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The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium welcomes the declaration by the European Council that “sufficient progress” has been made in the negotiation of the UK withdrawal from the EU, and its decision to move to phase two. We urge the Commission to proceed swiftly with the negotiations on a withdrawal agreement incorporating the terms of the joint report of 8 December. We also urge the Council to grant the Commission a mandate to open negotiation on a transitional period at the earliest possible occasion. We stress that the withdrawal agreement which includes the transitional arrangements should be adopted well ahead of the 29 March 2019 deadline. We further welcome the Council’s intention to start discussions on a negotiation mandate for the future EU-UK relations early in the new year.

Our member companies have a common interest in the success of Europe as a whole, including both the EU and Britain. We hope that the EU27 and the UK will negotiate a deep and comprehensive agreement that supports the invaluable relations between the two partners.

First and foremost an orderly withdrawal agreement must be reached, which includes a transitional period that allows all economic activity to continue unhindered during and after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. The transitional arrangements shall ideally maintain the status quo and ensure the application of the acquis communautaire in the UK for the period necessary to grant businesses certainty, until the full implementation of the future relationship.

With little time available for extremely complex negotiations and ambitious objectives, we are calling for profound and constructive progress in the weeks ahead on negotiating the transitional arrangements and a framework for the future. We will continue working with the negotiating authorities and national business representatives across the UK and EU27 to forge common understanding that a strong and close future relationship is in the best interest of everyone.

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Press Contact: Uzma Lodhi – Head of Communications – +32 2613 2855

 

About the Chamber

The chamber has been serving the international business community here for over 100 years and we are committed to the long term – continuing to be the ultimate Gateway to Europe. Our members are small to large businesses from Britain and across the world – all with a stake in the success of Europe and its economy. They employ 1.2m people in the UK alone, with at least as many again in the rest of Europe.

It’s obvious that young people are the one’s with the highest stake in the debate over the future of Europe. BNG Chair Amelie Coulet argues that to engage the younger generation in the UK, referendum campaigns need to be more positive.

Last week, I spoke to an event organized by the Young Professionals Network of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) in London about “Brexit: what would it mean for young professionals?”. It was a great opportunity to show the multinational perspective of the BNG group (Brussels New Generation) on this important issue: what would Brexit actually mean for all the young working Europeans, many of whom have studied, lived and worked in more than one EU member state or may be currently working in a country that is not their own.

Since the start of the campaign, we have heard the views of many politicians and business leaders both in the UK and outside. However, it is the younger generation who will be living with the consequences of the Referendum, no matter the outcome. Yet, current polls show that young people below 35 years old do not share the same views than the older demographic. A recent poll found that 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds would vote to leave the EU compared to 46% of those aged 55 or older, with the age group in between remaining relatively neutral. But more importantly, the younger generations are also much less likely to vote: this British Election Study poll shows that more than 22-23% of 18- to 34-year-olds would not vote while they are less than 8% among the 56 to 65 age group.

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There are many interpretations as to why a generation who would rather keep things the way they currently are, would take the risk of letting other voters with opposite views take control of the debate? Bad timing of the Referendum has been pointed out as one of them (end of year exams, summer holidays, etc.). From our perspective as young professionals, we believe that our generation does not share the same view of the EU than those who remember the UK before it joined in 1973. Young professionals are more mobile and ‘pan-European’: they have long taken advantage of Erasmus programmes, the rise of low-cost airlines in a free movement area, or the growing cross-border job opportunities offered by international corporations. They do not see the EU in terms of costs vs. benefits but more as something they have always lived with, whether they agree with all its policies or not, or whether they found it to be a successful or a dysfunctional project. This ‘sense of normality’ may be one of the reasons why they feel less strongly about the issue than those aged 55 or older.

REPORTERS  The Berlaymont Building

Negative campaigning is also the dominant trend at the moment: from being overtaken by migrants if the UK stays, to the collapse of the entire British economy if they leave, it is difficult to find positive arguments coming out of the ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ campaigns. Yet ‘Project Fear’ will not work with young people on the long-term. As the Scotland experience has taught us, if it may work to keep the status quo on the short-term, it won’t convince voters that they have made a conscious choice nor will it close the debate: following the Referendum on Scotland’s independence, SNP recorded a historic landslide general election victory and the idea of Scotland leaving the UK has resurfaced facing the possibility of a ‘Brexit’.

