Belgium-UK Evening – 5 July 2018
On 5 July 2018, the European Movement in Belgium, in partnership with the British Embassy in Brussels, Visit Brussels and the Union of European Federalists (UEF), held a panel debate on “The Future of Belgium-UK relations after Brexit” in the House of European History. The evening was organised under Chatham House rules to allow for an open debate.
The evening started with the welcome words by Constanze Itzel, Director of the House of European History, who made the museum available to the European Movement in Belgium to host the evening. She encouraged everyone to plan a visit of the museum in the future and learn more about what made Europe the continent it is today.
Olivier Hinnekens, Secretary General of the European Movement in Belgium, delivered welcome words, thanking all the participants for coming and reminding everyone, that although the United Kingdom was planning to leave the European Union, it was not switching continents. Although many in Europe regret the outcome of the referendum, it is important to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past and see how we can shape our future relationship with what will remain one of our closest neighbours.
He also introduced the different speakers of the panel composed of H.E. Alison Rose, United Kingdom Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade and Reinout Van Hullebus, Area Manager at Brussels Invest & Export. The conference was moderated by Martin Maréchal, Président of the Young European Federalists (JEF).
In her keynote speech, Ambassador Rose underlined the need to form the best possible relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit. With a strong emphasis on the importance of sovereignty, she reaffirmed the necessity for continued cooperation on matters such as security, data protection or education. “Geography matters, history matters, values matter”, she said, stating that neither future partner could be strengthened by fear but only by forming the best possible relationship with strategic partners. Indeed, the future relationship should be one based on shared values and shared common interests and challenges.
When addressing the topic of security, Ambassador Rose stressed the importance of strong cooperation within the scope of NATO, inviting all Member States to respect the 2% commitment for defence spending. This included Belgium. Joint operations between Belgium and UK are to be continued and strengthened, she said.
Regarding the UK vision for the future relationship, Ambassador Rose asked for the European Union to treat its neighbour as “more than a standard third country”. She reiterated the importance of security and economic partnerships, explaining that Brexit did not mean that the British people felt less European, but had a different vision of what “doing Europe together” meant.
Flanders Investment & Trade CEO, Mrs. Tillekaerts explained that for Belgian and British companies a no deal Brexit would be a catastrophe, while noting that recent trade between the two countries has been on the rise despite Brexit. Together with Mr. Van Hullebus, they reaffirmed the strong cooperation between the different regions to assist Belgian companies, protect our economic interests and provide the best business environment possible during the transition period. The two trade experts also emphasized the need for some sectors of activity trading primarily with the UK, such as textile or fruit, to explore also other markets in order to mitigate their risks. This was partially due to Brexit, but was also advice given to any exporter to exclusively reliant on one dominant export market (such as fruit exports to Russia).
The audience also took an active part in the debate. Many questions concerned the exact nature of the future trade agreement between the EU and the UK or the new form of defence cooperation. Ambassador Rose clarified and reaffirmed UK’s positions. Some of the questions also examined the possibility of a second referendum or if fake news could have influenced the results.
The debate was followed by a “mix and mingle” moment where the participants and panellists had the chance to continue the discussions around a glass of wine and some nibbles.
Find all the photos of the event on Flickr.