FMC Annual Meeting 2018

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FMC Annual Meeting 2018

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Mission report

On 25 and 26 June 2018, in Washington, the annual meeting of the US Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC) was held. FMA Vice-President Jan Willem Bertens had been invited.

The event began with panel discussions on ‘The Future of Europe’ and ‘American Democracy and Civics’.

The topics for debate included the fate of Europe, with or without Brexit. In response to questions, views on the subject were expressed by the Dutch Ambassador Henne Schuwer and his Belgian counterpart Dirk Wouters, with Dr Emily Tamkin, foreign affairs reporter at Buzzfeed News, as moderator.

With just 250 days to go to Brexit, it is still not clear what it will involve. Four scenarios were identified. A Soft Brexit to simulate a customs union without internal import tariffs but with a common tariff for trade with the rest of the world. So there would be no independent trade agreements with the USA, Australia and New Zealand. A complete rejection would mean the end of May’s political career, with all the political turbulence that that entails. Bad for European business. What is crucial is that Brussels should allow scope for less than full participation in the internal market while permitting a strong relationship with a strategic partner (the USA?).

A Hard Brexit if the EU continues to insist on full participation in the internal market, without the option of a customs union. If the UK ceased to have any say in Brussels, but was still obliged to follow all the rules, a standard trade agreement would apply. The social uncertainty and economic damage would be greater. There would be substantial barriers at borders.

If no agreement is reached on the Irish border: No Deal. Nor would there be a transitional period until 2020, which would inevitably create chaos in transport and food supplies. Approval would be required from the European Parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In other words, a disaster scenario.

Is No Brexit still a possibility? That would only be on the table if the UK surrendered all its derogations: it would lose its rebate and opt-outs. British politicians, too, will only dare to press the No button if they feel that they have the support of the electorate. According to surveys, the ratio between leavers and remainers is roughly the same as in 2016. So, on 29 March 2019, goodbye Great Britain!

The title of the panel on Democracy and Civics was ‘The Republic is (still) at risk – and Civics is part of the solution’.

A Briefing Paper for the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit is available from the FMA secretariat. The first sentence is a striking one: Americans give the political system a failing grade. ‘Just one in five Americans is willing to trust the government in Washington even “most of the time”, near the lowest proportion ever recorded!’

On 26 June, the President, Mr Stearns, presented his concluding report in the House Chamber, and in doing so, at the same time stepped down from his post, being succeeded by Martin Frost. In accordance with established practice, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, came storming in and, during his brief visit (twenty minutes), greeted his former colleagues and made it clear that he hoped very shortly to become a member of the FMC (thunderous applause).

Jan Willem BERTENS


June 25, 2018
June 26, 2018
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