Select Committee on European Union Ninth Report


14 MARCH 2001

By the Select Committee appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.




Background: Common Strategies

1. The Common Strategy of the European Union on the Mediterranean[1] (henceforth referred to as the "Common Mediterranean Strategy" or CMS) was adopted by the European Council at Feira, Portugal, in June 2000. It is the third in a series of four common strategies that have been or have been proposed to be adopted by the European Union. The first, in respect of Russia, was adopted at the Cologne European Council of June 1999, and the second, regarding Ukraine, was adopted at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999; the fourth, in respect of the western Balkans, has yet to be considered.

2. Common strategies are intended as an instrument of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), but also cover other areas of the EU's external relations. The mechanism of the common strategy was introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty, mainly to reflect two major concerns that arose over EU external action during the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) of 1996-7. The first concern was to respond to the increasing demands of the integration of internal—or "cross-pillar"—policy-making, where it was felt that the existing instruments and agencies of the EU were insufficiently co-ordinated, or even able in the first place, to make a strategic impact. In particular, it was thought necessary to link the economic, financial and trade instruments at the disposal of the European Commission more closely with the EU's political and diplomatic objectives. It was also considered that important strategies of this kind should be decided at the highest level, in the European Council, and only at that level.

3. From the outset, however, it appeared that this approach was dictated more by institutional ambitions than by a clear necessity to formulate the "common strategies" in question. One of these institutional questions was the extension of the use of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) to CFSP decision-making to create more flexible conditions for the implementation of policy. Not all EU member states were in agreement over the extent to which an extension of QMV would enhance the EU's international effectiveness. The debate on this subject was linked to an Italian proposal to promote foreign policy positions from "common platforms", and a proposal by France and Germany on "enhanced co-operation" between smaller groups of EU states across a number of EU policy spheres. Both suggestions were resisted by the British government.

4. The amendments of the CFSP provisions of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) agreed at the Amsterdam IGC in 1997 represent a compromise position with the requirements outlined above. The compromise restricted the broader extension of QMV through accepting a national veto on grounds of national interest[2] and increased internal policy coherence. Thus Article 13.2 of the revised TEU states:

    "The European Council shall decide on common strategies to be implemented by the Union in areas where the Member States have important interests in common. Common strategies shall set out their objectives, duration and the means to be made available by the Union and the Member States."

5. Common strategies have been presented primarily as an instrument of the EU so as to improve its own working. Their purpose, as stated by Dr Emyr Jones Parry, Political Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been to create a new instrument "providing more coherence and focus on areas of particular interest for the Member States" (Q3).

6. In practice the common strategies so far adopted by the European Council—although it is open to question whether this was the intention when the Amsterdam Treaty was agreed—contain more specific provisions, in lengthier texts, than the "common positions" hitherto adopted by the Council. Under the Amsterdam Treaty, it is now the Council of Ministers which recommends common strategies to the European Council, and which has responsibility for their implementation in particular by adopting joint actions and common positions, both of which if based on a common strategy shall be adopted by QMV[3]. In addition to Member States, the Commission, in turn, may refer questions and submit proposals to the Council[4] and is also "fully associated" in the representation of the EU in CFSP, and in the implementation of strategies[5].

7. Unanimity applies in the case of decisions with military or defence implications and the Amsterdam Treaty expressly excludes them from QMV. For the most part the European Council are the final arbiters in the adoption of joint actions or common positions over issues deemed to run counter to the national interests of individual Member States although in the last resort it cannot overrule a national veto. Article (23 (2)) TEU states that:

    "If a member of the Council declares that, for important and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity."

8. The main innovation of common strategies in general may thus be to have increased the opportunities for votes to be taken by QMV on CFSP matters, where this possibility was limited before. But Article 23 (2) TEU arguably provides a stronger safeguard than the national veto claimed under the so-called "Luxembourg compromise."

Common Strategies in Practice: The Common Mediterranean Strategy

9. When Sub-Committee C was first set up in December 1999, the first two Common Strategies had already been agreed. During the summer of 2000, as the Common Mediterranean Strategy began to take shape, the Sub-Committee decided to examine the Strategy by assessing, first, the concept of common strategies in general and secondly, how it related to the EU's policies towards the Mediterranean countries.

10. The Common Mediterranean Strategy did not, however, emerge in a vacuum. Since November 1995, the EU has been engaged with twelve southern neighbours[6] in building the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), more commonly known as the "Barcelona process" after the city in which it was launched. This process has had two main objectives, the first being to assist the EU's southern partners in opening their economies to a Mediterranean Free Trade Zone by the year 2010. The second, relating to the EU's security concerns, has been to create a "zone of peace and stability" through the elaboration of a Charter for Peace and Stability encompassing the principles for the peaceful settlement of conflicts and conflict prevention measures.

