A British MP and his German counterpart have called for a post-Brexit “treaty of friendship” between the two countries, as concerns grow in Berlin that relations could turn increasingly hostile over the coming months.
The proposal was published on Sunday (2 February) in the UK The Times and German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Norbert Röttgen, head of the German Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
It came the weekend after the UK formally left the EU on Friday (31 January) evening after 47 years of membership, marking one of the biggest political and economic shifts in modern European history, ending a shaky three-and-a-half-year departure process.
“Much of our future relationship will be regulated at European level as part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations. But some issues are bilateral and require strengthening of intergovernmental cooperation,” both MPs wrote.
“Such a contract would complement the agreements that will be made between the UK and the EU in the coming weeks and months,” they added.
“Geography and geopolitics is not changed by Brexit.”
The idea is an early instance of an expected “bilateralisation” of the UK’s ties with the bloc, as European governments seek to forge customised relationships with London in keeping with their individual interests.
The 31 January departure from the bloc marks the start of a “transition period” in which the UK remains a member of the single market and customs union and begins negotiations with the EU to strike a free-trade deal until the end of 2020.
However, besides trade, most of the other policy areas have not yet been settled, with foreign policy and security ties raising concern of dissent.
Both politicians acknowledged “different perspectives on Brexit”, they said they were keen to “move on” from the issue.
According to Röttgen and Tugendhat, the potential Anglo-German pact could enshrine joint security and foreign policy goals as well as common science projects and exchanges between schools and universities.
“We, therefore, suggest that a German-British friendship treaty be adopted as soon as possible, with the aim of strengthening our common values and creating a new basis for our respective cultural and educational policy, but also for our foreign and security policy,” Röttgen and Tugendhat wrote.
EU and NATO officials have repeatedly stressed the need for coherence in Europe’s future defence cooperation.
However, crucial decisions on EU military participation and funds have been delayed – also due to the stalemate over Brexit.
The UK, which has been wary about EU defence initiatives in the past, is not part of any projects although British officials have signalled their interest in being involved in some degree post-Brexit.
In late 2019, UK officials told EURACTIV that a possibility of separate security treaties between the bloc and Britain had been examined, but not brought on paper yet.
The Anglo-German proposal also refers to Britain and Germany’s common foreign policy interests, particularly when it comes to the current turmoil in the Middle East.
So far, Paris, Berlin and London have maintained a united front against the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement.
“As part of a European initiative or as part of the E3, which includes Germany, UK and France, we should strive for a comprehensive political and military engagement in the region, ranging from stabilizing Iraq to actively supporting the peace process in Libya,” both MPs stressed.
Some experts have wondered whether Brexit would cause a European division at the UN Security Council.
Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union provides that its members in the UN Security Council “shall consult together” and “defend” the interests of the bloc.
In a recent UN Security Council vote in January on extending cross-border aid to Syria, the UK aligned with the United States and abstained in a rare split with its European partners, that could herald others to come after Brexit.
“France is likely to use the opportunity to present itself as ‘the voice of the EU’ as the only remaining EU member of the P5,” Alexander Mattelaer, senior research fellow at Egmont Institute told EURACTIV.
“But it remains to be seen whether this also entails strengthening EU-cooperation in the body or rather result France using the EU-label for boosting the clout of the French seat at the table,” he added.
Instructions are still expected from Brussels, on the procedure to be followed from 1 February.
[Edited by Samuel Stolton]