september 13–17, 2017

Challenging Times for European Unity

Geoffrey Harris

former official of the European Parliament

Distinguished Teaching Fellow for European Integration and Global Rights

Vasalius College

Geoffrey Harris’ distinguished career of service as an official of the European Parliament spanned from 1976 to 2016, including a role as the Deputy Head of the European Parliament's Liaison Office with the US Congress in Washington DC. He also served as Head of the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat General of the European Parliament and coordinated relations with the parliaments of all countries involved in the EU enlargement process and the European Economic Area. His 1993 book, The Dark Side of Europe, examines right-wing extremism in contemporary Europe.

The European Union is much younger than the USA, but both have complex legislative systems with substantial devolution of powers away from Brussels and Washington. In a time of increasing hostility to our basic common values of democracy and freedom of expression, legislators on both sides of  the Atlantic need to make sure they understand each other.

Positive Trends in the EU

Professor Harris compared the current state of debate on the development of the EU to the disagreements and discussions that characterized the United States in the early 19th century, concluding that such discussions are ultimately productive. The EU is not about to collapse, he said, as he debunked misinformation seeking to destabilize the European Union. No additional countries are Brexit-ing, he added. Anti-EU sentiments are strong but are not sweeping Europe. The economy of the EU is healthy, and this is a key factor for stability. Further, for the moment, the immigration and refugee issues are being managed, in spite of all the difficulties, Professor Harris reported.

Challenges Facing the EU

But challenges are building up, Professor Harris warned. The rise of far-right populism in Europe, exhibited in recent elections in France and the upcoming vote in Germany, as well as the effects of Brexit pose challenges to the EU’s future.

Challenges to the EU

Managing globalization

Social and economic inequalities

Undermining by Russia, terrorists, and populism

Generational changes

Changes to political and electoral milieu

Migration

Institutional issues

Managing globalization and keeping pace with advancing technologies to grow Europe’s world market position are challenges, Professor Harris acknowledged. Slow economic growth in some countries, a lack of jobs, as well as social and economic inequalities among different regions and EU member states, with those facing the consequences of globalization on the rise, contributing to political and social tensions. Some EU countries are facing up to efforts at destabilization from Russia, from terrorists, and from the growing threat of “populism,” as immigration tensions fuel the rise of far-right nationalist groups.

As the new generation emerges, the common European narrative of the 1950s and 1960s, based on memories of World War II and the Holocaust that bound Europeans together in the desire for peace, has eroded, Professor Harris commented. The economic optimism of the Baby Boomers has failed to pass to the next generation, which struggles for jobs and a starting point on the ladder of success. This lack of a common narrative on the critical role of European Unity poses challenges to the EU.

Migration within the EU such as the influx of workers from Central and Eastern Europe to Britain changes the make-up of the labor market, leaving some without the necessary skills to compete. This adds to controversy when workers compete for scarce jobs. Immigration from outside the EU by people with different cultural, religious, and social norms, also creates tensions that strain European Unity.

Significant challenges arise from complex institutional issues facing the EU. The institutions seem distant from citizens and difficult to understand. With 751 members of the European Parliament, coming to consensus on such complicated issues is problematic.

He pointed to changes in political and electoral life as adding to the complexity of creating a unified Europe. Social media, for example, has drastically altered the channels of communication and the reporting of news, with significant influence on the electorate. The molding of opinion by outside forces, such as Russian misinformation stating that the EU is breaking up and attempted manipulation of the recent German and French elections, must be countered with the truth, Professor Harris warned. President Putin believes that 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union was a setback for Russia. His attempts to revive Russian power are potentially disruptive.

Achievements of the EU

EU leaders are seeking solutions to these challenges and trying to defend and build upon the achievements of the past 70 years of European integration, as they work to recover a sense of optimism and purpose. The goal of integration is the achievement of peace and reconciliation across the European continent, Professor Harris reminded the Forum, through a process of peaceful revolution and modernization. In many respects, this risky experiment in enlargement to include the whole continent of Europe has proven successful. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, for example, are doing well economically as part of the EU. Europe is attractive to refugees because of its economy and way of life.

