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01 December 2015

CER: Millstone or multiplier? EU foreign policy

EU foreign policy co-operation gives the UK a chance to persuade 27 other countries to support British aims – but Britain’s success depends on the UK showing more interest.

[...] The UK and the EU both see international organisations like the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe as tools for preventing and resolving conflicts, but if the UK ever disagrees with the rest of the EU on the need to involve them, it has a veto, since on foreign policy, EU action needs unanimous agreement. In the UN, the UK is better placed to lobby for budgetary discipline as part of a group of countries that pay more than a third of the bills, rather than on its own as a country that pays little more than a twentieth. In the OSCE, the EU’s voice is even greater: EU member-states provide 70 per cent of the OSCE’s budget and make up half the membership of the organisation (28 out of 57 participating states).

The EU is not involved in every international issue of concern to the UK. But where the EU is relevant, as seen in the examples above, it helps rather than hinders the UK in achieving its goals. If the UK left the EU, its ability to influence the CFSP decision-making process would be dramatically reduced.

This loss of influence would be a particular problem in the defence field. As one of the EU’s most pro-NATO members, the UK has stopped the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) developing in ways that might harm NATO, and supported work in both NATO and the EU to enable the two to co-operate better. From outside the EU, the UK could no longer veto steps agreed by the remaining members, such as the creation of a ‘European army’, that would weaken NATO’s role in Europe’s defence.

But the UK’s biggest problem with CFSP at present is not that the EU is too active in areas that the UK opposes; it is that Britain is not investing enough in making European foreign policy work more effectively for UK interests. Ministers seem reluctant to push for EU initiatives (leaving Germany and France to take the lead in negotiations with Russia over its conflict with Ukraine, for example). And the UK is significantly under-represented in the EU’s diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, both in Brussels and in EU delegations abroad. According to the EEAS, with 12.4 per cent of the EU population, Britain has only 7.2 per cent of the positions in the EEAS – fewer than France, Germany, Italy or Spain. The French have a proverb, les absents ont toujours tort – the absent are always wrong. The UK is only half-present in EU foreign policy today; leaving the EU would compound the mistake.


- See more at: Full article on CER


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