Take-aways for EU’s foreign and security policy

Brexit workshop series 4 (c) Thomas Lobenwein, Dahrendorf Forum

On 24 and 25 November 2016 experts from politics and academia discussed the impact of Brexit on several policy areas in a series of workshops at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. All events took place under Chatham House rules. 

Workshop 1 discussed the impact of the UK’s EU referendum on foreign and security policy of the EU. Lisa Haferlach, Dahrendorf Research Associate at the Hertie School, summarizes the take-aways from the workshop participants.

The focal questions on the future of European foreign and security policy of the workshop discussion:

Some say the UK’s decision has questioned the purpose and even the existence of the Union. So can the European Union still be a credible international actor after its loss of one of its largest member states?

Will the EU become less active on the world scene because of the fewer capabilities that will be available after the loss of one of its major military powers? Will the EU carry the same weight with challenging partners such as Iran or China?

Are we moving from a threat to unity from Putin’s Russia to a much greater split in Western unity from the US?

Contested issues in the discussion over the impact of the Brexit that our participants could not agree upon:

EU integrated defence policy has always been a red line for the UK. Some experts regard Brexit as an opportunity for a common funding mechanism. While it can be argued that it has never just been the UK’s veto that has halted integration.

Foreign policy as one of the cornerstones of the UK may offer a great opportunity to remain in a close relationship by developing foreign policy cooperation between Britain and the EU. But it could also be utilised by the British as a bargaining chip to get their way in the negotiations to leave the EU.

Germany has to be aware that with its new position in setting defence in Europe it will be required to make more resources available. But while leadership is needed, it is uncertain whether Germany will be the country to do the job.

Conclusion from our discussants on steps to take and developments to expect:

Workshop participants agreed that the EU should work on keeping its links with Britain up and running, especially in areas that all parties benefit from. Brexit could be an opportunity in defence, with a potential to bring reforms such as the Athena mechanism for common funding of security and defence mechanisms along the way.

The majority recommended looking toward establishing clusters of influence within the EU. Coalitions of the willing are needed rather than expecting that all 28 member states have to join.

Trump’s election makes the impact of Brexit potentially even more significant and the process of divorce between EU and London even more challenging. Now, when the future of transatlantic partnership is so uncertain, it is more important than ever for the EU to be a credible partner and a responsible power.


Speakers at the workshop included Sophia Besch (Center for European Reform), Judy Dempsey (Carnegie Europe) and Norbert Röttgen (German Bundestag). The introductory remarks were held by Helmut K. Anheier (Hertie School of Governance) and Michael Cox (LSE IDEAS) offered concluding remarks. The discussion was moderated by Monika Sus (Hertie School of Governance). The workshop was attended by more than 40 international experts.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or its hosts Hertie School of Governance and London School of Economics and Political Science or its funder Stiftung Mercator.