Canada and the EU - shared values and interests should constitute the basis for a strong partnership and enhanced cooperation

May 8th, 2017 - by Costanza Musu and Patrick LeBlond, University of Ottawa.

At a time when Canadian officials and policymakers are scrambling to make sense of the new U.S. administration’s rhetoric and actions on trade, immigration, and security, Ottawa cannot but view the EU as a relatively more stable and dependable partner. Moreover, EU leaders’ general support for open borders and the existing system of global governance is in line with the vision and priorities of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

Canada and the EU have recently signed two important agreements. The first is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which should enter into force in summer 2017. The second is the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which sets the principles and objectives of Canadian-EU cooperation for the foreseeable future. A news release by the Office of the Canadian Prime Minister described the SPA in the following terms:

The SPA lays out a strategic direction for stronger future relations and collaboration between Canada, the EU, and its member states at both the bilateral and multilateral level. The SPA will improve cooperation in important areas such as energy, environment and climate change, migration and peaceful pluralism, counter-terrorism and international peace and security, and effective multilateralism.

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French presidential election: The crisis of the political establishment and the desire for political change

April 23, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

A sigh of relief is palpable in Europe after the first round of the French presidential election: While the Front National leader Marine Le Pen advances, as expected, to the runoff election on May 7th, she will face Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist candidate who is widely seen as the contender most likely to beat Le Pen in the second round.

Yet, the strong performance of Macron and the likely defeat of the Front National leader in the runoff election is anything but business as usual. For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic since 1958, none of the candidates of the mainstream parties has entered the final round of the presidential race. Their contestants struggled respectively with serious corruption allegations (Republican François Villon) and with the legacy of the highly unpopular Socialist president François Hollande (Socialist Benoît Hamon). The first round of the presidential election was an anti-establishment vote driven by a deep desire for the fundamental renewal of politics. The fourth placed candidate, the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, owes his strong showing to similar sentiments. If Emmanuel Macron were elected president in two weeks, he would preside in the Élysée Palace without the backing of any party. His organization En Marche! is not a party and does not have any seats in the French Parliament. In this respect, a Macron presidency would pose entirely new challenges to how the country is governed. The presidential election and the legislative elections in June will change French politics and most likely the French political system in far-reaching and largely unpredictable ways. 

On May 7th, the French electorate will face a blunt choice with two fundamentally opposing visions for the future of the country. Le Pen’s nationalistic, Islamophobic program evokes the vision of France outside of the Euro zone and possibly the European Union as well as a country in which migrants are no longer welcome and diversity is perceived as a genuine threat to French national identity. In contrast, Macron advocates for a pro-European, cosmopolitan vision with a strong commitment to international trade and transatlantic cooperation (including CETA). In his own words, Macron promises to be a president of “patriots” against the “nationalist threat”. The runoff election in early May will show whether Macron's rhetorically powerful, albeit elusive promise of hope and change will prove appealing enough to steal the political thunder from nationalist populism. 


Watch also the CTV interview 

Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Ukraine

March 15, 2017 - by Derek Fraser, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

On March 14 the Ukrainian Parliament ratified the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Ukraine. The Agreement also received on 7 March second reading in the Canadian Senate. The completion of the ratification process of the Agreement will mark a step forward in the development relations between the two countries. The Agreement. in addition to providing benefits for Canadian businesses, should support economic reform and development in Ukraine.

Canada and Ukraine also have a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (1995), a bilateral Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation (1996) and a bilateral Air Transport Agreement (1998). Since the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in December 1991, when Canada was the first Western country to recognize the new state, Canada has backed Ukrainian independence, democracy and reform, with, among other things, development assistance and the Canadian military training programme. Total disbursements of Canada in 2014-15 were $505.9 millions.

Political Party Fragmentation in the Netherlands

March 13, 2017 - by Willem Maas, Glendon College, York University

Much has changed in the Netherlands since its last parliamentary elections in 2012 – but much more has changed elsewhere. The Arab Spring has turned into the Arab Winter, and the Syrian civil war has worsened dramatically, leading millions to seek refuge. Russia under Putin has invaded eastern Ukraine and outright annexed Crimea. Turkey slides towards authoritarianism and its bid to join the European Union (EU) looks stalled at best, as the Erdoğan government jails and sidelines opponents with impunity. Resurgent nationalism mixed with populism leads governments in Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere to oppose immigrants and the EU. Similar dynamics drove the votes for Brexit and Trump, which have heightened geopolitical uncertainty.

