High-quality research must play a role in EU foreign and security policy post-Brexit

By Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré and Erin Montague

Recent developments in EU politics have put the spotlight on what has for a long time been the ugly duckling of the EU integration process, namely foreign and security policy. But these developments have unfolded under the shadow of Brexit. On 25 March, as they marked the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, European leaders signed a declaration calling for, among other things, a Union ‘committed to strengthening its common security and defence’, and one ready to ‘assist in creating a more competitive and integrated defence industry’. Yet at the same time as this call for greater unity, collaboration and integration was being made, Theresa May was preparing to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally marking the beginning of the end of the UK’s 43 years as a member of the EU.

Signatures of EU heads of state or government. Photo credit: European Council, Council of the European Union

Signatures of EU heads of state or government. Photo credit: European Council, Council of the European Union

Against this backdrop, a series of questions are on the minds of policy analysts and researchers. First, what would increased EU coordination look like on foreign policy and security issues? An option on the EU negotiating table is to pursue integration through permanent structured cooperation. According to Article 42.6 of the Lisbon Treaty, EU member states that fulfil higher criteria for military capabilities and are willing to make more binding commitments can establish such cooperation in Common Security and Defence Policy.

Second, what role will the UK play in Western Europe’s foreign and security policy? Preparations for another UK general election may have diverted public attention, but UK-EU negotiations have continued, albeit slowly. Despite there now being some research into this question, the effects of Brexit on the current EU foreign and security policy structure remain unknown. But, in principle, the withdrawal of a major European military power from the Union is likely to have significant consequences for the EU’s future in this area. It was even suggested, prior to the general election being called, that Theresa May could ‘make defence a bargaining chip’ during the Brexit negotiations. It is unclear how the UK plans to formulate national security policies mainly because of internal disagreements within both the Conservative and Labour parties, as well the usual mudslinging that takes place when election campaigns get going – for example, the dispute started by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, over whether Jeremy Corbyn presents a risk to national security. But considering the UK’s shared commitment to NATO, the enhanced need for cooperation on tackling terrorism, and the multiple persistent crises affecting Europe, it seems unlikely that the country will disappear from the Western European diplomatic scene.

Academics and experts play a part in shaping the trade-offs and preferences which influence the respective parties’ bargaining positions, but face challenges in influencing policy. Defence and security scholars encounter the same barriers as other policy experts, but must additionally fight against inherent tensions to producing evidence-based research in a policy area where secrecy is deemed essential. As discussed in our recent journal article, within the EU this tension is multiplied by the power of the number of member states. That notwithstanding, the commitment to broker knowledge into the EU is backed by the June 2016 EU Global Strategy, which specifically mentions the need for ‘cross-fertilisation’ between the EU and academia. The official document itself exemplifies a co-production approach based on a two-year-long consultation process among member states, experts and members of civil society. But how can we regularly exercise a consultation process to policymaking which strengthens through expert knowledge, while at the same time remaining efficient and effective?

As the two years ahead are going to be characterised by negotiation, both the UK and EU will need the best advice they can get, though likely at varying degrees and with a unified strategy. But however the decision-making progresses, it would undoubtedly benefit from high-quality evidence to help systematically navigate the unknowns.

Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré is a PhD candidate in political science at LUISS University, and Erin Montague is a Research Assistant at the Policy Institute. This blog is based on their recent article on evidence-based defence and security policy in the EU, published in The International Spectator.

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