Britain and France acknowledge similarly the regional and international challenges they face, along with all Europe. Yet the two countries do not see eye to eye on the best policies to adopt in pursuit of solutions, the British and French ambassadors to Egypt expressed in a dialogue held at the American University in Cairo (AUC) in Downtown Cairo Thursday.
British Ambassador John Casson and French counterpart Stephane Romatet voiced different views on Brexit and how it is likely to affect Britain and the European project. France's pro-Europeanism is also seen differently by the two countries, the diplomats explained.
Romatet, who took the podium first, kicked off the dialogue by highlighting the main challenges facing Europe, including the rise of the far right, diminishing support for the European project, and thawing ties among countries on the "Old Continent."
"You see in the elections in Europe all European parties are systematically defeated; this signifies something," he said. "The social democratic project is in danger, the conservative parties obviously in a bad situation."
The two blocs have long been pro-European Union and now have lost ground to extremist and far-right parties, Romatet said.
What also takes a toll on Europe, he argued, is a "dismantling process" in which countries that long supported the European project are considering or have actually abandoned it, such as Poland.
On a lower level, Romatet pointed to the crisis of the nation state and federalism, citing independence drives in Spain's Catalonia this year, and Scotland's 2014 autonomy referendum that was narrowly defeated.
"There is today a lack of spirit of similarity," said the French ambassador, adding that what is also concerning is that "most of the Europhobic populist vote comes from the younger generation."
"There is something new in Europe. There is I think now a feeling that a refounding of the project is absolutely necessary. And there is a consensus even on the fact that conditions are today met in order for refounding very seriously the European project."
In this context, Romatet opined that Brexit will cause Europe to be recast without Britain, which will lose its regional influence as a result.
Casson, for his part, sounded more optimistic, saying there were different perspectives on how Brexit will unfold.
Decades ago, the UK saw nation states as too powerful and that the EU was instrumental in alleviating their abysmal effects, such as suffocating the economy. Britain today, "no longer tends to see nation states as the problem" or too powerful, but rather "too weak in the face of other forces," such as the flow of capital, jobs and people, Casson said.
Organised crime and extremism fuelled Brexit, the British ambassador said, highlighting that the UK's European treaties make the country unable to control its borders.
"There's a reaction to that, that maybe Europe wasn't the solution but was part of the problem," Casson said. The same applies to the economy and jobs, he added.
The UK government is trying to "find a new way to manage the balance we're all trying to achieve between keeping the roots of our nation states, keeping our society well rooted [...] and balancing that with being open to the world, being open to the positive side of globalisation."
"We all face this challenge, refounding, renewing our national models," Casson said, adding that Brexit "will be seen as a technical feature of this wider effort to refound nation states."