In the 2012 elections, the anti-immigrant and anti-EU party (PVV) of Geert Wilders dropped from 24 to 15 seats in the 150-seat lower house, and lost its role supporting the governing coalition. The defection of over one-third of its voters was a bitter defeat made all the more dramatic because it was Wilders himself who forced the elections by withdrawing his support from the government formed after the 2010 elections: a minority coalition of the conservative VVD (31 seats) and the Christian democratic CDA (21 seats), which depended on the PVV to pass legislation.

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The Netherlands Vote – expect the unexpected  

March 13, 2017  -  Amy Verdun, Jean Monnet Chair ad Personam, University of Victoria

As the Dutch voters get ready to vote in the General Elections on Wednesday 15 March in the Netherlands, there is more international attention to these elections than is usually the case. Why is that? In a year with many upcoming national elections in various European countries (France and Germany for instance), and following on the increased interest by voters in the United Kingdom and the United States (US) to cause political turmoil, the eyes are now fixed on the Netherlands.

The reason is that the PVV party led by Geert Wilders – populist right-wing that profiles itself on an anti-immigration platform – is competing with the VVD right-wing liberal party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte are neck and neck in the polls. Either party is due to become the largest party in the Dutch second chamber. However, being voted the largest party in the Netherlands does not mean that it will receive many votes. The Dutch system being extremely proportional generates a political landscape whereby none of the large six parties is forecast to get more than 16% of the vote. Currently the polls have both PVV and VVD at 24 (out of 150) seats with three other parties trailing at 16 seats: Greenleft, the Socialist Party and the Democrats ‘66.

On Monday 13 March the first US style leaders debate took place hosted by 1-vandaag. To date Geert Wilders has not participated in any of the election debates and he also broke with a Dutch custom by not making his election program very clear: it exists on one piece of paper and he has not submitted his program to the online voting advice applications. Most Dutch political parties will typically produce a lengthy document and independent agencies will calculate the impact and feasibility of these programs. Thus, for many there was quite some anticipation to watch this leaders debate.

The 1-vandaag election debate was generally seen as a high-quality debate but each of them concentrated on profiling themselves in line with their own voters and as such most journalists indicated that they felt that Rutte won ‘on points’. This debate took part against the backdrop of a political row involving Turkey. It is as of yet unclear whether this row will have an impact on the elections. To date the polling companies suggest that the polls have not (yet) responded. Tomorrow, 14 March, the last leaders’ debate will take place with sixteen leaders part of it. If there is another aspect of this election that is spectacular it is the fact that the result of these elections promises to generate a very large number of very small parties.

Thursday 16 March, the day after, will be closely watched internationally. Many will want to see whether the Netherlands, that is known for its progressive stance on values, long time open economy, friendly towards the European Union, will find itself with the largest party made up of a politician with blonde dyed hair, who says he wants to get rid of mosques, close the borders, and leave the EU. Even though it is extremely unlikely that this party, even if it emerges as the largest party, will be able to form a coalition, it would still be a shock to the system. 

Picture: The Guardian, March 2nd

The end of the Merkel era? The astonishing revival of the Social Democrats in Germany

February 28, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Center for Global Studies, University of Victoria

Until recently, Angela Merkel’s grip on power appeared rock solid. As part of the currently ruling grand collation, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) were not able to form a viable alternative to Merkel’s 12-year reign nor did they show any particular eagerness to establish the government after the upcoming September 2017 elections. Many political commentators already predicted the irreversible end of the SPD as Germany’s ‘People’s Party’. Similarly, the rise of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany does not pose a veritable challenge to the supremacy of Chancellor Merkel. There are clear indications that the Party has outlived its hype in the wake of the refugee crisis and that projected electoral support levels are back in the single digits. Until the end of 2016, a fourth term in office for Merkel was almost a fail accomplish more than six months before the elections.