Both sides of the campaign need to better inform and involve younger people in the debate, not scare them off. The younger generation, and particularly the young professionals, also need to make their voice heard. For that, it is everyone’s role and responsibility to encourage young people to take part in a campaign that will strongly impact their future.

The Referendum will be held during the 2016 Glastonbury music festival: its organisers have quickly reacted to inform their audience about how they can vote while still enjoying the festival. We should all do the same with all our young British friends and colleagues.

 

Last week’s European Council Summit sparked a lot of media attention for the chamber. We’ve put the pick together here so you can catch any of the TV, radio and newspaper interviews from the week.

On Thursday, on the bill with former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, CEO Glenn Vaughan was interviewed live on euronews

 

Vice-President Tom Parker also spoke to RTBF on Sunday morning, you can listen here:

 

 

Tom also appeared on Sunday night’s televised news, you can watch that here (from 23 mins)

 

President Thomas Spiller was also quoted in The Bulletin, warning of the negative impact drawn out negotiations can have on business

Tom Parker speaks to Share Radio on the EU reforms and June’s Referendum from the Brussels perspective!

Glenn Vaughan was also interviewed on Estonian National Television, EER.

EU Committee chair James Stevens was also quoted in a recent article in Politico

Since the terror threat in Brussels, leading to the subsequent lock-down which then inspired Mr Trump to dub the city a ‘hellhole’, not to mention last week’s EU reform negotiations and the tabloid media storm that ensued: It’s fair to say that Belgium and Brussels has had it’s fair share of attention this winter, and it’s been all but rosy. We’ll be setting all that straight this week though as Glenn, our CEO, tells us it’s really not all that bad.

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Belgium is a valuable market and an attractive place to invest, and do business. With only 11 million people it’s roughly equal with China as a market for British exports and an ideal launch pad to the rest of the EU.

The security emergency at the end of 2015 gave us all a reminder that there are real threats to the prosperity and security that most Europeans take as normal. Even Belgium is not immune. That’s why I have been keen to work with our friends at AmCham Belgium and the Belgium Japan Association to make sure that business in our own countries, and worldwide, are well informed about the situation here. Tomorrow, we’ll published an open letter, with the support of 13 other national chambers of commerce in Belgium, highlighting the continued attractiveness of Belgium.

The importance of business between Belgium and Britain is no flash in the pan. The British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium was founded here in 1898 and bilateral business continues to grow. To see that, you only have to look at the successful British and Belgian companies (large and small) recognised in our Golden Bridge Export Awards in recent times.

British investment, and that of the wider international business community, makes a big contribution to jobs and prosperity. With their many nationalities, the British Chamber’s member companies are a great representation of that international business community, directly employing more than 120,000 people here.

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While we all want and expect emerging economies to become more important trading partners in the future, Europe will continue to be hugely important to Britain for a very long time. To illustrate the point, Belgium recently jumped back above China (if only temporarily) as Britain’s 6th largest export market.

Since just Belgium on its own is so important to the UK, it’s no surprise that a clear majority of our members worry that leaving the EU would be bad for the British economy. Our job here in Brussels is to provide a platform that ensures our members understand the debate and its implications, and can plan how they will respond.

We’re planning an active programme of events over the period up to the referendum and plenty of opportunities for members to share their views with, and learn from, their peers.

Keep an eye out this week for a full press release!

James Stevens

Over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing from some of our organising committee chairs on what they’re planning for our members in 2016. This week, EU Committee Chair James Stevens tells us what to expect over the next 12 months

A quick scan of the newspapers at this time of year provides you with a veritable smorgasbord of predictions for the year ahead. And the great thing about divining the future is that whether you’re informed, misinformed or uninformed, your predictions are as valid as the next man’s. It’s also pretty unlikely that you will get called upon them in twelve months’ time. Even if Danish physicist Niels Bohr is right and “prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”, when all said and done it probably does not matter too much.

