Britain’s Neighbourhood: Europe 2030

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Britain’s Neighbourhood: Europe 2030

DATE: 19 November 2019, 1800

VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS United Kingdom

SPEAKERS: Dr Christopher Bickerton, Hans Kundnani, James Rogers

EVENT CHAIR: Dr Rakib Ehsan


Dr Rakib Ehsan: So, ladies and gentlemen, if we could make a start, firstly, thank you for joining us on this very cold winter’s evening. So, we’re here to discuss Britain’s future strategic relationship with the European Union as Brexit looms on the horizon. If you just see the broader situation with Russia looming over the continent, Turkey’s political behaviour becoming ever more unpredictable, and China’s expanding presence in the international system, it is very important to see how Britain’s future strategic relationship with the European Union, and how these various factors fit into that. We have a fantastic panel for today’s event, firstly I’d like to start of introducing Dr Christopher Bickerton, a reader in politics at the University of Cambridge, where he’s also an official Fellow at Queen’s College. He obtained his PhD from the University of Oxford in 2008, and since then has held teaching positions at Oxford, the University of Amsterdam, and Sciences Po in Paris. His research interests span the disciplines of International Relations, comparative politics, and European studies. He’s published numerous books and articles that span a number of different fields across social and political science. In 2006 he published the best-selling “The European Union: A citizen’s guide” with Penguin, which was submitted for the Baillie-Gifford Prize, the UK’s leading non-fiction literary prize. Here we have Hans Kundnani, a senior Research Fellow in the European Programme at Chatham House. Before joining Chatham House in 2018, he was a senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and reserach Director at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He’s also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for German Studies at Birmingham University. In 2006, he was a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington DC. He’s an author of “The Paradox of German Power”, just published in 2014, which has been translated into German, Italian, Korean, and Spanish. He studied German and philosophy at Oxford University and Journalism at Columbia University in New York, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. And last but not least, my fellow HJS work colleague and good friend, James Rogers, who is a Director of the Global Britain programme here, and he is a founding member of HJS. Formerly he’s held a number of positions at the Baltic Defence College in Estonia and has worked at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris. So, to begin the discussion we have Christopher, who’ll be talking more broadly about the EU’s internal challenges. Chris?

Dr Christopher Bickerton: Okay, thanks. Thanks very much, thanks for the invitation. I’ll stand up so I can see people at the back. let me ask you to cast your minds back to the aftermath, the immediate aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, back in June 2016. The day after that there was a column published in one of the French newspapers Liberation by their long-term Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer, and the title of his column, I’ll translate for you, was “my dear English friends, thank you for your sacrifice”. The theme of his column was prognostic about the future of the European Union over the coming decade or so, which is our topic for this evening, and he was saying that the UK’s exit would unleash, finally, this great forward leap of European integration because the principle obstacle to that leap for a long period of time had been British intransigence, or British scepticism about the federalism, or the federalisation of the European Union. So that was, I think, if you like, the optimistic vision about what the European Union might look like over the coming decade, this forward leap in supranational integration. At the same time, you had, well, what you might call the pessimistic view, which was that, essentially, there was maybe Brexit, but then, after Brexit, there was numerous possible exits of member states from the European Union, and that the whole thing, essentially, would come crashing down. And this was, if you like, the Trump view of Europe, but it was also a considered view by a number of experts, there was a book published by the historian John Gillingham, called “The European Union: An Obituary”. So, you’re getting a sense of there are two opposite perspectives on the future of the European Union over the next decade: a forward leap of integration, and a collapse on the other. As ever, when you have these two extremes, the truth, I think, is probably a little bit closer to the middle way. So, that’s what I’m going to try and explore, I think, for the next few minutes.

The question, I think, that we have to ask and also then, understand the answer to, it is not “when will the EU collapse?”, which I think is simply a misjudged and sort of a mistaken question, nor is it “how amazing integration will be in the next 10 years from the perspective of European federalists, I think the question is “why will the EU endure in a similar state that it is today?”, I think that’s the principal question. And the reason I think it’ll endure is that it is, A, a reasonably robust entity. That’s not to say that it’s not subjective to crises, it obviously is, that it faces enormous challenges, but in some way, given the contemporary state of European politics, and given the structure of contemporary European states, it is necessary, okay? Now, if something else, if it was to come apart, something else would replace it that did more or less the same thing, okay? So, what I want to try and suggest to you is that the enduring nature of the European Union comes from the fact that it is a union of member states, and these member states are not just states that have decided to join the European Union, and one day can decide to leave. Being a member state is not just a category of law, it’s not just a juridical title, it’s a particular kind of statehood. And over the course of the process of European integration, European states have transformed into member states. Now, to go back and transform from being a member states to being a nation-state is an incredibly challenging and difficult thing to do. This is the lesson, I think, of Brexit so far, is that that process is quite a long-term process, Brexit was not a proof or a stamp or an exercise of British sovereignty, it was a test of capacity of the British state to act in a sovereign manner, thus far, I think, it’s more or less a struggle to succeed in that test, okay? So, the European Union is a union of member states, this is not the world of AJP Taylor where you have national states competing against each other and pursuing their national interest, informing ephemeral, temporary alliances, this is a much more enduring form of statehood. Member states consider their interests in relationship to other member states, they exercise their sovereignty in a way which they understand as being shared sovereignty, okay? This is a very different world from the 19th century world of competing nation states where national egotism drove the decisions of governments. That is the reason, I think, the principal reason why the European Union is so enduring, it corresponds to the nature of statehood in contemporary Europe. That said, I don’t think it’s going to be a smooth ride over the next decade or so, I would say that there are two principal, internal challenges to the European Union that will, in some way or other, shape the form that it takes over the next decade.

