The European Union Center at the University of Illinois had the privilege of hosting Christian Lequesne, Professor at the Center for International Research at Sciences Po, Paris, for the opening lecture of the EU Studies Conference “Researching and Teaching the EU: Best Practices and Current Trends in EU Scholarship.” Professor Lequesne’s lecture, titled “Future of Transatlantic Relations in a Post-Brexit Era,” offered a comprehensive overview of the context surrounding the British vote last June and possible developments in the aftermath of their referendum to leave the European Union.
The so-called “Brexit” has created a real earthquake in the EU institutions, and the implications go far beyond the EU's internal politics. Trade, for instance, is one of the main issues at stake. The weight of the United Kingdom in EU trade is significant. A strong signal that demonstrates this for instance is the Korean disappointment following the Brexit vote; their representatives have declared that a free trade agreement between South Korea and the EU (the recently signed KOREU) is less appealing without the UK. Yet, the UK cannot overestimate its trade power and should not be fooled by the illusion of entertaining special relations with external powers, such as the US, while being independent from the EU. President Obama delivered an important message on this issue stating that the negotiations with the EU are a priority, and the UK does not come first. Moreover, by observing the percentage of imports and exports between the EU and the UK, the existing divide would suggest a cautious approach for the Brexit negotiators. This is especially important since the EU exports to the UK 19% of its total in goods and services, but the UK delivers to the EU more than the 45% of its national export.
Another important topic in the Brexit debate has been migration. Surprisingly, the refugee crisis has played only a minor role, and the main concern of pro-Brexiters was to impose limits on the influx of EU citizens into their country. British people, however, must be cautious of being under the impression of improving their welfare through methods that cut on EU migration; they might obtain an opposite result from the one expected. If we only think about healthcare, more than 25% of doctors in the UK are Polish citizens, and strong anti-migration policies could be devastating when the article 50 is activated.
It was an enlightening lecture on Saturday morning, and a great opening for an interesting day of presentations and discussion on the current status of the European Union, its challenges, and its future.