There are, however, also failures to learn from, Professor Harris acknowledged. The failure to explain the institutional intricacies well has made EU decision-making appear remote and detached from local concerns. The failure to extend prosperity to all the regions leaves disruptive influences at large in society. And the failure to share the advantages of economic success equitably has left some sections of society struggling and angry. The failure to implement an effective management strategy for integrating refugees has fueled populist/nationalist sentiments.

The Power of Values: Living in Truth

On balance, the EU’s achievements far outweigh the failures. The EU should not be dissolved, but rather the leadership must learn from those failures and adapt EU structures and policies to solve the problems. Values are important, Professor Harris said, they are powerful motivators, values give power to the powerless.

 The EU must articulate its values and staunchly adhere to them, countering lies and misinformation with the truth. The truth is that the EU has strengthened democracy for 500 million EU inhabitants, but disinformation and lies can distort and obscure this reality. Professor Harris said.

Quoting former Czech President Vaclav Havel, he concluded “Living within the truth will allow the EU to move forward to create a peaceful, democratic Europe.”

Q&A

Q: Sen. John C. Cullerton (IL): Why hasn’t the Czech Republic joined the Eurozone?

A: Prof. Němeček: The country has a strong, independent central banking sector, the most effective central bank in post-Soviet Europe, which has done a good job of maintaining the stability of the Koruna (CZK). The Czechs avoided the currency fluctuations that happened in the Eurozone with the Greek crisis. Due to its stable banks, Czech Republic is able to attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), unlike other Easter European countries, such as Slovenia, which need the Euro to attract FDI.

Q: Sen. Brent Hill (ID): Given the centuries of hostility between the Germans and the Czechs, what factors contributed to their new friendly relationship? Is it mostly economics, or was there a conscious effort by the leadership?

A: Prof. Němeček: Both leadership and economics contributed to the change. In 1997, in a public apology, a joint Czech/German declaration agreed to leave the past in the past. It expressed mutual sorrow for what went before. The Germans expressed sorrow for the injustices of the Munich Accord and the Nazi occupation, while the Czechs expressed sorrow for the violent expulsion of Germans. They also established a Czech/German Future Fund, which provides care for the victims of the Holocaust and student exchange programs. They also have appointed a joint historical commission to write their 19th century history. Furthermore, Germany has always supported Czech Republic in NATO and the UN.

Professor Němeček also noted that the Taiwanese government is considering a declaration modeled on the 1997 Accord to bring reconciliation after the Japanese occupation.

Q: Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ): President Trump criticized the EU countries for not contributing sufficiently to their own defense. How is that sentiment viewed by the EU?

A: Prof. Harris: It is generally true and accepted as such. There are both military and political attacks taking place. For example, on the political front, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is under attack from Mr. Putin, while Russian military activities on the eastern borders are focusing interest on military security.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Russia took back Crimea with military force. Slovakia and Poland border Ukraine and are spiritually connected. What has been the impact of Crimea on security in the eastern part of the EU?

A: Prof. Němeček: Western EU states such as Germany and France could accept the Crimea status quo, but not the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles because they experienced partition and Russian occupation and are burdened by that history.  The Czech Republic supported the democratic forces in Ukraine and offered sanctuary to those opposing the Russian intrusion. The Czechs and Poles will never accept that Russia owns Crimea.

A: Prof. Harris: Mr. Putin saw the enlargement of the EU as a threat to Russia rather than a guarantee of security to those countries. The Putin government launched a program of disinformation in the Ukraine and EU to build support for the Russian occupation. Before that, Ukraine was perceived as being part of the “eastern neighborhood of the EU” and was about to apply for EU membership. Russia’s move against Crimea was unforeseen, and made it apparent that Russia’s global agenda is to roll back to pre-1989 and assert Russia as a world power at parity with the US, EU, and China.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): The Brexit vote was very close, and people underestimated how complicated it is to exit the EU. Is there likely to be another election to reconsider the decision to leave?  How will Brexit affect the Scottish independence movement?

