The EU’s three biggest countries – France, Italy and Germany – have started negotiations with the UK aimed at striking bilateral post-Brexit security and intelligence agreements.
Discussions are taking place at ambassadorial and ministerial level, focusing on defence cooperation and intelligence sharing, according to multiple news reports in Germany and France, as well as newspaper The Guardian.
The bilateral talks follow the UK’s stance it is not interested in closer security ties with the EU as a whole.
The UK and the EU’s biggest and most powerful member state, Germany, reportedly launched negotiations months ago, aimed at a joint statement or treaty before the end of this year.
The German ambassador in London, Andreas Michaelis, called the UK earlier “an ideal partner” for a security and intelligence partnership with Germany, thereby downplaying the EU’s need to be part of any deal.
Alongside any bilateral deal, the UK and Germany are also discussing whether and how the UK could establish some sort of coordinated foreign policy framework with the EU, most likely via NATO, the G7 or E3, which is Germany, France and Britain. The E3 setup has been used in negotiations with Iran.
Meanwhile, France and the UK plan to revive their annual meeting between UK defence and foreign ministers.
This was reportedly agreed during the recent visit of Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, when he was in London for the G7 foreign minister’s summit last month.
The last time such a summit took place was over two years ago.
“On many issues, we have congruent views, shared analysis or common interests. We are neighbours. We cannot sit there immobile staring at one another,” Le Drian said.
Finally, Italy is also eager to strike a deal with the UK in the next couple of months.
Officials at the Italian Embassy in London made it clear to multiple news outlets that they hope to reach “an understanding or mini-treaty” with the UK before the end of this year.
The Italian government is reportedly looking into different scenarios under which legislation in Italy can be introduced to pave the way for any defence deal with the UK to be considered “trade with a like minded partner”, rather than a third-party, non-EU country.
In public, Giorgio Mule, the Italian deputy defence minister, recently said that the UK’s recent Integrated Review into security and foreign policy demonstrates “a willingness to keep the British commitment to security in Europe high.”
Mule’s comments come only a few months after Italy’s new prime minister took office. Mario Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank, is reportedly keen on a bilateral agreement with the UK.
Even though he is a firm supporter of Italy’s membership of the EU, he is far less enthusiastic about close ties with Russia and China than previous Italian governments.
Italy is also president of the upcoming G20 summit, taking place in Rome on 30 and 31 October of this year.
Italy collaborating with the UK on security and defence matters is not new: BAE Systems and its Italian counterpart Leonardo have worked together for years.
Most recently, they teamed up for a sixth-generation fighter plane, the Tempest.
Mule stressed that it was vital “to anchor an industrial policy capable of coping with the aggressive and often ruthless international and, in particular, Chinese competition with competence, know-how, ability and technological innovation.”
When approached by City A.M. this afternoon, a spokesperson for the European Commission in Brussels declined to comment on the reports.