidence. It was really impressive how thoroughly Bruegel is structured to ensure that it produces reliable information and analyses that aren’t controlled or dictated by other institutions. No member can contribute more than a certain amount (3-5%) to the budget, which is published annually, and anyone who writes more than three pieces must annually and publicly declare any outside interests in the name of transparency. Mr. Dann also mentioned that Bruegel didn’t participate in consultancy or lobbying, but did practice advocacy- promoting change for the better for the greatest number of people and considering the effects of policy for the good of the public. In addition to carefully researching and reviewing its publications to make sure they are accurate, they analyze their audience and tailor output to different sectors to reach each segment with versions of their articles that fit their needs. We were also able to discuss how Bruegel built its reputation and trust from its beginning in 2005 (according to Mr. Dann, by following the motto “to be strategic is to be successful”). Today was a great opportunity there to listen to a very informative and entertaining speaker, and we gained a thorough knowledge of Bruegel as an institution and a valuable source.