The UK and Germany have agreed a 20-point post-Brexit joint declaration of cooperation affirming their commitment to the “strategic unity of Europe”.
The initiative, which has been under preparation for some time, comes before Friday’s visit to the UK by the outgoing German chancellor, Angela Merkel, during which she will meet the prime minister and the Queen.
The agreement, released coincidentally the day after England had dumped Germany out of the European football championships, reflects Germany’s strong desire to maintain close relations with the UK despite its disappointment at Brexit. The two sides have agreed to set up a new strategic dialogue that will involve the foreign ministers and political directors from both countries meeting once a year for a specific bilateral summit.
It is probably the first of three bilateral agreements that the UK intends to seal with its largest European partners, which also include France and Italy.
The joint declaration, inevitably a crafted compromise on the two countries’ stances, shows that the UK does not wish to cut itself off from its main European partners on defence and foreign policy, even though it has firmly refused to negotiate a collective foreign and defence cooperation agreement with the European Union. There is also pressure from Washington for the UK not to become a force for disruption inside the EU through arguments with Brussels over trade or defence policy.
Germany for its part will hope the deal can form a building block towards securing stronger defence and foreign policy cooperation in the longer term. It contains a commitment that it will maintain full transparency with the EU about its relations with the UK.
The overall theme of the document is that the two countries will work together as key defenders of the multilateral rules-based system.
On defence, the declaration states: “Nato is the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security. It remains the bedrock of our collective defence. We recognise the importance of a stronger and more capable European contribution to this. We remain jointly committed to Nato-EU cooperation.”
The statement also reflects Angela Merkel’s support for reopening a robust dialogue with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, an idea that was rejected collectively by the EU last week. The declaration contains strong words of warning about Russian malign intentions, but adds: “We are committed to conducting constructive dialogue with Russia through appropriate channels in order to make clear our expectations and to discuss our ideas for concrete solutions.”
On China and the Indo-Pacific, the document recognises the growing influence of China, but promises to hold China to its international commitments, including on human rights. Other areas of cooperation listed include Turkey, Ukraine and Africa.
The Foreign Office also states in the declaration that it supports Germany’s application to become a permanent member of the currently five-strong UN security council. British support for a longstanding German demand hardly requires the UK to expend great diplomatic capital, but is seen as important in Berlin.