A: Prof. Harris: A week is a long time in politics and there are 567 days until Brexit implementation, so a lot could happen. But the chances for change in Britain are not great.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Brexit means Brexit.” As a result, the image of Britain is less attractive to those with a more global view, as the leaders are perceived as more introverted. Brexit is seen as an act of xenophobia that has engendered more such acts. Now British fruit farmers cannot get workers to pick the crops because of the atmosphere of fear generated in Britain.

When the UK leaves the EU, they will not have an improved situation. But they have not made clear what they want.  What the British should want is a free movement of labor. Younger people want to stay in the EU, where they see more opportunity. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the people’s will may change.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US, there are strong and weak, young and old federations within the States, but the Supreme Court is respected by all the States and keeps it all together. What is the EU institution that is judicial, rather than political, that establishes and upholds new laws?

A: Prof. Harris: One justice from each EU country sits on the European Court of Justice. They rule on EU-wide issues such as labor rights or equality between men and women, and they resolve controversial decisions that need to be implemented across all the EU countries. They are responsible for the final interpretation of the EU laws. When Britain leaves the EU, a challenge will be to determine which laws rule Britain’s activities in the Common Market, the European Court of Justice or British rule.

Speaker Biography

Geoffrey Harris

Geoffrey Harris spent 40 years with the European Parliament and is a distinguished veteran of European integration. He is a distinguished teaching fellow for European Integration and Global Human Rights at Vasalius College in Brussels.

He was the deputy head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office with the U.S. Congress, based in Washington D.C., from 2012 to 2016. Until July 2012, he was the Head of the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat General of the European Parliament.

Between 1992 and 2004, Geoffrey was in charge of inter-parliamentary relations with countries in Europe but outside the EU. He coordinated relations with the parliaments of all countries involved in the enlargement process as well as with Russia, the Balkans, the countries of the eastern neighbourhood of the EU, as well as the European Economic Area. Geoffrey was diplomatic adviser to the President of Parliament (1989–1992) and an official of the centre left Socialist Group (1976–1989).

Geoffrey graduated from the University of Manchester before gaining a Masters degree at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. He has been a visiting scholar at Cornell (US) and Edinburgh (UK) universities. He is also the author of The Dark Side Of Europe (1993), which addressed right-wing extremism. Geoffrey has been published extensively on the EU and human rights, and has lectured around the world.

The European Union is much younger than the USA, but both have complex legislative systems with substantial devolution of powers away from Brussels and Washington. In a time of increasing hostility to our basic common values of democracy and freedom of expression, legislators on both sides of  the Atlantic need to make sure they understand each other.

The EU is not about to collapse.

Challenges to the EU

• Managing globalization

• Social and economic inequalities

• Undermining by Russia, terrorists, and populism

• Generational changes

• Changes to political and electoral milieu

• Migration

• Institutional issues

Sen. John Cullerton (IL)

Sen. Brent Hill (ID)

Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ)

Sen. David Long (IN)

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR)

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR)

Geoffrey Harris

CONTACT

Senate Presidents’ Forum

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Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

 

Tel: 914-693-1818

Copyright © 2017 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.

september 13–17, 2017

Challenging Times for European Unity

Geoffrey Harris

former official of the European Parliament

Distinguished Teaching Fellow for European Integration and Global Rights

Vasalius College

Geoffrey Harris’ distinguished career of service as an official of the European Parliament spanned from 1976 to 2016, including a role as the Deputy Head of the European Parliament's Liaison Office with the US Congress in Washington DC. He also served as Head of the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat General of the European Parliament and coordinated relations with the parliaments of all countries involved in the EU enlargement process and the European Economic Area. His 1993 book, The Dark Side of Europe, examines right-wing extremism in contemporary Europe.

The European Union is much younger than the USA, but both have complex legislative systems with substantial devolution of powers away from Brussels and Washington. In a time of increasing hostility to our basic common values of democracy and freedom of expression, legislators on both sides of  the Atlantic need to make sure they understand each other.

The European Union is much younger than the USA, but both have complex legislative systems with substantial devolution of powers away from Brussels and Washington. In a time of increasing hostility to our basic common values of democracy and freedom of expression, legislators on both sides of  the Atlantic need to make sure they understand each other.

