Select Committee on European Union Nineteenth Report

Review of Scrutiny: Common Foreign and Security Policy

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

1.  In the United Kingdom, foreign policy is essentially an executive, not a legislative, process. Parliament's role is therefore to hold the Government to account for policy decisions. In order to be effective Parliament should be involved in this process at the earliest opportunity, examining proposals for action as well as the consequences of those actions. This is as true of European foreign policy as it is of the United Kingdom Government's own decisions. This Report accordingly examines how Parliament can best hold the Government to account for the foreign policy of the European Union (EU).

2.  The foreign policy of the European Union is known as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). CFSP was created by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and given a separate legal base to that of the European Community policies. Existing under Pillar II of the Treaties, it has its own legal instruments and does not form part of EC law. It is, broadly speaking, an intergovernmental policy.[1] As a result, the European Parliament's role in CFSP is principally advisory.[2] National Parliaments therefore have a pivotal role to play in holding their own executives to account for the EU's foreign policy.

3.  Holding the Government accountable to Parliament for the formulation of CFSP has presented several difficulties for the House. The first relates to the process by which Government departments must deposit documents and legislative proposals for Parliamentary scrutiny. Chapter Two of this Report explains these processes, and the changes we, and the Government, have instituted in the past 18 months to make scrutiny of CFSP more effective.

4.  The second is the manner in which CFSP legislative proposals are brought forward within the EU for agreement by Council. Falling within Pillar II, the usual procedures which apply to agreeing proposals for EC law and their scrutiny are not followed. This leads to reduced timescales for decision-making as well as less opportunity for Parliamentary input. We examine these problems in depth in Chapter Three.

5.  The final difficulty in relation to Parliamentary scrutiny of CFSP arises from the current scrutiny practice which is based on proposals for legally binding decisions. This has proved to be insufficient since CFSP is to a large extent formulated by the Council through policy initiatives. Chapter Four examines ways of extending the scrutiny of the EU's foreign policy to include non-legislative documents.

6.  This Report only deals with issues arising out of the scrutiny of CFSP, which primarily falls under the responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In general we understand CFSP to include the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is responsible for particular defence-related policies (especially those with operational implications). We therefore make reference to both Government departments but note, where relevant, differences in their practices. Certain recommendations are therefore addressed specifically to the MoD.

7.  We make this report to the House for information.

8.  We are grateful to the Minister for Europe, Mr Douglas Alexander, Dr Sarah Beaver, Director General, International Security Policy for the Ministry for Defence, and Mr Jimmy Hood MP, Chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, for their evidence on this inquiry.

1   Since the early 1970s Member States coordinated foreign policy under the name of European Political Cooperation. The change of name to CFSP was accompanied by the new policy instruments provided for in Pillar II. Back

2   The European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) is consulted on the main aspects and basic choices of the CFSP and may ask questions of the Council of Ministers and make recommendations to it. (Art 21, TEU). Also, since most administrative and operational CFSP expenditure is charged to the EU budget, the European Parliament has an opportunity to raise foreign policy issues during budgetary proceedings.  Back

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