Time for the UK to leave the European Defence Agency

Here are five very good reasons why the UK should withdraw from the EDA

Do we really want a European army?
Luke Coffey
On 21 September 2012 13:54

When the Strategic Defence and Security Review was published in autumn 2010 it was also announced that the UK would continue to participate in the European Defence Agency (EDA) for a probationary period of two years (until autumn 2012).

At this time the Ministry of Defence would determine if UK membership brought sufficient benefits to warrant Britain’s continued membership. This two-year probationary period is soon approaching its end and most have forgotten about this pledge.

Here are five very good reasons why the UK should withdraw from the EDA.

1. Don’t get on the train if you don’t want to arrive at the destination.

Earlier this week a communiqué agreed by Germany, France, and nine other EU members was published calling for a drastic rethink about the future of the EU—especially in the fields of foreign affairs and defence.

In this document 11 foreign ministers even called for an EU defence policy that “could eventually involve a European Army." There is no doubt that the EDA is part of the incremental process to someday reach this goal.

Of course, the Conservative Party does not want an EU Army. The creation of an EU Army would be a bridge too far even for Labour (and the views of the Liberal Democrats are, as always, irrelevant). The UK should therefore not continue to provide implicit support for the goal of an EU Army by its continued membership in the one EU institution that will help make its creation a reality.

2. The EDA is part of an incremental process by the supranational Commission to gain a foothold in the area of defence.

Baroness Cathy Ashton wears many hats. She serves as the EU’s High Representative (intergovernmental—reporting to the member states) and as a vice-president of the EU Commission (supranational—unaccountable to and above the member states).

However, unbeknownst to many, and thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, she also holds the title “Head of Agency” for the EDA—a position that is responsible for the Agency’s overall organisation and functioning.

Since the head of the EDA is also a vice-president in the EU Commission this means that the Commission is at the very heart of the EDA, by default.  For the first time this blurs the line between what is supranational and what is intergovernmental in the area of EU defence policy. This is unacceptable because defence policy should be the sole prerogative of nation-states.  

3. Money.

The UK spends approximately £3.5m each year on the EDA. While in the big picture of defence spending this may not seem like a lot of money, every penny counts in the MoD.

For example, over the lifetime of this Parliament spending for the EDA will amount to some £17.5m. Perhaps a better use of this money would be to fully restore HMS Victory. This would rule out the need for selling off or privatizing the up-keep of one of the Royal Navy’s most iconic and historically important ships. The estimated cost of a full restoration is £16m. The remaining £1.5m could be donated to a Forces’ charity.

4. The EDA was established under questionable circumstances. 

In fact, then Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague pointed out to the House of Commons in 2009 that the EDA was established “on a shaky legal basis”. 

Originally first proposed in the Constitutional Treaty of 2004, but under a slightly different name, EU politicians decided to establish the EDA in July 2004 through a Joint Action even though the Constitutional Treaty was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands less than a year later.

In a poor attempt to respectively justify the organisation’s existence and give it some treaty legitimacy, drafters included the establishment of the EDA as part of the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 – a full five years after the agency had already been established.   

 5. In some cases the EDA uses Qualified Majority Voting (QMV).

Of course, this means that Britain will not have its national veto on certain matters that are clearly on defence policy. As outlined in the Lisbon Treaty, QMV applies to votes defining the EDA’s statute, seat and operational rules. Ten years ago QMV voting in the area of defence policy, no matter how innocuous, would have been unacceptable. Now it seems to be acceptable if done under limited circumstances.

If the incremental process of introducing QMV continues it is anyone’s guess what defence decisions will be taken by QMV in the future.

The use of QMV in the EDA also makes a mockery out of what Tony Blair told the House of Commons in 2007:“The essential features of the Common Foreign Security Policy remain as they were. Unanimity voting is the rule.”


Since its creation all the EDA has been able to do is issue vague and flowery policy statements in declarations and press releases. Nothing produced by the EDA has substantially improved Britain’s defence capabilities in a way that could not have been done inside NATO or on a multilateral basis.

If the UK leaves the EDA tomorrow it will in no way impact on Britain’s national security. However, it will send a strong message to British voters and to Europhiles that the Conservative Party is serious on Europe.

If my experience is anything to go by, right now Special Advisers are scrambling to come up with last minute (and cost-neutral!) Party Conference policy announcements. Announcing the UK’s intent to withdraw from the EDA would be a great Party Conference announcement and would be widely welcomed by the grassroots of the Conservative Party. 

According to the agency’s founding document any member state wishing to withdraw from the EDA only has to notify its intention to the Council and inform the High Representative.  This is easily done. If the Government chooses to stay in the EDA it will have a lot of explaining to do as to why it is in the UK’s national interest.  

Luke Coffey is the Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and previously served as a Special Adviser in the Ministry of Defence

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