Asia, the EU, and Brexit: A Talk by Dr Michael Reiterer

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It was as the Roses ceremony was beginning that I was sat in a seminar room, avidly basking in the oratory skills of Dr Michael Reiterer, a former Swiss EU ambassador and current principal adviser at the Asia and Pacific Department of the European External Action Service. His arrival marked another in the FASS China Seminar series, and it was jointly organised between FASS and the Confucius Institute. In his introduction, he was referred to as ‘one of the leading figures in the European Union and one of the European institutions working with China.’

The main themes of his talk regarded the relations between the EU and Asia and the implications of international actions, such as cooperation, trade and conflict. However, this is reductive in the extreme. The details divulged represented the presence of an expert, often with the Doctor citing examples such as increasing the security on China’s ‘silk road’, and cracking down on piracy off the coast of India as a means of cementing EU-Asia relations, whilst also ensuring security between the two super-powers. An interesting point he made (among many) was how popular opinion was geared towards an ‘Atlantic’ focus, often with EU-America relations being prioritised in the media, despite the majority of trade and economic benefit being from Asia (he aptly gave an insight into the difficulties of international relations by speaking of a Maltese ambassador attempting a meeting with China, versus an American one; the American will be prioritised each time, which, he highlighted, was not conducive to EU and international politics). Furthermore, it was said that the EU’s foreign policy with Asia required a ‘paradigm shift’, where the focus is not just on the economic and financial aspects of relations, but also on the politics and security.

Of course, his political leanings showed through, as he discussed very early on the potential difficulties of the UK leaving the EU. He cited economic support as a reason for being against ‘Brexit’, saying, ‘I don’t think it would make sense, especially if you have a building project going on, financed by the regional fund… The British people would have to restart everything…free trade agreements…and paying back the all the investments of the regional funds…’ Later on, he not only professed himself as a realist in politics, but also answered an almost expected question regarding the UK’s ‘Brexit’ plan, in relation to Europe and also to Asia. Jokingly, he responded that ‘the European official here has no response, he’s leaving the room… but the professor’s staying here! …We don’t comment on member states’ politics; however, I would miss the British. They play an important role, they have a sophisticated diplomatic service, they have experts, they are well placed in Asia… we would miss them in terms of expertise.’ He further highlighted difficulties with the ‘free trade agreement with Korea’ and also the difficulties in re-negotiating trade deals with foreign powers: ‘even if it’s done quickly, it’ll be three years. Which company can absorb customs duties of 20-25%?’

It was clear that Ds Reiterer was impassioned about international relations, and he was very clear and succinct regarding the implications of foreign policy. In the grand scheme of things, ‘Brexit’ would cause difficulties mainly for UK economics (which are, to be frank, already in tatters). Remember TTIP? If not, do research it, and you’ll be surprised at the lack of mainstream news coverage. The covering of major political events from all perspectives is important, so hopefully Lancaster will have more opportunities to welcome international experts onto campus!

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