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Alumni gather to discuss impact of Brexit

Gates Cambridge Alumni organised a mini-conference on the impact of Brexit on the EU in Romania earlier this month.

On 9 May 2019, after leaders of several European Union member states, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, gathered for an informal summit in Sibiu, Romania - a meeting where serious talk of Brexit was rumoured to be banned - a group of Gates Cambridge alumni convened in the same city to discuss that very topic. Spanning five Gates Cambridge cohorts from 2001 to 2017, including two alumni from the first cohort of Gates Scholars, they met in the Ramada Sibiu Hotel for a weekend of spirited conversation on the future challenges that Brexit will pose for the EU.

There were presentations by three speakers: Dr Romana Cramarenco, Lecturer in European Studies at Romania's Universitatea Babeş Bolyai; Ambassador Declan Kelleher, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the EU; and Ambassador Luminita Odobescu, Permanent Representative of Romania to the EU. Each speaker brought unique insights to the discussion, encouraging questions from Gates Cambridge alumni and guests, who included four high-achieving students from Gheorghe Lazăr National College in Sibiu.

Dr Cramarenco spoke about Brexit’s impact on free movement of labour, noting the difficulties that it would pose for skilled and unskilled workers alike. She cited an increase in the income requirements of skilled migrants to the UK as a major barrier to entry and acknowledged the egress of major agencies and businesses, including the European Medicines Agency and Sony Europe, from the UK as a reflection of other European countries providing more favourable trade and labour conditions. Dr Cramarenco also commented on the unique issues that a proposed cap on the number of certain types of migrants would pose, particularly for students coming to the UK to study. She summarised this by exploring the possible outcomes that could come from different scenarios ranging from a mutually beneficial agreement to a no-deal Brexit.

Ambassador Kelleher shifted the discussion to Ireland: a country that faces unique challenges, particularly concerning its border with Northern Ireland. Historically, this border has had a contentious past, with peace being brokered between Ireland and the UK, culminating in the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998. Among other things, this agreement established a “soft” border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, removing border checks for people and goods. Brexit poses a threat to this agreement, with the Withdrawal Agreement proposing a so-called “backstop” that would prevent the return of a hard border. This issue has been a core issue in Brexit negotiations, with a no-deal Brexit preventing the maintenance of a soft border.

As Romania currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council, Ambassador Odobescu discussed handling Brexit negotiations under the presidency, global challenges and the future of Europe.

After their presentations, the three speakers participated in a panel which began with a discussion on the stark differences in voting in the UK referendum between constituents in Cambridge and neighbouring city Peterborough. Following this discussion, the speakers pooled their expertise to address questions related to the Erasmus youth exchange programme; combatting the dissemination of false information; whether Brexit would act as a deterrent to other countries leaving the EU, given Britain’s unique circumstances; and the need to share the work of the EU with a wider audience.

The weekend was organised by Gates Cambridge Alumni Association Director of Membership for Europe Dr Szilard Fejer [2005 - PhD in Chemistry] with support from fellow Romanian Gates alumna Georgiana Epure [2016 - MPhil in International Relations and Politics] and Dr Sonia Ilie [2010 - PhD in Education].

Alongside the event, Gates Cambridge alumni connected through several group meals and outings to cultural hubs in and around Sibiu, including the ASTRA National Museum Complex, Saint Michael’s Church in Cisnădioara and the Brukenthal National Museum. Pictures from the weekend can be found here.

*Alex Kong [2016] did an MPhil in Biological Science [Pharmacology] and Szilard Fejer [2005] did a PhD in Chemistry.

**Pictured from left to right: Ambassador Kelleher, Dr Cramarenco and Ambassador Odobescu. Credit: Alex Kong.