The first is a political challenge, and the second is an economic challenge. The political challenge is a very clear one. In the structure of a member state, governments are very attuned to what other European governments want to do. They are much less attuned to the views and opinions of their own voters. Member state are, if you like, hard, but hollow. They’re characterised by powerful executives that are able to exercise joint decision-making within the European Council, they’re hard because they protect themselves from their own societies’ demands, but they are hollow because the core, if you like, of democratic legitimacy in nation-states is still vertical, it’s about society being reflected in the decisions of governments. It’s about popular sovereignty. Member states really struggle managing this vertical form of legitimacy because they engage so much in co-operation with other member states. Now, that’ creates, over time, a systematic disconnect between voters and politicians, between governments and their own societies, and we see that, I think, in the contemporary politics of Europe, a very febrile form of politics, a lot of anti-system, anti-establishment feeling, a great deal of fragmentation, national party systems are struggling to survive and are evolving all the time. That political tension is very important because, if the European wanted to undertake some massive leap in federal integration, or some significant revision of its own treaties, it would have to go through national consultations with its own voters. Now, European voters generally are quite pro-European, certainly within the EU-2007, however, when consulted on specific issues of treaty reform, it’s a chance for them to hit back at the establishments that they don’t like, and so governments want to avoid those kinds of national experiences. So, EU reform can only be incremental because the member states are internally, in terms of their legitimacy, quite weak.

The second point, the last tension which I’ll talk about before I finish, is the economic tension. I think there’s no doubt that the European economy as such does not exist. We have lots of different national growth models, that often compete with one another, countries that are systematic exporting countries have an obvious need for countries that are systematic importers, that have deficits in their current accounts. That creates macro-economic imbalances which, I think, the Eurozone struggles to manage. This is going to be one of the main challenges that the EU will face, is how to unite the common rules of the single market, and the Eurozone with the diversity of national economies. So, let me finish, I’ve run out of time, really. I think the question about the future of the European Union is, if we assume that important change will take place we’re going to have to be able to say where that change will come from. In my view, something that characterises the contemporary European Union of the [inaudible] 27, is a failure or a lack of political agency. It’s not clear who’s going to undertake the changes. National governments won’t, because they’re hamstrung by their ambivalent relationship to their own voters, EU institutions don’t undertake important changes, they don’t have the authority to do so, and voters, I think, are unlikely to be a source of change because of the fragmentation of the party landscape that I’ve talked about. So, we have this failure of agency, which, I think, will mean the whole show will survive because it’s essential to the structure of European states, but it will not be that different from what it is today. Thank you very much.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: thank you, Chris. So, we now move on to Hans who’ll be talking a bit about the political challenges facing Germany specifically, and expanding on that.

Hans Kundnani: Thanks. So, yes, I mean, I thought I’d use my seven minutes or so to talk a little bit about the sort of internal distribution of power within the EU, and in particular, Germany’s role in the EU and its relative power, relative to France in particular, and I’m basically going to argue that over the next 10 years, so in other words, in the run-up to 2030, Germany will get weaker relative to France and in general within the EU, but before I get on to Germany, just two quick observations on what Chris said because, I mean, I agree with virtually everything you said, Chris, but just on this, the way you started with the optimists and the pessimists. I remember thinking exactly the same thing after Brexit, that the debate among pro-Europeans seemed to be divided between those who thought that the EU could now move ahead with this kind of great leap forward because the Brits had been holding it back, but then there was another group of pro-Europeans who also wanted further integration, who, in a way, were sort of a little bit more pessimistic, seems to me, who kind of thought that, because of the sort of existential threat to the EU and the danger of the disintegration that you talked about as a consequence of Brexit, that there was a, that the EU therefore had to, exactly for that reason, to move ahead with integration, so it was almost a sort of pessimistic argument for integration, if you like, which is that this is really going to unravel, unless we move ahead with integration post-Brexit. And I’m struck, like you, about the way that that didn’t happen. The EU also didn’t fall apart, there weren’t a series of other countries attempting to follow Britain out the door, but, at the same time, the integration didn’t happen. And, the second point, and this is, I, again, I sort of agree with you, but sort of slightly emphasise a different aspect of it. I completely agree with you that the question is not, you know, it’s being framed, you know, basically since the beginning of the Eurocrisis, the question about the future of the EU has been framed in terms of survival, initially around the Euro, and then, the broader EU, and I agree with you, that’s not the right question. I think you’re right that it is likely to survive, but I think, nevertheless, there is, a sort of an interesting question for. For me, the most important question about how the EU evolves over the next 10 years is about the way that it transforms, precisely in order not to fall apart, you know, so I don’t think it is going to fall apart because I think the political will among continental European elites is so strong, and the fear of the consequence of it unravelling is so strong, that they will do almost anything in order to keep it together, but I think what that means is that there’s a certain kind of transformation, and which, I think, has already started to happen since the Eurocrisis began, but I think may continue, and so, the EU, I think, will continue in a sort of recognisable form in 10 years’ time, but I think at the same time it might be quite different in some important ways, in particular, I think it’s going to be a much more sort of coercive EU than has been the case in the past, I think you can already see that over the last nine years since the Eurocrisis began. Member states, I think, are going to be forced to do a lot of things they don’t want to do, and they’re not really going to have much choice because they don’t want to leave the EU, and they don’t want to leave the Euro, hence the EU won’t fall apart, but it looks, I think, a much less pleasant place to be than it was before. Okay, so, Germany, and I’ll try and keep this brief because I’m looking forward to the discussion with you on the panel, and with you in the audience. As I say, I think there are some sort of almost structural reasons why this period of German power that we’ve seen, particularly since the Eurocrisis began, will come to an end over the next 10 years. Germany’s particular position of power in the EU since the Eurocrisis began has often been described as a hegemon. I don’t think that’s right, I’ve been arguing that we should think of Germany as a semi-hegemon, in other words, you know, it’s not powerful enough to be a hegemon, it’s too powerful at the same time, in some ways. This was historically Germany’s position within Europe, the classical German question from 1871 to 1945 was precisely about this in between position of semi-hegemony that Germany had. I think it’s now re-emerged in a geo-economic rather than a geopolitical form. What I mean by that, is, it’s about economic power rather than military power, as it was in the classical version of the German question, but, nevertheless, we’re back to that position of German semi-hegemony in Europe. And, just to give you one sort of illustration of that, even if you just take the Eurozone, so you forget Britain, but also other EU member states that aren’t in the Euro, you just take the Eurozone, German economy makes up 28% of Eurozone GDP, which isn’t really that much, I mean it’s the biggest Eurozone country, the biggest EU member state in terms of the size of its economy, but if you put France and Italy together, their economy’s already bigger in GDP terms than Germany is, and that illustrates to me, actually, the limits of Germany power, it’s not the hegemon, it’s not in a position to be a hegemon, as some people claim. However, this position of power, this semi-hegemonic position that Germany’s been in, I think it basically emerged out of the, out of 1990, out of re-unification and the way that the EU changed after that, Europe changed, but also Germany was bigger and so on, but it really became apparent after the beginning of the Eurocrisis in 2010. This particular position of German power, I think, is going to erode over the next 10 years for two structural reasons.

