Successful diplomatic treaties are often not so much about shaping the future as they are about surmounting the past.
The Peace of Westphalia, which in 1648 put an end to the European wars of religion, spelled out “that all that has pass’d on the one side, and the other, as well before as during the War, in Words, Writings, and Outrageous Actions… shall be entirely abolish’d in such a manner that all that might be demanded… on that behalf, shall be bury’d in eternal Oblivion.”
As three years of haggling over Brexit and the promise of many more to come show, UK-EU relations have not reached that point of blessed oblivion.
Instead, the spectre of another peace agreement looms: that of the doomed Versailles treaty, which, by sowing resentment and perpetuating misunderstanding of each other’s true ambitions and principles, created more tensions than it dissolved.
The question of how to steer the negotiations away from the acrimony built up over the years remains….
The European Council is the place to start.
Britain could henceforth be invited as an associate member to all European summits. Joint meetings of heads of state and government would debate all issues touching Europe’s geopolitical role and stability – foreign affairs, defence, intelligence, migration – before the regular and official European Council draws the internal and legislative conclusions. Call it a European Security Council if you will.
This would be a strong sign of the UK’s special geopolitical role as well as a tangible indication that, regardless of Brexit, the European nations will not be divided internationally. The symbolism and the effectiveness are equally important.
It could even improve the EU’s internal workings: for years, the European Council has been a institution with plenty of bravura and potential legitimacy, but an underwhelming track record in actual fact.
Changing the focus to geopolitics and having the UK around the table as a partner on strategic issues could help reinforce its sense of responsibility.
Who knows, the UK might prove to be a more constructive influence to the European Union as a comfortable associate than it ever had as a miserable member.
Vincent Stuer is a Belgian writer and playwright, and former speechwriter to European commission president José Manuel Barroso.
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