EU-UK co-operation in defence capabilities after the war in Ukraine

Think tank: Centre for European Reform

Author(s): Luigi Scazzieri

June 9, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Centre for European Reform looks at EU-UK defence co-operation and argues that a closer relationship is both necessary and possible.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reminded the EU and the UK of their shared security interests and brought them closer together. The UK and the EU have co-ordinated sanctions against Russia and intensified dialogue on security and defence issues. The UK has also joined the EU’s military mobility project within the EU’s Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) framework. In this CER policy brief ‘EU-UK co-operation in defence capabilities after the war in Ukraine’, kindly supported by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Luigi Scazzieri, senior research fellow at the CER, takes stock of EU-UK defence co-operation and argues that a closer relationship is both necessary and possible. Despite the recent warming of ties, UK-EU defence co-operation remains thin, as security and defence co-operation is not formally part of the UK-EU relationship. At the same time, the EU’s deepening involvement in the defence industrial field means that there is a growing UK-EU gap when it comes to developing defence capabilities. The paper charts the EU’s growing role in fostering greater co-operation in defence research and procurement through tools like the European Defence Fund and PESCO. The EU’s deepening role in defence has not yet had a major impact on bilateral and small group defence co-operation between the UK and its European partners. France, Germany and Italy remain important partners for the UK in defence capability development and there is scope for deepening co-operation in many areas. However, growing EU involvement in defence could over time reshape defence co-operation between member-states. The UK may eventually find itself shut out of co-operative capability projects. That would be a challenge for the UK, but the EU is also unlikely to benefit from the UK’s exclusion. The policy brief argues that co-operation needs to be a political priority for both the EU and the UK and that a closer and mutually beneficial UK-EU defence relationship is possible. The UK should move first, by reviving discussions on a structured security dialogue and concluding a co-operation agreement with the European Defence Agency on the model of that recently struck by the US. These would provide an institutional underpinning for the relationship and could be followed by greater UK involvement in EU defence tools.