The European Commission seems unable to negotiate a strategic vision of Europe’s future in the wake of Brexit. That presents you, Monsieur President, with a unique opportunityby Richard Dearlove / December 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
I would like to congratulate you on your stunning electoral success. Those of us who know and love France are excited by your election to the Presidency of the Fifth Republic. France, inspired by the prospect of your leadership, is rediscovering its self-confidence and political élan after a difficult period of introspection. We wish you well on the challenging path of economic and social reform. Your British admirers well understand that Brexit for you is a secondary problem, though in your recent publication “Revolution,” your do refer to Brexit as Europe’s crisis and a symptom of Europe’s fatigue. From that I understand that the future of Europe is at the forefront of your political concerns, even if the specific implications of Brexit for the UK are not.
I appeal to your sense of history and strategy in your analysis both of Europe’s crisis and the practical aspects of Brexit. Our two countries have a common history that in war and peace has helped to shape the destiny of Europe for more than a thousand years. In the last century we stood together to protect the values of European civilisation through the darkest days. The Entente Cordiale, which we signed in 1904, has characterised this relationship and its spirit endures to this day.
Britain has always been a European power but in its soul never a continental one—Napoleon and De Gaulle both grasped this essential distinction. It also explains the UK’s attitude to its membership of the European Union. We have always pursued a policy of exceptionalism, believing fundamentally in our difference from other member states: hence the British rebate, our refusal to join the euro and the Schengen Agreement, our constant pressure for a politically shallow union, our discomfort with Franco-German domination of many issues, and Cameron’s final attempts to extract further concession for special treatment.
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Despite our different attitudes to EU membership, in particular our clashing views on Europe’s political future, we have maintained excellent bilateral relations across the broadest range of topics. I would point you towards our defence, intelligence and security cooperation (where my own experienced was gained) as an exceptional example. No two European nations have worked together more closely in these most sensitive of areas where special levels of trust are necessary and exercised daily.
Britain has never adhered for any length of time to any continental alliance. It should be no surprise to France therefore that a significant majority of British citizens voted to leave this current alliance. Europe’s crisis, which you have described so clearly, may have contributed to that decision. However it is important not to conflate the long-running British concerns about the European compromise to its own sovereignty and the unrepresentative nature of government from Brussels with the deeper political malaise sweeping many parts of Europe. Britain’s historical experience is separate and has prevented it ever coming to terms fully with EU membership. Our membership of the EU has never been more than skin deep.
“Britain has always been a European power but in its soul never a continental one”
Though France must exercise discretion at this stage of the Brexit negotiations, it cannot have escaped your attention, especially yours, that Britain’s imminent departure from the EU would be highly favourable to your own plan to accelerate Europe’s political and economic integration. If the UK were to remain a member you would not be able to succeed with it. When it comes to protecting our essential national interest, we are formidable street fighters (as French patriots have always been) and your aspirations for the EU would ultimately have died amongst the barricades that we would have erected. However, as a strong and well-integrated continental Europe is in Britain’s national interest and something which we would support, I believe you are being presented with a unique opportunity. It is the moment for a new French leader to exploit it, and to make his indelible mark on the future of the European continent.
In that new vision of Europe, which I believe accords closely with your own, France and Germany remain at the core with a noyau dur of states that wish to be fully part of this political and economic alliance. In an outer circle are nations that wish to share most of the benefits of this formidable union but without the full range of treaty commitments. As a strategic buttress to this double structure, but on its edge, the UK remains continental Europe’s closest ally, a privileged trading partner and Europe’s primary defence, security and intelligence power. I have not mentioned Nato, but I do not believe that continental Europe has either the will or the means to reproduce the strategic defence and security benefits that accrue to it either from its dependence on the UK in particular A or Nato in general.
Unfortunately the European Commission is locked into the minutiae of treaty conditions and has no ability or remit to negotiate a strategic vision of Europe’s future. It is itself in crisis, as it loses one of its most important members. Monsieur Barnier is obliged by circumstance to be the choreographer of a formation dance routine. The crisis in Europe has also sapped Merkel’s power and for the moment excludes her from the leadership that Europe needs. President Macron: fate and timing have placed that burden on your shoulders. It is the moment for the nation states of Europe to say to the Commission, “enough.” Continental Europe needs Britain and Britain needs continental Europe. Freedom of movement, the rights of EU citizens, ECJ jurisdiction, the Irish border, Britain’s financial obligations are all details of a historically recent treaty which could and should be easily resolved if the political will to do so is given primacy. You, Monsieur President, can unlock that will for the benefit of the whole of Europe at the next European Council meeting.
At the end of the Second World War the international community did not set out to punish the people of Germany. They had every reason to do so. Instead, it offered a hugely-favourable credit regime to rebuild a shattered country and today Europe is the beneficiary of that magnanimity. So we should ask ourselves why any European member state or the Commission would want to act punitively towards the UK when the EU’s most reluctant member is simply returning to a position which accords more closely with his cultural and historical character.
President Macron, as you yourself have written, Europe is in crisis and deeply uncertain about its future; nationalist and populist parties are on the rise in almost every country. You have emerged as their most formidable and influential opponent. The solution to the Brexit crisis in Europe, as you have named it, will be more easily solved without Britain actually riding on the continental stagecoach, but determined nonetheless to see it arrive safely at its new destination. Surely that determination should be reciprocated for Britain in its progress towards its own chosen destination. Let us set about reshaping and reviving the whole European project together in a sense of cooperation. It seems unlikely to happen at this time without your decisive leadership.
The letter is written by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. The letter has been jointly published with L’Express.