Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

Alliance Building to Strengthen the European Union (Resumed): European Council on Foreign Relations

Ms Almut Möller:

It is important to do both. The Dutch example is an interesting study. Our analysis showed that the Netherlands understood Brexit would require a reshuffling of alliances. It already has a very strong relationship with Germany, which is one of the strong bilateralisms which shows up in our data of the eight; it invested in its relationship with France, which is not an easy one; and it came up with a stronger engagement through the Hanseatic League format. This was precisely what the Senator described, that is, not focusing on the big ones but having a second pillar to avoid having placed all its eggs in one basket. That is a very smart strategy. That would be my answer to the Senator's question of what smaller states can do. Collectively there is a great deal of power in the affluent seven, as we put it, or the Hanseatic League, as we might put it in the future. When we travelled to countries which affiliate themselves with the Hanseatic League, we found an interest in trying to explore other areas that might carry weight.

If one looks at the numbers that it takes to shape and not merely block things, then a Hanseatic-plus group, bringing in some of the bigger states as the Senator suggested, has much potential. It requires positioning, whereby states clearly outline what they want. My sense is that no EU member state has been very good at this, as it requires them to put their cards on the table and makes them vulnerable. It probably needs a culture of states overcoming reluctance to position themselves, taking initiatives, declaring preferences and seeking compromise. If one looks at the Hanseatic League or the affluent seven group, there are many thing that do not fit together. This is not a natural group, at first sight, and it needs work. That is another lesson, that coalition building does not only take place in a harmonious environment but that groups need mitigating and bridging of differences. We have not done that research as it requires a lot of resources. Another study that I would love to do is how member states deal with this environment of greater bilateralism and what it means for representation in capitals, how many people at home work in relevant Ministries on those issues. There is a lot more to learn on that.


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