Positive Trends in the EU

Professor Harris compared the current state of debate on the development of the EU to the disagreements and discussions that characterized the United States in the early 19th century, concluding that such discussions are ultimately productive. The EU is not about to collapse, he said, as he debunked misinformation seeking to destabilize the European Union. No additional countries are Brexit-ing, he added. Anti-EU sentiments are strong but are not sweeping Europe. The economy of the EU is healthy, and this is a key factor for stability. Further, for the moment, the immigration and refugee issues are being managed, in spite of all the difficulties, Professor Harris reported.

The EU is not about to collapse.

Challenges Facing the EU

But challenges are building up, Professor Harris warned. The rise of far-right populism in Europe, exhibited in recent elections in France and the upcoming vote in Germany, as well as the effects of Brexit pose challenges to the EU’s future.

Challenges to the EU

Managing globalization

Social and economic inequalities

Undermining by Russia, terrorists, and populism

Generational changes

Changes to political and electoral milieu

Migration

Institutional issues

Challenges to the EU• Managing globalization• Social and economic inequalities• Undermining by Russia, terrorists, and populism• Generational changes• Changes to political and electoral milieu• Migration• Institutional issues

Managing globalization and keeping pace with advancing technologies to grow Europe’s world market position are challenges, Professor Harris acknowledged. Slow economic growth in some countries, a lack of jobs, as well as social and economic inequalities among different regions and EU member states, with those facing the consequences of globalization on the rise, contributing to political and social tensions. Some EU countries are facing up to efforts at destabilization from Russia, from terrorists, and from the growing threat of “populism,” as immigration tensions fuel the rise of far-right nationalist groups.

As the new generation emerges, the common European narrative of the 1950s and 1960s, based on memories of World War II and the Holocaust that bound Europeans together in the desire for peace, has eroded, Professor Harris commented. The economic optimism of the Baby Boomers has failed to pass to the next generation, which struggles for jobs and a starting point on the ladder of success. This lack of a common narrative on the critical role of European Unity poses challenges to the EU.

Migration within the EU such as the influx of workers from Central and Eastern Europe to Britain changes the make-up of the labor market, leaving some without the necessary skills to compete. This adds to controversy when workers compete for scarce jobs. Immigration from outside the EU by people with different cultural, religious, and social norms, also creates tensions that strain European Unity.

Significant challenges arise from complex institutional issues facing the EU. The institutions seem distant from citizens and difficult to understand. With 751 members of the European Parliament, coming to consensus on such complicated issues is problematic.

He pointed to changes in political and electoral life as adding to the complexity of creating a unified Europe. Social media, for example, has drastically altered the channels of communication and the reporting of news, with significant influence on the electorate. The molding of opinion by outside forces, such as Russian misinformation stating that the EU is breaking up and attempted manipulation of the recent German and French elections, must be countered with the truth, Professor Harris warned. President Putin believes that 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union was a setback for Russia. His attempts to revive Russian power are potentially disruptive.

Achievements of the EU

EU leaders are seeking solutions to these challenges and trying to defend and build upon the achievements of the past 70 years of European integration, as they work to recover a sense of optimism and purpose. The goal of integration is the achievement of peace and reconciliation across the European continent, Professor Harris reminded the Forum, through a process of peaceful revolution and modernization. In many respects, this risky experiment in enlargement to include the whole continent of Europe has proven successful. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, for example, are doing well economically as part of the EU. Europe is attractive to refugees because of its economy and way of life.

There are, however, also failures to learn from, Professor Harris acknowledged. The failure to explain the institutional intricacies well has made EU decision-making appear remote and detached from local concerns. The failure to extend prosperity to all the regions leaves disruptive influences at large in society. And the failure to share the advantages of economic success equitably has left some sections of society struggling and angry. The failure to implement an effective management strategy for integrating refugees has fueled populist/nationalist sentiments.

The Power of Values: Living in Truth

On balance, the EU’s achievements far outweigh the failures. The EU should not be dissolved, but rather the leadership must learn from those failures and adapt EU structures and policies to solve the problems. Values are important, Professor Harris said, they are powerful motivators, values give power to the powerless.

