Defense Europe and public opinion. The case of the United Kingdom

(BRUXELLES2) This work goes far beyond its title, which may suggest that this work is limited to a single analysis. It is in fact an inventory of those who make (or do not make) the common European security and defense policy — the European institutions, the parliaments (European, national), the political parties, the think tanks — and of the impact on various public opinions or in the press in Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, France… without forgetting the values, the communication tools or the “major issues of the PesSDC” (last chapter that yours truly has delivered as an introductory remark). Among the various aspects, I can only advise those interested in UK politics to read the chapter written by Arthur Minsat, doctoral student at the London School of Economics, devoted to British public opinion.

A Eurosceptic opinion by nature

The British " are among the only three peoples who, in autumn 2007, do not wish to share their national defense skills with the'EU'. They are only 40%, the second lowest level behind… the Finns (at 26%). But it would be a shortcut to believe that it is hostility directed against a particular corpus. It must be placed in the context of a UK security culture. Traditionally the British favor their military and diplomatic independence from other powers and international organisations, crystallized by the term “Self-reliance”. »

A “Self-care” which explains that the United Kingdom is part of organizations and alliances “which are sometimes in competition with each other”. And a skepticism that does not manifest itself only with regard to the EU. Thus in 1983, 70% of the British public had little or no confidence in the United States. This skepticism did not prevent certain governments from ignoring public opinion, as the author relates, with Tony Blair's decision to intervene in Iraq (against his public opinion, 70% of British citizens were against it) or in in favor of the Europeanization of defense policy, consecrated in Saint-Malo in 1998. (And the same could be said of D. Cameron's decision to sign a cooperation agreement with France).

In the chamber, the debate continues to " focus on the question of the real complementarity between ESDP and NATO », with strong opinions. On the one hand, the Labor Party which supports (more and more discreetly in these times of crisis) " the idea that the ESDP is not competitive and Tories. For some of them " the very idea of ​​an ESDP remains iconoclastic ". For " part of the conservatives “, it is even the set of “ foreign policy reforms foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty (which) are unacceptable ».

On the other hand, the think tanks – whose importance across the Channel is well known – are “ in general favorable to the development of the ESDP, in order to modernize the defense markets and the European armies. “A boom that “ would also make it possible to export British know-how, both technical and operational, as well as a particular vision of the ESDP to other member countries ". They campaign in particular for a "hard core" and a " Multi-speed ESDP that would be based on partnerships with players considered serious in terms of defense ».

NB: It's a bit like what we are witnessing today… even if the hard core is slipping a little today, and looks a bit like a Solex engine on a large T72 tank carcass.

• Andrew From the mill & Philippe Manigart, (ed.), Public opinions and common European security and defense policy: actors, positions, developments (Ed. Bruylant, 2010).

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).