Representatives sitting in the EU parliament said Brexit could work as a catalyst for a new era of common European defence and said they were not concerned by losing Britain’s armed forces or nuclear deterrent.
But a defence expert testifying to MEPs suggested that they should leave the door open to future military cooperation with Britain and even give UK ministers a seat at the table when Brussels makes defence decisions.
The EU wants to increase its defence cooperation in light of Brexit
Britain has the most powerful army in Europe, accounting for around a quarter of the continent’s standing troops and defence spending, and along with France is the only country to boast a nuclear deterrent.
But the EU Parliament heard that Westminster had repeatedly failed to take into account Brussels’ opinions when deploying its troops or through its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and that it was only a small contributor to European military operations.
Dutch academic Steven Blockmans said the UK could still be involved in EU military matters
Britain and France are Europe's only nuclear countries
Charles Goerens, a liberal MEP and former defence minister of Luxembourg, said: “We’re going to lose one member of the Security Council that has a right to veto.
“Has the UK accepted a binding mandate from the EU28, have they asked the 28 to define its position in the Security Council? This was not the case.
“The UK is not going to accept a mandate from the 28 when it comes to its position so we’re not losing anything.”
He added: “If you’re talking about them being a counterweight to those who threaten our safety, this isn’t really relevant. It is the same with the nuclear deterrent.
“Has the UK declared that it wished to dissuade whoever from attacking Slovenia, France or Germany? There’s absolutely no clarity about this.”
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We’re not losing anything
Charles Goerens MEP
And Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski interjected: “We already have nuclear capacity in France. Do we need greater nuclear power? Europe is a soft power and I don’t think we’ll ever have war again.”
The hearing was addressed by Professor Steven Blockmans, the head of EU foreign policy at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies think-tank.
He told MEPs Brexit along with the election of Donald Trump would help “inject political momentum” into increasing EU defence cooperation and could revive schemes which have been blocked by Britain in the past.
The Dutch academic said: “The conventional wisdom is the EU will of course lose a very strong nuclear power with a permanent seat on UN security council and that will severely limit its projection of force.”
NATO: Things you need to know
Tue, January 24, 2017
NATO – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty which was signed on 4th April 1949. The organization constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party.
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One of the world’s major international institutions. It is a political and military Alliance of 28 member countries from Europe and North America. Photo shows: View of leaders of NATO, 1960.
He added that that the UK is only the fifth highest contributor of troops to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations despite boasting the bloc’s biggest standing army, adding: “In a way not much is lost there in terms of personnel.”
And he suggested that Britain should be given an “ad hoc” seat at the table for planning EU military operations “where it is in the EU27 interest”, expressing apparent bemusement at the Brexit vote.
He said: “It is quite ironic for an exiting state to all of a sudden trump that it is in its vital interests to see a strong European foreign policy player on the global stage and that it would fully welcome the development of CSDP from the outside.”
Earlier today the committee voted through a “winter package” on the legal implications of EU defence cooperation, which calls for a centralised headquarters and defence fund.
The package will still have to be voted on by the full EU Parliament and will also go before the EU Council, made up of member states, with Britain having previously vowed to block plans for a Brussels HQ arguing it undermines NATO.