Yet, events over the past few weeks indicate how volatile electoral politics has become in Western liberal democracies. In late January, Germany’s Social Democrats nominated Martin Schulz as their candidate for chancellor, reacting to the sobering realization that Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, simply proved unappealing to the electorate. What has happened over the past month is truly remarkable considering how we normally think about party preferences and loyalty. A party that seemed to be resigned to losing yet another election, deprived of any inspiration, has come to life from one day to the other. The SPD has seen the massive influx of new members; the ‘Martin Schulz fever’ has spread all across the country. While at the beginning of 2017, the SPD was projected to attract somewhat more than 20% of electoral support, most recent surveys put the party above 30%, if not in the lead over Merkel’s Christian Democrats. And, most notably given Angela Merkel’s long standing popularity, Martin Schulz is now leading Merkel as the public’s preferred candidate for the chancellorship.

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European Parliament CETA Ratification – Helped by Trump?

February 15th, 2017 - by Amy Verdun, University of Victoria

Today the European Parliament approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). There were 695 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) present of which 408 voted in favour, 254 against and 33 did not vote. It brings the completion of the ratification process another step closer. The agreement enables the Europeans and Canadians to trade more freely with one another as well as other forms of deeper economic cooperation. The ratification of the CETA by the European Parliament was not always a given. Some members of the European Parliament worry about the dispute settlement system that has been created together with this agreement. A new tribunal ‘the Investment Court System’ that has been put in place to deal with investor-state disputes. Critics worry that only investors will benefit from this court but that groups of consumers, environmentalists or workers cannot bring cases to it. These concerns were leading numerous voices in Europe and Canada to be sceptical about the astuteness of ratifying CETA.

It seems that with a change in global stance towards free trade, following the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent trials and tribulations of the first few weeks of the Trump Administration may have put the partnership of the EU and Canadian in a more favourable light. In the past, some MEPs were concerned about whether CETA would be a template for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP – the EU-US trade agreement). The first thing Trump has done, however, upon becoming the 45th president of the US, is to scrap the TTIP. Thus, those who would be worried about large US, litigious enterprises, would not need to be concerned about how CETA might pave the way for TTIP (at least not in the short-run). Furthermore, if the CETA agreement fails, it would make it more difficult for the EU to sign trade agreements with other countries.

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CETA approved by the European Parliament - what next?

February 15, 2017 - by Patrick Leblond, University of Ottawa

Today, the European Parliament approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. Once the Canadian parliament has had a chance to have its say on the agreement, which could happen in the coming weeks, CETA will come into effect sometime in the summer. However, only about 90-95% of the agreement will come into effect since CETA will only be applying provisionally in the EU pending ratification by the national parliaments of the EU’s member states, given that CETA is what Europeans call a “mixed agreement” (i.e. It involved both EU-level as well as national-level competencies). CETA's coming into force is good news for the Canadian economy since it will immediately eliminate tariffs on most goods traded between Canada and the EU. Canadian firms will not only be able to export their goods to the EU tariff free but import production inputs at a cheaper price. Another important feature about CETA is that it will also give Canadian firms easier access to the EU’s vast public procurement market. Given the protectionist stance adopted by the Trump administration and the apparent failure of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, European firms may see Canada has a good base for doing business in North America, which should help increase investments from Europe into the Canadian economy. Finally, CETA is much more than eliminating tariffs. It is also very much about Canada-EU cooperation to remove so-called “beyond-the-border” barriers to trade and investment that are caused by differing regulations, standards, rules and processes. This collaborative work can only really begin once CETA comes into force. This means that Canadian governments (federal and provincial) and their EU counterparts have a lot of work to do in the coming months and years to reduce, if not remove, these non-tariff barriers (for details on this work, see

Romanian civic spirit at its best

Feb 14, 2017 - by Lavinia Stan, President, Society for Romanian Studies, Department of Political Science, St. Francis Xavier University

For almost two weeks now, hundreds of thousands of Romanian ordinary citizens and civil society activists have taken to the street in Bucharest, across the country, and even in cities like London where significant numbers of Romanian migrants live and work to protest against the Social Democratic government of Sorin Grindeanu. A little known politician with no previous ministerial experience, Grindeanu was nominated as prime minister by the Social Democrats, who in the December 2016 elections won almost half of all seats in the bicameral parliament. Grindeanu’s name might have never been proposed if President Klaus Iohannis had accepted Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea as prime minister. But Dragnea was under investigation for fraud, and thus Iohannis warned that unscrupulous corrupt politicians should not occupy high-ranking government positions.

