Ahead of the British referendum, then British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of the negative implications of a Brexit on peace in Europe. After the ‘out’ vote, British politicians have been keen to emphasise that the UK will not turn its back on the world. Nevertheless, Brexit is bound to affect the modalities of European security cooperation. In this context, many questions remain open: What impact will the withdrawal from the EU of a Security Council member, nuclear power, and leading international donor have on the EU’s role as a security actor? How can security cooperation between the EU and the UK be structured post-Brexit? What will the impact be on EU-NATO cooperation?
On 24 November three speakers, Sophia Besch (Research Fellow, Centre for European Reform, London), Jamie Shea (NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, Brussels) and Ambassador Angus Lapsley (UK Representative to the PSC in Brussels) addressed these and related questions, differentiating in their outlooks between desirable and likely scenarios. They were welcomed at the Hertie School of Governance by Henrik Enderlein (Director, Jacques Delors Institut-Berlin; Associate Dean and Professor of Political Economy at the Hertie School). The discussion was chaired by Nicole Koenig (Senior Research Fellow, Jacques Delors Institut-Berlin).
The speakers acknowledged the temptation of national politicians to exploit referenda for domestic politics, outsourcing internal problems to the voters and to Brussels. The votes would favour voices from nostalgic and dissatisfied, mostly elderly citizens and not adequately include the comfortable younger generation who often do not raise their voice. In terms of transnational cooperation between European states in institutions such as EU, NATO or OSCE it becomes abundantly clear that the ongoing discussion about potential Brexit-implications is as much about relationships as it is about issues.
The outcome of the UK referendum from 23rd June 2016 could be much more a loss for the EU than for NATO or OSCE. The latter institutions have the prospect of serving as the hubs of security institutions. They could bind states such as the UK and Turkey more strongly and make sure Europe’s security architecture will not fray. More cooperation between European states in defence must be the appropriate answer if Brexit becomes a reality. This is also true for the EU. The panelists pointed out that the EU could also profit from a Brexit. As the UK was a hard negotiator on the EU’s Global Strategy and hesitant to strengthen EU defence capabilities, without the UK, EU member states could likely improve their cooperation in the future. With a rather isolationist US-President elect on the other side of the Atlantic, the EU could be forced and should be willing to offer a balanced burden-sharing in international conflict-prevention and reaction.
For a detailed discussion of these issues please read the policy paper by Nicole Koenig, Senior Research Fellow at the Jacques Delors Institut-Berlin, on ‘EU External Action and Brexit: Relaunch and Reconnect’.