Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Seventh Report


Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman

  I'd like to thank Sub-Committee C for its excellent report on Europe in the World (48th Report of Season 2005-06, HL Paper 268). It is a positive and significant contribution to the important debate about how the EU can best fulfil its role in the world.

  I attach the Government's response to the Committee's recommendations and conclusions.

24 January 2007

Government Response


  1.  "We welcome and endorse the Commission's desire to improve the coherence of the EU's external relations by strengthening cooperation between the Presidency, the High Representative and Council Secretariat, the Commission and the Member States through action within the existing Treaty provisions. We do not regard these proposals as either cherry-picking from the Constitutional Treaty nor as requiring Treaty change".

  2.  "The present Communication may well not exhaust the EU's scope for such action within the existing Treaties. We hope that both the EU institutions and Member States will continue to search for pragmatic ways to strengthen cooperation and that lessons learnt where cooperation has been successful will continue to be applied in other areas".

  The Government shares the Committee's view of the Commission initiative. The UK welcomed the report warmly in June 2006 as being in the spirit of the Hampton Court Agenda and focussed on effective delivery.

  The Committee is right to make clear that the Commission's proposals are quite distinct from those of the Constitutional Treaty, and can be implemented within the framework of the existing Treaties. Work will continue on improving cooperation and coherence. The December European Council invited "future Presidencies to take this forward with the High Representative and the Commission to ensure the continuity of this process".


  3.  "We welcome the Commission proposal that there should be a high-level strategic planning meeting at the beginning of each Presidency between the Presidency, Commission and High Representative enabling issues of coherence and the overall direction of EU external action for the duration of the six month Presidency to be discussed, in order that the EU institutions and the Member States understand each other's priorities".

  The Government agrees with the Committee on the value of this proposal. The Government also notes that the Finnish Presidency usefully held such a meeting in July 2006.


  4.  "Attendance of the High Representative at meetings of the Relex Group will improve the coherence of EU external relations and is likely to be welcomed. The High Representative cannot be involved in decision-making but will have an influential role and should work closely with the Commissioners to agree priorities in those geographical and thematic areas in which both the Commission and the Council have competence".

  5.  "We hope that these meetings will lead to closer cooperation between Commission and Council officials, both in preparing for meetings, and more generally".

  The Government agrees with the Committee that the High Representative's attendance at the meetings of the Relex Group of Commissioners would be beneficial and help reinforce useful cooperation between Commission and Council Secretariat officials. But the Government also notes that the High Representative necessarily spends a good deal of time away from Brussels and that there may therefore be practical limits on his ability to attend such meetings.


  6.  "We endorse the concept of closer working relationships at all levels within the Commission and the Council secretariat. Officials need to build relationships with their counterparts in order to ensure that strategic objectives and principles are complementary and achievable by both institutions".

  We fully support close working relationships at all levels between the Commission and the Council Secretariat. The Government notes that there are already many good examples of this in practice.


  7.  "We endorse the concept of joint papers for discussion in Council and its working groups both as promoting closer working relationships between Commission and Council officials and as a means of ensuring that the two institutions reach a common position which takes into account the priorities and expertise of each. Joint papers should become standard practice in areas of overlap between Commission competence and the CFSP".

  8.  "We note with regret that the present Communication was not a joint paper. The United Kingdom Government should, at the December European Council, urge the Commission and Council secretariat to take forward the Commission proposals on cooperation together".

  The Government agrees on the value of joint Commission and Council Secretariat papers for discussion in Council and its working groups on issues where significant Community and CFSP interests are engaged. And the Government notes that the Council Secretariat and Commission have already produced a number of joint papers.

  We were pleased to see that at the December European Council there was a broad consensus in favour of taking forward the Commission proposals. It is important to note that the Conclusions invited future Presidencies, the High Representative and the Commission to continue to enhance strategic planning and to ensure coherence in the use of the different external relations policy instruments.


  9.  "We agree that the function of the Commission's crisis centre and the Council's situation centre are distinct and cannot be amalgamated. However, in crisis situations analyses produced by one should be shared with the other".

  The Government agrees with the Committee that the crisis centre and the situation centre have distinct roles, and that there are therefore limits to the sharing of "reporting and analytical resources".


  10.  "We welcome the Commission's proposals on upstream preparation for major international meetings into which the EU has an input. Such preparation will facilitate the joint presentation of a coordinated EU position and increase the impact of the EU's message".

  11.  "The Presidency should be able to call upon the assistance of Commission experts wherever necessary, possibly at short notice. The Council secretariat and Commission should work together to determine how best to implement this proposal.

  We fully support effective EU preparation for major international meetings on the basis of the existing Treaties. The Government agrees that this should, where appropriate, draw fully on Commission expertise and advice.


  12.  "We recognise that the proposal for full Commission participation in the external representation of the euro-zone raises sensitive issues for those Member States which are members of the euro-zone. We believe this proposal will need to be carefully weighed, taking into account the comments of those Member States".

  The Government agrees with the Committee that this is primarily a question for those states in the euro-zone to consider, taking into account Treaty obligations.


