Future inter-parliamentary scrutiny of EU foreign, defence and security policy - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Report


1.  The Member States of the Western European Union (WEU) announced in March 2010 that they were dissolving the organisation, including its Assembly, with effect from mid-2011. A potential consequence of this action is that the EU's inter-governmental Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) may be left without inter-parliamentary scrutiny. The inter-governmental nature of decision-making in the CFSP and CSDP means that parliamentary scrutiny of these policies should not be left to the European Parliament alone; the significance of the CFSP and CSDP activities to which national governments may agree in the European Council and EU Council means that national parliaments have an important role in holding national governments to account. Inter-parliamentary oversight of the CFSP and CSDP should be continued, with national parliaments taking the lead. This short Report puts forward a proposal for successor arrangements to the WEU Assembly. The proposal has been drawn up in a process of consultation among relevant Select Committee Chairs of both Houses of Parliament.

WEU termination

2.  The WEU Assembly was founded in 1954 along with the WEU itself, under the modified version of the 1948 Brussels Treaty. Since the EU's 2001 Nice Treaty, the Assembly has been the WEU's only residual stand-alone institution, with the WEU's other institutions having been transferred to the EU. In 2008, the Assembly changed its name to the European Security and Defence Assembly (ESDA). ESDA scrutinises the EU's inter-governmental Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The Assembly comprises delegations of national parliamentarians from the 27 EU Member States and the five non-EU European members of NATO (Albania, Croatia, Iceland, Norway and Turkey). Other interested European states, plus organisations including the European Parliament, are partner or observer members of the Assembly. The UK Delegation to ESDA comprises 18 members (13 MPs and five Members of the House of Lords) and 18 substitute members.[1]

3.  On 30 March 2010, just prior to the UK General Election, the then Government announced that it intended to withdraw the UK from the WEU.[2] It commented that the WEU was "no longer relevant to today's European security architecture", and that the role being played by the Assembly did not justify its cost to the UK of over €2 million per year.[3] The following day, the WEU Member States announced that they were terminating the Brussels Treaty and thereby abolishing the WEU, which they stated had "accomplished its historical role." The Member States expressed their intention to have the WEU wound up by June 2011. As regards post-WEU inter-parliamentary scrutiny of the CSDP, the Member States stated that they encouraged "as appropriate the enhancement of inter-parliamentary dialogue in this field including with candidates for EU accession and other interested states". The Member States suggested that the Lisbon Treaty's Protocol 1 on the role of national parliaments in the EU (which had come into force with the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009) might provide a basis for such inter-parliamentary dialogue.[4] We would like to place on record our appreciation of the work carried out by the WEU Assembly.

Westminster process

4.  In July 2010, the new Minister for Europe, Mr David Lidington MP, wrote to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the European Scrutiny Committee, the House of Lords European Union Committee and Mr Robert Walter MP, President of ESDA, soliciting views on post-WEU inter-parliamentary scrutiny of the CSDP. Mr Lidington set out a number of principles which the Government saw as important for future such scrutiny, namely that national parliaments should remain in the lead, and that there should be no expansion of the European Parliament's competence; that parliamentarians from non-EU European NATO countries and EU candidate states should be included; and that costs and bureaucracy should be kept to a minimum.[5]

5.  The addressees of Mr Lidington's letter shared his view that there was an important role for a future inter-parliamentary forum on the CSDP following the WEU's demise. The following developments took place in the two Houses:

