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Red Line - What Red Line?

Posted by Richard Friday, May 07, 2004

The Common Security and Foreign Policy veto is supposed to be one of Blair’s absolute red lines. Not any more. In the new draft of the Constitution, enormous power is given to the Union Minister for Foreign affairs, sidelining the European Council. By my reading, he (or she) he can secure a common position by qualified majority voting, so by-passing the veto.

The crucial amendment is on page 68 of the Irish presidency document, headed: “Qualified Majority Voting in the Field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy”.

It deals with "European decisions" on the CSFP. These, on the face of it, have to be made by the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, thus protecting Blair's "red line" by allowing him to keep his veto. However, under certain circumstances, the Council can (by way of derogation) act by qualified majority voting. One of those exceptions is spelt out in Article III-201 2(b) of the original draft constitution. It reads:

"when adopting a decision on a Union action or position, on a proposal which the Minister has put to it following a specific request to him or her from the European Council made on its own initiative or that of the Minister."

In this original version, therefore, the initiative has to come from the European Council, comprising Heads of State and Government. However, in the new version, this is changed to allow QMV:

"when adopting, on a proposal from the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, a European decision defining Union action or position".

To put this in perspective, Article 32 of the draft constitution deals with the "European decision", stating that "A European decision shall be a non-legislative act, binding in its entirety". Article 201 1, as indicated above, specifies that the decision shall be taken by unanimity, and then sets out four exceptions, including the one above. This one becomes the key exemption, giving the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs the power to demand a decision by QMV.

Thus, to summarise, the Council must agree a "European decision" by unanimity, except where it is adopting such a decision proposed by the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. Then, the Council must act by qualified majority voting. The European Council does not even get a look in and British interests can be over-ruled.

Then, Article III-199 states that "Member States shall ensure that their national policies conform to the positions of the Union", effectively making the decision mandatory.

Some red line!