The first is an economic one, and that’s really to do with what’s going to happen in the German economy over the next 10 years. Germany’s, you know, has experienced basically a boom for the last, really, two decades, and that goes back to the structural shift that took place in German economy in the 2000s when Gerhard Schröder was Chancellor. It’s a little bit more of a complicated story than a lot of people claim, it’s not just that Germany did some structural reform, and that made the German economy competitive again, it was also to do with the way that a lot of manufacturing production was outsources to central European countries like Slovakia and Hungary that made German business, German industry more competitive. In the process, what happened was that the German economy became much more export-dependent than it was, it had already been a very export-dependent economy, it’s, I mean, Chris, you talked about systematic exporters, Germany’s always been a systematic exporter, but since the 2000s it became much much more dependent on exports, and they now make up about 50% of GDP, which is extraordinary for a large economy the size of Germany that should have a much bigger domestic market. And so, the reason that the German economy boomed, was really because there was demand for German exports, particularly automobiles and machinery, from a series of different markets, and when one dried up, another one kind of stepped in, and so the boom continued. So, the boom really starts with demand from southern European countries, and then, when the Eurocrisis begins, demand dries up in the south or Europe, but by this point, demand from China has really taken off, and really sustained the German economy for, you know, a good five years or so, and German companies became increasingly dependent on China as an export market during that period. And then what happened, was that demand in the US also picked up, as demand slightly slowed in China, and so that kept the German economy going as well. I think, however, over the next 10 years, what will happen, is that all three of those markets, I think, are going to be quiet slow for Germany for some structural reasons, particularly with the Chinese seeking to do more indigenous innovation and so on, and then there’s a whole series of other problems which I don’t have time to go into, particularly the threat to the German car industry which, I think, is facing some real problems.

The second point, very very briefly because I’ve completely overrun already, is to do with military power, and this the second reason why I think Germany is going to become weaker over the next 10 years, and this has to do with the uncertainty about the US security guarantee, which really began with Trump, but I think is likely to continue over the next 10 years. That, in turn, or rather the lack of uncertainty about the US security guarantee in the past, I think was one reason why Germany was relatively powerful in Europe because military power wasn’t a factor, for example, in its relationship with France. The fact that France had these military resources, including nuclear deterrent that Germany didn’t have, wasn’t something that gave the French any leverage in discussion with, I mean negotiations with Germany over, for example, economic policy, the Euro, and so on. Now that there’s uncertainty about the US security guarantee, which, as I say, I think is here to stay, it means that France has much much more leverage over Germany than it did in the past, and so, hence will be weaker. I can talk more later about some of the implications.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Yeah, that would be lovely to discuss more about, more of those things in the Q&A session.

Hans Kundnani: yeah.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you for that, Hans. Last but not least, we have James, who’ll talk about how the UK fits into all of this. James, if you could begin, please.

James Rogers: Thank you. Yes, I was thinking a moment ago about some of the things that were being said, and I largely agree with many of them, but the key thing here, I think, is, well, what will Europe look like in 2030? And 2030 is, well, 10 years away, if we just fast-forward a few months until we get into the next year. That’s not actually very far away, but, in some respects, I think, it’s going to be almost a lifetime [inaudible], a week is a lifetime in politics, well, 10 years is maybe an eternity in geopolitics, and that’s one of the things, I think, that we’re not, or we haven’t sufficiently grasped here in Europe and more broadly still. And that is to say that the geopolitical changes that are under way in the world today are going to really pull at the very foundations of the European Union, and, more importantly I would say, the fundamental foundations of European geopolitics. The key point here to remember is that the geopolitical order in Europe is not a product of Europe’s own creation, it was largely produced by a number of decisions taken in the late 1940s in London and in Washington that ensured the entire envelopment of Western Europe into what became the North-Atlantic Treaty organisation. Of course, the initial stages of this were put forward by the UK for the Western Union Defence Organisation, but without the support of the North American continent, it was not possible to stabilise Europe in the way that was required to prevent internal revisionists from coming up from within and to deter external revisionists, potentially the Soviet Union, from without. So I think it’s fair to say that this alliance has been the most successful in the world, and it produced the conditions within Europe that dampened the security dilemma, and prevented countries such as France or Germany from re-emerging in the way that they had in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In short, it ensured the maritime envelopment of the whole of Europe, in time, into an order that was dominated and controlled from Washington and London, and the spread of specific values that were not internally previously held by many European countries to ensure that a kind of democratic peace would eventually take hold. And the point here is that this system is under stress, and this system is under stress because of changed on the other side of the world. I don’t know whether many of you saw the report in the FT this morning which showed that over the last 20 years China has become the biggest goods supplier to almost every country in the world. The only ones except, the only large economies anyway, are Canada, Mexico, the UK, and France, those ones, of course, still having the US as the biggest goods’ supplier. This shows, I think, the fundamental transformation in the economic balance of power in the world over the last 20 years, as the Euro-Atlantic region, which in the end of the Cold War was still the primary motor of the global economy, has been eclipsed very quickly by the Indo-Pacific, and China in particular. Now, this fundamental change in the economic balance of power is going to have geopolitical consequences, and I think those consequences are already being opened up. We can see those in the context of some of the discussion that’s under way in Europe, but I think that’s only just the start.

