EU External Action and Brexit: Relaunch and Reconnect

Written by | Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Nicole Koenig (Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute)

One of the areas that will be greatly affected by Brexit is the EU’s foreign and security policy. Britain’s withdrawal from the Union will mean the loss of a strong partner both in diplomacy and in combat operations. However, it is also necessary to take into account that the British have not contributed much to the Common Security and Defense Policy and they have been reluctant to offer their military forces at the EU’s disposal. Therefore, it can be argued that although the EU will be weakened by the absence of the British, the impact on the ability of the EU’s forces will not be so dramatic.

Brexit will, however, leave marks on the United Kingdom, which will not be able, through its withdrawal, to influence the EU’s decision-making processes and thus suspend the proposals that it disagrees with. It will depend very much on how the terms of the future cooperation with the EU will be defined. In the worst-case scenario, the trust between Britain and the European partners can be damaged. For this reason, it is important that both parties systematically work to maintain common trust, which will in turn be reflected in the cooperation in the defense and crisis management.

In this area, there are four possible modes of future cooperation. The first one is based on a strategic partnership under which the two sides would agree on coordination in foreign and security issues. An example of the viability of such a model is the EU’s partnership with Canada. The second one is based on the Norwegian model of cooperation in which the coordination between the two parties is limited to consultations that take place twice a year. In this case, Britain would have no decision-making powers. The third and most viable option is a partnership again based on the Norwegian model but with an enhanced agreement that would allow for an open debate on foreign policy and security issues, for example, at the meetings of the Council of Foreign Affairs. The last option thus amounts to a systematic integration of Great Britain into the decision-making process in the context of foreign policy and security affairs. However, this could encounter some legal obstacles as well as an opposition from other EU Member States.

Britain and the EU should strive to achieve such a cooperation that would be mutually beneficial. Both sides may face common security challenges in the future, and it is therefore important that the negotiations are conducted in a constructive spirit, which takes into account the interests of citizens on both sides of the channel.

(The study can be downloaded here)

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