Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We conclude that, although we have some sympathy for the Government's stress on the EU's "delivery deficit" rather than its "democratic deficit", and for the Government's desire to bring the EU institutional reform process to a speedy conclusion, we accept that the loss of the Constitutional Treaty undermines the effort to make the EU's Treaty base more comprehensible and transparent. (Paragraph 27)

2.  We recognise that the compressed timetable during which the most important decisions on the EU's new Treaty were taken, over a few days in June, was driven by the EU's Presidency-in-office. The Government could and should have provided more information to Parliament during Spring 2007 about its approach to the renewed EU Treaty reform process. It should also have pressed for a less compressed timetable in June. Parliament was entitled to expect adequate time to be consulted and to be able to make an input into the contents of the Treaty, through the Government. After the Treaty was finalised, Parliament was also entitled to have adequate time to make a thorough examination of the Treaty's detailed impact on the EU and the United Kingdom constitution. Parliament has been denied these opportunities, on both counts. We conclude that the procedure followed meant that the 2007 Intergovernmental Conference mandate was agreed with little scope for UK public or Parliamentary debate and engagement. This sets an unfortunate precedent which is in our view damaging to the credibility of the institutional reform process itself. (Paragraph 38)

3.  We conclude that the Government is correct to argue that political positions and political will among the Member States are more important than institutional changes in determining the quality of EU foreign policy. We are also sympathetic to the Government's wish to see the end, for at least some years to come, of further EU institutional reform. However, we are concerned that the Government risks underestimating, and certainly is downplaying in public, the importance and potential of the new foreign policy institutions established by the Lisbon Treaty, namely the new High Representative and the European External Action Service. We recommend that the Government should publicly acknowledge the significance of the foreign policy aspects of the Lisbon Treaty. (Paragraph 67)

4.   We conclude that the insertion of principles and objectives for all EU external action into the Treaty on European Union is a sensible way of encouraging greater EU policy coherence while two main EU Treaties remain in place. (Paragraph 71)

5.  We conclude that the European Council's new ability under the Lisbon Treaty formally to determine "strategic interests and objectives" for all areas of EU external action represents a symbolically important assertion of Member State authority over "Community" policy areas, although it remains to be seen whether this will have any significant impact in practice. (Paragraph 81)

6.  We conclude that the section of the amended Treaty on European Union giving authority to the European Council to make strategic determinations for EU external action is unnecessarily ambiguous and should be clarified by the Government in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 84)

7.  We welcome the Bill's provisions giving Parliament the right to accept or reject individual proposals to extend qualified majority voting. However, we are concerned at the implications of the provisions whereby Parliament could be invited to set aside this right in respect of "any later draft decision", as long as a Minister certifies that the decision in question is an amended version of the original decision. We see nothing on the face of the Bill that would preclude this power being invoked in circumstances where the "amended version" of the draft decision contains further transfers to qualified majority voting not found in the original decision. If this were to be the case, transfers to qualified majority voting might take place without specific Parliamentary approval. This could represent a breach of the undertaking given by the Prime Minister. We recommend that further consideration be given to procedures which would allow Parliament to decide separately on "amended versions" of initial draft decisions to transfer items to qualified majority voting. We further recommend that all amendments to the Treaty, including extensions of qualified majority voting, should be done by primary legislation and not simply by a vote of the House. (Paragraph 88)

8.  We conclude that the simplification of the nomenclature for Common Foreign and Security Policy decisions introduced by the Lisbon Treaty represents an improvement on the current situation. (Paragraph 95)

9.  We conclude that the Commission's loss of the right to make Common Foreign and Security Policy proposals is welcome because it represents an important assertion of the intergovernmental nature of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. (Paragraph 97)

10.  We conclude that greater clarity would have been helpful in the Lisbon Treaty wording on the Council of Ministers' new ability to vote by qualified majority on proposals from the High Representative. (Paragraph 105)

11.  We conclude that the Government's confirmation that any movement of further Common Foreign and Security Policy decisions from unanimity to qualified majority voting under the "passerelle" procedure would be subject to a prior vote in Parliament, even where the Lisbon Treaty itself does not provide for national Parliamentary involvement, is welcome, although we recommend elsewhere that all Treaty changes are the subject of primary legislation. However, our concerns remain about the possible use of the provision in the Government Bill which would allow "amended versions" of decisions moving items from unanimity to qualified majority voting to avoid a separate Parliamentary vote. (Paragraph 112)

12.  We conclude that it seems highly likely that, under the Lisbon Treaty, the Common Foreign and Security Policy will remain an intergovernmental area, driven by the Member States. We welcome this. (Paragraph 118)

13.  We conclude that the process of the EU's enlargement to now 27 Member States has been a success. (Paragraph 130)

14.  We conclude that the inclusion for the first time of a Treaty reference to the EU's neighbourhood policy represents a welcome expression of the importance of the Union's relationships with states surrounding it. (Paragraph 133)

15.  We conclude that the new post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has the potential to give the EU a more streamlined international presence and to contribute to the more coherent development and implementation of external policy. We further conclude that it is clear that the High Representative is there to enact agreed foreign policy. (Paragraph 154)

16.  We conclude that there are grounds for concern that the holder of the new post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy could face work overload. We recommend that the Government engages with the other Member States and—when known—the nominee for the post to ensure that the potential benefits of the new post are not jeopardised by a plethora of duties and excessive workload. (Paragraph 155)

