On 22nd November the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in co-operation with the State Secretariat for European Union Affairs of the Prime Minister’s Office organized the first panel discussion of the programme series entitled “Stronger together? Mapping a new path for the European Union” about the possible future of the European Union after Brexit. At the opening event entitled “Brexit was harsh – but is the wake-up call even harsher?” H. E. Mr. Iain Lindsay, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Hungary, H. E. Mr. Rastislav Káčer, Ambassa-dor of the Slovak Republic to Hungary, representing the Rotating Presidency of the Europe-an Council and H. E. Mr. Szabolcs Takács, Minister of State for European Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office were among the invited guests. The event was moderated by Amb. Márton Schőberl, Director-General of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
In his opening speech, Mr. Márton Schőberl welcomed the distinguished guests and the audience and drew the attention to those unprecedented challenges the European Union has to deal with nowadays. He highlighted that the aim of these series is to launch fruitful, effective, rational and fact-based debates since the United Kingdom being one of the strongest members voted to leave the European Union last June. Mr. Schőberl also emphasized that question “Where to go next?” shall be urgently answered by the EU, as the future of the European Union is at stake.
The co-panelists agreed with Mr. Schőberl that discussing these matters, listening to each other and acting effectively are essential in the process of the negotiations in connection with Brexit and beyond.
Mr. Szabolcs Takács was very optimistic about the future of the European Union despite the leaving intention of the United Kingdom. He underlined the importance of a strong European leadership, the common security provided to the citizens, the work possibilities for the youth and families and one of the biggest values of the EU: the option for debates. He believes that constructive development can only be reached if all involved parties are invited to negotiate, this way several ideas and suggestions can come to light creating the possibility for a final solution. As a result of this EU could get back his strong, global actor position.
As Mr. Takács said, Hungary and the other V4 countries imagine their long-term future as being part of the European Union. Hungary’s standpoint is that EU needs a strong leadership, and – although the Union will soon lose one of its member states – to come out on top and to establish a stable future relationship with the UK. As the United Kingdom is very popular among the Hungarian youth and employees, Hungary has to work on maintaining and strengthening its already existing relations with Britain.
Mr. Rastislav Káčer represented the Slovak presidency’s viewpoint concerning Brexit. He said that his country regrets but at the same time respects the will of the British people. This is the first divorce in the history of the European Union, but despite of this the relationship between the EU and the UK will always be unique. He agreed that a strong co-operation between the two entities will be essential; furthermore he also described how the Slovak presidency considers this topic. According to Rastislav Káčer there is no place for compromises, albeit Slovakia hopes that the UK and EU will not drift apart, still a sharp line dividing clearly and transparently these two entities will have to be drawn. As stated by him, triggering the Article 50 should happen by the end of March 2017, as in 2019 the European Parliament will elect a new president and it has be clear by that time whether the UK should be taken into consideration as an EU member or not. He considered particularly important that the Brexit negotiations should be fair and equally advantageous for both sides, since the lack of these could cause damage in the future co-operation. He added that one of the most important issues related to Brexit is to what extent and under which conditions the United Kingdom could be present on the single common market.
Mr. Iain Lindsay, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Hungary started his contribution to the discussion with the fact that the will of people has to be followed. In this case people’s will marked out the path for the UK: leaving the European Union. In connection with Brexit, Mr. Lindsay said that the UK’s main objective is to have a negotiation process that leads to a fair solution. The relationship between the EU and the UK will remain very important and the country will maintain its EU commitments. He agreed with Mr. Káčer on triggering the Article 50 as the latest of March 2017 and highlighted that Theresa May is also determined about doing so.
Afterwards Mr. Lindsay emphasized the global role of the United Kingdom as a sovereign country. He stressed that the UK will remain the member of the UN Security Council and of the G7 and that further business and economic opportunities are available all around the world. Strengthening the relations with the EU member states is a high priority for the United Kingdom, but it should be opened to new opportunities as an independent state at a global level. He rounded up his speech by thanking the Prime Minister, Mr. Viktor Orbán’s support showed towards the United Kingdom in such hard times as he believes in the success of the United Kingdom outside the European Union.
After the individual contributions, the panellists discussed the questions of the possibility of a multi-speed Europe, the common defence policy and solidarity in the context of Europe. They all agreed on that the EU has never been a homogeneous integration, since there are countries that are member of the eurozone, different ones that are member of the Schengen zone and there are some regularly opt-outed. They all emphasized that the European Union should be able to adapt to new challenges and act accordingly. In connection with defence and security, Mr. Lindsay drew the attention to the fact that the NATO is responsible for defending the region of Europe and the territories of its member states. Finally, he added that the migration crisis should be put an end at the roots and should not be transferred to Europe.