EACD President Herbert Heitmann kicked off the summit with a two-minute statement on the EACD’s commitment to tolerance and diversity across Europe. This seemed to set the tone for comment from all the key speakers; who seemed surprised by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and concerned for the rise of ‘populist politics’ across Europe (France, Germany and the Netherlands were singled out).
What came across was a recognition that the UK Brexit vote had highlighted a real disconnect between ‘ruling elites’ and ‘ordinary people’ across Europe.
Ana Palacio, Council of State of Spain member, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Vice-President of the World Bank, spoke of the ‘erosion of trust between society and elites’. She pointed out, in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the Chilcot enquiry and the banking crisis, it’s ‘no wonder Brexit saw a rejection of experts’.
She agreed with the previous speakers on the increase of corporate accountability to ‘the people’ and spoke of her own experience as Spain’s Foreign Minister involved in climate change negotiations: ‘Peer pressure and public opinion is driving enforcement of climate change measures, not legal enforcement, which never worked anyway.’
There was open and honest analysis of the problems and limitations of the European Union, ‘27 opinions, rules, and standards is a problem’. There was also a communal awareness that ‘Brexit has acted as a catalyst for self-reflection, and an opportunity to review where the real benefits are.’
The Spanish Foreign Minister summed up with a closing appeal to the business elites in the audience: