The EU’s Prospects for International Influence Post-Brexit: What Next for European Defence Integration?

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Publication Date August 2022
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On Christmas Eve 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) finalised the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). This deal enshrined future trade relations between the two parties, but neglected to mention any semblance of security or defence collaboration beyond internal security and information sharing. The consequences of this for British defence capabilities are unclear, and little attention has been paid to the impact of Brexit on the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Brexit is, however, undoubtedly a critical juncture for the EU’s defence integration prospects. Post-June 2016, the EU was presented with three pathways: (1) show greater unity and integration, (2) fragmentation and disintegration, or (3) ‘muddle through’ due to path dependency regarding EU defence cooperation through the CSDP.

To evaluate which pathway materialised, first, static changes in the EU’s defence capabilities post-Brexit are outlined. Second, post-Brexit institutional changes in the EU, namely, the activation of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in 2017, are evaluated. This demonstrates that whilst Brexit acted as a catalyst towards a ‘CSDP 2.0,’ it did not remove all obstacles hindering deeper defence cooperation, including member states’ prioritisation of national defence and the resulting capability-expectations gap. Third, the EU’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is analysed. New PESCO initiatives, the activation of the European Peace Facility (EPF), and the Strategic Compass show great promise for the future of the CSDP, but its prospects are limited by the financial pressures member states face due to the coronavirus pandemic. Worryingly, EU-UK defence cooperation remains sparse, and European defence integration, albeit being transformed by Brexit and the Ukraine war, continues to be held back by structural limitations.

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