At the beginning of February, the annual European Foreign Policy Scorecard was released, assessing Europe’s performance in the world and the individual performances of the EU’s member states.
I was the researcher for the UK assessment, and concluded that Britain remained a leader in many foreign policy issues within Europe. This was despite a broader perception that the UK was becoming less committed to a leading role in EU foreign policy. This phenomenon is largely due to two factors: the less than harmonious atmosphere surrounding the European issue within UK politics, with the domestic debate reverberating across European capitals. And the more uncooperative stance the UK has taken on “domestic” policy discussions in EU fora – e.g. on Justice and Home Affairs- with spill-over effects into other policy arenas, including foreign policy. In fact, the evidence gathered suggests that the UK has taken a leading role in many cases in foreign policy, often putting greater effort and more resources into key issues than many of our European counterparts. Foreign policy reflects a classic example of an area in which the UK is good for the EU, by pushing it to be more proactive and outcome-focused, while the EU is been good for the UK by magnifying its voice and impact.
However, a fair representation of the effectiveness of the UK’s role is obscured both by the atmospherics of our wider relationship with Europe, featuring ever deeper patterns of hostility and the increasing possibility of marginalisation; and by the ongoing clamour within the Conservative party. Regarding the former, it is clear that the UK has rarely been a comfortable partner in Europe, often touting its need for an exit strategy, or for greater value for money, or for clearer objectives. The internal politics of the Conservative party creates a deeper obstacle still, in which Cameron is caught between a Eurosceptic rock and the hard place of his pragmatic sense, along with that of his own chancellor and foreign secretary.
It is increasingly important to have clarity on the nature of the EU-UK relationship given the possibility of a referendum over UK membership in the not-too-distant future. It is important that the public, along with policy makers, are aware of the mutually beneficial role the UK plays in shaping EU foreign policy. As noted by Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Britain’s contribution to Europe is often greater than Britain itself realises. This is an aspect of the UK’s EU membership that is underplayed in the current economic- and ideological- dominated debates.
Unsurprisingly, the press response to the ECFR report about UK’s position in Europe has focused on David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU, and the critical reaction this has received from EU member states. Many countries believe in the UK’s importance within Europe and the valuable contribution it makes. The World argues that 2012 heralded the resurgence of the “British issue”, and argued that the loss of Britain to the EU would be detrimental, particularly in this current period of instability. The coverage of CNN on the subject of Britain’s position in the 2013 Scorecard also centered around the potential referendum and the general European anger at this decision. It highlights the invaluable role of the UK in Europe’s future, and the need for EU countries to retain Britain if possible. Balsas. It reiterates the leading role Britain has played in the EU and the influence it continues to carry within Europe’s worldwide status.
To see more press releases on the Scorecard in general, please see here.