The EU after the Brexit referendum: looking for a more positive narrative on Europe

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Joost van Iersel, President of the EESC's ECO section, attends the EPC 20th Anniversary Conference

On 13 October 2016 the EPC organised a high-level conference on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. The EESC's ECO Section President, Joost van Iersel, attended the debates, which were very lively and interesting. Brexit was seen as a catalyst for deeper digging into the causes of populism and the failing of political leaders and the different Councils. The lack of conviction of practically all national decision-makers across the continent when talking about European affairs was duly addressed and analysed.

Mr van Iersel found the analyses of EPC as well as those made by the European Council President Donald Tusk and the EPC President Herman Van Rompuy alarming and convincing. They went very much beyond day-to-day economics. As regards the UK, it was pointed out in the discussion that "Brexit is Brexit" and that the common wellbeing of the 27 is the first priority, which comes before anything else. Mr Tusk worked that thesis out, arguing that it is about fundamental European values, which cannot be given up. The European values were strongly underscored by various speakers, notably by Mr Tusk and Mr Van Rompuy. Martin Schulz, President of the EP, not optimistic either, expected the process of muddling-through to continue at least until the German elections. But there are still very few signals that it would be much better thereafter. Meanwhile Europe is losing momentum vis-à-vis other global forces, notably the US and China. However, political leaders do not have yet any firm counter-narrative against populist and eurosceptic narratives. On the contrary, Europe-bashing continues, with the fragile EU often falling victim of political fights at national level.