EU2U: from the Classrooms to the Boardroom

Brexit is a topic on many people’s minds. It touches upon issues of economics, trade, national identity, rural and urban divides, and the future of several countries at the center of world geopolitics. It arouses debates about the European Union itself: why was it first formed, what is its current purpose, how does it operate, and what will it look like in the future? One of our most impactful Brexit events was an EU2U sessions entitled: Brexit — the Business Impact.

CES conducts EU2U sessions as a series of educational workshops connecting K-12 schools; community colleges and other postsecondary institutions; and other community organizations with local experts to discuss various topics about the European Union. CES staff partners with UNC faculty and local practitioners specializing in the EU as appropriate to the topic of each session. In line with our Center’s mission, teacher professional development is a priority. We know that not everyone has the time or resources to visit the UNC campus for a conference, workshop or lecture. Therefore, we have dedicated staff and resources to travel to and host sessions at various partner organizations throughout the state. CES has recently targeted our briefings to audiences including business leaders and non-profit professionals. When planning these briefings, CES assesses community needs and interests; listens to their concerns about key issues facing the EU; and offers information about the EU in an engaging format.

On November 2, 2018, we were pleased to organize our first business EU2U in the Research Triangle Park at the Womble Dickson Bond Law Office with a full room of local business leaders interested in Transatlantic relations and trade. CES drew upon our graduates and partners to invite three distinguished panelists: UNC TAM graduate Garrett Workman, US Chamber of Commerce; Orla O’Hannaidh, Womble Dickson Bond Lawfirm; and Andrew Terrell, UK Special Government office in Raleigh. CES invited the panelists to speak about both their personal and professional investment in the Brexit debate which made for an honest and engaging discussion. Preliminary feedback from our business partners was that they did not want a traditional academic lecture with large amounts of data; rather, they wanted some practical, down to earth points about where the Brexit negotiations are now and what to look for as they finalize. The panelist debated and discussed a wide range of issues including the current EU trade agreements; EU concerns of data privacy and GDPR; immigration to and from the EU; and populist backlash in various member states. The panel was designed to provide a diversity of opinions from both government and private sectors and from various national identities. O’Hannaidh, for instance, discussed her perspective as an Irish citizen on the “Irish Backstop” and its prominence in the current negotiations. Workers and families, she notes, have traveled “from Belfast to Dublin” with relative ease for 20 years barely knowing any border existed. Citizens of Irish heritage, living in both the EU and UK, now have to consider trade, travel and labor restrictions between the two adjacent territories which has made the negotiating process tense.

Pictured from left to right: Workman, O’Hanniadh, Terrell, and Bynum

After the panelists offered their comments, our audience asked some spirited questions. Audience members in technology and finance noted that while the media often focuses on the mobility of refugees and lower-skilled force, little attention has been given to how Brexit may impact the mobility and retention of highly skilled workers from the continental EU member states. How will additional visas and other restrictions play out considering how the EU 27 have become accustomed to open mobility of labor with the UK. If a deal on trade and immigration is not settled by March 19, what will happen to those EU citizens in the UK and vice versa? Workman reminded guests that the various levels of EU Integration are complex — that the EU is more than just a trade deal, but also a customs union with free capital flow, a common immigration border, and an open labor market. The UK and the EU must now decide which of those elements of integration remains.

The panel agreed that the transatlantic relationship would remain strong even in a future triangular “special relationship” among the new US-UK-EU setup. Our panelists offered their hope that some deal will be reached. But there will be an economic impact for all involved. Terrell emphasized that he could amplify concerns to the U.K. government to make sure all businesses — small and large — can navigate a post-Brexit world. Both O’Hannaidh and Workman expressed concerns that smaller businesses in the UK, EU and the US, without robust legal teams and resources, may be most hurt by Brexit and stressed that the final negotiation should advocate for a fair deal for businesses of all sizes given the complex trade deals and policy adaptation. All were in agreement that the final negotiations must be followed closely as it is hard to predict the outcome given the rapidly changing political environment. The panel was recorded and the video can be viewed on CES’ open access Youtube channel.

We want to thank the British American Business Council of NC and the UK Special Government Office in Raleigh for their support in co-hosting the event. This EU2U series is supported by our Getting to Know Europe (GTKE) grant generously sponsored by the EU Delegation to the US. The purpose of GTKE is to promote greater knowledge and understanding, within local and regional communities in the United States, of the European Union. Our current GTKE grant “Engaging EU: From Campus to Community” is a collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh’s European Studies Center which involves several programs that connect university resources and knowledge with surrounding communities and the general public. CES is also a Title VI National Resource Center and a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence. For more information about CES, please visit our website ( If you would like to host an EU2U at your organization, please fill out a short interest form or email outreach coordinator Noel Bynum (

This post was produced as part of the 2018 EU2U workshop series, supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the Delegation of the European Union to the United States.



Noel Bynum
UNC Center for European Studies | A Jean Monnet Center of Excellence

International Education Program Coordinator for the Center for European Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill