Post-Brexit Cooperation

Berlin Needs Great Britain for its Global Policy Plans

LONDON/BERLIN (Own report) - Following the electoral victory of Britain's Conservatives under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the German government is now urging a continuation of its close cooperation with that country. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed his hopes that the United Kingdom "remains a close partner." Chancellor Angela Merkel is "looking forward to our continued cooperation, for friendship, and a close partnership between our countries." Berlin needs Great Britain's political and military capabilities for implementing Germany's European global policy projects. The British armed forces are still considered to be the most powerful in Europe and London still has considerable influence on global policy. Political and economic examples show that disregarding Britain's interests can push London into direct rivalry to Berlin. This factor is now all the more important, because Brexit provides the United Kingdom economic and political alternatives to cooperation with the EU.

EU: No Longer Exclusive

Following Boris Johnson's electoral victory, Berlin has expressed its hopes and wishes for continued cooperation, because the United Kingdom can readjust its economic and political coordinates on the international level immediately following the now impending Brexit. Johnson's first objective is to reach an agreement on future economic relations with the EU. As a whole, the Union is still Great Britain's major market. Its export share, however, including goods and services, has decreased from nearly 50 percent to about 45 percent over the past ten years. At the same time, the US share in British exports has risen from 16.8 percent to 18.8 percent and, even more important, Asia's share, from 14.9 to 19.1 percent. Investments show a similar development. Britain's exclusive economic ties to the EU no longer seem indispensable, in the long run. London is therefore not only intensifying its financial relations with the People's Republic of China. ( reported.[1]) Johnson is also seeking a free-trade agreement with the United States. According to the former British ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, Johnson "could pit the EU against the United States in the free trade negotiations coming up next year."[2] The Prime Minster has thus quite a bit of leverage for applying pressure.

Several Options

The situation is similar in foreign policy. Recently, London has made it quite clear that it is seeking a common position with Berlin and Paris to disengage a bit from Washington. It is, for example, sticking to the nuclear agreement with Iran in opposition to the Trump administration and, at least until now, has been rejecting US pressure for the exclusion of the Chinese Huawei telecom group from setting up Britain's 5G network. On the other hand, London is just as prepared to cooperate with the United States, if it cannot realize its interests together with the EU’s main powers. In early August, for example, London announced that it would join the US-led military intervention, when it became clear that the EU naval operation, he was seeking for the Strait of Hormuz, would not be realized ( reported.[3]) The United Kingdom is, in fact, still participating in Washington’s "International Maritime Security Construct" (previously "Operation Sentinel" [4]) at the Persian Gulf.

Forced into Rivalry

The example of the Franco-German fighter jet, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), currently in planning, shows that it could prove risky to simply ignore British interests. Since 2014, the London-based BAE Systems arms manufacturer had been working together with Paris-based Dassault on a next generation fighter jet, when the Franco-German Airbus Corporation successfully forced their British rival out in 2018, and convinced Dassault to concentrate instead on FCAS. At the time, the reason given was that Brexit was an obstacle for BAE Systems' participation in the construction of EU fighter planes. ( reported.[5]) Initially, BAE Systems continued working on its "Tempest" jet project alone. In the meantime, Leonardo (Italy) and Saab (Sweden) have been won over as partners. Both had also been marginalized by Airbus and Dassault. London is also considering Japan as a potential partner in the "Tempest" project.[6] If Great Britain succeeds in recruiting Tokyo into the project, this would help score important points for the expensive arms project in the struggle for the world market in relationship to the Franco-German FCAS. It is unlikely that there will be enough customers to cover the enormous production costs of both systems. In this sense, "Tempest" - a dangerous rival to Airbus and Dassault's FCAS - was initiated as a reaction to the marginalization by Berlin and Paris.

Objective: "Close Partnership"

With an eye on the economic and political margin of maneuver that Great Britain gains with its EU withdrawal, Berlin has now changed its tune toward London. After all, its global political ambitions depend on the political - and above all - the military potential of the United Kingdom being at the disposal of the German-European global policy. "I am looking forward to our continued cooperation, for friendship, and close partnership between our countries," the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted having said.[7] Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared, "We want Great Britain, also after the Brexit, to remain a close partner - economically as well as in the foreign and security policy."[8] Norbert Röttgen, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs proclaimed "our objective must now be to keep our relations to Great Britain as close as possible."[9] Just recently, Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had called for the "E3 Format" to be "stabilized." The "E3" are the three West European powers that had been closely cooperating to reach the nuclear deal with Teheran. This sort of format could link London to the Union. Kramp-Karrenbauer announced, it should be "firmly established ... at the defense minister level," and with a meeting still this year.[10] Leading media organs are additionally suggesting "a close tie to London via an 'EU-plus-1 Summit."[11]

Changing Priorities

Against this backdrop, it is uncertain whether Berlin will continue its open support for the Scottish nationalists over the next few months. In Scotland, they were able to increase their share of votes in last week's elections to 45 percent. Now they are calling for a new referendum on secession, which Boris Johnson, avowedly rejects. Following the June 23, 2016 Brexit Referendum, German politicians had systematically backed the Scottish National Party (SNP) as well at their Chair, Nicola Sturgeon. It was openly being said that if Scotland leaves Great Britain, it would "certainly" be accepted into the EU.[12] Just last September, Sturgeon was bestowed a German media award in the presence of top ranking German politicians, including Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, where she used the opportunity of her media-oriented acceptance speech to promote Scotland's secession. It is considered unlikely that a British government, having several foreign policy options at hand and not being compelled to rely on cooperation with the EU, would tolerate such a provocation. Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Maas responded to the question whether "an independent Scotland would be welcomed into the EU," saying: "Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and therefore this question does not even arise."[13] "The main thing now," explained Maas, "is to develop a close, balanced, fair relationship to Great Britain for the future." However Maas did not go into how Germany will deal with Scotland, should relations with Great Britain not develop to Berlin's desires.


[1] See also Disarmament despite Dissentions.

[2] Carsten Volkery: Ivan Rogers: "Johnson wird die EU gegen die USA ausspielen". 15.12.2019.

[3] See also EU-Mächte planen Marineeinsatz im Persischen Golf.

[4] See also Germany's Global Policy Aspiration.

[5] See also Führungskampf in der EU-Rüstungsindustrie.

[6] Demetri Sevastopulo, Robin Harding: Trump puts Tokyo under pressure to choose US fighter jet over rival BAE. 10.12.2019.

[7] Frust und Hoffnung nah beieinander. 13.12.2019.

[8] "Wir wollen, dass Großbritannien auch nach dem Brexit ein enger Partner bleibt". 14.12.2019.

[9] Frust und Hoffnung nah beieinander. 13.12.2019.

[10] See also The Germans to the Front.

[11] Jochen Buchsteiner: Johnsons Mehrheit. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 14.12.2019.

[12] See also Divide Britain.

[13] "Wir wollen, dass Großbritannien auch nach dem Brexit ein enger Partner bleibt". 14.12.2019.