Brexit, Trade and a New Era for Transatlantic Solidarity
UNC Global Affairs
Photo by Walker Winslow Stephenson.
Former U.S. Ambassador Charles Ries, a leading expert on the formation of the European Union, outlined the future of transatlantic relations in a visit to UNC-Chapel Hill on Oct. 25 as part of the university’s Diplomacy Initiative.
In his remarks, Ries told more than 225 Carolina students and faculty that the U.S. and its allies in Europe are experiencing a strong moment in transatlantic solidarity. The event was the latest in a series of Diplomatic Discussions focused on the changing dynamics of international trade.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is awful,” he said. “The silver lining of that crisis and of other crises that have happened, is that it’s actually strengthened U.S.-EU cooperation in important ways. And the [COVID-19] pandemic also served to demonstrate to both sides of the Atlantic that we need each other.”
In 2016, the British public voted to leave the EU, and Ries discussed the economic and political events that led to that vote. On Jan. 31, 2020, the U.K. officially left the EU, a moment commonly referred to as Brexit.
According to Ries, the independent trade deals and economic prosperity that many British envisioned have not come to pass, but Brexit has had consequences for the U.K., the U.S. and the EU, as well as international trade diplomacy everywhere. After his talk, Ries engaged in conversation with Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer. The two were colleagues at the U.S. Department of State and worked together on European policy for years. They were strong advocates for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which, if it had been fully negotiated and approved, would have been the largest multilateral trade initiative in history.
Although a poll conducted on the anniversary of the referendum, in June 2023, claimed that 53 percent of U.K. citizens are in favor of their country rejoining the EU, Ries said rejoining is unlikely. The issue remains politically divisive, and the Labour Party is unwilling to risk losing swing voters as they seek to take power from the Tories.
During Ries’ visit to Chapel Hill, he and his wife, former U.S. Ambassador Marcie Ries, met with UNC students and visited classes to share insights gained from decades working in international relations. The ambassadors spoke in courses and met with faculty, staff and students from the Russian Flagship Program, Women in National Security student organization, the European Studies program and the Transatlantic Master’s degree program.
Charlie Ries served as U.S. ambassador to Greece (2004-07) and principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs (2000-04). He oversaw economic sections at the U.S. embassy in London and the U.S. mission to the EU during a highly productive period of building transatlantic bonds. He served as deputy assistant trade representative for North American affairs and was a member of the NAFTA negotiating team.
Marcie Ries served in Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean. She is a three-time chief of mission, serving as the head of the U.S. Office in Pristina (2003-04), U.S. ambassador to Albania (2004-07) and, most recently, as U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria (2012-15). She shared with UNC students her experience working at the U.N. at the time of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
UNC’s Diplomacy Initiative helps Carolina students learn negotiating skills, as well as how to find common ground, collaborate with international partners and communicate persuasively. Students gain direct access to the world of diplomacy and connect with experts like Charlie and Marcie Ries.
The Diplomacy Initiative, now in its third year, builds on Carolina’s standout strengths in language and area studies, according to Stephenson. She said, “It gives students opportunities to complement their superb base knowledge with a grasp of the skills that are needed to be a global problem solver. We saw those skills in action with both Ambassadors Ries.”
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