While the European Union’s foreign and security policy is based on the equality of its member states, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have traditionally played a leading role. As the EU struggles with the ongoing euro crisis, the attitude of these “big three” will crucially influence the future scope and direction of its role in international relations.
To mark the launch of his new paper, “The Big Three in EU Foreign Policy,” Carnegie’s Stefan Lehne discussed the future of the EU’s standing as an international actor and the strength of its internal integration. He was joined by Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, Josef Janning, director of studies at the European Policy Centre, and Anne-Marie Le Gloannec, senior research fellow at Sciences Po in Paris. Carnegie’s Jan Techau moderated.
- Dominance in EU Foreign Policy: Lehne noted that the big three–Germany, France, United Kingdom–are uniquely powerful players in EU foreign policy due to their economic strengths and diplomatic capacities. After the Lisbon Treaty, the relatively weak EU institutions failed to create an even playing field for member states, and the biggest three gained an advantage. As a result, a consensus among the big three on any given policy carries priority at the EU level.
- Germany: Germany advocates for a much more integrated EU than France or the United Kingdom, Lehne argued. Yet, despite a clear vision and ample capacity, Germany doesn’t display the political will to lead the EU's foreign policy agenda, which Lehne attributed to their “comfortable” present economic and national security situation. Le Gloannec added that Germany’s reluctance to lead is likely due to a lack of geostrategic vision.
- France: In contrast to Germany, France’s drive to lead could be the impetus for a more ambitious EU foreign policy, depending on priorities of the Hollande administration. Grant looked to the new administration with optimism. Le Gloannec, however, drew a more pessimistic picture, suggesting that Hollande’s administration is less EU oriented than Sarkozy’s, which will likely result in a more nationalized French foreign policy. Traditionally, France wants a strong Europe with weak institutions, she added.
- United Kingdom: Lehne stated that the United Kingdom employs the best of the European foreign services, which, in an increasingly globalized world, struggles to stay relevant. Grant added that it suffers from financial constraints and offers fewer opportunities for talented young diplomats in their overseas representations.