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Experts on CETA at Universities in Canada

February 6th, 2017

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is subject to ratification by the European Parliament (EP) and needs also to be ratified through plenary votes in national parliaments across the EU.  While the majority of academic experts in Canada support ratification, public opposition in Europe and Canada has been pronounced, calling for revisions to the agreement or simply a rejection of the entire deal.

The following EUCAnet experts have regularly contributed to discussions with the public and experts panels. For more see also the experts that signed an Open letter: The European and Canadian public needs a reasoned debate on CETA 

University of Victoria: Valerie D'ErmanAmy VerdunMartha O'BrienEmmanuel Brunet-Jailly

University of British Columbia: Kurt Hübner

University of Calgary: Eugene Beaulieu

University of Ottawa: Patrick LeblondMichael Geist

Carleton University: Crina VijuAchim HurrelmannDavid Long

University of Montreal: Frédéric Mérand

McGill University: Armand de Mestral


Brexit Britain & Trump's America: towards a new ‘special relation’?




Jan 28, 2017 - by Dr. Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

It is not by accident that British Prime Minister Theresa May is the first foreign leader hosted by President Trump in the White House. Both sides need the symbolically staged affirmation of the close relationship between both countries: For domestic reasons, Theresa May feels compelled to demonstrate a clear vision for Great Britain in the world after the Brexit vote. Reinvigorating robust transatlantic ties, both with a view to international trade and a collective stewardship of global affairs, is meant to re-position Great Britain on the global scale amidst the uncertainty created by the decision to leave the European Union.

(Listen also to the radio interview : As Trump takes office as the president of the United States of America, Kirk LaPointe speaks with Oliver Schmidtke, an expert in European relations and geopolitics, to comment on the first days of Trump’s presidency and the challenges to democracy associated with the rise of nationalist populism in the US and Europe.)

Similarly, President Trump is in urgent need of an opportunity to project some competence in designing his new foreign policy. He has been off to a rocky start in this respect: Not only has he prompted - without any manifest reason - a diplomatic war with China even before becoming president. This week Trump has also alienated and insulted the leader of its southern neighbour to a point that the Mexican president canceled his trip to Washington. All this unfolds while the US State Department's entire senior management team has resigned (or has been forced out) leaving the foreign policy file of the incoming administration in shambles.

Yet, even if there is strategic interest in re-confirming the strong ties between two countries, how realistic is it that we will see a new period of what Churchill initially called the ‘special relationship’ between Great Britain and the US (and that was confirmed by the close Thatcher-Reagan alliance)? Theresa May has invited President Trump to join her in providing leadership on the world stage. Yet, so far it is far from clear what kind of leadership the Trump administration is even willing to offer, - if things are only truly about ‘American interests first’. In her desperation to shift international trade and foreign policy prerogatives away from the European Union, Theresa May needs to be careful that she does not fall into the same trap that Tony Blair did during his time in office (the suggestion to be Bush’s lapdog has hurt his standing tremendously). Even within her own Conservative Party, let alone the British public at large, there is widespread concern about where President Trump is taking the United States. It would be a tricky and risky strategy to tie her vision of ‘global Great Britain’ too closely to Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy approach. 


December 12, 2016 - by Dr. Valerie D’ErmanPostdoctoral fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria

The signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU at the end of October does not mean that the ongoing full approval of the trade agreement is without more obstacles. CETA now has to be ratified through plenary votes in both the European Parliament (EP) and national parliaments across the EU. The initial rejection of CETA by Wallonia, a region in Belgium, in October 2016 illustrated both the strong anti-free-trade sentiments present in some parts of the EU, and the multitude of political roadblocks that CETA still has to pass through before reaching the possibility of full ratification and implementation.

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Angela Merkel's fourth chancellor bid – domestic and international challenges

Nov 21, 2016 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she will seek re-election in the 2017 federal elections. After eleven years in office Chancellor Merkel stated that her decision was “anything but trivial”. Her hesitation might have to do with the uncertainty and upheaval that characterizes the international and, to a degree, the domestic political arena.

