Brexit will produce new barriers for European politics, mobility and markets. That was indeed the aim, at least from some of the leavers. But Brexit will also put up new barriers for European security cooperation, which is more of a collateral damage. Both the UK and EU have every reason to minimize this damage and allow for a close future relationship on security and defence. That would best be accomplished through a wide selection of issue specific arrangements together with a more political declaration on solidarity and security.
The risks to security cooperation that are caused by Brexit span the full spectrum of activities wherein the EU engages. In areas such as crisis management, foreign policy coordination, counterterrorism, cyber security and combatting organized crime, the UK’s resources will be missed. At the same time, the UK might be cut off from important sources of information – such as the databases of Schengen and Europol – and miss the opportunity to affect the policies of other European states as well as outcomes on the ground. On a more general level, the most serious risk of Brexit is that the EU and the UK are drawn apart in their geopolitical outlooks. From the perspective of European security, such strategic divergence would make it more difficult to unite on issues such as Russia, the MENA region and the relations between EU and NATO. Finally, it is highly possible that Brexit will severely hurt the British economy and thus affect the country’s contribution to European security, whether through the EU or via NATO.
Despite the sometimes harsh rhetoric surrounding the Brexitnegotiations, there seem to be a recognition that most of the cooperation in the security field will be of relevance for the UK after it formally has left the union. The DExEU’s future partnership paper on foreign policy, defence and development, published in mid-September 2017, gave a clear message to the remaining EU member states that, despite Brexit, the UK still wants to maintain broad cooperation within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The partnership paper goes into detail on how the UK wishes to have a “deep and special partnership” with the EU, for example by making military capabilities and assets available for EU crisis management missions (e.g. the Multi National Headquarters at Northwood) and through “close consultations” on foreign policy issues. In addition, the paper states that the UK wishes to join and contribute to the European defence fund, which aims to strengthen the European defence industry through multinational capability development projects.
Meanwhile, the EU position on post-Brexit cooperation with the UK within the security and defence realm has not yet been clearly expressed, which is largely the result of EU member states not wanting the issue to interfere with the ongoing Brexit negotiations. However, in the recently established EU-cooperation of defence — Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) — there is some indication that the UK will be given a special role within the CSDP post-Brexit. The notification letter states that third states may be allowed to participate in PESCO projects if they provide “substantial added value to the project” and “meet more demanding commitments” than the ones that PESCO members themselves must live up to. In other words, there is still a large room for manoeuvre for the EU member states to decide how they wish to structure their future relationship with the UK in the area of security and defence.
Making full use of this constructive agenda, there are several ways that the UK and EU could cooperate post-Brexit.
In the field of intelligence and counter-terrorism, the EU27 would be well advised to incorporate managers and analysts from the UK at Europol and to find a bespoke arrangement allowing them direct access to databases in order to maintain current levels of interaction.
A similar solution should be sought at the EU’s intelligence hub IntCen where the UK could be allowed to keep staff that could then feed intelligence into the system and take part of joint analytical products. It is also important that other areas of cooperation which are not part of the EU, such as the decentralized Counter-terrorism group, are not made into EU agencies in order to avoid making EU-UK cooperation unnecessarily cumbersome. In the foreign and security policy area, the EU could also offer the UK permanent deliberation and policyshaping roles within the PSC, although they would naturally lack veto or voting rights. One can also envision the secondment of staff and expertise within the External Action Service. While all this – together with issue specific solutions in areas such as sanctions, cybersecurity, disinformation etc. – would remedy some of the harm caused by Brexit, it runs the risk of fragmentizing and de-politicizing security cooperation.
Just as the various EU-UK trade and investment agreements will most likely be grouped in a future comprehensive free trade agreement after Brexit, it would be helpful to also group and develop future security and defence cooperation within a dedicated framework. Such a framework should include a political manifestation of solidarity and cooperative benefits. At the very least, The EU and the UK should issue a guiding declaration of solidarity and shared interests. A more ambitious alternative would be to find ways for the UK and the EU to sign a solidarity clause mirroring the substance (but not the processes) of the two existing solidarity clauses of the EU. A bespoke deal like this would clearly acknowledge the UK’s importance for the safety and security of Europe and increase security for all European countries. Still, it would not create unnecessary risk of contagion. Indeed, it seems farfetched that members without the UK’s specific ideational background would prefer an agreement that essentially mirrors EU membership without voting rights.
This text was originally published in the Baltic Rim Economies Journal available at https://www.utu.fi/en/units/tse/units/PEI/BRE/Documents/BRE_4_2017.pdf