17.  We conclude that the Lisbon Treaty provision for the new High Representative to speak at the UN Security Council will make little difference to current practice. It will not undermine the position of the UK in the United Nations system nor the UK's representation and role as a Permanent Member of the Security Council. (Paragraph 157)

18.  We conclude that it is regrettable that the Lisbon Treaty does not state explicitly that the new European Council President may not simultaneously hold any other office. (Paragraph 162)

19.  We conclude that the reshaped role of the President of the European Council could help to generate consensus among EU leaders and lead to greater continuity in the chairing of the European Council. However, we are concerned by the current degree of uncertainty which surrounds the role and by the potential for conflict with the High Representative in representing the EU externally. This could undermine one of the main aims of the current Treaty reform process in the external field. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government sets out more clearly its conception of the role of the new European Council President, and its assessment of the likelihood that this will be realised. We further recommend that the Government initiates, in the course of discussions with its counterparts on the appointments to the new posts, the drawing-up of a memorandum of understanding on the respective roles which the European Council President and the High Representative are to play in the external representation of the Union. (Paragraph 170)

20.  We conclude that the personal characteristics of the individuals who are appointed to the key posts of European Council President, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and President of the Commission—in particular, their capacity for teamwork and hard work—will play a critical part in determining whether the new EU foreign policy arrangements work effectively. We recommend that the Government should place a high priority on working constructively with its European partners to ensure that the right individuals are selected for these posts. (Paragraph 177)

21.  We conclude that the new European External Action Service may serve a useful function as a means of reducing duplication between the Council Secretariat and the Commission and facilitating the development of more effective EU external policies, operating in parallel with rather than as a substitute for national diplomatic services. However, the Lisbon Treaty gives only a bare outline of the role of the new External Action Service, leaving most of the details of its functioning to be determined. This could well be a case of "the devil is in the detail". We conclude that the establishment of the European External Action Service will be a highly complex and challenging exercise. Given the scale and significance of the issues that remain to be resolved, it is vitally important for the Government to be fully engaged in negotiations on these matters, in order to ensure that the European External Action Service works as effectively as possible, and in a way concomitant with UK interests. (Paragraph 189)

22.  We recommend that the Government reports regularly to Parliament during 2008 and beyond on the progress of the discussions with other Member States and the EU institutions on the establishment of the European External Action Service, and on the positions it is adopting. Parliament should be kept informed of developments in resolving all the practical, organisational, legal, diplomatic status and financial issues which we have specified in paragraph 182 above. We further recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government informs us of the arrangements which it proposes to put in place to ensure that Parliament and its committees receive the information necessary to scrutinise on an ongoing basis the work of the European External Action Service. (Paragraph 190)

23.  We welcome the opportunity that the new European External Action Service will offer for a greater intermingling of national and EU personnel and careers. We conclude that it would be beneficial to the UK for national secondees to be well represented among the new Service's staff. We recommend that the FCO encourages high-quality candidates among its staff to undertake secondments to the European External Action Service, by assuring them that they will have a "right of return" and that the experience will form a valued part of an FCO career. We recommend that the FCO should also reciprocally encourage European External Action Service staff to undertake secondments within the UK diplomatic service, in the interests of maximising the European External Action Service's collective understanding of UK national interests and foreign policy. (Paragraph 194)

24.  We conclude that the emergence in third countries of EU delegations which may be active in Common Foreign and Security Policy areas will at the least require careful management by UK Embassies on the ground. This might be of particular importance in those countries where there is no resident UK diplomatic representation. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government sets out its position regarding the conversion of Commission delegations into Union delegations, and informs us of the guidance which it is giving to British posts on working with the new EU bodies. (Paragraph 199)

25.  We recommend that in its response to the present Report, the Government sets out its reaction to the proposals that there should be "common offices" of EU Member States in third countries and that the new EU delegations may take on consular tasks. We also recommend that the Government clarifies the role and responsibilities of EU delegations in countries where the UK has no Embassy or High Commission. (Paragraph 203)

26.  We conclude that the Lisbon Treaty retains from the Constitutional Treaty a wording that on the surface at least is clumsy and ambiguous in its references to the prospect that the European Security and Defence Policy both "might" and "will" lead to a common defence. We therefore recommend that in its response to this Report the Government states whether or not it agrees that this is the case, providing such clarification as is necessary. (Paragraph 207)

27.  We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the Constitutional Treaty which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied. (Paragraph 219)

28.   We conclude that the creation of the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and of the European External Action Service, represent major innovations in the EU's foreign policy-making machinery. We further conclude that although their establishment does not risk undermining the Common Foreign and Security Policy's intergovernmental nature, the Government is underestimating, and certainly downplaying in public, the significance of their creation. This is unlikely to be beneficial to the UK's position in the EU. We recommend that the Government should publicly acknowledge the significance of the foreign policy aspects of the Lisbon Treaty. (Paragraph 220)

29.  We conclude that the new institutional arrangements for EU foreign policy created by the Lisbon Treaty have the potential to encourage more coherent and effective foreign policy-making and representation. However, the way in which the new arrangements will work in practice remains unclear. Much will depend on the individuals chosen to fill the new posts and how they choose to interpret their roles. We recommend that the Government engage actively with its EU partners to minimise the short-term disruption involved in the introduction of the new arrangements created by the Lisbon Treaty, and to help them contribute to the EU's development as a more effective international entity. It is particularly important that the Government and the FCO should not neglect the critical opportunities that are likely to arise over the next 12 months to influence the detailed planning of the new foreign policy arrangements, so as to ensure that they operate in ways which are fully compatible with UK interests. (Paragraph 221)

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