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Safeguarding Britain’s interests

Safeguarding Britain’s interests

Successful EU operations owe much to UK influence

by Michael Jay in London

Sun 12 Jun 2016

Much of the debate surrounding Britain’s membership of the European Union has focused on economic arguments. This ignores the EU’s positive impact on the development of Europe itself, and on the rest of the world.

In her famous Bruges speech in 1988, Margaret Thatcher said the UK would ‘always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities’. Many saw her comments as inflammatory. They were in fact visionary, offering Warsaw pact members a democratic, liberal market alternative to Moscow’s undemocratic centralism. This beacon of hope from the European Community, together with Nato’s military strength, helped bring about the Soviet Union's subsequent collapse.

Since then, Nato has evolved, as has the EU’s approach to foreign, security and defence policy – in both cases heavily influenced by British advocacy. Nato hard power and EU soft power are now, as then, a powerful combination, not alternatives.

Here are two examples of the EU’s influence. First, Britain, France and Germany – working with the US and Russia, and chaired by the EU special representative – in 2015 reached an agreement with Iran over its nuclear weapons programme following many years of negotiations. To do so, Britain used its influence with the US and its European partners – a role both the US and EU member states value.

Second, Operation Atalanta, the first EU naval operation, headquartered just outside London and operating alongside Nato, since 2008 has significantly reduced piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean more widely, protecting UN humanitarian shipments to Somalia.

These two very different but very successful EU operations have been greatly in Britain’s interests, and owe much to UK influence.

And if we were to leave the EU? There is a vivid example of what life would be like. In February 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington for talks with President Barack Obama. This was followed by a visit by Merkel and French President François Hollande to the Belarus capital Minsk for negotiations with President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine. Later that year Merkel, Hollande and Putin met in Paris to discuss not only Ukraine but Syria. Where was Britain? Absent.

Do we really want to cede influence in this way to the US, Germany and France over issues of such deep concern to us? Or do we want to continue to exert our influence over Europe’s own future and its role in the world, as we have under prime ministers from Thatcher to David Cameron?

The US wants us to continue to use that influence. So does every member of the EU, along with our major Commonwealth partners. It is surely in Britain’s interests to do so.

Lord (Michael) Jay is a former UK Ambassador to France and Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is No.90 in the series – the 100th article will appear on 23 June.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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