Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

1.  Have any of the applicant countries signified objections to any of the decisions taken at Nice? What have those objections been?

  The agreement on institutional reform at Nice has enabled enlargement to proceed. All the applicants have welcomed this. However, Malta has expressed disappointment with its allocation of Council votes and European Parliament seats (three and four respectively), compared with Luxembourg (four votes and six seats). The Czech Republic and Hungary have both expressed some disappointment that they were allocated two fewer European parliament seats than Belgium, Greece and Portugal.

2.  The Czech Republic and Hungary have been allocated two fewer seats in the European Parliament than Belgium, Greece and Portugal. Given that all these countries have populations of around 10 million, how can this be justified? What prospect is there that this will be changed, and is HMG taking any initiative in this matter?

  The negotiations on future numbers of seats in the EP were lengthy, difficult and hard fought. A compromise had to be struck between individual states' allocations and the need to limit the overall size of the European Parliament. And the final numbers were part of an overall package, which included the allocation of Council votes.

  The figures for the applicant countries are contained in a Declaration annexed to the Treaty and do not therefore have legal force. They do, however, represent a political commitment and, as such, will be a guide for the accession negotiations. Any applicant country that feels it has been unfairly treated is free to raise the matter during these negotiations.

3.  It is the case that Spain's successful campaign to maintain unanimity on the allocation of structural and cohesion funds until 2007 will mean that the net contributors to the EU's budget, such as the UK and Sweden, will be forced to increase their contributions to pay for enlargement? If so can HMG estimate what this increase will be?

  The UK's net contribution is unlikely to be affected, before 2007, by the decision to maintain unanimity on the allocation of structural and cohesion funds.

  The EU's structural fund programme for 2000-06 was agreed at the Berlin European Council in March 1999. Berlin also agreed annual limits on structural fund spending in the new Member States. Actual spending in the new Member States over this period will depend upon the eventual terms of accession and the absorptive capacity of the new Member States. Spending after 2006 will be determined by the next round of structural fund and financial perspective negotiations, which are expected to begin in 2005: decisions require unanimity. There are currently a significant number of net contributors to the EC budget, including France, Germany, The Netherlands and Austria, as well as the UK and Sweden.

4.  Is it the case that, under the Nice Treaty, it will be easier to block measures in the Council? How does this help the EU prepare for enlargement?

  The Government does not believe that it has been made easier to block legislation under new QMV voting rules. The deal on QMV and reweighting, although complex, provides a fairer system for the large member states, fulfils UK objectives, and improved the democratic legitimacy of Council decision-making. The percentage of votes in the Council required to pass a measure under QMV will remain close to current levels. But the percentage thresholds are based on the number of Member States required to form a blocking minority, not on the absolute percentages. The number of Member States necessary for a blocking minority in an EU of up to 27 will rise to three large Member States and one small (except Malta, in which case two small Member States will be necessary).

  Without the reweighting agreed at Nice, it would have been possible in an EU of 27 Member States for countries with a minority of the EU's population to outvote the majority.

  Two other elements added to the voting system at Nice are a requirement that at least half of the Member States should support a proposal before it is passed, and that (if any Member State so requests) a Qualified Majority must represent at least 62 per cent of the EU's population. These measures are not designed to make it easier to block legislation but to preserve democratic legitimacy and to ensure a reasonable balance of power between larger and smaller Member States. But the population criterion does have the effect of allowing Germany plus two other large Members States (from UK, France or Italy) to block a proposal.

5.  Does HMG expect Sweden to be in a position to propose a definite timetable for the membership of the first group of applicant states at the Goteborg Council?

  Swedish Prime Minister Goran Presson has said "It could be that the Goteborg summit will result in target dates. But we are far from sure. I do not want to set this as a target of the Swedish Presidency." The UK government's position is that we believe the time is approaching when the EU could concentrate minds by setting a target date for the conclusion of negotiations with those countries ready for membership. Whether Goteborg will be the right time to do this depends to a large extent on the progress made in negotiations between now and then.

6.  How is it envisaged that citizens in applicant countries will participate in the next elections for the European Parliament?

  The Nice European Council conclusions express the hope that the first new Member States will take part in the next European Parliament elections. In previous enlargements new Member States joining between elections have first nominated members of the European Parliament, then arranged direct elections for MEPs to serve until the next EU-wide elections. Exact arrangement for the current applicants will be determined in the final stages of negotiations.

7.  Sweden has announced that it has the "objective . . . to pave the way for a political breakthrough [on enlargement]". What progress does HMG believe that Sweden has so far made towards such a breakthrough? What assistance has HMG given to this process?

