Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from Denis MacShane MP, Minister for Europe to the Chairman

  The Clerk of the European Scrutiny Committee wrote two letters to the Head of the Foreign Office's Security Policy Department on 24 May last year, on arrangements for scrutiny of EU-led military crisis management operations. In particular, Mr Gerhold asked whether EU decisions, which involved deployment of forces, would be made known to Parliament and, if so, whether this would be done on the basis of documents which would be subject to scrutiny. He also asked whether it would be possible to set out the likely course of events in the event of a developing crisis in which the Council eventually decided to mount an EU-led military crisis management operation and what the Treaty base would be of such a decision.

  I apologise that it has taken so long to reply. As Adam Ingram, with whom this reply has been agreed, explained in his letter to you of 27 November last year, the issues raised by scrutiny of ESDP in its operational phase are new and complex. We have had to address them against the background of an evolving situation within the European union, the conclusion of the interim agreement with NATO on exchange of information, and the negotiations for a permanent successor regime. I will try to set out our position as fully as possible in this reply and would be grateful if you would also treat this as a response to Lord Jopling's letter of 12 December to Adam Ingram.

  In addressing this question, the government's concern has been to balance a number of factors. First, we remain convinced of the importance of the inter-governmental nature of CSFP and ESDP. The Government has repeatedly made clear its view that national parliaments have the primary role on the scrutiny of policy and decisions in these areas. It therefore is our intention that Parliament, and the Scrutiny Committees in particular, should have the time and information required to allow a proper scrutiny of ESDP decisions, as with CSFP more generally.

  Secondly, ESDP will need to be able to make decisions rapidly in order to react effectively to emerging problems. You will have noted that, in the UK/French Declaration on European Defence and Security at the Anglo-French Summit on 4 February, the two governments talked of the need to equip the EU to deploy national forces within five to 10 days. This needs correspondingly rapid decision making in the EU and by national governments.

  As noted above, the Clerk asked us to outline a possible sequence of events in the generic EU response to emerging crisis. With the obvious caveat that no two crises are the same, I attach a brief synopsis of what might be involved. For more detailed consideration of these issues you may wish to refer to the Annexes to the Presidency report on ESDP adopted by the Nice European Council in December 2000 (I am depositing an Explanatory Memorandum on the December 2000 Danish Presidency Report separately).

  Mr Gerhold's letter of May last year asked what the Treaty basis would be for decisions to launch EU-led military operations. They would be taken on the basis of Article 17 of the Treaty of the European Union. Decisions for national governments to commit their troops to any such operation would, of course, be separate from a policy decision to support the operation. Within the UK, decisions to deploy national troops remain a matter of Crown prerogative although the Government, of course, keeps Parliament closely informed of actions involving UK forces in the normal way.

  As noted above, we want to ensure as much timely information as possible for scrutiny purposes in ESDP policy making. We also need, of course, to protect effectively information which, if made public, might be used to the detriment of the operational security of military operations to which British and other European troops are involved. And arrangements for handling classified information must be robust enough, and satisfy the rightly demanding standards set by the EU and NATO Security Authorities and by allied governments.

  Against this background, Adam Ingram and I propose the following way forward:

    —  The Government will deposit for scrutiny ESDP Joint Actions, Common Positions, and Council Decisions on the same basis as other CSFP documents. In other words, we will submit explanatory memoranda with unclassified ESDP texts and, for classified documents, we will submit EMs with unclassified summaries.

    —  In order to give as much time as possible for consideration of such texts, our officials will provide the Committee clerks with early drafts as soon as they become available.

  We hope this approach will allow the Scrutiny Committees to scrutinise ESDP decision making rapidly and effectively. It is worth underlining the very compressed timescales in which such crisis management decisions may have to be taken. To take one example, the first draft of the Joint Action to initiate planning and preparation for an ESDP operation this Spring in the former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, issued in Brussels only late on 21 January, was amended substantially in the Political and Security Committee (PSC) every working day after that and was adopted at the GAERC on 27 January. This tight time scale was essential to start formal contracts with NATO and other planning activity needed to ensure an operation could be launched on time. While the Government will make every effort to ensure that it can meet its scrutiny obligations in ESDP, as in other areas of CSFP, the nature of the policy will mean that there will inevitably be times when the Government will have to decide to take part in EU decisions before scrutiny is completed. We will, of course, do all we can to avoid this, and we hope that the arrangements proposed here will enable your Committees to do your job as effectively as possible.

5 February 2003

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