Friday 1 December 2017

"The British have never wanted to turn the Union into a military power."

Two recent speeches by Michel Barnier (EU Chief Brexit Negotiator) are of interest: one is a speech is on the Future of the EU and the other on Security and Defence. This post is an overview of the speeches.

20th November:

First, on 20th November, Mr Barnier spoke to the Centre for European Reform (CER) on the Future of the EU which, as things stand, will not include the UK after 29th March 2019.  Mr Barnier made some key points in this speech:

  • The Eurozone needs a more complete Banking Union and a fiscal capacity with a finance minister. The EU needs a more integrated Capital Markets Union. Such increased risk sharing needs common rules and common enforcement.
  • The EU needs a stronger capacity to prevent and tackle internal and external threats – with stronger cooperation in fighting terrorism, but also with respect for fundamental rights.
  • The EU needs a truly common foreign policy and European defence.
  • The EU needs to lead on global challenges, from climate change to openness in trade based on its social market economy. And it needs to continue leading in global financial regulation, to make finance work for the real economy.
Mr Barnier also said - "This stronger European Union will want to have a close relationship with the UK.  We have a shared history – it started long before the last 44 years.  That is why the “no deal” is not our scenario. Even though we will be ready for it.  I regret that this no deal option comes up so often in the UK public debate.  Only those who ignore, or want to ignore, the current benefits of European Union membership can say that no deal would be a positive result."

In the remainder of this speech Mr Barnier amplified his thoughts on Ireland ("no hard border"), the Single Market ("a package, with four indivisible freedoms, common rules, institutions and enforcement structures").  The UK would have access to the Single Market but this is different to being part of the Single Market.  " ... a good deal on our future relationship should facilitate this access as much as possible. And avoid a situation where trade would happen under the WTO rules for goods and services."

To enable access to the Single Market, there is a need to ensure a level playing field between us.  "This will not be easy. For the first time ever in trade talks, the challenge will be to limit divergence of rules rather than maximise convergence.  There will be no ambitious partnership without common ground in fair competition, state aid, tax dumping, food safety, social and environmental standards.
It is not only about rules or laws. It is about societal choices – for health, food standards, our environment and financial stability. The UK has chosen to leave the EU. Does it want to stay close to the European model or does it want to gradually move away from it?"

A 'hard border' (i.e. with physical customs checks etc)  between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is something which it appears both London, Dublin and the EU wished to avoid.  Enter the DUP who are in political deal to support the Conservative government over certain matters.  The DUP is reported to have said that it will withdraw support from Theresa May if there is any deal giving Northern Ireland a separate customs or trade regime from the rest of the UK - Irish Times 1st December - Brexit: Border 'deal' in tatters after DUP threatens to withdraw support from Theresa May.  On 1st December it also emerged that the Republic of Ireland government will be in a position to prevent UK-EU Brexit negotiations going further - The Guardian 1st December.   "Ireland will have the final say on whether the UK has made sufficient progress in Brexit negotiations to move on to the next stage, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, has said.  In a strongly worded statement expressing solidarity with Ireland, Tusk said Brexit problems were of Britain’s own making, but Ireland’s problems were the EU’s.  He warned that progress would not be possible if the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was not satisfied with the UK’s offer on the Irish border, which is scheduled to be tabled in Brussels on Monday."

29th November:

The second speech was on 29th November and delivered to a Security Conference in Berlin.  The full speech is HERE.

Mr Barnier noted that the Brexit is taking place "against the backdrop of a strategic repositioning by our American ally, which has gathered pace since the election of Donald Trump."  It was necessary for Europe to take it fate into its own hands.  (He quoted Angela Merkel - Wir, Europäer, müssen unser Schicksal in unsere eigene Hand nehmen).  He noted various developments  such as the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (2016); strategic partnership between the European Union and NATO (July 2016); proposal for a European Defence Fund (November 2016); the European Commission setting out ideas for discussion on the future of Europe's defence, even suggesting the establishment of a common defence; and 20 November 2017 in Brussels, 23 Member States stated their intention of implementing the Permanent Structured Cooperation

Any EU Defence and Security Union would have to be developed without the UK since, on 30 March 2019, "the United Kingdom will, as is its wish, become a third country when it comes to defence and security issues."   Brexit, according to Mr Barnier, would result in the UK defence minister no longer taking part in meetings of EU Defence Ministers and here will be no UK ambassador sitting on the Political and Security Committee.  The UK can no longer be a framework nation: it will not be able to take command of EU–led operations or lead EU battlegroups.  The UK will no longer be a member of the European Defence Agency or Europol.  The UK will no longer be involved in decision-making, nor in planning our defence and security instruments.

These certainly are, as Mr Barnier said, logical consequences of Brexit.  It is NOT the case that the UK is being "expelled" from Europol as suggested, for example, here. Losing membership of EU agencies such as Europol follows from leaving the EU itself. but Mr Barnier went on to say that in 2018 "we will have to work on the framework of our new partnership with the United Kingdom."

Sufficient progress had to be made on the rights of citizens, Northern Ireland and the UK financial obligations.  If such progress is achieved then the Member States will define in 2018 the framework of this new partnership with the UK which Mr Barnier hoped would include security, defence and foreign policy as key components.  Certainly, one would hope that the UK would not seek to cut itself off from security matters such as intelligence sharing on serious crime etc.

In a position paper published early September, the United Kingdom made a statement in support of European defence policy. In this context, the UK seems willing to engage in the long‑term towards European cooperation.  I believe that Mr Barnier's reference is to:
  1. Security, law enforcement and criminal justice - a future partnership paper

  2. Foreign policy, defence and development - a future partnership paper

Mr Barnier continued - Any future partnership must enable the voluntary participation of the United Kingdom in missions and operations carried out by the European Union, in terms of both personnel and strategic assets; the participation of the United Kingdom in joint armaments programmes and capability projects within the framework of the European Defence Agency .... together with industrial cooperation enabling these programmes to be implemented smoothly; exchanges between our intelligence services to support our external action; exchanges on cyber attacks and managing, preventing and responding collectively to such attacks.

According to Mr Barnier the EU aim is "autonomous and united European defence. Which means a Union capable of acting by itself and always supportive in its alliances."

Mr Barnier said - "The British have never wanted to turn the Union into a military power."  This is, I believe, a generally correct comment.  The British public has tended to view the EU as essentially a trading bloc and has been sceptical (to say the least) about the EU developing a Foreign Policy and a Military strategy.  Nevertheless, it appears that some form of co-operation in those areas may continue post-Brexit.

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