 The EU must articulate its values and staunchly adhere to them, countering lies and misinformation with the truth. The truth is that the EU has strengthened democracy for 500 million EU inhabitants, but disinformation and lies can distort and obscure this reality. Professor Harris said.

Quoting former Czech President Vaclav Havel, he concluded “Living within the truth will allow the EU to move forward to create a peaceful, democratic Europe.”

Q&A

Q: Sen. John C. Cullerton (IL): Why hasn’t the Czech Republic joined the Eurozone?

A: Prof. Němeček: The country has a strong, independent central banking sector, the most effective central bank in post-Soviet Europe, which has done a good job of maintaining the stability of the Koruna (CZK). The Czechs avoided the currency fluctuations that happened in the Eurozone with the Greek crisis. Due to its stable banks, Czech Republic is able to attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), unlike other Easter European countries, such as Slovenia, which need the Euro to attract FDI.

Q: Sen. Brent Hill (ID): Given the centuries of hostility between the Germans and the Czechs, what factors contributed to their new friendly relationship? Is it mostly economics, or was there a conscious effort by the leadership?

A: Prof. Němeček: Both leadership and economics contributed to the change. In 1997, in a public apology, a joint Czech/German declaration agreed to leave the past in the past. It expressed mutual sorrow for what went before. The Germans expressed sorrow for the injustices of the Munich Accord and the Nazi occupation, while the Czechs expressed sorrow for the violent expulsion of Germans. They also established a Czech/German Future Fund, which provides care for the victims of the Holocaust and student exchange programs. They also have appointed a joint historical commission to write their 19th century history. Furthermore, Germany has always supported Czech Republic in NATO and the UN.

Professor Němeček also noted that the Taiwanese government is considering a declaration modeled on the 1997 Accord to bring reconciliation after the Japanese occupation.

Q: Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ): President Trump criticized the EU countries for not contributing sufficiently to their own defense. How is that sentiment viewed by the EU?

A: Prof. Harris: It is generally true and accepted as such. There are both military and political attacks taking place. For example, on the political front, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is under attack from Mr. Putin, while Russian military activities on the eastern borders are focusing interest on military security.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Russia took back Crimea with military force. Slovakia and Poland border Ukraine and are spiritually connected. What has been the impact of Crimea on security in the eastern part of the EU?

A: Prof. Němeček: Western EU states such as Germany and France could accept the Crimea status quo, but not the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles because they experienced partition and Russian occupation and are burdened by that history.  The Czech Republic supported the democratic forces in Ukraine and offered sanctuary to those opposing the Russian intrusion. The Czechs and Poles will never accept that Russia owns Crimea.

A: Prof. Harris: Mr. Putin saw the enlargement of the EU as a threat to Russia rather than a guarantee of security to those countries. The Putin government launched a program of disinformation in the Ukraine and EU to build support for the Russian occupation. Before that, Ukraine was perceived as being part of the “eastern neighborhood of the EU” and was about to apply for EU membership. Russia’s move against Crimea was unforeseen, and made it apparent that Russia’s global agenda is to roll back to pre-1989 and assert Russia as a world power at parity with the US, EU, and China.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): The Brexit vote was very close, and people underestimated how complicated it is to exit the EU. Is there likely to be another election to reconsider the decision to leave?  How will Brexit affect the Scottish independence movement?

A: Prof. Harris: A week is a long time in politics and there are 567 days until Brexit implementation, so a lot could happen. But the chances for change in Britain are not great.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Brexit means Brexit.” As a result, the image of Britain is less attractive to those with a more global view, as the leaders are perceived as more introverted. Brexit is seen as an act of xenophobia that has engendered more such acts. Now British fruit farmers cannot get workers to pick the crops because of the atmosphere of fear generated in Britain.

When the UK leaves the EU, they will not have an improved situation. But they have not made clear what they want.  What the British should want is a free movement of labor. Younger people want to stay in the EU, where they see more opportunity. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the people’s will may change.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US, there are strong and weak, young and old federations within the States, but the Supreme Court is respected by all the States and keeps it all together. What is the EU institution that is judicial, rather than political, that establishes and upholds new laws?

