Pessimism, Populism and the Battle for Brexit Top GMF’s Brussels Forum
BRUSSELS – Douglas Carswell, the only member of the U.K. Independence Party elected to Parliament, believes that international affairs are moving in the right direction. “2016 was perhaps the most positive year of my life since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And I think it’s going to get better,” he said at GMF’s Brussels Forum. With less than a week before Theresa May’s government triggers Article 50, Carswell expressed optimism for the outcomes of Brexit in a conversation with European Council on Foreign Relations Co-Chair and former Prime Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt, moderated by POLITICO’s Ryan Heath.
The conversation was part of GMF’s Brussels Forum, which takes place at the Wiltcher’s Steigenberger. GMF’s Brussels Forum, now in its 12th year, gathers thought leaders from government, business, journalism, and academia for discussions of pressing global issues. This year’s event drew a record over 800 credentialed participants.
Other speakers at Brussels Forum were less hopeful about the state of the world than Carswell. Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of American Interest, opened the conference with a speech describing an increasingly disordered, dangerous and unequal world, and a political scene dominated by distrust between the public and the elite. “There’s a big debate among populists today: are the elites stupid or are they evil?” said Mead.
Populism was a dominant theme in the opening conversation. James Brainard, mayor of Carmel, Indiana; Zsuzsanna Szelenyi, a member of Hungary’s parliament; Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament and chief Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament; and Jane Harman, director, president, and CEO, of the Wilson Center and a former California congresswoman drew comparisons on populist parties. Despite their different national and political backgrounds, all four saw populism as a dominant and strongly negative trend for society. The moderator asked the group if they had ever engaged in populism for their own political ends. Only Verhofstadt admitted to using populist rhetoric about immigrants, “once, 25 years ago. I apologized the next day.”
"We are in a trap: nation states are confronted with challenges bigger than their borders, and the EU is without the means, instruments to do anything about it,” added Verhofstadt
In a conversation that centered on Turkey, European unity, and EU-U.K. trade ties Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission detailed why the European project is still relevant in spite of the EU reaching a crossroads.
"So one of the beautiful elements of European integration is that we don't make borders disappear, they remain essential but they are no longer existential."
The theme of this year’s conference, End of Complacency – Era of Action? underscores the urgency of the challenges facing the world. The conference, which continues through March 25, is livestreamed at www.brusselsforum.org.
U.S. Senators Johnson and McCain, Didier Reynders, Belgian minister of foreign affairs and other senior business and political leaders will lead discussions on Friday.
GMF's Brussels Forum is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential U.S., European, and global political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both sides of the Atlantic. With 53 countries represented and more than 800 attendees, the 12th annual GMF's Brussels Forum includes senior officials from European Union institutions and the member states, U.S. government officials and Congressional representatives, parliamentarians, academics, and media. The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is proud to be joined by its founding partners, Daimler and the Federal Authorities of Belgium, as well as our strategic partner, Deloitte. We also extend our thanks to BP, Brussels Capital Region, Centrica, Google, and the OCP Policy Center as Forum partners. In addition, we would like to recognize our associate partners: AARP, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, NATO, and the Wilfried Martens Centre. We would like to acknowledge the support of our GMF's Brussels Forum Young Professionals Summit partners: the European External Action Service, Microsoft, Silver Parker Group, and the United States Mission to the European Union. GMF also recognizes POLITICO as the official digital media partner for GMF's Brussels Forum.
The Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative Fellowship brings young European entrepreneurs pursuing ventures to the United States for an intensive program of exchange, dialogue, and guidance from hosts and mentors across the United States. The fellowship is the flagship program of the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI) of the U.S. Department of State and is supported in its implementation by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The 2017 fellows names were announced at GMF's Brussels Forum.
Open Letter from Europe's Politicians
To mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, 57 elected representatives from the EU’s national parliaments, including from Greece, Germany, Poland, Spain, Hungary, and the U.K., join forces across borders and across political parties. In an Open Letter to their colleagues across the EU, signatories vow to take on political and personal responsibility for the future of the EU. The initiators met thanks to the Mercator European Dialogue, a project coordinated by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), and will present their initiative for the first time at Brussels Forum.