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Europe In Turmoil

Sir Michael Leigh, Former Director General for Enlargement at the European Commission, UK

October 4, 2016

Describing the European Union as a peace project and a force protecting the region from the demons of its past, Sir Michael Leigh outlined the benefits of EU cooperation. For decades the EU went from strength to strength, broadened its membership, and deepened European integration. Recently, however, "euroskeptics" have clamored to roll back this cooperation. What then, he asks, went wrong?

Leigh points to EU overreach. Tremendous progress was made by the adoption of an internal EU marketplace, the Maastricht Treaty, and the integration of Eastern Europe, but the euro currency proved to be a step too far.

The United Kingdom provides a useful case study, Leigh said. The UK has been able to selectively integrate with Europe, joining the single market while opting out of the Schengen Zone and the euro. UK politics have grown rife with discontent over immigration, issues of identity, and a notion of sovereignty that alludes indirectly to Britain's imperial past. Leigh outlined the way forward for the UK as it plans its withdrawal from the EU. Overall, Leigh said "Brexit" introduces a major element of political and economic uncertainty and distracts attention and political energy from efforts to resolve Europe's other disorders.

Seminar summary