European debate needs more university involvement

Government, universities and the private sector have failed to effectively communicate the benefits of EU membership to the UK public, according to the authors of a new independent report – ‘The UK & Europe: Costs, Benefits, Options’ – from Regent’s University London.

Speaking to an invited audience at London’s Europe House on Friday 4 September, a panel representing the report’s contributors were joined by Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, and chaired by Professor Aldwyn Cooper, Vice Chancellor of Regent’s University London.

Professor Cooper said:

“Universities need to become more involved and contribute to all public debates ahead of a national referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, due before the end of 2017.

“Our new report features the work of more than 20 experts who have been selected on a nonpartisan basis to comment on European issues ranging from population and migration, through to foreign trade, the environment, security and defence, and higher education. We hope these findings will take the debate on Europe forward productively.”

Other comments included:

Sir John Gieve, former Deputy Governor of Financial Stability at the Bank of England:

“Financial services in the city haven't made many friends following the financial crisis, but they are an important part of our economy. London is the European headquarters for Europe and the rest of the world’s banks. Those who say we’d be fine if we were more like Switzerland must understand that if you were in Switzerland, what you would most want is access to Europe.”

Simon Nixon, Chief European Commentator of the Wall Street Journal:

“It's important to appreciate how Europe looks through the eyes of its different member states. This report confirms what everyone thinks – ‘Why on Earth are we having this Referendum?’ There isn't a single industry group I'm aware of who are arguing for ‘Brexit,’ apart from perhaps hedge fund managers who don't like any interference in their business as a matter of principle.”

Anthony Cary, CMG Former UK Ambassador to Sweden and High Commissioner to Canada, Chef de Cabinet to Chris Patten, European Commissioner for External Affairs:

“The EU remains weak and is often divided as an international actor. Our politicians have failed to explain to the UK public why we are a part of this project and why it's of value. Our interests are better when they are presented beyond the national level. I fear the British plan is to go along with the Common Foreign and Security Policy wherever it fits with a narrow national interest.”

John Cooke, Senior European Experts Group

“We have witnessed big external changes as the balance of power in policy formation has changed from six to 28 member states. London’s role as international financial centre for the EU, Middle East and Africa, provides easy access to global capital markets, drawing major business flows through the UK. This means the Single Market favours London, and the UK financial sector and its regulatory framework are now highly integrated into the EU.

Nicola Dandridge CBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK (UUK):

“Politicians haven’t made the case for Europe effectively. Research across borders requires infrastructure, resources and expensive kit. Problems don't just reside in one country and without the European programmes and funding to facilitate this, UK universities would face losses all round. Five per cent of university students in the UK come from Europe, generating £2 billion for the economy. In July UUK launched its ‘Universities for Europe’ campaign and we will continue to play a very prominent role promoting further discussion on EU membership.”