Brexit Institute News

Event Report: Brexit & European Foreign Policy

Matteo Bottero (DCU Brexit Institute)

On Thursday 6th May 2021, the DCU Brexit Institute hosted a webinar entitled “Brexit and European Foreign Policy”. The event, opened by Federico Fabbrini (Professor of European Law, DCU, and Founding Director DCU Brexit Institute) and chaired by Steven Erlanger (New York Times), featured the participation of Marta Dassù (Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy and NATO Wise-woman), Kim Darroch (Former UK Ambassador to the US), Erik Jones (Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy, Johns Hopkins University), and Gezim Visoka (Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, DCU), and Javier Solana (Former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy).

The event was opened with an introduction by Federico Fabbrini (Professor of European Law, DCU, and Founding Director DCU Brexit Institute), who posed the initial question of what Brexit means for the EU external action also in relation to NATO. Before leaving the floor to the speakers, the moderator Steven Erlanger (New York Times) pointed out that today is the day in which the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier published his Brexit diaries, thus possibly advancing his campaign proposal for next year’s French presidential election. Erlanger also stressed that today tensions between the French and British governments have aggravated as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the dispatch of two Royal Navy patrol vessels to protect Jersey island, while 60 French fishing vessels are blocking the main port of Saint Helier.

The first speaker, Marta Dassù (Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy and NATO Wise-woman), started her presentation by acknowledging that Brexit has in all respects weakened EU foreign policy. Since the weakness of the EU in this field directly depends on internal fragmentation, the UK withdrawal from the Union is particularly disrupting as the UK was playing a balancing role between the ambition of France and the inhibition of Germany. Besides, she noticed, the Johnson’s government has shown no interest in cooperation with the EU in foreign policy. In Dassù’s opinion, Brexit is having also a negative geopolitical impact. On the international scene, EU and UK interests coincide, and they need to cooperate to face Russia and China growing influence. At the same time, the UK risks to remain marginalised by EU-US decisions, such as the proposal of an EU-US Trade and Technology Council. Hence, the EU can and must offer the UK the possibility to enhance cooperation in internal and external security.

When Kim Darroch (Former UK Ambassador to the US) took the floor, he firstly focused on the impact of Brexit on UK foreign policy. In his view, UK foreign policy is substantially weaker after Brexit, as the consequent higher degree of freedom is matched by greater vulnerability in terms of marginalisation and retaliation. This autonomy works well with vaccination programs but less when in the field of political and economic relations with China and Russia. With regard to transatlantic relationship with the United States, Darroch praised the multilateralism of US President Biden when dealing with the green transitions and the nuclear deal. The US considers China as the strategic challenge in this century, and it will foreseably push EU and UK to be tougher on Russia. On the future EU-UK relations, Darroch criticised the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) currently into force for being more focused on sovereignty than on concrete achievements. He positive concluded by affirming that time will heal these wounds and a more comprehensive agreement will be found. In fact, no cooperation between EU and UK on foreign policy just makes any sense. For this, however, as suggested by Steven Erlanger, we probably shall have to wait for a new British government.

In his intervention, Erik Jones (Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy, Johns Hopkins University) focused on four keywords: trust, interdependence, autonomy, and effectiveness. The growing sense of mistrust resulting from the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the transatlantic relationship and taxation, also testify the inevitable interdependence between the EU and the UK. In his opinion, as the strategic autonomy advocated by President of France Macron is not yet achieved, there is a need for effective partnership between EU and US. The fourth speaker, Gezim Visoka (Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, DCU) analysed the impact of Brexit on the EU enlargement policy, considering that Brexit negotiations have moved the interest away from the evolving situation in the Western Balkan countries. Also in light of the recent developments in Hungary and Poland, Brexit has questioned the opportunity of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans. In response, some Western Balkan countries, such as Serbia, are looking for alternative arrangements with other international partners, such as Russia and China. As indicated by Steven Erlanger, also the influence of Turkey in Kosovo is having increasing relevance.

Javier Solana (Former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy) gave powerful closing remarks, firstly emphasising that “Brexit was a very sad moment in the history of the European Union”. Nevertheless, the difficulty of the Brexit process discouraged the spread of anti-EU movements in several Member States. After underlining the importance of protecting the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, Solana called for an open notion of ‘strategic autonomy’ that would avoid resulting in protectionism, individualism and autocracy. In stating that the UK and the EU must remain close allies, he individuated a list of areas of future cooperation, including security matters, intelligence, technological development on artificial intelligence (production of chips), WTO (World Trade Organization) and WHO (World Health Organization) reforms. Solana also noticed that the EU traditionally learned by action and the hope is that it will continue this learning process. In conclusion, he praised the fantastic manners and integrity of US President Biden and expressed his wish that Biden will maintain the Congress in the forthcoming mid-term elections, inter alia in view of tackling climate change.

The final debate was guided by Steven Erlanger’s questions. At first, he inquired the intention of the UK government to make the NI Protocol work and Darroch and Solana underlined the positive stance taken by US President Biden in this respect. Secondly, the discussion shifted to the future position of Germany as a balancer between Central Europe and the other international actors in light of the new leadership after Angela Merkel. Finally, in exploring the position of the EU on the global scene, Visoka emphasised that China is currently taking over the role of peace keeper and peace builder at the international level, and Darroch expressed his negative opinion on the feasibility of an EU military force. The event was closed by Professor Fabbrini, who thanked all the speakers and attendees, and expressed his appreciation for the large participation.

You can find all the videos from this event on the DCU Brexit Institute Youtube channel