  Sweden has set out a number of aims for progress on enlargement during their Presidency. They intend to meet the Commission's road map by:

    (i)  opening as many chapters as possible with those applicants that began negotiations in 2000;

    (ii)  provisionally closing the nine scheduled chapters (Free Movement of Goods/People/Services/Capital, Company Law, Environment, External Relations, Culture and Audiovisual, Social and Employment) with all candidates who are ready to do so.

  In addition, the Presidency aims to "beat" the road map by closing additional chapters and beginning the preparatory work for some of the more difficult chapters scheduled for the Belgian Presidency such as Phyto-sanitary and Veterinary. It is still too soon to say if the Presidency will meet these aims. But we shall continue to support them. In particular, we will provide practical support to applicants through initiatives such as our bilateral Action Plans and our participation in the Commission's Twinning programme.

8.  What prior discussions did Germany have with other Member States before proposing a seven year transition period so far as full freedom of movement is concerned? What is HMG's attitude towards this proposal?

  We have discussed the general issue of free movement of people with Germany several times. Chancellor Schroeder's speech of 18 December set out publicly their proposal for a seven year transition period, which reflects specific German concerns, and on which there has yet been no collective discussion. The UK will not take a considered position until the German government has presented the proposal in the negotiations in Brussels. The Commission will produce discussion paper in early March suggesting options for handling free movement of workers. Our general view is that, where transition periods are necessary, they should be limited in scope and time as possible.

9.  The programme for the Swedish Presidency states that "it is essential that enlargement enjoys broad support in the Union". Is it HMG's assessment that this broad support within the Union is increasing or diminishing? How concerned is HMG by evidence of diminishing support for enlargement in some candidate countries, such as Poland?

  It is difficult to assess support for enlargement within the EU as a whole. There have been few opinion polls that both canvas opinion across the EU and elicit views on enlargement as a whole, rather than on the accession of one country in particular. Eurobarometer have recently added to their regular opinion polls a question asking whether or not respondents are for or against the proposal that "the European Union should be enlarged and include new countries". The results of their first poll including this question for the EU as a whole show 44 per cent in favour of enlargement and 35 per cent against, with 21 per cent saying that they don't know. The breakdown of results by country appears to show an increase in support in some countries and a decrease in others, although the figures are not directly comparable. Declining support in some candidate countries may be an inevitable consequence of difficult but necessary reform required for alignment with the acquis. However, in all countries now in negotiations the percentage in support of enlargement remains higher than those opposed.

10.  Is it feasible that the first group of states to enter the Union might exclude Poland?

  The Prime Minister said in Warsaw last October that we want Poland, and as many others as are ready, in the European Union as soon as it's possible. But he also said there are no guaranteed places. This remains the British government's position.

11.  In the light of the annexes to the Nice Treaty relating to the European Security and Defence Policy, does HMG consider that the EU, once it has decided to take military action, will (i) have discretion, or (ii) be under a binding Treaty obligation, to consult with NATO before engaging?

  The Presidency Report to the Nice European Council on European Security represents a commitment by the European Union at the highest level to consult with NATO at all times, and to intensify that consultation in times of crises. The objective of the consultation will be to determine the most appropriate response to a crisis. The EU will only decide to act where NATO as a while is not engaged and following consultation with NATO.

  The Report is not annexed to the Treaty of Nice and does not create legal obligations.

12.  The Prime Minister said on 11 December 2000 that "In circumstances where NATO decided that it does not want to be involved . . . then the European Union acts—but not with a military strategic commitment outside NATO". Does this mean that NATO will always have the right of first refusal in respect of any proposed military action?

  The EU and NATO are agreed that the EU will act in military crisis management only "where NATO as a whole is not engaged". In practice, there would be intensive consultation among the governments concerned, bilaterally, within NATO and the EU, and between the two institutions. This Government is clear that NATO remains our instrument of choice for management of crises where European security interests are involved. When the United States and Canada are prepared to engage directly alongside the European Allies we would want and expect it to be through NATO. If, in an emerging crisis, it became clear that NATO as a whole was not going to engage militarily, the option would be there for EU nations to decide to launch and conduct an EU-led operation which would, in many cases, have recourse to NATO assets. In practice this means that the EU will act only once NATO has decided not to do so.

13.  What progress has been made in putting in place "the necessary arrangements" between NATO and the EU to which the Prime Minister referred to in his 11 December statement? What proposals are there for future joint meetings of the European Council and North Atlantic Council?

  NATO and the EU have reached agreement on the elements of the permanent consultation arrangements, including, during each EU Presidency, at least one EU/NATO Ministerial meeting and at least three meetings between the EU's Political and Security Committee (PSC) and the North Atlantic Council (NAC). The PSC and NAC had their first joint meeting on 5 February.

  NATO is pursuing detailed work on the arrangements for "Berlin Plus"—the arrangements to enable the EU to have access to NATO operational planning, assets and capabilities—and NATO and the EU are together negotiating permanent security arrangements (building on the interim agreement reached last Summer), and capability review mechanism to ensure that capability developments in the EU and NATO are handled coherently.

14.  What was the outcome of the Foreign Secretary's discussions with the new US Administration on developments in the European Security and Defence Policy?

  The Foreign Secretary briefed the Vice-president, Secretary of State and National Security Adviser in detail on the European Defence initiative and its emphasis on improved capabilities and on the essential role of NATO. The US Secretary of State noted in subsequent public comments that the Administration had a "very good understanding of what the European security and defence initiative was about" and that he and the Foreign Secretary shared a "common belief that it will strengthen NATO". We are continuing to work closely with the US on European Defence, bilaterally and in NATO. President Bush welcomed the European Security and Defence Policy on the basis agreed by the EU at the recent Nice Summit.

15.  What is Turkey's current view on the enhancement of the EU's military capability, and on the availability of NATO assets to the EU? Does Turkey have a right of veto over the use of NATO assets? To what extent have linkages been made with Turkey's membership of the Union or Cyprus?

  At NATO's Washington Summit, all NATO Allies, including Turkey, welcomed ESDP and committed NATO to supporting it. The detailed arrangements for this support are being worked out in NATO and with the EU. Turkey continues to have concerns about aspects of these arrangements, which are being addressed in NATO. Provision of NATO assets and capabilities for use in an EU-led operation would require a specific NAC decision, which would be by consensus; so each Ally would have a veto.

  The EU has made no linkages between European Defence and the two issues of Cyprus and Turkey's EU accession course. The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 set out the terms of Turkey's EU candidacy. The UK continues to support the approach set out there.

16.  How does HMG intend there should be parliamentary oversight of the new arrangements?

  The Presidency report on ESDP makes clear that decisions to deploy forces in EU-led operations are sovereign ones for the member states concerned. The Government will be accountable to Parliament for decisions to deploy UK forces to EU-led operations. The Treaty on the European Union provides for the European Parliament to be consulted on the main aspects and basic choices of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. But the European Parliament will have no role in decisions on military deployments which remain for the Member States and national parliaments concerned. In his speech in Warsaw on 6 October, the Prime Minister suggested consideration of a Second Chamber of the European Parliament, composed of representatives from national parliament, which could play a role in democratic oversight of CFSP at a European level.

17.  Upon whom does HMG believe responsibility should lie for drawing up the agenda for the 2004 IGC? Who should be in charge of producing draft texts for the 2004 Treaty Change? Is there pressure for the establishment of a Convention such as the Convention which drew up the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and what is HMG's attitude towards the use of such a Convention?

  A Declaration attached to the Treaty of Nice sets out four areas to be addressed by the next IGC. But it also states that there should be a "deeper and wider debate about the future of the European Union" and that that debate should include national parliaments, civil society stakeholder and, most importantly, public opinion. The Government believe that that debate in Britain and Europe should be as wide ranging and inclusive as possible. Only then, when governments have taken note of views expressed, should the agenda for the 2004 IGC be set.

  No decisions have yet been taken on the process to prepare the IGC, following the period of public consultation. The Convention model is one of many possibilities. We do not believe that it is necessarily the best model. But the Government will discuss the possibilities with partners in the coming months.

18.  What support has been expressed by other Member States for the Prime Minister's proposal for a second chamber of the European Parliament formed of national parliamentarians?

  The Prime Minister made a number of illustrative proposals in Warsaw for a more efficient and democratically accountable European Union. The suggestion of a possible Second Chamber has been greeted with interest by many in the EU and applicant countries. But there has been no formal discussion. The involvement of national parliaments is one of the four issues set out by Nice for discussion at the next IGC. As said in a previous answer, that IGC must be preceded by wide consultation, with national parliaments themselves as well as with the public.

19.  How is it proposed that applicant countries which have not by then become Member States will be involved in the next IGC?

  The Declaration on the Future of the Union, attached to the Nice Treaty, lays down that those countries that have concluded accession negotiations will be invited to participate in the next IGC. Those applicant countries that have not concluded negotiations will be invited as observers. We intend that the public consultation exercise should be extended to applicant countries so that all the applicants whether or not they have signed agreements will be able to contribute the views of their people, parliaments and civil society into the IGC debate.

20.  What is HMG's view on proposals for a "constitution" on the European Union"?

  The Prime Minister set out our view on a constitution for the EU in his speech in Warsaw on 6 October 2000. He said: "I suspect that, given the sheer diversity and complexity of the EU, its constitution, like the British constitution, will continue to be found in a number of different treaties, laws and precedents".

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