The European Union is currently caught in the midst of the most severe crisis since its inception in post-War Western Europe. The Brexit vote indicated how popular anti-EU sentiments are in the wider public and how approaches driven by nationalist agendas have formed the agenda of many EU member-states. The other part of the dual engine that traditionally has promoted European integration, France, faces presidential elections in which the Front National under Marine Le Pen is poised to be a serious contender. Leadership in the EU is likely to be challenging. Similarly, President Elect Trump’s suggestions to question established Western alliances adds to the instability of an environment which Germany is dependent on as one of the leading global export countries.

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Trade deal affects how Canadian firms do business

Nov 5, 2016 - by Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly / Op-Ed Times Colonist

"The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement that Canada recently signed with the European Union is Canada’s most important trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement. CETA is likely to transform Canada much more than NAFTA has, and has already had a significant impact on provincial-federal relations in Canada.

CETA’s potential to transform Canada lies in the fact that the European Union is the world’s largest trader of manufactured goods, and is the No. 1 investor and recipient of investments worldwide. It is also the most important trading partner for about 80 countries around the world...."

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Le public européen et canadien a besoin d’un débat éclairé sur le CETA

21 octobre 2016

Ceci est une lettre ouverte aux Européens et Canadiens signée par 16 universitaires canadiens qui croient en la valeur d’un débat plus raisonné et équilibré sur l’Accord économique et commercial global (CETA) entre le Canada et l’Union européenne pour la société et la démocratie

Depuis plusieurs années, nous lisons et entendons les commentaires de gens qui s’opposent à l’Accord économique et commercial global (CETA) entre le Canada et l’Union européenne. Malheureusement, plusieurs de ces opposants du CETA font valoir leurs revendications en mettant de l’avant des affirmations qui ne reflètent pas correctement ce qu’est le CETA et ce qu’il fera si jamais il est ratifié et entre en vigueur. 

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Open letter: The European and Canadian public needs a reasoned debate on CETA 

October 21, 2016

This is an open letter to Europeans and Canadians signed by 16 academics based in Canada who believe in the value for democracy and society in a more reasoned and balanced debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union

"For years, we have been reading and listening to the opponents of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Sadly, they have often engaged the public by offering assertions that misrepresent what CETA is and will do, if it ever enters into force. As a result, although their cries have to some degree contributed to making the agreement achieve a better balance between openness and democratic autonomy, CETA’s opponents have generally made it difficult for the Canadian and European publics to benefit from an enlightened debate about CETA’s pros and cons. Paradoxically, these are often the same people who talk about the lack of transparency and democratic involvement when it comes to CETA. Today, believing what we call CETA’s myths, a majority of Walloon parliamentarians in Belgium, who are supported by many others in other parts of the EU as well as Canada, is about to block CETA’s ratification. 

We do not wish to tell people on what side of the debate they should stand. Yes, most of us, following our analyses of the agreement from different perspectives, are of the opinion that CETA is overall a good agreement for both Canadians and Europeans, even if it is by no means perfect (such agreements never are!). But as academics we feel it is our duty to refocus the discussions and debates on CETA by dispelling what we think are the most significant erroneous assertions about CETA.

Assertion #1: CETA will lead to net job losses!

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CETA Ratification by the EU: Faraway, So Close!

October 12, 2016 - by Patrick Leblond, University of Ottawa 

On October 27th, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his European Union counterparts are expected to sign, at a summit in Brussels, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which they began negotiating seven years ago. With those signatures, the treaty would then come into force provisionally (meaning about 90-95% of it would apply) sometime in 2017 and firms on both sides of the Atlantic would be able to begin taking advantage of the benefits offered by the agreement. 

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Hard Brexit or Avoidance?

October 5th, 2016 - by Amy Verdun, University of Victoria

Last weekend Prime Minister May has announced that the UK is prepared to launch the country's exit from the EU. How are we to interpret May's vision of Brexit with a view to the UK's overall stand towards the rest of continental Europe?  - Dr Amy Verdun is an expert in European Politics, she has an extensive record in media outreach and is available for interviews.

