You are currently viewing The Brexit effects on European security and defense

The Brexit effects on European security and defense

On June 23, British voters chose to leave the European Union. This important referendum, colloquially termed Brexit, has sent shockwaves across Europe and the world. The victory of the Leave side, with 52 percent of the vote, versus 48 percent for Remain, is a rare and unexpected point. Neither the EU nor the United Kingdom will ever be the same. In this article the aim is to understand what may be the causes of Brexit on European security and defense (CSDP). At first, the theoretical approach will be considered, which tends to explain objectively the effects on European security policy. Secondly, the first reaction of the European Union following the referendum will be examined. Finally, the framework of the meeting in Bratislava will be presented, the informal meeting in which will meet for the first time the 27 EU countries.

What does it mean Brexit for the CSDP?

According to John Schindler, a security expert, specialist in espionage and terrorism and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, Britain’s leaving is a big deal for the European Union. In his article “Understanding Brexit’s Security Implications”, Schindler stated that for all the responsibility of Britain’s political class for this disaster, ultimate blame must fall on Germany, whose roughshod de facto rule over the EU has caused hard feelings in most member states. The unilateral decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel last summer to open the floodgates of her country to millions of migrants from the east and south has changed Europe already, and promises to bring dramatic social, political, and economic changes.  For the author, Brexit is the consequence of the “open policy” enhanced by Angela Merkel, which led to an European reaction based on fear. This is because the strong majority of migrants are Muslim and they could present problems for the whole EU, given the robust security challenges associated with Muslims who are already in Europe.

According to Schindler, Brexit is the first of a long series of reactions regarding Merkel’s unilateralism. It will take at least months for Brexit to actually happen, while the economic, political, and social consequences will need decades to be realized, but not in the security field. The EU’s strategy about counter-terrorism was not a selling point for Remain, while recent noises out of Brussels about the need for a European Army caused concerns in Britain, especially because any EU military force would come at the expense of NATO. Since most EU members spend so laughably little on defense, anybody has to wonder where the extra funding for any European Army would come from.

At the end according to the author, Britain had many good reasons to vote for the exit. First and foremost the question of migration policy advanced by Germany. Secondly, the European inefficiency on intelligence and counter terrorism, which gives no added value to the security and defense of the Union. Finally, the idea of a European army which would be charged on costs of countries that are both members of the Union and NATO, therefore meaning double expense.

More detailed is the explanation given by the Centre for European Policy Studies. Member countries’ financial contributions to the EU budget are shared fairly, according to means. The larger your country’s economy, the more it pays – and vice versa. The EU budget doesn’t aim to redistribute wealth, but rather to focus on the needs of all Europeans as a whole. On 2014, United Kingdom’s contribution to the EU budget was € 11.342 billion. According to the Financial Report of 2015, UK contribution to the EU budget on “Security and citizenship” was € 149,5 million. Acting together gives the EU’s 28 members far greater clout than they would have if each pursued its own policies. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty strengthened this policy area by creating the position of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy and the European External Action Service (EEAS) – the EU’s diplomatic corps.

First and foremost, Brexit means that the CSDP will lose one of its major shareholders, and a veto player. The UK and France alone make up more than 40% of public defence investments in the EU. The UK’s military expenditure amounts to 2% of GDP, making it one of the five EU member states spending 2% or more on public defence, after Greece (2.6%), Poland (2.2%), France (2.1%), and equal to Estonia (2%). Because the CSDP was born out of a Franco-British initiative (Saint Malo), the first implication of Brexit will be a political one: which state could replace the UK? Germany is evolving from being a civilian power towards taking on greater responsibilities in international security, including participation in military operations, as set out in the new White Paper on German Security Policy released on 13 July 2016. However to be able to « replace » the British economic power, it needs a greater commitment on the part of Germany, a strong strategic partnership between Germany and France, and an increased support by Italy.

Secondly, there is a lot of concern about the issue of personnel for civilian and military missions, first of all for the Sophia Operation in the Mediterranean. Britain has always provided a fair number of staff and resources to perform the operations. Any such failure would result in further effort on the part of France, Italy and Germany. Obviously the problems set out above would be less severe if all the now 27 member countries demonstrated solidarity which is increasingly lacking.

The result of the referendum led to a series of reactions within the European Union. It resembles a wake-up call for Europe’s future, because many countries with a strong Eurosceptic tendency would follow UK example. For this reason, after the referendum, the EU showed its will to react, but at the same time also the need for a closer cooperation with NATO.

Come back to Berlin Plus?

Signed in 2003, The Berlin Plus agreement referred to a comprehensive package of arrangements between the EU and the NATO that allowed EU to make use of NATO assets for EU-led crisis management operations. The formal elements of the Berlin Plus agreement included: a NATO-EU Security Agreement, that covered the exchange of classified information under reciprocal security protection rules; access to NATO planning capabilities for EU-led operations; availability of NATO assets and capabilities for EU-led civil-military operations; procedures for release, monitoring, return and recall of NATO assets and capabilities; terms of reference for using NATO’s DSACEUR (Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe) for commanding EU-led operations; EU-NATO consultation arrangements in the context of an EU-led operations making use of NATO assets and capabilities; arrangements for coherent and mutually reinforcing capability requirements, in particular the incorporation within NATO’s defence planning of the military needs and capabilities that should be required for EU-led military operations.

Through such cooperation, NATO has gained more legitimacy on the international scenario, and the EU has been able to develop its military power. For some years this cooperation has been going on, until the EU has succeeded in developing an independent military power by NATO. However, since 2005, the two organizations have not implemented the Berlin Plus agreements. Basically the two organizations have a different vocation: NATO is a defensive-military power, and the EU has a civil and legislation power. A further cause slackening of military cooperation was also linked to the purposes. In the last ten years the EU has increased the enlargement path, it has undertaken peace missions in cooperation with the UN, it has supported the development funds in Africa, and it has increased the internal legislature. Instead, NATO in the last decade has focused in crisis areas in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, and for post-war reconstruction in other countries.

However in the last two years, and especially since March 2016, the two organizations are getting closer due to two common challenges: the Isil and immigration. Both organizations loom on the same objectives, though by different means. But it seems the Brexit has had a strong effect on the relationship between the two organizations, and the proof is the Warsaw summit of July 2016.

On 28/29 June 2016, the 27 heads of state or government informally met to discuss the political and practical implications of Brexit. The European Council focused on the outcome of the UK referendum. During the meeting the 27 countries stated that there was a need to organise the withdrawal of the UK from the EU in an orderly fashion: article 50 TEU provides the legal basis for this process. However, there can be no negotiations of any kind before the UK notification has taken place. According to article 50 once the notification has been received, the European Council will adopt guidelines for the negotiations of an agreement with the UK.

Nevertheless, the UE foresaw that the outcome of the UK referendum would have created a new situation for the European Union, even if the EU countries determined to remain united and work within the framework of the EU to deal with the challenges of the 21st century and find solutions in the interest of nations and people. In their statement the Heads of State or Government of 27 Member States stood ready to tackle any difficulty that may arise from this unstable situation.

In its Conclusions, the European Council welcomes the presentation of the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy by the High Representative and invites the High Representative, the Commission and the Council to take the work forward. But at the same time, in the fields of defense and security, the Council spoke about the implementation of cooperation between EU and NATO. The European Council called for further enhancement of the relationship, in light of their common aims and values and given unprecedented challenges from the South and East. The new impetus in EU-NATO cooperation should take place in the spirit of full openness and in full respect of the decision-making autonomy and procedures of both organisations, be based on the principle of inclusiveness and without prejudice to the specific characters of the security and defence policy of any Member State.

As mentioned above, the NATO summit in Warsaw was important to strengthen relations between the European Union and NATO, almost like a return to the Berlin Plus. On 8-9 July, Poland hosted the biennial NATO summit meeting.  Discussions focused on projecting stability to the East and to the South and on Afghanistan. European Council President, Donald Tusk, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, and High Representative Federica Mogherini represented the European Union at the summit. The EU and NATO signed a joint declaration on increasing practical cooperation in selected areas. These include:

  • countering hybrid threats, including through the development of coordinated procedures
  • operational cooperation at sea and on migration
  • coordination on cyber security and defence
  • developing coherent, complementary and interoperable defence capabilities
  • facilitating a stronger defence industry and greater defence research
  • stepping up coordination on exercises
  • building the defence and security capability of the partners in the East and South.

Although it is true that the contents of the two agreements are different, it seems clear that this agreement forms convenient to both parties, especially to the EU that will lose one of its most virtuous contributors in the security and defense fields.


On June 29 Federica Mogherini (the High Representative for Foreign Affairs) presented the new EU Global Strategy. The purpose of this document is to reinforce the idea of « soft power ». The European Union is proud of its role of soft power and it has to continue to be a strong actor promoting peace, because it is the best in this area. Many Europeans like Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, calls for the establishment of an EU army. Federica Mogherini opts for a strengthening of cooperation in the framework of defense. The strategy, written by Federica Mogherini and his advisor Nathalie Tocci, aims to be a political and intellectual context, reference shaping future actions, and should be read in terms of skills rather than geographical terms. The adjective « global » refers not only to geography but also to a wide range of policies and instruments promoted by the strategy.


On 16 September, the heads of state or government of the 27 will meet in Bratislava. They will continue a political reflection to give impetus to further reforms and to the development of the EU with 27 member countries. Donald Tusk wants that in Bratislava all the European countries could agree on the main priorities.

According to the President of the European Council, these priorities should be:

  • to secure external borders of the EU
  • to fight the threat of terrorism in Europe and elsewhere
  • to bring back control of globalisation, finding a way to safeguard the interests of the EU citizens while remaining open to the world.

In a press release, the president of the European Council said that at the next meeting in Bratislava the Heads of State and Government of the 27 (EU without the UK) do not speak of Brexit process, and this in order to protect the interests of those who decide to remain within the EU. Tusk said that the EU does not want to talk again of the negotiating strategy. The aim of the meeting will be to protect the interests of Member States that intend to stay together, not the one who decides to leave.

From the statements made by the European representatives waving bright it seems that there is an intention to move forward and strengthen the European structure. The main slogan is to resist after the unexpected blow of the UK. But the signs of crisis are obvious. In recent months the EU has begun to increase its commitment to the improvement of the security and defense policy, and stimulate the abilities of all the EU countries. In addition, the weakening of European awareness at the level of defense and security can also be read in the joint declaration made at the Summit of NATO in Warsaw. The EU seems well aware of the consequences of Brexit and is now trying to mobilize its means to bridge the gap.

Maria Elena Argano

For further information:

Site EU NEWS, “Brexit, Tusk: a Bratislava non ne parleremo, per proteggere interessi di chi resta” :

European Council Site:

Site Euractiv « Mogherini tente de doter l’UE d’une vraie politique internationale » :

Nato Site:

European Council Site:

European Council Site:

CEPS Site “The implication of Brexit for the EU’s Common security and policy”:

European Commission Site “Budget Financial Report”:

Observer Site “Understanding Brexit’s Security Implications”:

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

Laisser un commentaire