So, as China in particular rises, it’s very likely that it’s going to seek to exert its economic power in a strategic way, and, that is to say, to reshape elements of the global system that it finds less conducive to its own interests or, I should say, to the interests of the regime in Beijing. And this, of course, is going to create a degree of tension between the US and China, the US being the main actor in the world, and I think this, in time, is going to draw away the US towards the Indo-Pacific region, and that’s going to, of course, open up a number of different problems here in Europe, some of those, I think, we’re already seeing. We’ve already heard a lot of discussion on the mainland, particularly in Germany and increasingly in France, about the US and even to some extent the UK commitment to continental security. I think those kinds of voices are going to get louder, not quieter. That has different implications for us and for the Americans because, of course, we’re located in different regions of the world and we have different long-term interests, even if at the strategic level there’s also a degree of alignment. So, I think, although the discussion at the moment about the withdrawal of the UK or the US from Europe has been greatly overblown, the two allies continue to underpin the defence of Europe, they have the leading contributions to the enhanced Forward Presence of NATO, and they underpin the continent’s nuclear deterrent, there are three, or a number of trends, I think, that we need to look out for that are likely to manifest themselves in the next decade.

The first is the relationship between the US and Russia because if the US is looking to constrain China, then it will seek to constrain China also from the continental north, or the continental interior and not only from the maritime zone around the Indo-Pacific, so how will the relationship between Moscow and Washington evolve, and how will, and what will the US be prepared to overlook on the part of Russia as it seeks to co-opt Russia into a countervailing coalition that might constrain China. We talked a bit about France and Germany, I think they have not gone away, and there are a number of different issues there about how they respond to a different US perspective in relation to Europe. The other issue, of course, is Turkey. It sits in a very strategically important location between the Middle East, Russia, and the Mediterranean, and it’s not clear where Turkey is heading in the longer term, that’s one to look out for. Then, of course, we come to the UK, and the UK, of course, is leaving the European Union, but it’s not leaving NATO, and the government has confirmed again and again that Britain is crucial and will continue to play a part in the defence of Europe, but increasingly the UK may be drawn in two directions simultaneously, to support the US and to backfill for the US potentially in the Middle East, int the Mediterranean, but also to support its European allies through the context of NATO. So what then should be done? Well, I think the UK needs a strong and resilient Europe because Europe is very close to the UK, and it’s necessary to constrain revisions inclinations within the context of Europe, of what’s from the immediate outside, like Russia, assuming that’s not a European country, and also, of course, from within. So, I want to be a bit playful in my last couple of minutes. I think, to some extent, at least in the context of defence, that the UK is going to have to become more Trumpian even than President Donald Trump. We need to, we need all our European allies primed and ready to do more to uphold their own defence. We need greater European investment in defence. Over the past five years, European NATO allies have underfunded their militaries by an astonishing 0.5 trillion, you heard that right, 0.5 trillion US dollars, so we need to boost our own defence spending as a country, but we need to make sure that our allies also, in Europe, do more to uphold European security and defence. So we’ve spent more than 25 billion over the last five years than France, and a 133 billion more than Germany. That’s a significant investment, and sort of plugs into what Hans was just saying about the disconnect between Germany’s position as a sort of semi-hegemon in the context of European integration, but less so in the context of defending Europe, so I think we have the right and the duty to call out allies that are not performing at the level that they otherwise should. So I think our objective over the next coming year should be to prevent the Euro-Atlantic order from falling apart, and in no small way that depends on maintaining a geopolitical environment within Europe that is conducive to a strong European defence. Thank you.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you, James. We will open the discussion to the floor. Before you ask your questions, which I would ask that you keep the questions sharp and not too long, if you could kindly mention your name and your formal affiliation, please, and we’ll be taking questions in blocks of two, so, questions, please? The gentleman there at the front.

Audience Member 1: Thank you, [inaudible], just a member of this society, does PESCO have any future, where is it going?

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you, that’s very good, very short question. Any other questions? Okay, let’s start with that one then. Chris would you like to?

Audience Member 2: Could you explain PESCO, please?


Dr Rakib Ehsan: Well, I mean, [inaudible]. Maybe the panel could explain it?

James Rogers: PESCO, PESCO is a number of different initiatives that are supposedly designed to enhance certain European military capabilities. In the media you often hear of things like “European army”, I’m not sure that gets quite to the level of the issue. We’re talking here about a number of relatively low-key initiatives that are designed to improve various components of European defence within the context of the European Union between the different member states within. Many of these initiatives are very, as I said, low-key, so at this moment I would not say that they’re going anywhere near the idea of a European army, but the agenda within some quarters on the mainland, I think, is for something that’s much more ambitious than that, and that is taking place outside of the structures of NATO, but, nevertheless, potentially corresponds with them.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: Can I just, is PESCO not the means by which you can go further, faster as a small group..

Hans Kundnani: Yes.

James Rogers: Yes, that too, yes.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: I think the thing that, [inaudible] PESCO is, it was originally intended to be a small group of countries willing to go much further.

Hans Kundnani: Yea.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: I think, partly under the initiative of the Germans.

Hans Kundnani: That’s right

Dr Christopher Bickerton: It was..

Hans Kundnani: …watered down.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: …essentially expanded to include almost everybody, and if everybody’s on the bandwagon, then the idea of enhanced co-operation amongst a few is meaningless because it doesn’t allow you to move forward more quickly because you still have to deal with everyone else, so I think the future of it is, if it’s not going to be narrow band of sort of people, member states willing to go much further, then it becomes very similar to what we’ve had before which is, you know, all countries involved.

Audience Member 1: So what’s Germany’s response to widen it, with a view to stopping it…

Hans Kundnani: Yes.

Audience Member 1: …achieving anything.

Hans Kundnani: Yes.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: I think watered down is the sort of phrase, yea…

Hans Kundnani: Ans then the French were annoyed about that, and therefore, in response, created this thing called “The European Intervention Initiative” which was meant to be a group of countries with similar strategic cultures, i.e., not Germany, and now Germany’s doing exactly the same thing with the European Intervention Initiative that they did with PESCO, which is to be part of it and then to water it down and make it basically pointless.

