Editorial – BREXIT: What’s next?

By . Published on 28 July 2016 in:
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What a summer! After the Brexit referendum of June 23 the international events rolled in at an incredible pace: killing of police officers on July 7 in Dallas (TX-USA) followed by another one in Baton Rouge (LA_USA) on July 17 (without mentioning Orlando (FL-USA) mass shooting a month before), the truck attack in Nice, FR on July 14, the Turkish military coup on July 15, etc., and this is only a small excerpt of what has happened in that month. Not easy to write an editorial under such an avalanche of negative events, reported and amplified over the normal and social media. Under such circumstances it looks to me that the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union was a long time ago. This is certainly the consequence of all the news that we collect worldwide and integrate over a short period of time. Even the European Football championships already long gone.

Let’s get back to Brexit. Six days later after the surprising vote, the following statement was published by the European Council: “We, the Heads of State or Government of 27 Member States, as well as the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, deeply regret the outcome of the referendum in the UK but we respect the will expressed by a majority of the British people. Until the UK leaves the EU, EU law continues to apply to and within the UK, both when it comes to rights and obligations.”

As we embark on a “post-Brexit ” new chapter many questions are raised about the future of Europe, shaken by this political earthquake. The UK is an entrepreneurial country built on trading, industrial and information revolutions, as well as invention and innovation. It is also the fifth largest economy in the world in spite of its population of just 64 million. After the fast election in the Tory party, Theresa May (in favor of the remain) took over from David Cameron as Britain`s prime minister on July 13. She will have the difficult task to lead the UK out of the European Union, rejecting proposals to ignore the EU referendum result. “Brexit means Brexit and we`re going to make a success of it,” Theresa May said in televised remarks. Let’s hope for the best.

Several learned societies, in addition to the European Physical Society (EPS), reacted quickly with the publication of statements or press releases. On July 24, EPS mentioned officially that “it regrets the outcome of the vote by the British people but the popular decision must be respected like in all democratic processes. Even if Europe might lose a strong and respected research partner, the scientific community must remain united and aim in fostering further the international collaboration, especially when urgent solutions to global challenges are required. Indeed, one of the strengths of scientific research is its international nature and the free exchange of people and ideas across borders, a policy and philosophy strongly supported by EPS…. In spite of yesterday’s vote, EPS will further develop and strengthen its excellent relationship with the Institute of Physics (IOP), and this with the help of all its other national member societies” Similarly to the press release by DPG’s president Rolf Heuer, EPS calls on the UK Government and the EU governing bodies to act with all respectful means to ensure a smooth transition and maintain the good integration of the UK scientists within the European landscape.

Here a few more excerpts, first from our colleagues in the UK.The IOP’s president, Roy Sambles, said “At the Institute of Physics, we will continue to remind the government of the importance of science as a driver for innovation and for the UK’s future prosperity. Whether the UK is in or out of the EU, science creates jobs and supports economic growth….Science is an international and collaborative endeavour, and the current success and strength of UK physics and the wider scientific community is very much entwined with the strength of research within Europe and around the world.”

In a letter to senior members of EuCheMS, the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) also confirm its commitment to continuing working closely with EuCheMS by stating: “Our long-term commitment to chemistry in Europe remains as strong as ever and we will do everything in our power to continue to strengthen it. Far from closing doors to collaboration, we want to open them still further. We can happily also confirm that our commitment to EuCheMS remains as strong as ever.”

What do we expect in a short future for European Science?

The status of the UK as a EU member state, will not change immediately, at least not within two years after article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) has been formally invoked. Thus the UK will remain fully eligible in all Horizon 2020 calls for proposals and running projects will not be affected.

 As mentioned in a comment by SwissCore on its web site “ The leaders of the 27 other EU member states reaffirmed in a statement at the European Council that access to the single market can only be provided if the four freedoms (goods, capital, services and people) of the EU are fully accepted. Unclear is what happens to the fifth freedom namely the free circulation of knowledge or the European Research Area (ERA). European stakeholder organisations such as the European University Association (EUA) and the Conference of European Schools for Advanced Engineering Education and Research (CESAER) have expressed solidarity and support for science and higher education in the UK, quoting the importance of openness, the free movement of persons and knowledge migration for building the ERA and European Higher Education Area (EHEA)”.

Openness, the constant search for knowledge and truth and the free movement of ideas and people via national and international collaboration are values endorsed by the whole scientific community. Let’s hope that its influence on politicians will remain and develop further for the stability and peace of our world.

Christophe Rossel
EPS President

July 2016


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