11. The scope of the Barcelona process has been extensive, covering three chapters of activities under the headings of political and security, economic and financial, human and cultural partnerships. Unfortunately, during its first five years, Barcelona has made only limited progress towards its objectives. By September 2000, only 26 per cent of the funds committed through the MEDA[7] funding line had been disbursed to the Mediterranean partners. Secondly, even though the guiding principles of the Charter for Peace and Stability were agreed in April 1999, the document itself failed to be adopted in Marseilles in November 2000. The most salient reason was that the deteriorating situation in the Middle East led both the Lebanese and Syrian delegations to absent themselves from the Euro-Mediterranean summit of foreign ministers in Marseilles, organised under the auspices of the French EU presidency, where the Charter was due to be adopted. There were also continuing disagreements over the draft put forward for adoption by unanimity under the rules of Barcelona.

12. Against this background, the case for adopting an EU-internal strategy towards the Mediterranean during the course of 1999-2000 was not entirely clear. An immediate danger existed that the common strategy would replicate or indeed confuse the priorities of the EU towards the Mediterranean unless it offered a clearer set of priorities and something substantially new to the existing process. A further problem consisted of explaining to Mediterranean partners what the purpose of this new "EU-only" instrument would be, where the Barcelona process had been negotiated in conjunction with these partners.

13. Coming after the common strategies on Russia and the Ukraine, the EU appears to have chosen the Mediterranean as the next in line for reasons of regional symmetry argued by southern EU members, rather than on its own merit. In drafting the first texts in the autumn of 1999, the Finnish EU presidency encountered considerable difficulties in encapsulating the varied aims of different EU members. By common agreement, the text prepared by the end of the Finnish presidency was dropped as being inadequate to the task of the proposed strategy.

14. Under the Portuguese EU presidency, EU members spent the early months of 2000 attempting to agree the principles on which to base the next draft. Progress was also slow, not least because of continuing disagreements over the inclusion of the Middle East Peace Process in the strategy. The political aspects of the conflict are already covered by existing EU common positions, the most recent being the Berlin Declaration of March 2000. The fear of the United Kingdom, opposed by France, was that the extension of QMV under the common strategy could serve to weaken positions already agreed by unanimity under "common positions".

15. As a result of these and other disagreements, no new draft of the CMS had emerged before the spring of 2000. However, concerned that they had little to show for the Mediterranean, in May 2000, the Portuguese presidency revived the discarded Finnish draft in order to amend it in time for the Feira European Council of June 2000. With assistance from the United Kingdom in the first instance, this revised "Finnish" draft was the text of the strategy adopted by the European Council.

16. From the outset, then, the CMS was hastily adopted and did not reflect the stated intention of the EU to create a strategy to give more coherence to its Mediterranean policy. Rather, the resulting document reads less like a strategy than an inventory of existing policies and activities, adding to the Barcelona framework developments within the EU since 1995. These include the common European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), co-operation in combating crime under the third pillar and in other areas such as immigration and asylum now brought under the first pillar.

17. In geographical scope, the CMS deals with the same 12 partners as the Barcelona process, with the notable addition of Libya, which was excluded in 1995 pending progress in the Lockerbie affair. It does not deal with them all equally: bilateral relations between the EU and the three applicant countries (Turkey, Malta and Cyprus) are omitted and there are special provisions relating to Libya. It also does not deal with any "Balkan" countries, as the intention, at least, was that they would be considered together separately using a fourth common strategy. (So far, there is no evidence that such a common strategy will ever appear).

18. In principle, the CMS is intended to complement, and not to compete with the Barcelona Process. Because of our inquiry into the European Security and Defence Policy, and because of the unexpected suddenness of the CMS's adoption, we were unable to examine the CMS in its early stages. However, as we will now illustrate in our chapter on the evidence we have received, this has given us, and others, some time to reflect upon the Strategy, which is now, as we will show, under considerable criticism from within the Union and from outside.

1   The Common Strategy of the European Union on the Mediterranean is printed as Appendix 4 of this report. Back

2   Article 23 (2) TEU. Back

3   Article 23 (2) TEU. Back

4   Article 22 (1) TEU. Back

5   Article 18 TEU. Back

6   The Mediterranean partners are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta. Back

7   "MEDA" is derived from the term "Mediterranean Actions". Back

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