United Kingdom

1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Mixed Views on Future Relations with Russia

It is dif­fi­cult to dis­cern any pre­dom­i­nant view in the Unit­ed King­dom about future rela­tions with Rus­sia. Cur­rent Russ­ian pol­i­cy towards the Ukraine is gen­er­al­ly regard­ed as bru­tal and aggres­sive, but there is lit­tle appetite in this coun­try for the tak­ing of mil­i­tary mea­sures to resist this aggres­sion. British mil­i­tary action in Iraq in 2003 is wide­ly regard­ed as hav­ing been a cost­ly fail­ure, mak­ing a bad sit­u­a­tion worse. This per­cep­tion colours the approach of cur­rent British polit­i­cal lead­ers to the deploy­ment of mil­i­tary force out­side the NATO area. Sym­pa­thy for the Ukraine is more­over tem­pered by a gen­er­al British belief that polit­i­cal and finan­cial cor­rup­tion is wide­spread in that coun­try and unlike­ly to be erad­i­cat­ed in any near future. It is also wide­ly believed in this coun­try that Rus­sia was pro­voked in the mat­ter of the Ukraine by the aggres­sive diplo­ma­cy of the Euro­pean Union. In part, this atti­tude reflects a desire always to find new rea­sons to crit­i­cize the Euro­pean Union; in part it is a con­sid­ered assess­ment of Euro­pean diplo­ma­cy in the Ukraine over the past two years; in part it reflects the view of a non-neg­li­gi­ble minor­i­ty in this coun­try (not just on the left of the polit­i­cal spec­trum) that Britain since the Sec­ond World War has behaved ungen­er­ous­ly and aggres­sive­ly towards its erst­while Russ­ian allies in that war.

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Growing Hostility towards EU Expansion

There is lit­tle or no aware­ness in this coun­try of the East­ern Part­ner­ship as a cat­e­go­ry or con­cept. The Ukraine more­over is seen as a coun­try with spe­cif­ic inter­nal and exter­nal chal­lenges of its own that are not mir­rored in the cir­cum­stances of its non-Russ­ian neigh­bours. In so far as events in the Ukraine have influ­enced British atti­tudes to any more gen­er­al Euro­pean issues, it has been to rein­force grow­ing British pop­u­lar hos­til­i­ty towards the fur­ther exten­sion of the Euro­pean Union. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, the British gov­ern­ment has been favourable to the expan­sion of the Euro­pean Union, an atti­tude in which British pub­lic opin­ion acqui­esced with­out enthu­si­asm. Suc­cess­ful cam­paigns by UKIP and oth­er polit­i­cal forces draw­ing atten­tion to the large num­ber of Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean cit­i­zens from the EU work­ing in the Unit­ed King­dom have how­ev­er shift­ed polit­i­cal and pop­u­lar attitudes.

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Riga Summit: Reaffirmed Uncertainty

To the very lim­it­ed extent to which report­ing took place on the Riga Sum­mit, it was seen in the Unit­ed King­dom sim­ply as a reflec­tion of uncer­tain­ty and inde­ci­sion with­in the Euro­pean Union in its approach towards Rus­sia. Despite the Euro­pean Union’s pol­i­cy of grad­u­at­ed sanc­tions towards Rus­sia, there is a wide­spread impres­sion in the Unit­ed King­dom that dif­fer­ences of inter­est and analy­sis between the Union’s mem­ber states pre­vent the pur­suit of any robust and effec­tive Euro­pean pol­i­cy towards Russia.

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Despite Ukraine Crisis, no need for a European Army

The prospect of a Euro­pean army is almost uni­ver­sal­ly regard­ed as whol­ly unac­cept­able in this coun­try and events in the Ukraine have made no dif­fer­ence to this assess­ment. It is true that when politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors argue in this coun­ty that Britain should spend more mon­ey on its armed forces, they fre­quent­ly point to the Ukraine as an exam­ple of mil­i­tary threats need­ing to be coun­tered by greater defence spend­ing. The dis­cus­sion is how­ev­er an almost exclu­sive­ly nation­al one, with lit­tle or no Euro­pean dimen­sion. Pro­pos­als for a “Euro­pean army” from for instance Mr. Junck­er have been gen­er­al­ly seen as proof of his desire and that of the Com­mis­sion for a “Unit­ed States of Europe.” Mrs. Merkel’s approach to the recep­tion of Syr­i­an refugees in Ger­many and else­where with­in the EU has attract­ed much unfavourable com­ment in the Unit­ed King­dom, with most com­men­ta­tors wel­com­ing the Unit­ed Kingdom’s abil­i­ty to opt out of Euro­pean arrange­ments in this area.

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2. EU Enlargement

Narrowing Gap between Popular and Elite Attitudes

For many years there has been a gap between pop­u­lar and elite atti­tudes towards the expan­sion of the Euro­pean Union in this coun­try. Elite atti­tudes have favoured the enlarge­ment of the Union in the mis­tak­en belief that such expan­sion would act as a brake on Euro­pean inte­gra­tion. Pop­u­lar atti­tudes have been more scep­ti­cal, fear­ing uncon­trolled immi­gra­tion and com­pe­ti­tion from the less eco­nom­i­cal­ly devel­oped parts of Europe. In recent years, this gap has nar­rowed, as polit­i­cal lead­ers have respond­ed to the fears of an increas­ing­ly uneasy pub­lic opin­ion. It is an impor­tant ele­ment of Mr. Cameron’s rene­go­ti­a­tion agen­da to ensure long tran­si­tion peri­ods before future new mem­bers of the Union such as the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries enjoy free move­ment with­in the Union.

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Enlargement Put on Hold

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, British gov­ern­ments of all polit­i­cal com­plex­ions have favoured the acces­sion of Turkey to the Union. The ques­tion is now how­ev­er one about which most British gov­ern­men­tal spokes­men are pre­pared to speak only in cau­tious and gen­er­al terms. It is worth point­ing out that the law passed by the last Coali­tion gov­ern­ment to pre­scribe the hold­ing of a ref­er­en­dum on future treaty changes exclud­ed any such ref­er­en­dum for the acces­sion of a new coun­try to the Euro­pean Union, even though acces­sion would involve a treaty change to share fur­ther British nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. The obvi­ous rea­son for this excep­tion was the firm con­vic­tion of the law’s pro­mot­ers that no ref­er­en­dum to enlarge the Euro­pean Union could be won in this coun­try for many years to come.

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This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.