Audience Member 1: So what does this signify for the future of the European Union [inaudible]? What does that tell you?

Hans Kundnani: I think it tells you that the progress towards what is sometimes called strategic autonomy, in other words, Europe being able to provide for its own security without the United States, is going to be extremely slow.

James Rogers: If I could compound that, I mean, the figures that we’ve put together show that the UK spends more, excluding the United States, it spends more than the lowest 20 spenders in NATO combined, on defence, so the UK spends 315 billion US dollars over the last five years on defence. That’s more than the lowest 20 combines, so without the UK’s input into anything [inaudible], it’s largely…

Dr Rakib Ehsan: [Inaudible] the gentleman here, would you like to ask a question?

Audience Member 3: [Inaudible], I’m just a member, China’s interest could change the economic situation in Europe?

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Professor, would you like to ask your question as well, we’ll take the two at once.

Audience Member 4: [Inaudible], King’s College London. I want to follow up that question on defence, on what James Rogers said, I think his point isn’t [inaudible] Trumpian because I think any American president [inaudible] 75 years after the end of the war [inaudible] paying for European defence. But doesn’t that depend not just on us, but on the French as well? [Inaudible] autonomous to be secured, whatever that means, it means Anglo-French leadership, and Europe is the only one of the four major powers [inaudible]. French see Brexit purely in economic terms, economic [inaudible], they don’t see the geopolitical significance of the exit of a major liberal power, a major defence power from Europe, so it doesn’t, the key lies with them, rather than with us or Germany, or any other country, the key lies with Macron in Paris, really.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: Can I add a question to that for James, I mean, it’s literally following on from the same thing which is, I mean, I understand the idea that Britain should pressure, whether it’s, whether we’re focusing on France, or Germany, pressure them to do more, to spend more, in particular. But I don’t understand how you think we’re going to be able to do that, I mean, the United States has failed, as far as I can see, to get particularly Germany to significantly increase defence spending, I don’t really see how Britain is going to be able to do that.

James Rogers: Okay, two questions. I would say that the issue of UK-French co-operation is, of course, important, and I think that the two countries are really the only two, at least sizeable, actors that have an expeditionary mind-set, and France does have some impressive capabilities in that regard, although I think in the next 10-15 years they’re going to, not even that far, let’s say, 5-10 years, particularly as the UK brings online its new super-carriers, that those, that kind of similarity will be greatly extended in the UK’s favour. But that is, it is indeed the case that the French at least had the expeditionary mindset. I’m not sure, though, the extent to which that’s going to necessarily continue. I mean, we’ve seen in the last couple of, few years, the French have become increasingly focused on internal security after the terrorist attacks, and also French defence spending has been held down quite substantially, so this year, actually, Germany’s total defence spending, according to the NATO’s latest figures, has surpassed France for the first time since, I think, the late 1980s. So, I think that France is important, particularly for those kinds of expeditionary and out-of-area operations, but I think that the UK will increasingly need to work with Poland and the eastern European countries because of the threat from Russia, and I think there is a lot being missed there that could be potentially utilised, and I think this sort of swings around to Hans’ question. I would say yes, we have been pushing our European allies, particularly the Germans, but they’re not the only ones, the Spanish and the Italians spend even less than the Germans as a percentage of GDP, but I think that we need to become a little more forceful maybe, we have to remind them again and again, but, you know, it’s getting to the point now where it’s opening up deep questions in the US, and those questions might also open up here as well, so I think that’s one way which we could do it. Another way might be to become more proactive and to try and create [inaudible] to reward those allies, the Poles, the Baltic states, some of the central and eastern European countries that have increased their defence spending or are now reaching the level they’ve committed to do. So one thing we could it is try and reward them.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: Like how?

James Rogers: Through potentially new structures that are designed specifically to align them more closely and make them more inter-operable with the British military, and to reconfirm the support of the UK for those specific countries, and to some extent, along, maybe through back-channels, or in some ways implicitly, to question the willingness or the continued willingness of countries like the UK and the US to support those that do not meet their obligations or commitments, which, of course, takes us into interesting territory, but if in 10 years’ time the strategic environment is such that this doesn’t really matter in the sense that it’s all going to fall to pieces or at least be pulled apart, then we perhaps need to be more, I would say, active in responsive now to avert crisis in 10 or 15 years hence.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you, James. Chris, could I just bring you in?

Dr Christopher Bickerton: Yes, I wanted to just comment about the sort of discussion around ESTP, but also to answer this question about China and the economy.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Please.

Dr Christopher Bickerton: In one of the [inaudible] I think about European common security and defence policy or its common foreign policy is, in some ways it was always strategically irrelevant, however, that’s not to say that it’s meaningless. I think, certainly for a country like Germany, that was very reluctant to embark on playing some sort of role in international affairs that would reflect its economic weight, it was quite useful to have these structures where it could be busy, you know, it could be really seen to be doing things, and some of the missions that the EU sent around the world, the sort of ESTP missions, were of no strategic consequence whatsoever, but they certainly gave this impression of there being some sort of common foreign policy arm to the European project, so symbolically I think it was hugely important. Of course, when it comes to actual, you know, capacities, that’s not very impressive, but I think there’s no way around the fact that for different countries of the European Union their threat environment is simply not the same. You know, if you’re Estonia, it’s very clear for Estonia that there is the potential, an actually existing existential threat, if you speak to some Estonians. It’s not the case if you’re Spanish, you know, or if you’re from a [inaudible] different part of, so, how you get some sort of commitment to defence spending sort of level which is equal, when you have different threat environments? I don’t really see how that can work. The question about China, I just wanted to say two quick points. I think the role that China can have is significant in two ways. One is in terms of the regulatory power of the European Union. The extent to which China becomes increasingly reliant on its access to the European market of consumers. The flip-side for the EU is that, when it comes to negotiating trade arrangements, it has enormous clout to set the regulatory terms of that discussion. So I think that’s a big thing. The second thing is that we’re already seeing that it’s not just in trade, but in terms of China’s ability to invest in some parts of Europe in terms of infrastructure. For a European member state, especially for a Eurozone member that is bound by the fiscal rules of being a Eurozone member state, where do you get the kind of, you know, the kind of investment in infrastructure that you need? It’s very significant that the Italians signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative. Why? because there’s no way Germany’s going to pay for infrastructure spending in Italy to the extent that that country needs it, and it’s subject to the rules of the Eurozone, therefore, where is it going to come from? China, I think, will become increasingly an investor in ways that allow Eurozone member states to escape the very stringent fiscal rules, so either Eurozone member states are allowed to spend more, or they will find other ways to access that investment.

