Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Sixth Report


19 Europe in the World

(27587)

10325/06

COM(06) 278

Commission Communication: Europe in the World — Some Practical Proposals for Greater Coherence, Effectiveness and Visibility

Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 12 July 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-xxxii (2005-06), para 5 (21 June 2006); also see HC 34-xxxi (2005-06), paras 1 and 30 (14 June 2006)
Discussed in Council15 June European Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared. Already considered relevant to the debate on "A Citizen's Agenda — Delivering results for Europe"

Background

19.1 After reviewing the challenges facing the EU and the EU's external assets (enlargement; European neighbourhood policy; trade and competitiveness; development; strategic relations, political dialogue and CFSP; and disaster response, crisis management and ESDP), the Commission, in its Communication, argues the case for greater coherence and effectiveness. It proceeds on the basis that, "within the framework of the existing treaties, the Community and intergovernmental methods need to be combined on the basis of what best achieves the desired outcome, rather than institutional theory or dogma".

19.2 The Commission outlines "The Way Ahead" under four headings:

  • Better Strategic Planning
  • Increasing Effectiveness and Impact through Better Delivery
  • Better Co-operation between the EU Institutions and Member States
  • Improved Accountability

19.3 When we considered the Communication on 21 June, we considered that the Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Dr Kim Howells), with its cursory summary of the Communication, uninformative; likewise his statement of the Government's views. This seemed to us to be at one with the position taken by the previous and present Minister for Europe with regard to similar documents, all of which in one way or another related to the future of Europe in the wake of the rejection, 14 months ago, by French and Dutch citizens of the Constitutional Treaty — witness the response to the Commission's Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate and its "Citizens' Agenda", which we considered on 14 June,[57] as well as the Commission's Green Paper on "The European Transparency Initiative", which we again consider elsewhere in this Report.[58] The Government's general position appeared to be to shelter behind the obvious absence of any consensus on the future of Europe and to say that it would inform the House of its views once there was one.

19.4 We considered this somewhat at odds with the notion of increasing the involvement of national parliaments in decision-making, as was the submission of an Explanatory Memorandum on the day after the Council had approved the document in question and instructed those involved to proceed forthwith. We felt this was particularly so when the Communication contained significant proposals that some might see as good managerial sense but which others might see as "cherry-picking" in the face of the uncertain future of the arrangements in the Constitutional Treaty — especially the absence of any comment on the proposal to "double-hat" the EU Special Representative (EUSR) and the head of the EC Delegation, given that only two days earlier the Foreign Secretary had said to our colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee, when questioned about the "double-hatting" of the EUSR and Head of the EC Delegation in Macedonia, that "this is certainly not a precedent that the United Kingdom Government would wish to see repeated and we would resist it".

19.5 We considered this stance unacceptable, and asked the Minister to provide the government's views now on the detailed proposals in the Communication — which ones he did not agree with, and which ones he endorsed. In particular, we asked whether he agreed with the Commission that, "within the framework of the existing treaties, the Community and intergovernmental methods need to be combined on the basis of what best achieves the desired outcome, rather than institutional theory or dogma".

The Minister's letter

19.6 In his 12 July letter, the Minister for Europe (Mr Geoffrey Hoon) continues to be reluctant to provide the sort of answer that we are seeking: he does "not believe that setting out the Government's detailed views on each of the Commission's recommendations will be helpful until the debate at EU level has developed further". He nonetheless does endorse proposals on improving the internal coherence of the Commission's input to EU external policy, which he describes as sensible and which he notes can be implemented by the Commission itself without reference to the Member States. Among examples of recommendations that "will require further discussions between the Brussels institutions and the Member States" and which he favours are:

—  informal meetings every six months between the incoming President of the European Council and Foreign Minister, the President of the Commission and the External Relations Commissioner and the High Representative to undertake an overview of the Union's external action;

—  earlier preparation of Summits with key partners to identify key internal policy issues to be raised; and

—  an enhanced programme of exchange of personnel with the diplomatic services of the Member States and the staff of the Council Secretariat.

19.7 He then says that are other suggestions within the paper that will require more detailed study, and indeed proposals that will not be taken any further, but only discusses possible arrangements in Bosnia and Herzegovina when, as is intended, the EU takes over the lead role from the UN in 2007. He says:

    "On double-hatting, the Foreign Secretary stated our position at the Foreign Affairs Committee on 13 June. We would not anticipate an extension of the precise model used in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to other countries. However, as the Committee is aware, the EU will need to take decisions later this year about the organisation of its representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina once the Office of the High Representative closes, probably in June 2007. After this point, the EU will have both a key political role in Bosnia, in the form of an EUSR who will take on some of the OHR's functions, and a substantial amount of leverage in the form of the Stabilisation and Association Process, run by the Commission.

    "In our view there is a good argument for having the EU speak with one voice on these two closely interlocking issues, so maximising the effectiveness of our presence in BiH. This points to a different form of double hatting, which reflects the greater political content of the job, under which the EUSR (that is to say a politician, or senior national official, appointed by the Council) also heads up the Commission's presence in country. As with the FYROM case, safeguards would be needed to ensure that lines of accountability were not blurred. Discussions on the way forward in BiH are still at an early stage, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss our thinking with the Committee.

    "During the term of the incoming Presidency the Government will continue to discuss all of these issues with the other Member States, the Commission and the Council Secretariat. I shall keep you up to date on any important developments."

19.8 Lastly he notes our comments on the Explanatory Memoranda on the Commission's Communications on Plan D and "A Citizens' Agenda"; says that he welcomed the opportunity of the debate in Standing Committee last month on Plan D;[59] and also notes "your invitation to come back to these issues" in the debate on "A Citizens' Agenda".

Conclusion

19.9 We are less clear than the Minister that the position taken by the Foreign Secretary on the question of "double-hatting" and his are one and the same. He seems to be arguing that the Foreign Secretary was referring only to a situation where an "in situ" EU Special Representative was also made head of an extant EC delegation, and that this is in some way significantly different from the possibility that he describes in a future Bosnia and Herzegovina: if there is a distinction, it is one that at present escapes us. We look forward to hearing more of how this notion develops during the discussions to which he refers, and should be pleased to discuss this with him on a future occasion. The debate on "A Citizen's Agenda" will also provide the House with an opportunity to explore the Government's thinking on this and other relevant issues, which the Minister continues to be regrettably reluctant to share with it at present.

19.10 We now clear the document.


57   See headnote. Back

58   See para 11 above. Back

59   Stg Com Deb, European Standing Committee, 23 May 2006, cols 3-36. Back


 
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