So, while the likes of Wolfgang Munchau rift on the existential crisis faced by the European Union or a former Swedish foreign minister reflects on everything affecting the global economy, I have one confident and bold prediction that I am happy for you to hold me to at the end of the year. The British Chamber in Brussels will be the place for international business in Brussels to gain insights, build relationships and engage in the debates that matter in 2016.

Why is my crystal ball so clear? Five reasons; four are external to the Chamber, one internal. Here they are:

  1. Legislation is back

Providing insights and a platform for debate on legislation is what the British Chamber does best. And in many key areas, it’s time to get legislative. Vice President Šefčovič’s State of the Energy Union highlighted 2016 as the year of legislative action. Much of the Digital Single Market legislation is already proposed and will create some huge bun-fights. 54 new legislative and non-legislative measures relating to the Circular Economy were outlined just in time for Christmas. Not to mention the Single Market Strategy and of course continued action in areas like trade and competition. In 2016, we’ll have a full programme of events to help our members understand these developments.

  1. External challenges will continue to provoke new debates

We may be British in origin, but we are international in outlook. Most obviously 2016 will bring change in the US, as a successor to Barack Obama is elected. That much is a known. Unknown is what will be the latest iteration of the waves of crises lapping on the EU’s shores. No doubt sovereign debt, migration and security will remain subjects of debate. Whatever our next misfortune, the Chamber will be providing a platform for views and voices from both inside the Brussels Bubble and outside it to ensure our members get a fully rounded view on what it all means for them.

  1. UK referendum will make the British Chamber in Brussels more relevant than ever

The members of the British Chamber in Brussels are clear. We believe that the UK is better off in the EU, and the EU is better off with it in. In the run up to the UK’s referendum we’ll be providing a platform for the views of all actors on what kind of EU business and EU citizens need in the future. And irrespective of the result of the referendum, the British Chamber will remain a place where companies and individuals from all of Europe can contribute to a debate on the issues that matter to them in Brussels.

  1. Europe will need to come up with solutions

The strength of the British Chamber in Brussels is that its 240+ members are diverse both in terms of sectors and geographical footprint. Our members range from the likes of BASF, Facebook and Hitachi, to BT, Barclays and Rolls Royce. With the complexity and severity of the challenges facing Europe, only an approach which brings together the views and experiences of such a diverse range of actors is likely to bear fruit.

  1. The Chamber is in good health

With our new President, Thomas Spiller of the Walt Disney Company, starting his first full year, we’re in a great position to provide the increasing value that members so keenly want from the Chamber. Members have noticed over recent years an increased professionalization of the Chamber, led by our Chief Executive Glenn Vaughan, both in terms of staff and facilities. As a result, we’ve attracted new members in 2015 including BMW, KBC , Deloitte and Sodexo. In 2016 existing members can expect more value from a packed programme. New members can expect a warm welcome.

Of course, in the words of Abraham Lincoln “the best way to predict your future is to create it”. I would invite all members of the British Chamber to join me in 2016 to ensure that my prediction comes true. After all, as I repeat on a regular basis at events, it’s your Chamber not mine.

James Stevens

Chair of the EU Committee

Next week, you’ll be hearing from Amelie Coulet, Chair of our young professionals network, Brussels New Generation.

Dave Sinardet

Dave Sinardet is a Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), specialised in federalism, nationalism and multi level governance. He is also a columnist for De Tijd and La Libre Belgique. This week he writes his analysis on the issue of Brexit in light of the UK’s looming referendum.

The importance of the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership cannot be overestimated. For both Britain and the EU, much will be at stake on the day, somewhere before the end of 2017, when British citizens will have to answer the question ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?’

The UK may not have been one of the founding members of the EU, nor one of the most passionate, and it may not be part of the Euro, it has been part of the club since 1973. The fact that such a long-time member state would vote to leave the EU can become a political precedent that can reinforce the political strength of Eurosceptics in many other European countries. Moreover, Britain remains an important player in foreign policy. Even though some European federalists hope that without the UK it would be easier to further integrate the EU – most notably on the social level, it looks more likely that a Brexit could inflict serious damage on the European project.

