David McAllister: We must trust each other and act as one

, by Juuso Järviniemi

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David McAllister: We must trust each other and act as one
David McAllister leads the debate on foreign policy in the European Parliament © European Union 2017 - Source: EP.

David McAllister is a rising star in the European Parliament. Since early 2017, he has been the Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs. Before that, he had already been involved in transatlantic delegations as an MEP.

McAllister, who is half-Scottish, was left heartbroken by Britain’s choice to leave the EU. Dealing with Donald Trump’s unstable presidential administration and other foreign policy issues, McAllister is ranked 7th on Politico Europe’s list of MEPs who matter. We asked him for his views on Trump, Brexit and the future of European foreign policy!

Cooperation with the USA should continue

The discussion around Donald Trump’s pick for the American Ambassador to the EU, as well as his earlier comments on Brexit, indicate that the American presidential administration is hostile to the project of European integration. Recently, the European Parliament called for an end to visa-free travel by Americans to the EU. Do you think the EU should distance itself from the USA, or should further antagonism be avoided?

Looking back in history, it has always been in the interest of the United States to support and accompany transatlantic cooperation and the process of European integration. I believe that the transatlantic relations between the EU and the United States of America are strong and I do hope that they remain strong. We in Europe have an interest in cooperating with the US administration on almost all issues. Vice-versa it the same case for our partners in the United States, especially on important issues such as security or how to fight international terrorism.

We should both be interested in continuing our close cooperation. Of course, the US President has significant power but he cannot decide all of the issues by himself. Mr Trump will also have to work side by side with Congress and other institutions.

In the European Parliament we have good contacts with both Democrats and Republicans, in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. We are in intensive conversations with our US counterparts and try to avoid further antagonism.

One day Trump will no longer be the American President. Do you think the United States will go back to endorsing European integration after the Trump presidency? How does this inform European foreign policy towards the USA today?

The strong bond with the US remained no matter who was the President in the White House and which party had the majority in Congress.

The benefits of our close bilateral relations reach well beyond the EU and the US. As powers of global significance, both transatlantic partners have a responsibility to cooperate to provide leadership in the world. We share an outward-looking agenda with both partners committed to cooperating on issues of global importance. This applies as much to the field of foreign affairs and development as to area of trade. Most important right now is to remain in dialogue – at all levels.

We must trust each other and act together as one

Negotiations between European powers, Russia and Ukraine have famously been conducted through national leaders rather than the High Representative. Does this disturb you?

We need a stronger and more active Europe when it comes to foreign policy. I support Jean-Claude Juncker when he declared one of his priorities making the High Representative act like a true European Minister of Foreign Affairs. When it comes to the current situation in Ukraine it is becoming obvious how important a united European Union is. We can and we should improve the work on our common foreign policy. This means finding common responses and better mechanisms in place to anticipate events early. We need to be more effective in bringing together the tools of Europe’s external action. There is already progress towards a more coordinated development aid, neighborhood policy and common security policy. They all have to be combined and activated according to one and the same logic.

If you had the choice, what (if anything) would you change about the roles played in European foreign policy by the different actors present, from heads of state to foreign ministers, the High Representative and the European Parliament?

The European Union is surrounded by serious foreign policy conflicts that have direct and serious consequences for the security and well-being of European citizens, whether in the form of terrorism, a massive inflow of migrants or disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing our societies.

Therefore the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy can only work if it is based on the pillars, defined as the three ’Ds’: defence, development and diplomacy. All member states ought to speak with one voice, trust each other and act together as a unit. Then the European Union can be a strong global player which is equal to other great powers.

Brexit: The UK can’t be “one-to-one” with the EU

With the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, Britain will become a third country and thus an object of EU foreign policy. Has this affected the work of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and what impacts may it have in the future?

The UK referendum was indeed the most dramatic - although not fatal - blow to the European project as we know it. The looming reality of “Brexit” has become one of the EU’s most pressing issues, as one of the most internationally minded of all countries has decided to withdraw from the Union that connected it with its nearest neighbours for 45 years. The United Kingdom has made clear that it wants to leave. We must respect this choice, although I personally still regret it deeply. It is a historic mistake.

Whatever the future relationship between the UK and EU might look like, it will be under terms and conditions that must fall short of full membership. To “upgrade” the UK position from “one amongst 28” to “one-to-one with the EU” is expecting too much. A third country cannot have better rights than a member state. One cannot leave a club and retain all the benefits - and that means a lot in practice. Thus, the future deal will not be better than the status quo. Any agreement, which will be concluded with the UK as a third country, will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations. The EU must safeguard the core principles on which it is founded. Otherwise it would undermine the single market as a whole.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament Brexit negotiator, has been sympathetic to the Scottish Government’s aspirations to stay in Europe. He also suggested that British citizens could pay a fee to remain EU citizens. Generally speaking, are you happy with Verhofstadt’s approach to Brexit negotiations, and the future relationship between Britain and the EU?

As I have mentioned before, we respect the decision of the British people to leave the EU, but of course I am not happy with that. In the event that no agreement is reached at the end of the two-year period from the day of the formal notification, the UK would no longer be subject to EU treaties. Transitory agreements will be of particular importance to allow for an orderly exit and a smooth transition from full membership to an association agreement.

If there is a free trade agreement, such a deal would be unprecedented, since the European Union has never negotiated a Free Trade Agreement with a country which economy and institutions are so tightly integrated to ours.

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