A: Prof. Harris: One justice from each EU country sits on the European Court of Justice. They rule on EU-wide issues such as labor rights or equality between men and women, and they resolve controversial decisions that need to be implemented across all the EU countries. They are responsible for the final interpretation of the EU laws. When Britain leaves the EU, a challenge will be to determine which laws rule Britain’s activities in the Common Market, the European Court of Justice or British rule.

Speaker Biography

Geoffrey Harris

Geoffrey Harris spent 40 years with the European Parliament and is a distinguished veteran of European integration. He is a distinguished teaching fellow for European Integration and Global Human Rights at Vasalius College in Brussels.

He was the deputy head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office with the U.S. Congress, based in Washington D.C., from 2012 to 2016. Until July 2012, he was the Head of the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat General of the European Parliament.

Between 1992 and 2004, Geoffrey was in charge of inter-parliamentary relations with countries in Europe but outside the EU. He coordinated relations with the parliaments of all countries involved in the enlargement process as well as with Russia, the Balkans, the countries of the eastern neighbourhood of the EU, as well as the European Economic Area. Geoffrey was diplomatic adviser to the President of Parliament (1989–1992) and an official of the centre left Socialist Group (1976–1989).

Geoffrey graduated from the University of Manchester before gaining a Masters degree at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. He has been a visiting scholar at Cornell (US) and Edinburgh (UK) universities. He is also the author of The Dark Side Of Europe (1993), which addressed right-wing extremism. Geoffrey has been published extensively on the EU and human rights, and has lectured around the world.

september 13–17, 2017

Challenging Times for European Unity

Geoffrey Harris

former official of the European Parliament

Distinguished Teaching Fellow for European Integration and Global Rights

Vasalius College

Geoffrey Harris’ distinguished career of service as an official of the European Parliament spanned from 1976 to 2016, including a role as the Deputy Head of the European Parliament's Liaison Office with the US Congress in Washington DC. He also served as Head of the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat General of the European Parliament and coordinated relations with the parliaments of all countries involved in the EU enlargement process and the European Economic Area. His 1993 book, The Dark Side of Europe, examines right-wing extremism in contemporary Europe.

The European Union is much younger than the USA, but both have complex legislative systems with substantial devolution of powers away from Brussels and Washington. In a time of increasing hostility to our basic common values of democracy and freedom of expression, legislators on both sides of  the Atlantic need to make sure they understand each other.

The European Union is much younger than the USA, but both have complex legislative systems with substantial devolution of powers away from Brussels and Washington. In a time of increasing hostility to our basic common values of democracy and freedom of expression, legislators on both sides of  the Atlantic need to make sure they understand each other.

Positive Trends in the EU

Professor Harris compared the current state of debate on the development of the EU to the disagreements and discussions that characterized the United States in the early 19th century, concluding that such discussions are ultimately productive. The EU is not about to collapse, he said, as he debunked misinformation seeking to destabilize the European Union. No additional countries are Brexit-ing, he added. Anti-EU sentiments are strong but are not sweeping Europe. The economy of the EU is healthy, and this is a key factor for stability. Further, for the moment, the immigration and refugee issues are being managed, in spite of all the difficulties, Professor Harris reported.

The EU is not about to collapse.

Challenges Facing the EU

But challenges are building up, Professor Harris warned. The rise of far-right populism in Europe, exhibited in recent elections in France and the upcoming vote in Germany, as well as the effects of Brexit pose challenges to the EU’s future.

Challenges to the EU

Managing globalization

Social and economic inequalities

Undermining by Russia, terrorists, and populism

Generational changes

Changes to political and electoral milieu

Migration

Institutional issues

Challenges to the EU• Managing globalization• Social and economic inequalities• Undermining by Russia, terrorists, and populism• Generational changes• Changes to political and electoral milieu• Migration• Institutional issues

Managing globalization and keeping pace with advancing technologies to grow Europe’s world market position are challenges, Professor Harris acknowledged. Slow economic growth in some countries, a lack of jobs, as well as social and economic inequalities among different regions and EU member states, with those facing the consequences of globalization on the rise, contributing to political and social tensions. Some EU countries are facing up to efforts at destabilization from Russia, from terrorists, and from the growing threat of “populism,” as immigration tensions fuel the rise of far-right nationalist groups.

