The Brexit negotiations aren’t off to the best of starts. It’s been one week since Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017, and much of the debate has been focused on whether Britain could ever go to war with Spain over Gibraltar.
Even Theresa May’s letter formally launching the Brexit process has been controversial, with some accusing her of “blackmailing” EU states over continued security and defence cooperation. Downing Street has denied that the reference to security cooperation in May’s letter was an implicit threat. However, it’s undeniable that Brexit is going to have an impact in this sphere.
A significant chunk of EU defence expenditure currently comes from the UK, and Britain has historically obstructed any moves towards closer EU defence cooperation. We had a comment from Jörg, who thinks that Brexit (together with an apparent cooling in the US’ attitude towards NATO) will encourage EU states to step up and do more in terms of defence cooperation. Is he right?
To get a reaction, we spoke to Giles Merritt, founder and Chairman of Friends of Europe. What would he say to Jörg?
For another perspective, we put the same question to Timothy Less, Director of Nova Europa, a political consultancy firm specialising in security risk analysis in Eastern Europe. How would he respond?
There is certainly a scenario in which the other 27 proceed without Britain – a state which has hitherto blocked reform in the area of defence integration… But personally I don’t see it happening, even though it’s a possibility. One reason for this is that there are a number of neutral states within the EU, such as Ireland, Austria, Sweden and Finland, which are not interested in creating a kind of EU Army, common EU defence policy, and so on.
Then you come up against the practical question of money, and – even if there is a political commitment to integration in the area of defence – whether Member States are willing to make the necessary financial contributions to turn this into a reality. Finally, you have the issue of NATO, and I think some Member States will be reluctant to engage any kind of initiative which cuts across NATO or undermines its effectiveness in the region.
Will Brexit encourage EU states to cooperate more on defence? Given that Britain contributes a fair amount of defence expenditure in the EU, could its loss spur others to step up? And should Britain use security cooperation as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!