Hans Kundnani: Can I just add..

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Oh, absolutely.

Hans Kundnani: ..before you want to move on. Just briefly, on your point, Chris, about China becoming increasingly dependent on the European market, it seems to me the opposite is happening. That’s how I read the long-term shift in the Chinese economy, that it’s going to become less and less dependent on the European market, more dependent on it’s own market, potentially some other ones around the world, but less and less dependent on Europe. So I think European leverage decreases actually, erm,

Dr Chris Bickerton: Because it’s selling more to other parts of the world…

Hans Kundnani: Yes, and then the fiscal rules point is really important I think, and I actually wanted to mention it in relation to what you said James about defence spending, because it seems to me in an indirect way, ger many is also actually responsible for France’s lower level of defence spending because of the fiscal rues. It’s not just that Germany itself spends less than it should, erm, but the downward pressure that it puts on defence spending elsewhere in the Eurozone because of the fiscal rules I think is , really disastrous.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Could we take more questions, erm, gentleman at the back.

Audience member 5: Hi, Robert Clark [inaudible] King’s College of London, if I could just ask Hans just to clarify, you made  a really brief remark concerning the American German security relationship, could I just ask you to elaborate on that, potentially looking at next year going onwards, if you look Angela Merkel has limited time left in office [inaudible] has moved on from defence ministry, how do you see the relationship potentially reforming or going forwards, once these two are no longer [inaudible], thanks.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you. Hans would you like to address that.

Hans Kunani: Sure, I mean actually I don’t see a whole lot, changing, frankly, when Merkel leaves office. I think, there is such a remarkable degree of consensus across the political spectrum with the exception of the extremes, but centre right and centre left there is such a degree of consensus on economic policy and on security policy, that I don’t think really much changes after Merkel leaves. Its partly why I can be relatively confident about predicting what’s going to happen in Germany over the next 10 years, because there is so much consensus. And then similarly, I agree very much with Vernon about the uncertainty of the US security guarantee. It’s not just a function of Trump, it pre dates trump and it will outlast trump and so I think this is kind of the new normal. So you know over next ten years I see the sort of, what we’ve seen over the last couple of years since trump was elected just continuing which is, you know, Europeans not quite knowing the extent to which the US is committed to the security of Europe. Europeans not really being able to kind of, find an alternative to the US security guarantee, and this kind of dynamic continuing over the next 10 years. But, and this kind of brings me actually to against back to the point you raise James about the ability of Britain or the united states to sort of push Germany and other countries in Europe to spend more and do more.  I agree with Chris very much that this is all about threat assessment an if I take Germany, Germans just feel safe. And so I can’t imagine what the either stick or carrot wold be that persuades Germany to fundamentally shift on this. If you took the, the most dramatic stick you could imagine, which would be expulsion from NATO. In other words you say to Germany if you don’t spent 2% of GDP on defence by 2030 or whatever the date is, we are going to kick you out of NATO. Now I know you can’t do that in NATO, but let’s say hypothetically you could, to imagine the most dramatic stick stick you could imagine. I think basically the Germans say ok then we’ll leave NATO because they feel safe anyway.

James Rogers: well I think that’s an important point, but to some extent, I think that gets to the nub of the issue. Perhaps we need to start thinking about security in Europe that excludes Germany, I mean, to some extent president macron is beginning to in France I think go there, the French have been there with this debate about PESCO beforehand being an exclusive or inclusive, formation, French wanted, as Chris said, more exclusive formation that would allow them to form these little clusters of countries that are rotating around, the centralised France. But I think we need to think about Europe in a different way, I man we’ve become ourselves accustomed to a way of thinking in the context of the EU, but also in the context of NATO in an inclusive way. But the strategic environment is changing and so quickly that we need to start thinking I think more, dynamically about what it will look like in the future. We know the challenge from Russia is unlikely to go away on the eastern flank so we therefore know the countries in Eastern Europe, Estonia among them, I sued to live there, have a very keen interest in that, because they see it a an existential threat. And they look to the US and the UK as the two countries that are most likely to support them in the event of an emergency. But them we have the counties in southern Europe, but they’re not threatened, they’re not threatened, they are threatened in the same way Estonia is, but they do face a number of challenges, from north Africa and the middle east through migration, and so on and so forth. With crime and the Spillover effects of the civil conflicts that have been going on in North Africa and the Middle East over the last ten years, and increasingly they will be threatened I think from another country. And that country is, will be coming into the Mediterranean with increasing, I think gusto in the next ten to fifteen years and that will be of course China. Now the UK has a key role of course in NATO and I think therefore it could potentially signal both to the Germans and to its eastern European allies the role that it seeks to underpin. Ah, sorry, the role is seeks to play in NATO, and that to say to underpin it from the eastern and northern flanks. But of course there are other issues that are thrown up here in the context of Sweden and Finland, that are not members of NATO, but the UK has enacted various initiatives such as the joint expeditionary force. To try and draw in the Scandinavian countries into a framework that includes, both Poland and the Baltic states, to draw greater connections there.Potentially something that could be envisaged in the southern European, regions as well. I think the key point though is to basically, to be very blunt, forget Germany, it’s not going to play any kind of significant strategic role, either in the context of NATO or the context of expeditionary operations in the Mediterranean or in the north African or middle eastern region. And there it is important pin increasingly our defence ambitions in European context on France’s expeditionary model, potentially also Spain and Italy, to coerce them to increase their defence spending and also on Poland and the Baltic states in the context of eastern Europe, and to frankly marginalise Germany. It’s not going to pull its weight any time soon.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Chris would you like to add anything.

