What the European Union owes the United Kingdom

By James Rogers

Read the full policy briefing here

A policy briefing by The Henry Jackson Society – What the European Union owes the United Kingdom – highlights how European defence is substantially dependent upon the United Kingdom’s financial contributions.

Countries on the European mainland that are members of both NATO and the EU shortchanged the alliance – and therefore their own security – by over US$96 billion in 2016, and in total by US$451 billion over the past five-year period (2012-2016). The countries that failed to reach their 2% GDP defence spending target include:

  • Germany, who underspent by US$142 billion, falling short of its NATO spending target by 39%.
  • Italy, who has shortchanged European security by almost US$90 billion, or 43%.
  • Spain, who has shortchanged European security by US$75 billion, which means it has failed to meet NATO’s target by a massive 54%.
  • France, who has underspent by US$24 billion, meaning it has missed the alliance’s spending target by 9%.

At a time when the Government is in detailed financial negotiations with the EU, it would be a pertinent reminder to Brussels that the UK is unwavering in its commitment to European defence and has consistently footed the bill for security on the continent.

Over this past five-year period, British defence spending – at US$285.5 billion – accounts for just under a third (32%) of spending by countries in both NATO and the EU, a sizeable figure that still conceals its true value, not least because many EU countries’ armed forces are unable to fight at the highest intensities, even in self-defence.

When excluding the UK, the only states belonging both to NATO and the EU that consistently (2012-2016) spend more than 2% of their GDP on defence account for just 13% of the transatlantic alliance’s total European surplus, meaning that the UK contributes 87%.

As a result, Britain has effectively subsidised the security and defence of the European mainland by an extra US$23.9 billion from 2012-2016.

The briefing also finds:

  • The UK has come under intense criticism over the past year for its decision to pursue Brexit. Just recently, Michel Barnier, said “Rather than stay shoulder to shoulder with the union, the British chose to be on their own again”. However, Brexit cannot be used to justify baseless accusations that Britain is shirking its commitments to European security.
  • The EU will almost certainly need British military support in the future, not least because of the country’s unique strategic assets. Thus, rather than descend into mutual acrimony, the EU and the UK must establish a new and durable relationship.

Author of the report, James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain programme at The Henry Jackson Society commented on the briefing’s findings:

“In recent months, the United Kingdom has been disparaged by many Europeans for its decision to leave the EU. Some have gone so far as to construct it as a kind of pariah state. However, as this Policy Briefing shows, this depiction is entirely unwarranted. Britain remains deeply committed to the security of Europe as the largest European military and foreign aid spender. Moreover, most European countries, insofar as they have short-changed both NATO and the world’s poorest people by hundreds of billions of dollars over the past five years, have their own shortcomings, which should not be overlooked.”


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