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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Blair fisk project part 2

In respect of social security, we negotiated a provision which allows us to insist on unanimity in any case where we—that is, Britain—declare that any proposal from the Commission would affect important aspects of our social security system, including its scope, cost, or financial structure or balance. Our social security and benefits system is therefore completely protected.

While the Government has an “emergency brake” on one article dealing with social security (as in the original constitution) there are several other new powers for the EU in social security.

For example, article II-94.2 of the old constitution, (which is likely to be attached to Article 137 or 140 of the new Treaty on the Functioning of the Union) states that “Everyone residing and moving legally within the European Union is entitled to social security benefits and social advantages”. This is a major step away from the current treaties, which stress free movement for workers, and limit access to other countries’ social security and welfare systems to those who are in work.

As for the common foreign and security policy, the basis of this will now remain unchanged in a separate treaty, and a separate pillar, from the first pillar Community method. The essential features of the CFSP remain as they were. Unanimity voting is the rule. There is no sole right of initiative for the Commission. There is no role for the European Parliament in decision taking. There is no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice, except in the particular case of safeguarding the rights of individuals subject to EU sanctions.

This is very misleading - particularly the claim that unanimity is the rule. The key thing is the enormous exceptions to this "rule"

In fact there are several moves to qualified majority voting in the new version of the constitutional treaty. For instance:

(1) On Proposals from the EU foreign minister. The most important introduction of QMV relates to the new Foreign Minister. Article III-300 (2) stipulates that the Council shall act by qualified majority, “when adopting a European decision defining a Union action or position, on a proposal which the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs has presented following a specific request to him or her from the European Council, made on its own initiative or that of the Minister”. So we could (unanimously) ask him to come up with a plan but then, if we don’t like what he comes back with, find that we were into majority voting – e.g. on the squabble between NATO and EU over who will supply air transport to the AU troops in Darfur we might not be able to block the EU from pointlessly duplicating NATO is this was being done – if this was proposed as part of a plan proposed by Solana.

(2) On the diplomatic service. Article III-296 also allows the organisation and functioning of the new EU diplomatic service to be decided by QMV.

(3) On Setting up an inner core in defence. Under Article III-312, the decision to set up the “permanent structured cooperation” group would also be taken by QMV, as would subsequent decisions to expel members, or to admit new ones to the group.

(4) On terrorism & mutual defence. Article III-329 stipulates that the detail and meaning of the “terrorism solidarity clause” is to be decided by QMV. This is important because the Government has clear reservations about this article. A proposed amendment by Peter Hain called for the key provision of the article - that “Should a Member State fall victim to a terrorist attack, the other Member States shall assist it” - to be deleted. In a separate proposal, the Government asked for the new EU power to “prevent” terrorist threats to also be deleted. At a plenary session of the European Convention Hain objected that, “if it carries real military obligations to offer military assistance it is duplicating the NATO guarantee. If it does not … it is empty rhetoric.” His objection has been ignored.

(5) Majority voting on the new Foreign Policy Fund

(6) Majority voting on urgent humanitarian aid (e.g. this might have been used to decide whether the union should continue to fund the Palestinian Authority after the elections which returned Hamas to power – the UK and other Member States disagreed about this, and the UK was keen only to fund NGOs and not the Hamas-led authority.

Also interesting that Blair talks about there being "no sole right of initiative". This implies very strongly that the Government accepts that the new Foreign Minister will have a right of initiative for the first time, as (1) above suggests.

The two jobs of Commissioner for External Relations and High Representative which, of course, exist already, will be amalgamated in a single job. But this reform does not extend the EU’s substantive powers to act in foreign policy. In particular, the Union Representative, when working on common foreign and security policy issues, will operate within a policy framework set by the European Union Foreign Ministers, by unanimity.

The UK government has had to give the Foreign Minister far more powers than it wanted to. The UK was so focusssed on getting the name changed it lost out on the substance.

For example, against the UK Government’s wishes, the Constitution proposed that the EU Foreign Minister would automatically represent member states in international meetings, particularly at the United Nations Security Council. Article III-305 (2) of the constitutional treaty proposed that, “When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs be asked to present the Union's position.”

Peter Hain wrote an amendment arguing that “The UK cannot accept any language which implies that it would not retain the right to speak in a national capacity on the UN Security Council.” However the text remains.

Also, as the Guardian notes: "Britain said the new official should not chair regular meetings of EU foreign ministers, nor take over the resources of the European Commissioner for external affairs. It lost."

The UK Government also originally opposed the EU Diplomatic Service. In the negotiations on the draft constitutional treaty Denis MacShane said, “We believe that it remains for EU Member States to organise their respective bilateral diplomatic services at the national level.” (Hansard Written Answer, 17 June 2002) But again the UK has given way.

All these guarantees not merely remain in the new treaty, but are reinforced in a new overview articlethat reaffirms them and has full legal force. For the avoidance of doubt, we also obtained a declaration that sets out the unanimous view of all member states about the meaning of those guarantees. That declaration, which then informs the detailed negotiation of the intergovernmental conference, states that the common and foreign security policies of the treaty, including in respect of the office of Union Representative and the external action service:

“will not affect the existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each Member State in relation to the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, its national diplomatic service, relations with third countries, and participation in international organisations, including a Member State’s membership of the Security Council of the UN.”

This is typical of Blair's negotiating approach: a totally non-binding declaration which says the opposite of what his actually happeneing. In effect the mouth denies what the hands are doing.

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