Chris Bickerton: Yeah I would, just one comment on on a question about Germany, maybe for Hans. I do think there are limits to setting up structures that can incentivise countries to spend on defence. Not just because there are constrained fiscally by, certain European rules and there are infringement procedures that can be, you know, sort of waged against them if they break those rules. but just hearing you talk James I was reminded of this book by, historian James Sheehan called where have all the soldiers gone, and it’s a really great book and it talks about post-1945 Europe and it kind of charts over time the demilitarisation of these societies.  He argues that essentially these warfare states have evolved into welfare states. Now you can’t put the genie back into the bottle if you like. That is the structure of these societies and I think Hans is quite right but Germany, if you have a society that is quite fundamentally demilitarised, it’s not going to be a bit of a sort of shaming that is going to reverse that, so I think that is you know where things are at. What we need to take I think would be a real fundamental change in the threat environment, but even more than that sometimes I think, so I just think this is where things are at to be honest in a sort of lng term sense. The question that I had for Hans was about German dominance. I’ve always felt that you can look at the figures and all the rest of it about its geo-economic power, but the reason why over the last sort of decade or so I suppose, we’ve assumed that Germany played this dominant role in European affairs, especially around the Eurozone crisis. But it wasn’t as much that Germany itself was exercising hegemony, been in a sort of half-hearted way. It was the political stability, or if you like, the political longevity of Merkel, and it was the fact that she was able to provide this continuity over the course of these successive crises that meant Germany was just central to the story. Now that she’s stepping down and there is a transition in terms of political personality,  it seems to me that perhaps that is maybe more significant that you were suggesting, I appreciate there is a political consensus in Germany. But if its hegemony has been heavily built on her presence in office surely her leaving will in same way be shaking things up. Maybe,  I’m wrong.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Hans would you like to address that.

Hans Kundnani: Yes, no I mean it’s a good question, and you know it is a really as I understand your question its basically to what extent is German power a function of sort of you know structural, you know Germany’s structural power. To what extent is at a function of great men or great women in a way. And I tend to think that its structural but it could be that I’m exaggerating that, I take that point. I suppose part of the reason I push back against that idea that everything is going to change after Merkel leaves office is that it seems to me that even at the height of Merkel’s power as it were, you know, in the first kind of, you know, five years or so after 2010, you know, until the refugee crisis happened, where there was complete stability in Germany, Merkel was very powerful. It seems to me that Europe, the EU, is pretty dysfunctional and you know my recollection of the debates at those time at that point was that are so many things that Germany was unable to do. Even with Merkel being in this position of incredible power, and so I sort of, you know, now that Merkel’s on her way out I hear a lot of people saying well everything is going to be terrible once she leaves, but you know…

Dr Rakib Ehsan: You don’t buy into that…

Hans Kundnani: It doesn’t seem to me that its worked out that well even when Merkel’s, when Germany has been very stable and Germany has been quite powerful. So, you know and I sort of almost winder whether a little bit of instability in Germany could be a good thing in the sense that it shakes things up and Germany, you know, potentially becomes open to things which it wasn’t open to, even as I say when Merkel is very powerful. In particular, a different approach to the Euro crisis which might make the single currency sustainable.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you Hans, gentleman here.

Audience Member 6: John Merrin, Birkbeck university of London. Chris your comments earlier about the, erm contraction between member states concerns for each other’s executives and the absence of concern for the vertical connections, it’s not a very healthy demographic structure. It seems to me that it does reflect the exaggerations of liberalist nationalist views, that there is going to be diminution of national sovereignty, that you’re moving to a postmodern world. I don’t see that, I see I resurgence in a sense, a resurgence of national sovereignty, of power politics and in those terms therefore going back to the political essence of the whole European project, Monnet’s determination to get rid of nation states. Is it in fact a structure that is heading, heading, got a great future behind it? Its heading not for a disintegration or aggregation or a softer, or sort of more, [inaudible] Macronist, federal project, you know I don’t buy it.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Chris?

Dr Chris Bickerton: yeah I dint think European federalism is on the agenda. I think its nit been in thr agenda for a long, long time to be honest. I think the situation the European Union is that it is where it is I think. Now some member states and some governments may wish to, I dint know, tear parts of it down, sort of rescale the whole thing downwards. That is rather difficult to do, some of these kind of agreements have bound these governments very deeply with one another.  You know the common currency is the obvious example, you may not like it but you’re essentially stuck with it, unless somebody comes up with this magical solution of how you can have a currency union without triggering a financial crisis , however, the point about these states is that they are nit authoritative enough to be able to take the project forwards either. Nominally at least this is a regional community that is premised around principles of democratic representation, and so if there was to be some dramatic forward leap in European integration to create some sort of federal state. That would have to be done with the acquiescence of European voters, and you’d be in a situation where countries would have to have referendums on a new treaty or significant treaty reform. And there is a kind of, maybe not a paradox but especially post Brexit, people have always said but European voters are more in favour now of the European union that they were before. And it’s very true that in the opinion polls people say, yes we do think it’s a good thing to be part of the European union. , however, you know a snapshot  of sort of public opinion, it is not the same as being willing to support after a sustained campaign of you know six months or so of public debate a fundamental change in the way you are governed. And national governments know I think that if they were to try and put those projects to the people. The sorts of, anti-establishment feelings that are rife across all of the European Union member states would come to the fore, and they would not by any means be guaranteed to win these votes so they would rather avoid it. As a result, no I don’t don’t think you have the return of national sovereignty. You have sovereign states that are incapable really of exercising their sovereignty, in either direction. You know, either to move forward collectively or to move back individually and so they are stuck, and the UK I think is a good case where it’s been so incredibly difficult to achieve what in paper at least in treaty terms is an entirely easy thing to do. You send a letter saying you want to trigger article 50 and then after two years you leave, that’s not complicated in legal terms, but politically and socially its proven incredibly difficult and its unleashed an extended constitutional debate in this country about who rules, so that I think is a situation in which we’re, in which, we’re in.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: James would you like to add onto what Chris has said there