  13.  "We consider that the double-hatting arrangement has been a success in Macedonia, has led to greater visibility for the EU presence, greater impact and coherence, and has contributed to resolving the issue of division of responsibilities. The presence on the ground of a double-hatted EUSR and Head of Commission Delegation means that the EU now speaks with one voice in Macedonia".

  14.  "We accordingly support the proactive consideration of extending this model on a case-by-case basis and adapting it to other situations where a Commission delegation and EUSR are on the ground in the same city, country or region".

  15.  "Due to the high level of responsibility and the political sensitivity of such posts, persons nominated for double-hatting should have a strong capacity to build relationships with the Council, the Commission, and the Member States, and ideally have experience of working for both European Institutions".

  As the Minister for Europe stated in evidence to the European Union Committee (Sub-Committee C) in July 2006, the Government believes that the double-hatting arrangement in Skopje has been a success and has effectively supported the delivery of EU objectives in Macedonia.

  The Government will continue to consider proposals for double-hatting on a case by case basis and agrees with the Committee that it is important that candidates for such appointments should have the capacity to build strong relationships with the Council, the Commission, and the Member States.


  14.  "The Government should take a pragmatic approach to the issue of closer cooperation between Commission delegations and the Presidency Representations, EUSRs, ESDP mission representatives and Council secretariat officials".

  15.  "Commission delegations and EUSR staff offices should explore means of closer collaboration, taking into account each particular set of circumstances. Special consideration should be given to the western Balkans and Addis Ababa where the EU presence stands to benefit from such arrangements".

  16.  "Greater coordination at field level between Commission delegations and EUSRs or ESDP missions should be encouraged. We note that the exchange of reporting information is already being carried out, but the institutions should continue to explore avenues for greater cooperation".

  The Government's approach to the issue of closer cooperation in the field is pragmatic. We entirely agree with the Committee that the work of the Commission and the Council in third countries should "enhance and complement that of the other to make the best use of the Union's resources" within the framework of the existing Treaties.

  We take note of the Committee's view that this would be particularly appropriate in the Western Balkans and Addis Ababa and will take this into account when considering the possible development of the EU presence in both areas.


  17.  "Consular assistance is the responsibility of Member States. On a practical level, delegations may be able to support Member States" representations in crisis situations, such as in the field of logistics. We would encourage the Commission to develop guidelines in this latter area for its delegations, in close consultation with the Council and the Member States, taking into account the need for a high level of preparedness in the event of an emergency".

  The Government agrees with the Committee that consular assistance is the responsibility of Member States. There are useful ways in which we can cooperate with other Member States" representations and Commission delegations in order to enhance our preparedness to deal with emergencies. A good level of cooperation between EU Member States already exists, and work is underway to further develop it. The Government agrees that we should work with the Commission and Council of Ministers to define the practical support Commission delegations might provide under certain circumstances.


  18.  "We welcome the Commission's pragmatic proposal for the sharing of premises and support services between Commission delegation offices and EUSR or Member State missions, where these are in the same city. Decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis taking into account the needs and capacities of each party".

  The Government welcomes the Commission's readiness to consider the sharing of premises and support services. The Government notes that there are already examples of this in practice, including in Iraq (as the Committee have identified) where Commission Officials and the European Security and Defence Policy mission (EUJUSTLEX) work from British Embassy premises.


  19.  "We believe that the Commission's proposals for the exchange of its personnel with diplomatic services of the Member States and the staff of the Council secretariat will bring real benefits to staff of greater understanding and knowledge of the EU institutions and Member States. The United Kingdom Government should strongly encourage their staff to participate in the exchange".

  The Government supports this initiative, and is considering how best to co-ordinate UK participation in the recently launched full scheme. The Commission aim to begin exchanges later in the summer.


  20.  "We welcome efforts by the national parliaments of the Presidency countries, and by AFET, to encourage the attendance of both the High Representative and the Commissioner for External Relations at all meetings of COFACC as well as at joint meetings of the European Parliament and national Parliamentary foreign affairs committees. We would welcome a joint contribution in order to promote discussion of the effectiveness of coordination and coherence".

  The Government notes that the Presidency and the High Representative regularly brief Members of the European. Parliament on Common Foreign and Security Policy developments. The Government notes that Commissioners also do so on other external matters. We support this practice, and see no problem with the High Representative and the Commissioner for External Relations appearing together in the configurations listed by the Committee.


  21.  The United Kingdom should give a political lead by publicly recognising what the EU is doing in the field of external relations and in giving due credit to the EU for its success. Only through greater visibility and increased public awareness in both the EU and third countries will the EU be able to properly fulfil its role in the world.

  The Government is committed to achieving greater public awareness and a more mature debate about of EU issues. Working through the EU to promote stability, security, good governance and the values to which the Union subscribes is a central element of the Government's foreign and security policy. The Government is grateful to the Committee for its recognition of the successes of this policy. The Government will, as the Committee suggests, continue to promote broader awareness of the EU's activities in the field of external relations and the benefits for the UK.

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