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The European Union in the face of Brexit and other challenges

Conferencia | Spanish

February 03 OF 2017 from 09:00 AM to 10:30 AM



The various crises simultaneously facing the European Union (EU), threatening the region’s political, economic and social stability as well as its integration process, have given rise to a broad range of positions and attitudes in the various member states. The only point of agreement among them seems to be the perception that the EU is ineffective at responding to today’s major challenges. ''In the past, the EU has been a political space that was capable of reconciling differences through mutually beneficial trade-offs that consequently drove the unification process,'' commented Miguel Poiares Maduro, former Deputy Minister of Portugal, professor of EU law at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence and visiting professor at Yale Law School, at the most recent Big Challenges social debate session, organised by ESADE. The session also featured the participation of José M. de Areilza, Professor at ESADE Law School and holder of the Jean Monnet–ESADE Chair. The irony facing Europe, Prof. Maduro added, is that ''every crisis once again casts doubt on the effectiveness of our common institutions, and this criticised inefficiency is derived precisely from the failure of the member states to reconcile their political differences''.

According to Prof. Maduro, the ''current operating conditions of politics'' produce a ''vicious circle or mismatch between national and European policy''. He added: ''The European democratic deficit is actually a deficit at the national level because the political communities of each member state continue to operate as if they were not highly interdependent. The idea that we can work on our own is artificial, a manipulation that works through the logic of contrast.'' He concluded: ''The things that often fuel politics at the national level – criticism of the European integration process and European institutions – is precisely what makes the EU operate ineffectively.''

The Brexit paradox

''The inequalities and lack of well-being perceived by British citizens are derived not only from the UK’s membership in the European Union but also from the global phenomenon of economic and political interdependence, which exists both within and outside of the EU,'' commented Prof. Maduro. ''Theresa May’s stance on Brexit is advertised, paradoxically, as a way to be more open to the world, to be more global and interdependent.'' He added, however, that by leaving the EU the United Kingdom ''will lose its most useful tool, which allows it to act and regulate the consequences of this interdependence''. Prof. Maduro also acknowledged that this weakening is ''clearly reflected in the recent meeting between Donald Trump and Theresa May, in which, despite the political rhetoric, the UK is in a much weaker position against the US''.

Prof. Areilza offered a different viewpoint, arguing that ''it makes no sense to try to punish UK citizens for a decision they made through a democratic procedure''. Prof Maduro countered that it is necessary to ''strike a balance between the non-punishment principle and avoiding a free-riding scenario in which the United Kingdom benefits without regard for the consequences to the EU, as this would open a door to the disintegration of the union''. He added: ''The negotiations for both the departure and the new agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union must ensure the protection of rights and an advantageous agreement for all parties. One possibility is that the EU could offer the UK an existing model, like the ones used for Canada and Switzerland.''

''The integration process must not come to a halt, especially the development of the eurozone,'' argued Prof. Areilza. ''The EU is a defender of an open, international economy and multilateral institutions. It needs to be a decisive player in the face of threats to global security. It is therefore necessary to work to strengthen the functioning of democracy at the European level.''

The Trump ''vaccine''

''The figure of Trump, so disruptive and chaotic – a mix of 'sound and fury', to quote Shakespeare – could simultaneously accelerate populisms and act as a vaccine against them,'' commented Prof. Areilza. Prof. Maduro echoed this statement, commenting: ''Trump can do a lot of damage to Europe, but he could also be an opportunity. The narrative and the historical justification of the European Union are based on the ideas of stability, security and prosperity, which were so necessary in the mid-20th century but have been diluted by advances in economic convergence. When those values are once again jeopardised, it is possible that European citizens, even the most Eurosceptic among them, will once again realise the value of EU membership.''

What sort of leadership does the EU need?

According to Prof. Areilza, the European Union is ''one of the greatest political inventions in history'', but it ''hasn’t managed to reinvent itself in recent times''. It is necessary, he argued, to ''relaunch Europeanism'' but political leaders need to undertake an ''exercise in self-criticism'' in order to ''avoid a new version of enlightened despotism'' and ''build a citizens' EU''. Prof. Maduro stressed the importance of working toward ''a European policy that is perceived as a source of positive incentives and not as a disciplinary and coercive exercise for member states''.

Great leaders, argued Prof. Maduro, ''are able to do things that are initially unpopular but which later work''. He acknowledged, however, that something has changed in politics: ''The immediacy imposed by social media has dramatically changed the pace of political communication.'' Prof. Maduro therefore advocated ''the creation of new spaces for mediation and political rationalisation''.

To wrap up the session, Prof. Areilza acknowledged that the European Union ''does not need dramatic or heroic leaders so much as it needs institutions that are more transparent, effective and capable of accountability''.





The debate will examine the current status of European integration, which faces several crises even as it remains the foremost political invention of our time. In light of the threat of disintegration posed by the UK’s forthcoming exit from the EU, or Brexit, it will primarily focus on the new ways and proposals for re-launching the process of Europe’s economic and political unification.


From this perspective, the two speakers will discuss the status of the eurozone, the electoral processes scheduled to take place in 2017 in the Netherlands, France, Italy and Portugal, the refugee crisis, and the nationalist and protectionist turn taken by the new Trump Administration in the United States.

Institutional Welcome:
Enrique Verdeguer, director of ESADE Madrid.


José M. de Areilza, professor, ESADE Law School (URL), and Jean Monnet Chair, ESADE


Dialogue between:

Miguel Poiares Maduro, professor of EU law at the European University Institute in Florence and visiting professor at Yale Law School. He has served Advocate General at the European Court of Justice and, more recently, Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister of Portugal. He is the author of numerous academic papers on European and global constitutionalism and one of the most lucid and well regarded analysts of European integration on the continent.


José M. de Areilza, professor at ESADE and holder of the Jean Monnet-ESADE Chair. He holds an SJD from Harvard University and is a visiting professor at Chatham House, London. He has served as an advisor on European affairs in the cabinet of the Spanish Prime Minister. In 2014, he published the book ''Poder y Derecho en la UE'' (Civitas).



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María Luisa Gárate
Tel: 91 252 68 45



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