Member states aim to strengthen decision making and create new world role for EU


THE challenge set by the member states was to beef up the EU's ability to take decisions on Common Foreign and Security Policy and to create a new ability to act as a major player on the world stage.

The latter would be done by creating a military dimension to the EU, whose scope was a matter of considerable controversy, and by giving the EU a new planning and analysis unit capable of anticipating crises and providing strategic guidance.

For Ireland, the central task was to affirm our strong support for a military role limited to peacekeeping and humanitarian matters known as the "Petersberg tasks while resisting any attempt to steer us into neutrality threatening commitments to merge the Western European Union, the European arm of NATO, with the EU.

The new treaty text now refers only to closer links "with a view to the possibility of the integration of the WEU into the EU should the European Council so decide".

The Petersberg tasks were defined as "humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking". The latter is the more controversial aspect, involving potential combat operations like that of NATO in Bosnia.

When it comes to carrying out such functions, the EU will use the WEU, which in turn will borrow military assets from NATO. Those, like Ireland, who are not members of the WEU are assured of a right to participate in the management of any missions in which they are involved.

And the leaders agreed to review defence provisions in the treaty at some unspecified time in the future - a reported reference to five years was rejected.

The final treaty also replaces the current definition of CFSP - "all questions related to the security of the EU, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy which might in time lead to a common defence" - with "all questions related to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, in accordance with paragraph 1.2, which might lead to a common defence should the European Council decide to recommend it to the member states for adoption in accordance with their constitutional requirements".

The British, strongly opposed to merger because they believe it would undermine NATO, were willing to accept this formulation because it "ring fenced" the concept of common defence by limiting it to Petersberg tasks and not the traditional definition involving mutual defence guarantees.

On that interpretation, accepted by Irish diplomats, the commitment to eventual common defence in the Amsterdam Treaty is weaker than that in Maastricht. And, the Irish argue, there is a "double lock" copperfastening Ireland's position with a reference to a requirement for both a decision of the Council (unanimous) and a state's constitutional requirement.

An attempt by Greece to involve member states in an implied mutual assistance guarantee was also rejected. It had sought a clause in the section on fundamental objectives providing for a commitment to uphold the current borders of the EU. Unwilling either to provide such a guarantee or become embroiled in Greece's arguments with Turkey, leaders agreed to the anodyne formulation of working to "safeguard the integrity of the Union in conformity with the principles of the United Nations".

Provision is made for voluntary cooperation between member states in the field of arms production and procurement. The Irish did not succeed in incorporating in this clause a reference to common arms sales controls.

The treaty will provide for a significant and complex elaboration of the decision making system, currently unanimity, in an attempt to get round the gridlock created by vetoes.

While many decisions will still be taken by consensus at ministerial level, heads of government at the European Council will also be able to devise by unanimity "common strategies" whose implementation in the form of a joint action can be carried out by qualified majority voting by ministers.

But member states will retain an "emergency brake" veto on the implementation of joint actions "for important and stated reasons of national policy".

The formula departs from the traditional concept of "vital national interest" to allow states to express political concerns that do not impinge strictly on their national interest.

The result is a formula which can appear to satisfy both the veto and the QMV lobbies.

When decisions are to be taken by the traditional consensus approach at ministerial level the new treaty will also provide for the possibility of "constructive abstention".

This will allow states which do not wish to be part of an action but are also reluctant to veto it to abstain while the action proceeds. If abstentions amount to more than a third of the weighted votes of the Council, a decision will be deemed not to have passed.

A new CESP coordination and representational role is given to the top civil servant in the Council of Ministers, its Secretary General, to act as the High Representative for the EU. A new deputy will assume his role in running the Council's secretariat.

The Commission is also to be closely associated with the EU's diplomatic efforts with a new troika being created consisting of the country holding the Presidency, the Commission, and the High Representative. The Presidency may also be assisted by the next country in line for the job.