James Rogers: Yes, I’d like to come back on something, I, think,  we said earlier that most European countries and maybe I misunderstood, all European countries have become member states as opposed to nation states. And that reminds me of a discussion that we were having in the early two thousands , Robert Cooper, the Prime Minister’s, Tony Blair’s former foreign policy adviser and a number of roles in the European External Action Service in the European council’s general secretariat pertaining to defence and foreign affairs. He argued that basically most European countries are becoming, or have become, post-modern states they’ve transcended the idea of national sovereignty, and they’ve merged together into some kind of collective which he argued is a product of US power but also is product of the specific environment that was Europe in the two thousands and the nineteen nineties. But I do wonder to what extent that ever really applied to the UK and to what extent that ever really applied entirely to France, because those two countries have a slightly different , take in relation to national sovereignty. They are much more wedded to the idea of nation in different ways, of course, they suffered, they’ve experienced different different events in the last, century or so, but they do strike me as being somewhat different to most other European countries. I’d also would also add to that list potentially Sweden as well which has clung quite significantly to its its currency and its national sovereignty and so on. So I think there are potential differences there, and maybe Brexit, the decision to leave the eu is a kind of manifestation of that to some extent and I agree it’s extremely difficult to actually to actually, sort of move away from being a member state and we’ve seen that in the last three years. But I’m not entirely sure in our context, or at least the UK context that it’s entirely impossible and I suppose in the next couple of years we’ll see whether that’s actually, actually true or not. But I would add to that that this is not internal issue as such, it’s an issue that is a consequence of an external geopolitics that European countries are themselves, subjected to. They’re not in a way therefore determining their own destiny they’re being shaped by forces that they can’t necessarily see or even I think in a European context fully understand. So it will be interesting over the next, like say, ten years to see how, I think those two or three countries fare in this, in this regard. And I’m perhaps a little bit more positive about the UK than I am some of the others.

I’d like to add one other thing to that, and that is I think that there is this issue of trauma. That is quite, deeply held in many European countries, and particularly among the political elites in many European countries, and of course, that is different in the context of all of the countries, but I think there are some trends. Some countries have escaped from, or are escaping from their own internal authoritarianism. Other countries have sought to escape from the Soviet, communist occupation, and therefore I think there is this sort of shared understanding of a common destiny that the UK in particular doesn’t really have, because it hasn’t been occupied. And its had a very different understanding of its position, both in relation to Europe and indeed the wider world. So therefore I’m actually quite hopeful that we’ll be able to grasp, this new future if you will. Which is of course, has been in some respects forced on the country of course by around half the population they wouldn’t like that to actually occur, but nevertheless we are where we are, and it will be interesting to see how this develops in changed circumstances over the next, ten years.

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Okay, Chris would you like to counter that and then we’ll probably wrap it up if that’s okay.

Dr Chris Bickerton: I think it’s, I know were out of time but it’s just where we start to realise we really disagree (laughter), I think, I mean in the case of Britain is an interesting one, there is kind of a British exceptionalism which can be the story that’s told to explain the present sort of circumstances. What you were saying James reminded me of a lecture that my colleague in Cambridge Robert Tombs gave explaining Brexit, and Robert’s conclusion to the story was its the return to normality. The UK’s membership was essentially an aberration and a strange set of circumstances but now that we’ve left the UK can go back to being the UK. That’s simply doesn’t correspond to any of the facts. The European Union today is overwhelmingly shaped by the British government and its own statecraft, and it was a very committed member state. One of the difficulties I think in the UK is that it was a very Europeanised state structure even to the point where I think the union itself was upheld and maintained, I mean the union of the United Kingdom was maintained by the UK’s membership of the European Union, once you leave that even itself may fall apart. So in that sense it was quintessential member state but the support for the European Union was much more patchy across the population I think, that it may have been in other member states. But I don’t think the exceptionalist story explains really the actions, behaviour and the history of the UK’s membership of the European Union.

James Rogers: No, I completely agree with you that the, the experience of being part of the EU has fundamentally changed the UK. I dint buy into to that kind of normality discourse, this is just a blip, an aberration or whatever aberration. It’s actually a, but what I’m trying to say is that its not, there have been a number of different strands run in the UK in a way that I think has not existed in other European countries, perhaps France excepted. And that these are ready to be in way activated and renewed to tell a new story as we go forward into the future. The very fact that we have been fundamentally changed by the EU, you know, been part of the European integration, process and project. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the future is in a way determined because you can reconstruct in a new reality, a new reality which is being constituted by the changes taking place in the wider world, a new, a new future, and that has yet to be created. So I sort of agree with you and disagree with you simultaneously. (Laughter)

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Perhaps it is appropriate to allow Hans to finish things.

Hans Kundnani: Well in a way just to question for Chris because, because, I was struck by this discussion about the about democracy in the EU essentially. You know this vertical dimension as you called it and so I was wondering really about, you know, if we imagined the EU or Europe in 2030 I struggle to kind of imagine what its structures look like in this respect you know in democratic terms, because its seems to me quite hard to imagine that it stays the same for the next ten years. The same time precisely because of the way you described how the EU’s stuck, seems difficult to see how you would make it more democratic, so yeah I just can’t quite imagine what the EU looks like in democratic terms in 2030.

Audience Member 7: Could I just say two very quick things one is…

Dr Rakib Ehsan: …could I just ask does anyone has to really urgently leave the event, because it seems like there are some people who seem quite engrossed and would like it to continue but then I also understand it was scheduled to finish at seven.

Audience Member 8: could I say thank you very much and can we come back in a year’s time and do this again…

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Absolutely I agree that would be fantastic (laughter)

Dr Chris Bickerton: In ten years’ time

Dr Rakib Ehsan:, [inaudible], so on that note please could you show your appreciation to the panel, thank you.


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