France, Italy and Germany, the three major European powers, are trying to reach bilateral post-Brexit deals with the UK, after the UK said it was not interested in closer cooperation on security and foreign policy with the European Union.
The behind-the-scenes discussion at the level of ambassadors and ministries stands in contrast to some of Downing Street’s negative rhetoric about its approach to its EU partners. The discussions have focused on defense cooperation, but they go much further and would be the first signs that the UK is capable of forging positive bilateral relations with its European partners.
Boris Johnson’s willingness last week to host the Hungarian prime minister as the first continental European leader in Downing Street was seen as a setback for a gradual normalization of British-European relations. Viktor Orbán is seen as a disruptor of the EU. The UK rejected a foreign and security component when it negotiated Brexit with the EU in December, prompting European countries to improve bilateral relations.
But Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, on his recent visit to the UK for the G7 foreign ministers summit, also agreed on plans to reactivate before the summer the annual meeting between defense ministers and Foreign Relations of France and the United Kingdom. The last such meeting was in Britain two years ago, but no meeting occurred last year as a result of Covid and Brexit.
“On many issues, we have congruent points of view, shared analysis or common interests. We are neighbors. We cannot stand still looking at each other, ”Le Drian said.
Despite the recent dispute between French and Channel Island fishermen, the French have not ruled out a summit between Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron this year.
France and the United Kingdom are the main European military powers and, since the Lancaster House agreement was signed 10 years ago, the two countries have maintained close defense ties.
The Italian embassy in the UK also expects Rome to reach an understanding or mini-treaty with the UK this year.
Italian Deputy Defense Minister Giorgio Mulè said the UK’s recent integrated security and foreign affairs review showed “a willingness to keep Britain’s commitment to security in Europe high.”
To relaunch cooperation, he said it was necessary “to anchor an industrial policy capable of dealing with aggressive and often ruthless international competition and, in particular, from China with competence, knowledge, capacity and technological innovation.”
Mulè is looking for ways to adapt Italian national law so that UK defense trade with Italy can be treated as trade with a like-minded partner and not simply as a third partner. Italy and the United Kingdom have historically cooperated closely in defense production, including large products such as the EH 101 heavy helicopters.
For years, Leonardo and his British counterpart BAE Systems have been working on the sixth-generation fighter, the Tempest, the result of a bilateral collaboration that in turn has created larger industrial consortia.
As chair of the G20, Italy is also trying to harmonize its work on climate change with the UK, which is chairing the UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow. Cooperation with the United Kingdom on foreign policy has also been facilitated with the appointment of Mario Draghi as Italian Prime Minister. Although he is a staunch supporter of the EU, he is far more skeptical about ties to Russia and China, the preference sometimes of Italy’s populist parties.
Germany and the UK have been working for months on a joint statement on British-German cooperation, underscoring the shared values between the two countries despite Brexit.
Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, is quite outspoken in admitting that at this stage the focus should be on building a stronger bilateral relationship with the UK, rather than the UK falling into the hands of the EU. . The UK, he says, would be an ideal partner for a deep alliance with Germany.
There are still discussions about whether the UK will see its main foreign policy cooperation with Europe through NATO, the G7, E3 or something specifically with Europe.
The E3 – Germany, France and the United Kingdom – has been used for many years as the vehicle with which to coordinate policy on Iran, and at the NATO summit Johnson called a meeting of the E3 plus Turkey to discuss northern Syria. , saying that he would like to see the E3 coordinate more in the future.
But for Germany, a significant extension of the format would run the risk of undermining the EU and Germany’s historic role as an advocate for the interests of smaller states.
E3 clearly excludes other big players like Italy, Poland and the Netherlands.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism