Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Kim Howells MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman

  I attach an Explanatory Memorandum (not printed) covering a Communication from the Commission to the European Council published on 8 June: "Europe in the World—Some Practical Proposals for Greater Coherence, Effectiveness and Visibility".

  The Communication seeks to identify how, within the framework of existing treaties, the EU can make its external policies more coherent and effective. It does not include any legislative proposals. Rather one portion of the proposals refers to internal Commission reforms that the Commission will be implementing; with the remainder to be developed further by the Commission, the Council and the High Representative for CFSP.

  I hope that your Committee finds the EM informative.

16 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Kim Howells MP

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 16 June which Sub-Committee C considered at its meeting on 6 July. The Sub-Committee agreed to hold the document under scrutiny and to conduct a short inquiry into the issues raised. We expect to publish a short report in November in order that our views may be taken into consideration as part of ongoing work in this area.

  The explanatory memorandum simply stated: "Although the Government does not agree with all the proposals in the Commission Communication, it welcomes the paper as a helpful contribution to an important workstream. It is right that the EU should be considering ways of making its external policies more coordinated and effective, within the framework of the existing treaties." We do not believe this explanation to be sufficient, especially given the extremely important nature of this Communication.

  We note that the Minister for Europe is due to give evidence to the Sub-Committee on current developments in European foreign policy on 13 July and members will ask questions relating to this document. In order to have a more productive discussion with the Minister we would like to receive, prior to that session:

    —  the Government's specific views on the various Commission proposals and whether or not you agree with them;

    —  reasons for your views, in particular relating to those proposals with which you disagree; and

    —  a copy of the letter and annexe by the High Representative, Javier Solana, which were considered by the European Council in conjunction with the Commission Communication.

6 July 2006

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

  Thank you for your letter of 6 July to Kim Howells. As you know, the Commission Communication, "Europe in the World", was the product of continuing debate about how the EU's external policies can be made more co-ordinated and coherent, particularly in those areas that fall between pillars. The June European Council tasked the incoming Presidency, the Council, the Secretary-General/High Representative, and the Commission with examining measures contained in the paper, as well as further measures, with a view to improving the EU's external coherence. While I do not believe that setting out the Government's detailed views on each of the Commission's recommendations will be helpful until the debate at EU level has developed further, there are some suggestions that appear to be sensible administrative and practical steps that can be implemented without too much difficulty.

  These include the proposals in the paper focussed on improving the internal coherence of the Commission's contribution to EU external policy. So we would support the proposals to strengthen the role of the External Relations Group of Commissioners; to improve Commission reporting and analytical capacities both in Brussels and its Delegations; and to develop new working methods and procedures within the Commission to allow real time policy decisions in response to evolving events. Such reforms seem sensible and can of course be implemented by the Commission itself without reference to the Member States.

  We also support a number of the recommendations in the paper that will require further discussions between the Brussels institutions and the Member States. One example would be the proposal that there should be informal meetings every 6 months between the incoming President of the European Council and Foreign Minister, the President of the Commission and the External Relations Commissioner and the High Representative to undertake an overview of the Union's external action. Another would be the call for earlier preparation of Summits with key partners to identify key internal policy issues to be raised. Equally the recommendation that there should be an enhanced programme of exchange of personnel with the diplomatic services of the Member States and the staff of the Council Secretariat also seems worthwhile.

  However, there are other suggestions within the paper that will require more detailed study, and indeed proposals that will not be taken any further. On double-hatting, the Foreign Secretary stated our position at the Foreign Affairs Committee on 13 June. We would not anticipate an extension of the precise model used in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to other countries. However, as the Committee is aware, the EU will need to take decisions later this year about the organisation of its representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina once the Office of the High Representative closes, probably in June 2007. After this point, the EU will have both a key political role in Bosnia, in the form of an EUSR who will take on some of the OHR's functions, and a substantial amount of leverage in the form of the Stabilisation and Association Process, run by the Commission.

  In our view there is a good argument for having the EU speak with one voice on these two closely interlocking issues, so maximising the effectiveness of our presence in BiH. This points to a different form of double hatting, which reflects the greater political content of the job, under which the EUSR (that is to say a politician, or senior national official, appointed by the Council) also heads up the Commission's presence in country. As with the FYROM case, safeguards would be needed to ensure that lines of accountability were not blurred. Discussions on the way forward in BiH are still at an early stage, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss our thinking with the Committee.

  During the term of the incoming Presidency the Government will continue to discuss all of these issues with the other Member States, the Commission and the Council Secretariat. I shall keep you up to date on any important developments.

  As requested, I enclose a copy of the letter and annexe by the High Representative, (not printed) which were considered by the Council with the Commission's paper.

12 July 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP to the Chairman

  During my appearance before Sub-Committee "C" on 13 July I promised to write concerning which of the proposals in the Commission's Communication "Europe in the World" could be implemented without further consideration of the Constitutional Treaty.

  The proposals were intended as a contribution to a debate, and indeed in accordance with the June European Council Conclusions, discussions in Brussels have now moved on from them to the Finnish Presidency's own external relations agenda.

  However, to answer Lord Tomlinson's question directly, the proposals in the Commission Communication are distinct from the provisions envisaged in the Constitutional Treaty, and could be introduced without the Constitutional Treaty.

  This is because the Constitutional Treaty sought to define a new institutional dispensation, and set the terms by which the EU MS and institutions would interact with each other. The Commission's Communication, on the other hand, is predicated on existing treaties and focuses on: (a) improvements to internal Commission working practices in external policy areas; and (b) how the EU can make its external policies more coherent through the Member States and the Brussels institutions coordinating and liasing more.

26 July 2006

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