"As Theresa May announced her vision of "Brexit-means-brexit" to the Conservative Party on the weekend, the pound has started falling again. Many observers relate the recent weakness of the United Kingdom (UK) currency as yet another example that 'politics is trumping economics' in that country. What are the implications of the current UK government's stance towards Brexit? Is the UK really moving further away from the rest of the European Continent or is all this to be interpreted as yet another step in what has been seen to be a very difficult domestic political quagmire."

Dr. Amy Verdun is Professor in Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is also part of a pan-Canada network of experts working on European policy issues, the Strategic Knowledge Cluster Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue


Canada marks 40 years of relations with European Union

This article marks the 40th anniversary of formal relations between the EU and Canada and features an interview with Jeremy Kinsman by Ivan Watson. It was published in the Saanich News

 Sept 13, 2016 by Ivan Watson

" When a young Jeremy Kinsman joined the staff of the Canadian Mission to the European Economic Community in 1968 as its first political officer, the office conditions were less than ideal. “I don’t think most people knew we had a mission. It was just a start up mission and it was in the attic of the Canadian Embassy to Belgium.”

Working in cramped quarters, Kinsman notes that Canada’s ambassador to Belgium doubled as the ambassador to the European Community. The work was of a limited, technical nature as Canada’s trading relationship with the then six members of the European Community was relatively small. Canada’s most important economic relationship was with the American market. “We’d allowed our country to become what was called a branch plant economy of the United States,” notes Kinsman. “It made our vulnerability to sudden decision-making acute.” Reacting to a number of economic stresses, in 1971 U.S. President Richard Nixon unleashed chaos in the global economy by abandoning the gold standard and imposing an import surcharge. 

For Canadian officials, “It was a traumatic shock,” Kinsman said..." For more visit

Jeremy Kinsman is a former Canadian diplomat. He served as Minister in Washington, Ambassador in Moscow, Rome, and Brussels (EU) and as High Commissioner in London. Since 2006, he is Diplomat in Residence at Princeton University, Regent’s Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley and Distinguished Visiting Diplomat at Ryerson University, Toronto.


The volatile situation in Turkey: what does it mean?

July 22, 2016 - Expert on Turkey: Martin Bunton, acting director of the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria
After the failed coup in Turkey President Erdogan has embarked on a comprehensive campaign to consolidate his power and to silence domestic opposition. There are widespread concerns about what these measures mean for the fate of Turkish democracy and Turkey's role in the international community. What effects could the developments in Turkey have for the Arab world and especially for Syria and the war against ISIS? And what could this mean for Europe? 
"This situation has huge implications for the war against ISIS, the civil war in Syria, and the flow of refugees. It's going to risk destabilizing the region even more." says professor Martin Bunton, an expert in the field of modern Middle Eastern history.
Martin Bunton is the acting director of the Centre for Global Studies and Professor in History at the University of Victoria. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Brexit: The Plunge into Uncertainty

June 24, 2016 - by Oliver Schmidtke, director of the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

The decision of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union is one of those stunning turns in history that leave observers in a state of disbelief. The chock that was palpable in commentators' first reactions to the Brexit decision reflects how challenging it is to come to terms with this new reality. First, leading up to the referendum the consensus among the chattering class was that a vote in favor of Brexit could be avoided by a last minute surge in support for the Remain Campaign (in particular after the murder of Jo Cox last week). Watching the BBC live coverage of the referendum it quickly became apparent how the political elite, the business community and the media had misread the political pulse of the country. Second, as a commentator one feels almost overwhelmed trying to grasp the enormous implications of the Brexit vote in the UK, in Europe and even globally.

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June 24, 2016 - by George Ross, ad personam Chaire Jean Monnet, Université de Montréal

The Brexit moment has been discussed at length. We can be brief, therefore, in asking a few pertinent questions.

What is its history?  The UK has never been enamoured of European integration.  It refused to join the European Coal and Steel  Community in 1951 and tried to sabotage the EEC around the Treaty of Rome by promoting EFTA. 1957. When the UK did finally applied to join the EEC in 1961, its entry was vetoed twice by French President de Gaulle for being insufficiently “European” (i.e. too economically liberal and tied to closely to US foreign policies). Finally admitted in 1973, internal political opposition led to a first referendum in 1975 and the decision to stay. Since then  British participation has been grumpy with complaints  about paying too much to the EU budget, about the Single Market’s regulations and social policies, about much of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty, leading to opt-outs of EMU, Schengen, and most legislation under the EU’s Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice. The grumpiness continued  and helped provoke the referendum.