As the new generation emerges, the common European narrative of the 1950s and 1960s, based on memories of World War II and the Holocaust that bound Europeans together in the desire for peace, has eroded, Professor Harris commented. The economic optimism of the Baby Boomers has failed to pass to the next generation, which struggles for jobs and a starting point on the ladder of success. This lack of a common narrative on the critical role of European Unity poses challenges to the EU.

Migration within the EU such as the influx of workers from Central and Eastern Europe to Britain changes the make-up of the labor market, leaving some without the necessary skills to compete. This adds to controversy when workers compete for scarce jobs. Immigration from outside the EU by people with different cultural, religious, and social norms, also creates tensions that strain European Unity.

Significant challenges arise from complex institutional issues facing the EU. The institutions seem distant from citizens and difficult to understand. With 751 members of the European Parliament, coming to consensus on such complicated issues is problematic.

He pointed to changes in political and electoral life as adding to the complexity of creating a unified Europe. Social media, for example, has drastically altered the channels of communication and the reporting of news, with significant influence on the electorate. The molding of opinion by outside forces, such as Russian misinformation stating that the EU is breaking up and attempted manipulation of the recent German and French elections, must be countered with the truth, Professor Harris warned. President Putin believes that 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union was a setback for Russia. His attempts to revive Russian power are potentially disruptive.

Achievements of the EU

EU leaders are seeking solutions to these challenges and trying to defend and build upon the achievements of the past 70 years of European integration, as they work to recover a sense of optimism and purpose. The goal of integration is the achievement of peace and reconciliation across the European continent, Professor Harris reminded the Forum, through a process of peaceful revolution and modernization. In many respects, this risky experiment in enlargement to include the whole continent of Europe has proven successful. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, for example, are doing well economically as part of the EU. Europe is attractive to refugees because of its economy and way of life.

There are, however, also failures to learn from, Professor Harris acknowledged. The failure to explain the institutional intricacies well has made EU decision-making appear remote and detached from local concerns. The failure to extend prosperity to all the regions leaves disruptive influences at large in society. And the failure to share the advantages of economic success equitably has left some sections of society struggling and angry. The failure to implement an effective management strategy for integrating refugees has fueled populist/nationalist sentiments.

The Power of Values: Living in Truth

On balance, the EU’s achievements far outweigh the failures. The EU should not be dissolved, but rather the leadership must learn from those failures and adapt EU structures and policies to solve the problems. Values are important, Professor Harris said, they are powerful motivators, values give power to the powerless.

 The EU must articulate its values and staunchly adhere to them, countering lies and misinformation with the truth. The truth is that the EU has strengthened democracy for 500 million EU inhabitants, but disinformation and lies can distort and obscure this reality. Professor Harris said.

Quoting former Czech President Vaclav Havel, he concluded “Living within the truth will allow the EU to move forward to create a peaceful, democratic Europe.”

Q&A

Q: Sen. John C. Cullerton (IL): Why hasn’t the Czech Republic joined the Eurozone?

A: Prof. Němeček: The country has a strong, independent central banking sector, the most effective central bank in post-Soviet Europe, which has done a good job of maintaining the stability of the Koruna (CZK). The Czechs avoided the currency fluctuations that happened in the Eurozone with the Greek crisis. Due to its stable banks, Czech Republic is able to attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), unlike other Easter European countries, such as Slovenia, which need the Euro to attract FDI.

Q: Sen. Brent Hill (ID): Given the centuries of hostility between the Germans and the Czechs, what factors contributed to their new friendly relationship? Is it mostly economics, or was there a conscious effort by the leadership?

A: Prof. Němeček: Both leadership and economics contributed to the change. In 1997, in a public apology, a joint Czech/German declaration agreed to leave the past in the past. It expressed mutual sorrow for what went before. The Germans expressed sorrow for the injustices of the Munich Accord and the Nazi occupation, while the Czechs expressed sorrow for the violent expulsion of Germans. They also established a Czech/German Future Fund, which provides care for the victims of the Holocaust and student exchange programs. They also have appointed a joint historical commission to write their 19th century history. Furthermore, Germany has always supported Czech Republic in NATO and the UN.

