Is peace better served by the UK being part of the European Union or out of it?
It’s a complicated question with different answers depending on who you ask and what their priorities are. Peace covers a broad spectrum from the lack of outright war to the creation of a socially just society. It is important not only to explore the EU’s effectiveness in these areas, but also the role of UK government in shaping EU policy on these matters.
Like all member states the UK has an effective veto over the decisions taken at the European Council (the EU institution where member state governments agree EU strategy, including issues of war and peace). The UK is a particularly influential member given the size of its population, economy and diplomatic resources. At the European Council, the UK Prime Minister has supported EU efforts to boost the arms trade, development of armed drones and EU civilian and military missions deployed in other parts of the world.
QCEA often criticises the militarisation of the EU, a direction of travel that is supported by the UK government. However, on one issue the UK has slowed the process of militarisation. The UK has prevented the EU from creating its own military headquarters from where it could plan its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. The UK obstructionism comes from its belief that NATO should be the primary military alliance in Europe, rather than a desire to see the EU adhere to its goal of promoting “peace, it values and the well-being of its peoples”.
Whilst militarisation is a growing trend at EU level, it is also evident at a national level. Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) have created a short film highlighting the trend in Britain. Since the UK is not the main driver of this European policy, the EU trend is likely to continue without the UK present.
Peacebuilding and development policy
The UK and the EU have well developed and complementary goals for tackling conflict in fragile states, including through foreign policy, aid and trade. Development priorities are currently focused around the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with additional peacebuilding priorities added in (see the UK’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy).
The 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals (due to replace the MDGs this year) will likely form the basis of UK and EU development priorities and are broader in scope than the MDGs. They include the goal to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, providing a symbolic recognition of the importance of long-term peacebuilding work.
The EU is often seen as independent of the interests of any one member state and is therefore perceived as more politically neutral. This means that the UK is able to collectively respond to act through the EU in countries where it may otherwise have little influence, either in countries not perceived as priorities or where Britain’s colonial past creates barriers to it acting alone.
Whether you live in the UK, or somewhere else in the EU, the result of the referendum will make a difference to decisions in Brussels. For people interested in peace, these are just some of the issues that should be considered ahead of UK’s referendum on their continued membership of the EU next year.
The issues are further explored in QCEA’s background paper With or without you: the UK, the EU and peace.