The Brexit Referendum, Why Now? 

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Legal issues related to Brexit

June 21, 2016 - by Martha O'Brien, University of Victoria

The question of whether the UK should remain a member of the EU is primarily a political one, and the consequences of the vote are above all political and economic. The law is clear: The Treaty on European Union Article 50 provides a framework process for a member state to withdraw from the EU. If the vote is for Brexit, the UK government can give notice of its intention to the European Council (the other 27 heads of state and government of the EU). After receiving recommendations from the Commission, the European Council then provides guidelines for negotiation of an agreement among the EU itself, the 27 remaining member states and the UK. The Commission negotiates on behalf of the EU and its remaining member states, taking into account the framework for a future relationship between the UK and the EU. Once a draft agreement is reached, it must be approved by a qualified majority (15 member states having at least 65% of the population of the EU, not counting the UK) of the Council of the European Union and a simple majority of the European Parliament.  The EU treaties cease to apply to the UK on the earlier of the date the withdrawal agreement enters into force, or two years after the notice of intention to withdraw is given, unless the European Council unanimously decides to extend this period.

All well and good, but this broad outline gives no hint of the details of the terms of withdrawal that may be agreed. The UK may seek to withdraw by a process other than that provided in TEU Article 50. A transition period may well extend for much longer than two years, during which some or all of the EU’s regulations will continue in force in the UK. Uncertainty will prevail, causing individuals and businesses on both sides of the Channel to delay decisions of all kinds – investment, education, training, travel, among others. Forty-three years of legal integration cannot be undone quickly and cleanly. It is unlikely that UK voters will accept a relationship such as that between Norway and the EU, under which Norway must accept virtually all EU rules on free movement of goods, services, persons and capital, and has to contribute to the EU budget, but has no representatives on the Commission, or in the European Parliament or Council.

For Canadians, Brexit will have legal consequences. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU, due to come into force in 2017, will not apply between Canada and the UK if the UK brexits. It will be difficult to negotiate a trade and investment agreement with the UK until after it has completed its withdrawal from the EU, again due to the uncertainty as to which EU standards and regulations for goods, services and investment will remain valid in the UK, and which will change. Canadian investors have invested approximately $180 billion in the EU, more than a third of which represents business assets in the UK. However, if having a UK subsidiary no longer provides a Canadian investor with access to the rest of the CAD 20 trillion EU economy (as it currently does), Canadian corporations may shift their UK investments to other EU member states, with tax, immigration, employment, training, and other regulatory compliance costs of all kinds.

Many things will not change. Canada and the UK will still both be members of NATO, the UN, the WTO and the OECD, as well as the Commonwealth and many other international organizations. But a rupture between Canada’s allies and trading partners on the continent and the UK will raise many difficult legal, as well as political and economic problems to be worked out.

Martha O'Brian is a Professor at the University of Victoria. She is an expert on EU law. She is also part of the pan-Canada network of experts working on European policy issues, European Studies Network in Canada (


The heated debate leading up to the Brexit vote

June 20, 2016 - by Dr. Amy Verdun, University of Victoria

The people of the United Kingdom will vote on Thursday 23 June whether or not to ‘leave’ or to ‘remain’ in the European Union. The last week has seen a dramatic turn of events after Jo Cox MP was killed by a person with extreme-right wing leanings. Through the past weeks, opinion polls have shown a very close race and went into negative territory last week. Three days before the vote, however, the ‘remain’ camp seems to be winning terrain. The arguments on both sides have been heated and fraught with accusations on both sides of interpreting data. This referendum is very politicized and its outcome could be far-reaching. It is entirely possible that the political, economic and legal landscape of the United Kingdom would not be the same if a majority of citizens vote to ‘leave’ the EU. The latter in turn has prepared an emergency response in EU institutions and the EU leadership is now trying to be ready to tackle the challenge head on should the leave vote win a majority.

Dr. Amy Verdun is Professor in Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is also part of a pan-Canada network of experts working on European policy issues, the Strategic Knowledge Cluster Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue.

