Change to EU treaty under fire


Ireland, Sweden and Britain were last night holding out against EU treaty changes which would allow groups of member states to use the EU's military capabilities.

Foreign Ministers were meeting in Brussels ahead of this week's Nice summit to try and broker an agreement in the Inter-Governmental Conference on aspects of what is known as closer co-operation or flexibility on which broad agreement has been reached by them. What remains is the use of such provisions in the fields of foreign policy and defence, specifically the latter.

The issue has been given added sensitivity because of the furious press response in Britain to the recent pledging conference for the rapid reaction force and the British are wary about allowing any treaty changes which might facilitate, even among a limited group of member states, the emergence of a de facto standing army.

Irish sources say they are concerned that although unanimous approval of peacekeeping missions would still be required, the draft treaty text does not make clear how long-term control would be maintained by the EU once missions had been approved.

Ministers later went on to discuss the eventual limiting of the size of the Commission. While there is no agreement to remove the automatic entitlement of member states to a commissioner in an enlarged EU, the Presidency believes that by setting out a system of automatic, equal rotation between all member states, large and small, they can make agreement on the principle more likely.

Their paper last night suggested criteria for such a system which would ensure that no state missed out for two consecutive terms. Ireland is still one of those standing out against any formal agreement on a ceiling, insisting that the right of each country to a commissioner is crucial to securing the legitimacy of the Commission.

The ministers continue their meeting today.