On 21 March I was in Brussels to chair a meeting of our ICAEW contact members from across Europe. I started my day, as I generally do, with a walk. Given the timing – Theresa May was due to arrive for talks on an extension to the date on which the UK would leave the European Union – it seemed appropriate to walk in the direction of the European Parliament. As I passed the flags of the current EU nations, it was impossible not to be conscious that this was a day on which decisions would be taken that could affect the lives of many millions of people for many years to come.
A little later I joined my colleagues for our meeting. Our Europe region covers both EU and non-EU nations. Our contact members form a vital link with ICAEW members in those countries, whether they are in business or practice, still working or retired. Contact members receive no remuneration: they provide their time and enthusiasm because they are passionate about ICAEW.
Some of us had met over a drink the night before the conference to discuss communications, the constraints of GDPR and a variety of other topics. Our formal meeting agenda began with a welcome to our newest elected international Council member, Julia Seppa from Russia, who currently works in Finland, and sincere thanks to Emil Yiannopoulos for his contributions on Council over the last two years. We spent the day discussing member and stakeholder engagement, communications, trust in the profession, the impact of digital technology and – inevitably – the impact of Brexit. Periodically we checked on the latest news from the EU meeting.
After completing our packed agenda (with many questions answered and ideas captured) we adjourned for dinner to continue our conversations in a less formal setting. Our guest of honour was Jens Røder, an ICAEW Chartered Accountant from Denmark who has held a number of very senior positions – including President of Accountancy Europe (FEE, as it was then known), President of the Danish Institute of Auditors (FSR) and Secretary General of the Nordic Federation of Public Accountants – all on top of a tremendous career within PwC. I had not met Jens before, but had the pleasure of sitting next to him at dinner and was struck as much by his knowledge, experience and wisdom as by his courtesy and humility. Our other guests included Erik van der Plaats from the European Commission and Saskia Slomp from the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG).
I had an early start the next morning, to catch the 7.56 Eurostar train to London St. Pancras. The BBC carried details of the agreement reached overnight between the UK and EU. As the train sped through the Belgian and French countryside, I reflected on the events of the last day: engaging with fellow ICAEW members from across Europe, discussing the challenges and opportunities we face, meeting one of the most respected figures in our profession.
Inevitably I also reflected on the relationship between the UK and the EU. Whatever happens (and whenever it happens), two things at least are certain: firstly, the high-speed rail link between London and Brussels will still join us physically, and secondly the fellowship and shared commitment to the highest standards of professionalism of our members across Europe - and the wider world - will remain as strong as ever. Whatever the future relationship between the UK and EU may be, ICAEW will remain committed to our friends and colleagues across Europe and beyond.
Some things may be different, but the essentials that define us and that bind us, as a profession and as an institute, will endure.