Down to the wire: the surge in support for Brexit

June 16, 2016- by Dr. Oliver Schmidtke, Director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria
The looming referendum on the UK's future as an EU member state leaves many outside observers scratching their heads: A chorus of experts, politicians and business leaders (including Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England) have warned of considerable economic and political risks as a result of Brexit. Still, it is the Leave campaign that has gained momentum over past weeks. Most recent surveys indicate that the pendulum seems to have swung towards a majority for those advocating in favor of the exit option. Indeed, a poll conducted by The Independent gives the Leave campaign a solid 10% lead . 
As Canadians know all too well: Referenda on issues of independence are not only a matter of a rational cost-benefit analysis. Rather they touch on fundamental and at times highly emotional matters of collective identity and belonging. It is in this latter respect that the Remain camp has largely failed to sway the hearts and minds of British citizens. The main reasons for this failure are twofold: First, domestically there is no real champion for the Remain campaign among the mainstream parties. Both the Conservative and the Labour Party are internally divided over the referendum and their leaders have regularly provided only lukewarm support for the pro-EU camp. The referendum proves particularly divisive for Prime Minster Cameron's party. With justice secretary Michael Gove and former London major Boris Johnson two prominent politicians from within the Conservative Party have become the public face of the Vote Leave campaign. In addition, David Cameron has to contend with the growing support for the UK Independence Party whose mix of anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric has had a lasting effect on public debate and popular sentiments.
The other factor contributing to the weakness of the pro-EU camp is the state of the European Union itself. Currently the EU cannot rely on a persuasive political narrative and vision for the future. The post-war permissive consensus that perceived European integration as a vehicle for peace and cross-border collaboration no longer resonates strongly with younger generations. And, critically for the EU in the current political climate, the austerity-based response to the deep economic crisis and financial turmoil of the Euro has left the continent divided and without commanding leadership. Populist forms of nationalism throughout Europe that thrive on anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiments have effectively exploited the lack of leadership in Brussels. The absence of a mobilizing mission driving the process of European integration combined with an increasingly controversial politicization of the EU in domestic electoral politics might lead to what many observers thought improbable, if not impossible until recently: a European Union without the United Kingdom.    
Dr. Oliver Schmidtke is Director of the Centre for Global Studies and Professor in Political Science at the University of Victoria. He is also part of a pan-Canada network of experts working on European policy issues, the Strategic Knowledge Cluster Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue.

What drives the Brexit's vote?

June 14, 2016 - by Valerie D'Erman, University of Victoria
Is the upcoming Brexit vote reflective of long-standing Euro-skepticism in the UK, or is it simply the result of political machinations in response to recent events? Prime Minister David Cameron initiated the current discussion in January 2013 with a speech questioning the purpose of the EU and the UK's role within the EU. Since then, a referendum on the UK's EU membership has been touted as the most appropriate tool for responding to general UK dissatisfaction with various aspects of EU regulations and proceedings. However, a simple yes/no referendum question - to "Remain" in the EU, or to "Leave" - gives the impression of an overly simplistic scenario of what could happen in the event of an UK exit that does not capture the complicated dynamics of what a Brexit could mean for the UK.
Cameron's initiation of the discussion began on the heels of the euro crisis and massive financial bailouts of Greece and other euro-zone members. His January 2013 speech served to highlight the internal pressures within the EU at the time, and offered a vision of a road-map toward future UK-EU relations. This road-map set the stage for changing the rules of the UK's EU membership. It should be noted that in his January 2013 speech, Cameron did not advocate leaving the EU. The idea of a referendum served other purposes: first, providing a clear goal of how the Conservative party would approach UK-EU relations, something particularly salient to Cameron in the run up to the 2015 general election; and second, providing a hard political tool with a deadline to use as leverage to get the EU to commit to negotiating "special status" for UK membership. The noise of the Brexit campaign has since obfuscated the results of that status in the UK-EU reform deal. The danger of the impending June 23 vote is that the drama of the referendum will cloud the possibility of what the UK's new "special status" could be.
Valerie D'Erman is an expert on European Politics, CETA and issues related to Europe. She is teaching at the University of Victoria and is a member of the governing board of the European Community Studies Association in Canada (ECSA-C). 
Canada Europe related outreach is supported by the Europe Canada Studies Network and the Strategic Knowledge Cluster Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue.

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