  • In July 2010 the European Union Committee of the House of Lords agreed a detailed position paper. This endorsed the principles outlined by Mr Lidington and set out a preferred option for post-WEU inter-parliamentary scrutiny of the CFSP and CSDP. The Committee backed a "conference of committees"-type institution to replace the WEU Assembly, comprising a combined and enlarged version of the current informal Conference of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairpersons (COFACC) and Conference of Defence Committee Chairpersons (CODCC). The Lords Committee circulated its paper to interested parties in Westminster and beyond.
  • In the Commons, the new Foreign Affairs Committee and European Scrutiny Committee were not renominated in time to address the issue before the 2010 summer recess. The Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Mr Lidington in September endorsing the broad principles which he had set out in his July letter. We also expressed our preference for a "conference of committees"-type model, along the lines of the proposal made by the Lords Committee. We took the view that this would create the strongest link with national parliamentary scrutiny activities, and enable the participation at EU level of national parliamentarians with specialist knowledge, while avoiding duplication and minimising costs.[6] Mr William Cash MP, Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, also wrote to Mr Lidington in September, similarly expressing support for a future model based on COFACC and CODCC.[7]

6.  The Chairs of relevant Select Committees in both Houses felt that it would be helpful if the UK Parliament could reach and express a collective view as to its preferred arrangements for inter-parliamentary scrutiny of the CFSP and CSDP following the dissolution of the WEU. In particular, the Chairs wished this collective view to be placed on the public record in advance of the meeting of the EU Speakers' Conference in April 2011. (The Speakers' Conference has invited national parliaments to express their views on this matter, with the intention of, if possible, endorsing a common position at its April meeting.) With the approval of their Committees, a process of consultation took place between the relevant Chairs. The Chairs involved were those of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Defence Committee and European Scrutiny Committee, and the Lords EU Committee and its Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy. Mr Robert Walter MP, as President of ESDA, also took part in the consultation process.

7.  Following several informal meetings held between September and November 2010, the relevant Committee Chairs agreed the text of a proposal, based on the House of Lords EU Committee paper from July. Letters from Mr Cash and Mr James Arbuthnot MP, Chair of the Defence Committee, expressing their Committees' support for the proposal, are printed with this Report.[8] An email from Mr Walter commenting on the proposal is also printed.[9] The Minister for Europe, Mr Lidington, attended two of the informal meetings. We would like to thank all those involved for their co-operation.

8.  The Committee Chairs further agreed that their proposal might best be taken forward if it were presented to each House in the form of a Select Committee Report, with a view to seeking endorsement by each House. It was agreed that the Foreign Affairs Committee would take the lead in presenting such a Report to the House of Commons, on behalf of the other Commons Committees involved in this process. We understand that the House of Lords EU Committee is making a parallel Report to its House. The Chairs' proposal is attached as an Annex to this Report.

9.  We recommend that a Motion should be placed before the House for decision, requesting Mr Speaker to present to the EU Speakers' Conference in April 2011 the proposal set out in the Annex to this Report.

10.  We will explore with the Government and with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee the most convenient and appropriate way of placing such a Motion before the House and ensuring that time is provided for it to be debated.

1   The current delegation was appointed on 10 November 2010. The party distribution reflects the composition of the House of Commons. Back

2   The UK Government deposited with the Government of Belgium on 7 May 2010 the UK's Instrument giving notice of Denunciation of the Brussels Treaty from 30 June 2010 with effect on 30 June 2011; FCO, The Supplementary List: Treaty Ratifications, Accessions, Withdrawals, Etc., Treaty Series No. 20 (2010) No. 1, Cm 7952, October 2010, pp 122-4 Back

3   HC Deb, 30 March 2010, col 103WS Back

4   Statement of the Presidency of the Permanent Council of the WEU on behalf of the High Contracting Parties to the Modified Brussels Treaty, Brussels, 31 March 2010, via www.weu.int. Article 10 of Protocol 1, on inter-parliamentary co-operation, is reproduced in the Annex to this Report. Back

5   Ev 1; previously published by the European Scrutiny Committee, in Ministerial Correspondence 2010-11, at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Ministerial-Correspondence-2010-11.pdf  Back

6   Ev 1 Back

7   Letter of 8 September 2010, in European Scrutiny Committee, Ministerial Correspondence 2010-11, via www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/ministerial-correspondence/ Back

8   Ev 3-4 Back

9   Ev 2 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 18 January 2011