The stakes of the German EU presidency: Europe’s future – Part 2 – The Weekly 18

My two latest posts focused on a key challenge for the German EU presidency: the EU’s seven-year budget (MFF) and the closely related economic recovery package aimed at managing the crisis caused by the pandemic.

As it has been reported in the media, the European Council of Member States’ heads of government agreed on the multiannual financial framework last week but, just a few days later, the extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament adopted a resolution with a two-thirds majority and rejected the agreement, voicing several critical remarks.

Since the agreement cannot enter into effect without the approval of the EP as a co-legislator, the German presidency will need to put a serious effort this autumn into harmonizing Member State interests with the concerns of the Members of European Parliament.

In addition to the budget related debates, there is another area where the German presidency will also need to meet some high expectations: the agreement to regulate the details of the UK’s exit from the Union and the future EU-UK relations.This does not look like a simple task either, especially if you consider the deadline (31 December, 2020) and the diverse interests of the Member States.

I am not going to discuss every detail of the Brexit deal here, and while the trade, energy, fishing and agriculture chapters will undoubtedly have a major impact on future EU-UK relations, I am only going to focus on the European security and defence details of the deal. This is the area where I believe the EU will suffer highly significant losses after the exit of the United Kingdom.

The UK is one of the few key geopolitical players of Europe: it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council; it has the largest defence budget of all Member States; it is one of the few NATO members that actually meet the NATO guideline to spend 2% of its GDP on defence; and, besides France, it is the only country that has all the military and defence capabilities, including nuclear capabilities as well.  This means that Europe loses its member with the strongest defence capabilities, and at the worst possible time, too. 

Brexit is taking place at the time of a geopolitical turning point when Russia is returning to the international arena while testing the limits of international law; China induces a strategic competition with the West; and the USA, the power that has guaranteed Europe’s security since the Second World War, has lately been plucking at the strings of unilateralism by terminating international agreements and spectacularly pulling out of international institutions.

 

In this geopolitical situation, the next decades will most likely be characterized by instability, tensions in trade, technological race, terrorism and global security challenges.

 

These are the areas were the EU and the UK will be increasingly dependant upon each other. Both negotiating parties will need to make each other understand that the UK is leaving the European Union, but not Europe. Great Britain has indisputably had an ambivalent relationship with our continent ever since the reign of Henry VIII, and the Common Security and Defence Policy defined in Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) has never fully won the approval of the British but both parties are still aware that they are bound together by their shared civilizational values as well as their historical and geographical characteristics.

 

That is why they must be able to demonstrate unity and strategic solidarity in security and defence issues, regardless of what happens in the other areas after their separation.

Although the post-Brexit UK will not be a part of the EU’s common foreign and security policy, it is still important for both parties to come to an agreement on their future cooperation in the following areas:

 

1. Even though the EU does not have a common defence force, the UK is involved in 7 of the EU’s 16 current operations at strategic command level with over 200 military personnel. The question is: can the UK remain a part of EU military operations and, if so, at what level and under what conditions?

 

 

2. The information exchange between the Member States and the British intelligence services has been ensured by EU legislation, which was greatly beneficial for both parties at the time of growing organized crime and terrorism. The British intelligence service is among the best, so it is a great loss for the EU. On the other hand, the UK will lose its highly advantageous membership in Eurojust and Europol, so the country can no longer rely on the benefits of the European arrest warrant and will also lose its access to the Schengen Information System and the European Criminal Records Information System. Can this mutually beneficial cooperation be maintained after Brexit?

 

 

3. The UK has played a vital role in the installation of Galileo, the EU’s navigation and positioning satellite system. Besides providing services for private persons, business entities and public institutions, the system also offers a secure platform for the Member States’ law enforcement and defence agencies. The UK has financially and professionally contributed to the system’s development and it also hosts some of the infrastructure. Under what conditions can the post-Brexit UK remain a part of this key infrastructure, especially considering that Europe’s major global competitors have already developed and set up their own systems?

 

 

4. Of all EU Member States, the UK has the largest defence budget, which is also reflected in the fact that the country supplies 25 per cent of defence procurement within the EU. The British military industry has a similarly high share within the EU in terms of R&D. As far as defence budgets are concerned, France is the only country to be near the British level, all other Member States are far below in this regard. How will Brexit affect UK-EU relations in terms of defence industry development, research and procurement?

 

 

5. At present, the Dublin III Regulation establishes the criteria and mechanisms for determining which Member State is responsible for examining an asylum claim made in the EU. What laws will regulate the examination of asylum claims in terms of the EU and the UK at a time of an intensively growing migration pressure?

 

With our continent having to face increasingly difficult geopolitical challenges with fewer and fewer allies by its side, the UK and the EU will need to continue their cooperation in the area of security and defence policies as both the EU and the UK will face the same external threats.

 

That is why the EU presidency has an enormous responsibility to make a compromise, at least in the area of security policy. It is a common interest for all of us.