Professor Němeček also noted that the Taiwanese government is considering a declaration modeled on the 1997 Accord to bring reconciliation after the Japanese occupation.

Q: Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ): President Trump criticized the EU countries for not contributing sufficiently to their own defense. How is that sentiment viewed by the EU?

A: Prof. Harris: It is generally true and accepted as such. There are both military and political attacks taking place. For example, on the political front, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is under attack from Mr. Putin, while Russian military activities on the eastern borders are focusing interest on military security.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Russia took back Crimea with military force. Slovakia and Poland border Ukraine and are spiritually connected. What has been the impact of Crimea on security in the eastern part of the EU?

A: Prof. Němeček: Western EU states such as Germany and France could accept the Crimea status quo, but not the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles because they experienced partition and Russian occupation and are burdened by that history.  The Czech Republic supported the democratic forces in Ukraine and offered sanctuary to those opposing the Russian intrusion. The Czechs and Poles will never accept that Russia owns Crimea.

A: Prof. Harris: Mr. Putin saw the enlargement of the EU as a threat to Russia rather than a guarantee of security to those countries. The Putin government launched a program of disinformation in the Ukraine and EU to build support for the Russian occupation. Before that, Ukraine was perceived as being part of the “eastern neighborhood of the EU” and was about to apply for EU membership. Russia’s move against Crimea was unforeseen, and made it apparent that Russia’s global agenda is to roll back to pre-1989 and assert Russia as a world power at parity with the US, EU, and China.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): The Brexit vote was very close, and people underestimated how complicated it is to exit the EU. Is there likely to be another election to reconsider the decision to leave?  How will Brexit affect the Scottish independence movement?

A: Prof. Harris: A week is a long time in politics and there are 567 days until Brexit implementation, so a lot could happen. But the chances for change in Britain are not great.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Brexit means Brexit.” As a result, the image of Britain is less attractive to those with a more global view, as the leaders are perceived as more introverted. Brexit is seen as an act of xenophobia that has engendered more such acts. Now British fruit farmers cannot get workers to pick the crops because of the atmosphere of fear generated in Britain.

When the UK leaves the EU, they will not have an improved situation. But they have not made clear what they want.  What the British should want is a free movement of labor. Younger people want to stay in the EU, where they see more opportunity. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the people’s will may change.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US, there are strong and weak, young and old federations within the States, but the Supreme Court is respected by all the States and keeps it all together. What is the EU institution that is judicial, rather than political, that establishes and upholds new laws?

A: Prof. Harris: One justice from each EU country sits on the European Court of Justice. They rule on EU-wide issues such as labor rights or equality between men and women, and they resolve controversial decisions that need to be implemented across all the EU countries. They are responsible for the final interpretation of the EU laws. When Britain leaves the EU, a challenge will be to determine which laws rule Britain’s activities in the Common Market, the European Court of Justice or British rule.

Speaker Biography

Geoffrey Harris

Geoffrey Harris spent 40 years with the European Parliament and is a distinguished veteran of European integration. He is a distinguished teaching fellow for European Integration and Global Human Rights at Vasalius College in Brussels.

He was the deputy head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office with the U.S. Congress, based in Washington D.C., from 2012 to 2016. Until July 2012, he was the Head of the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat General of the European Parliament.

Between 1992 and 2004, Geoffrey was in charge of inter-parliamentary relations with countries in Europe but outside the EU. He coordinated relations with the parliaments of all countries involved in the enlargement process as well as with Russia, the Balkans, the countries of the eastern neighbourhood of the EU, as well as the European Economic Area. Geoffrey was diplomatic adviser to the President of Parliament (1989–1992) and an official of the centre left Socialist Group (1976–1989).

Geoffrey graduated from the University of Manchester before gaining a Masters degree at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. He has been a visiting scholar at Cornell (US) and Edinburgh (UK) universities. He is also the author of The Dark Side Of Europe (1993), which addressed right-wing extremism. Geoffrey has been published extensively on the EU and human rights, and has lectured around the world.