Plugging in the British: EU foreign policy

Policy brief
06 March 2018
  • The main focus of negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has so far been on trade. But foreign and defence policy and law enforcement co-operation are also important. Plugging the UK into EU co-operation in these areas may not be straightforward. In particular, the EU and the UK both want to preserve their decision-making autonomy after Brexit.
  • The EU has close relations with like-minded countries, including Canada, Norway and the US. These relationships offer various models for the UK/EU relationship. The EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine also covers foreign and defence policy co-operation, but leaves Ukraine as a junior partner – not a status the UK would willingly accept.
  • The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is largely inter-governmental; the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have limited roles. That creates more flexibility to accommodate non-member states – but there will still be limits to the privileges the UK can expect.
  • EU development funding structures are complex. There is scope for third countries to contribute to and even take part in the governance of some funds.
  • The UK’s overall aim appears to be to keep as much as possible of the existing foreign and development policy co-operation intact. But it is vague about how it should do this.
  • The EU is also open to co-operating with the UK, but it is reluctant to offer the UK more influence in decision-making than other third countries have, partly for fear that others could ask for the same status as the UK.
  • There is no single recipe for co-ordinating policy. Norway has almost no formal structures for foreign policy co-operation, while Canada has a legally binding treaty and the US a politically binding declaration. All formal structures are backed up by extensive informal contacts with the EU and the member-states.
  • The UK and the EU both have an interest in co-ordinating future sanctions regimes: the UK provides much of the intelligence for current sanctions listings. But the experience of the US and others shows that it takes hard work to keep sanctions lists harmonised.
  • The UK cannot expect a veto in EU discussions of foreign policy. But it should seek a treaty, like Canada’s, to ensure that its voice is always heard; and it should maintain formal and informal channels of communication to the EU institutions and the member-states. Both the EU and the UK seem to think that foreign policy co-operation could form part of an agreement separate from any future trade agreement, and that the new arrangements could enter into force during the transition period.
  • The British government has judged that EU development spending matches UK priorities and is well-managed, so it should look for ways to contribute to EU-run aid programmes.
  • In the transition period, the EU has said that the UK might have special arrangements for consultation on CFSP on a case by case basis. The UK wants a guarantee of consultation before the EU takes foreign policy decisions, including on sanctions. The UK will need to decide whether to seek maximum autonomy from the EU or maximum influence on it; it cannot have both.
  • Whatever model the UK chooses, it will need to resource its foreign and development policy relationship with the EU properly, in Brussels and other EU capitals, including through ministerial involvement.

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Good piece. One is also bound to wonder how, minus its EU credentials, how sustainable the UK’s UNSC P5 status is for a country with less than 1% of global population and (depending on the measure you use) 3-5% of world GDP....