However, the impact of a Brexit might very well be stronger for the UK. Economically, but also politically. There is a lot at stake for current Prime Minister David Cameron. He may have gotten a comfortable majority at the recent general election, one of his promises could mean the end of his leadership. Indeed, if in the referendum campaign he defends the staying in option – which is extremely likely – while the out would win, the result would probably force him to resign.

Also, leaving the EU could very well lead to the definitive break up of the United Kingdom itself. Given the fact that support for EU membership is (a bit) stronger in Scotland, it is clear that the Scottish National Party will use a Brexit to call for a new referendum on Scottish independence which could be won by Scottish separatists.

The Scottish referendum last year showed that referenda can create dynamics and produce results that are quite unexpected. The majority of Scots may have voted to stay in the UK, in the end the call was much closer than initially expected (and hoped by Cameron). The same goes for the many referendums on EU treaty change that were held in different European countries during the past decades. The French vote against the project of European constitution in 2005 is probably one of the most striking examples.

One of the disadvantages of referenda is that people may vote on other issues than the one actually at stake. And indeed, even though staying in or getting out of the EU will not have a fundamental impact on the migration issue, the fact that some recent polls suggest that a majority could vote for leaving the EU is probably linked to public concerns over the current refugee crisis.

If the broader migration debate continues to dominate, the changes that David Cameron could get out of a renegotiaton of the terms of Britain’s EU membership will not play a very important role in the referendum debate. In any case the actual changes will probably not strongly influence the result. Given that most British newspapers favour a Brexit it is now already clear that these changes will largely be framed as marginal. The fact that Cameron intially declared he wanted treaty change will not help him to develop a credible counterframe.

Another indicator that makes a Brexit vote a conceivable scenario is that the case for national sovereignty seems to be quite successful these days, as was shown by the Scottish referendum, but also by Catalonia’s recent election and by the rise of state nationalism and Euroscepticism in many European countries. This success is certainly in part fuelled by a frustration among many voters who feel they have lost grip on political decision-making. While this frustration is understandable and to a large extent correct, the question is whether a return to the nation state is the solution to the problem. In today’s globalised world, national sovereignty is more than ever an illusion. Not only that, while returning to national sovereignty may not give you more actual power, it can even make you lose some. If after a Brexit, the UK would still want full access to the European single market, it would still have to comply with most of the EU rules. However, it will have lost the power it has today to contribute determining them.

29-04-2015 : Glenn Vaughan van de British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium

The UK’s referendum on EU membership represents a major landmark in the history of European integration. The British Chamber in Brussels sits in the political heart of Europe and have direct access to the EU insights that are critical for business. The referendum then is of huge importance to us, as it is to Britain and Europe. This week our Chief Executive officer, Glenn Vaughan, writes to outline what the chamber will be doing leading up to the all important vote.

Membership of the EU is vital both for the UK and the future of the EU and the UK Referendum is an opportunity to give momentum to EU reform. That’s why a clear majority of BCCB members believe the UK should REMAIN in the EU. So what is the British Chamber doing?

We will be playing to our strengths to ensure that our members have access to the best possible information on the referendum and ensure our Brussels partners and stakeholders understand the importance of reform and renewal for Europe.

We want to ensure that our EU partners understand the importance of the UK’s reform agenda and that this is good for Europe, not just the United Kingdom. The referendum provides an opportunity to inject momentum into the ongoing European reform process.The 3 things that our members say are most important are:

  1. Extending and Developing the Single Market
  2. The development of the global trade agenda
  3. Improve the EU’s industrial competitiveness

We have already been actively building on this agenda, most recently in our debate with Herman Van Rompuy recently and we have much more already planned including “Evolving Europe: the Brussels debate” in conjunction with COBCOE (British chambers of commerce from across Europe) in the European Parliament on 17 November.

I’m also delighted that we’ll welcome the US Ambassador to the European Union, Anthony Gardner, at the end of the month and we will have ambassadors from more countries visiting from around the world before the year end. In addition, our 2016 calendar is well on the way with the schedule almost full for the first half of next year.

If you have concerns or questions regarding the referendum; our Future of Europe briefings should be your first port of call. Keep an eye on our calendar and make sure you register early to guarantee your place.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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