By Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel
BERLIN (Reuters) – The EU and Britain have a shared interest in retaining close security ties after Brexit, Germany’s defense minister told Reuters in an interview.
Speaking ahead of the annual Munich Security Conference, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and leader of their ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, said she wanted to keep Britain in the ‘E3’ group, which also includes Germany and France.
“It is important to me that the UK remains involved for common security in Europe, even if it is no longer part of the EU,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer, who this week announced she would not seek the post of chancellor when Merkel steps down.
“I want to continue to involve the UK closely through the E3 format,” she said. The three countries have cooperated, among other things, on policy toward Iran’s nuclear program – sure to be an issue at the Munich conference.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s call for cooperation came despite London paring back its delegation to the Munich conference, the so-called ‘Davos for defense’. No senior British ministers are due to attend. The foreign ministers of the United States, Russia and China are all expected, as well as the French president.
Ahead of the meeting, which runs from Friday to Sunday, the chief operating officer of the conference tweeted:
“We do have a solid delegation from the UK. But obviously we would have hoped for (much) more. The UK remains a key pillar of European security and we strongly believe that we need to engage even more now that Brexit is done.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer was not worried that Britain might try to leverage its security strength in negotiations with the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal. Britain formally exited the EU on Jan. 31 but remains bound by its laws and rules till the end of 2020.
“Close cooperation between the security authorities helps London to reduce its domestic and security risks,” she said in her office, a copy of the 1950 Schuman Declaration on closer European integration hanging on the wall behind her.
Despite her warm words for Britain, Kramp-Karrenbauer was cool on President Emmanuel Macron’s offer last week for European nations to be associated with French nuclear deterrence wargames.
In a speech last Friday, Macron offered to open a “strategic dialogue” with willing European partners about the role of French nuclear deterrence policy in continental security, calling for a “surge” in European defense spending and resolve.
“We would be well advised to stick with the nuclear umbrella that has long provided us with security,” she said of the NATO shield. “Some people in France seem to be thinking of a kind of European nuclear arms industry. I cannot imagine that with regard to Germany.”
Turning to Germany’s defense and security role, Kramp-Karrenbauer said the so-called ‘Munich consensus’ of 2014, when German leaders said Berlin was ready to assume more responsibility in global affairs, was a good starting point.
“The need for Germany to become more involved out of its own interests, to develop the will and ability to make a greater contribution, has become even more pressing,” she said, pointing to challenges in Africa’s Sahel region and in Libya, but added that constitutional constraints restricted its options.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Gareth Jones)