Report of the conference “Security Issues in Post-Brexit Europe: Views from the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Poland” organized by the Center for French Studies at the University of Warsaw and the French Research Center in Humanities and Social Sciences (CEFRES), June 18, 2021.
By Pierre Aymard, intern at CEFRES
This conference moderated by Marek Madej, political scientist and assistant professor at the University of Warsaw, dealing with the Security Issues in Post-Brexit Europe, gathered different speakers such as Monika Brusenbauch-Meislova, assistant professor at the Masaryk University, specialized in Czech foreign Policy and Brexit, Delphine Deschaux-Dutard, University lecturer at the University of Grenoble–Alpes and specialist on European and transatlantic security issues; and Amélie Zima researcher at the Center for French Studies at the University of Warsaw, expert on NATO and defense issues. This conference aimed to put forward the different perceptions of four European member states, namely the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Poland, towards the post-Brexit issue. Therefore, the approach questions the idea that Brexit represents a turning point for the defense strategy in Europe.
After a brief introduction by Marek Madej, Monika Brusenbauch-Meislova exposes the Czech situation vis-à-vis Brexit. Czech Republic is, according to her, a core-member state in the category of small state. The country sustains good bilateral relations with the United Kingdom and cooperates with it notably through CSDP (Common Security and Defense Policy). However, Brexit issue necessitated Czech Republic to adopt a coping strategy to limit the possible cost represented by this loss. Monika Brusenbauch-Meislova highlighted that Czech Republic opted out of the S&D (Security & Defense) discussion with Great Britain, thinking that its interests would be best represented at the supranational level. Therefore, Brexit was not really seen as a challenge at the bilateral level. Thus there was no real modelling in the relations between Great Britain and Czech Republic in so far as the security sector is mainly dealt within NATO and because Czech Republic was convinced that the UK would remain closely engaged in EU security and defence efforts even after Brexit.
Regarding the French-German couple, Delphine Deschaux-Dutard questions its capability to bounce back after the Brexit. Indeed, the removal of London gives France and Germany the opportunity to obtain a new legitimacy to fuel the reflection on European defence. Historically, this couple has alternated between different phases, marked, at the beginning, by the failure of the Elysée Treaty signed in 1963 which attempted to institutionalize a program of cooperation between the two. After a revival of the European defense project pushed in the 1990s by the French-German couple, the reluctancy of Great Britain to deepen the project led to some lethargy in the European cooperation. Therefore, Brexit was seen as an opening for the reactivation of the European defensc strategy by France and Germany, with concrete ambitions such as the creation of European headquarters, the reviving of PESCO (Permanent structural cooperation) and the production of aircraft fighters. Nevertheless, Delphine Deschaux-Dutard points out the important divergences between France and Germany linked to their respective strategic culture. Contrarily to France, Germany is unwilling to take more responsibilities in international security, refusing to allocate 2% of its GDP to military spending and to use force. The main source of their disagreement stems from their divergent views on NATO. For Germany, it remains the first arena for security in Europe whereas France considers European defence as strategically important, the President Macron saying that NATO is “braindead”, due to the American disengagement in Europe. Delphine Deschaux-Dutard sums-up her intervention stating that Brexit does not bring clarity to the recurring problems between France and Germany, which prevent them from giving a real substance to the European defence project.
For Amélie Zima, the post-Brexit era has brought interesting perspectives for Poland regarding its relationship with the United Kingdom. Broadly speaking, the two countries developed close ties together by establishing an annual dialogue: the Quadriga meetings. We can add their cooperation at the multilateral level especially within the framework of NATO. In this context, Brexit issue was more seen for PiS government as a way to redefine its strategic agenda, orienting it towards more Atlanticism. Concretely, the PiS government advocated for the signature of bilateral treaties with Great Britain and with the United States, reaffirming de facto its engagement to NATO policy. According to Marek Madej, the agreement with Great Britain after Brexit was stimulated by internal factors and the need of symbolic gesture after the recent changes in the political system which impacted the image of Poland at the international level. To qualify this defense policy reorientation, Amelie Zima concludes by referring to the term “flexilateralism” coined by Samuel Faure, politest, to explain the fact that Poland mobilizes different types of international cooperation to cope with its most important public issues, such as Russia. The ensuing discussion gives a general assessment of the post-Brexit situation. Regarding the European context, Delphine Deschaux-Dutard explains that Brexit does not represent a turning point in itself as it is embedded with other key events such as Trump mandate and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Therefore, it is one element of a changing international order which is going towards more multipolarity and threatening the European strategic autonomy. Following on from Delphine Deschaux-Dutard, Jérôme Heurtaux, director of CEFRES, questions the capacity of the European Union to be exposed to this crisis and its ability to cope with it. Indeed, considered as “a specific moment in which common values have a chance to be reaffirmed”, a crisis can be an impulse for the European Union to reorganize its institutional settings. Nevertheless, according to Delphine Deschaux-Dutard, even if some progress has been made, the future of the European defence project remains blatantly blurred.