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That defence question

Posted by Richard Friday, January 28, 2005

In the Corbett versus O'Brien interview this morning, both parties made claims about the status of defence in the proposed constitutional treaty.

O' Brien claims that: "there’s a commitment in the new constitution, for the first time, that the EU will move to a common defence." Corbett, on the other hand, claims: that "it’s been in the treaty since the Maastricht Treaty, signed up by John Major in the early 1990s", whence O’Brien counters: "This new commitment to move to a common defence is completely new. The phrase 'we'll move to a common defence' is new."

The problem with this type of interview is typified by that extract. Claims and counter-claims are made, and the issue is left unresolved. Who is right? Who do you believe? Well, technically, Corbett is correct.

Maastricht (Art. J.4 (1)) actually states:

The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.
In other words, is sets up a commitment, albeit vague, to move towards a common defence. This is then modified by the Amsterdam treaty, renumbered to become Article 17 (1). This reads:

The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might… (deleted: in time) lead to a common defence.
The "eventual framing" now becomes the "progressive framing" – a little bit firmer, made stronger by the deletion of "in time". The elision, incidentally, relates to a reference on the WEU, making it an integral part of the Union.

By the Nice Treaty, again Article 17 (1), the passage remains the same, with the removal of the reference to the WEU. That brings us to the proposed constitutional treaty, where the original passage now transmutes into Article I-41 (2), which reads:
The common foreign and security policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides.
From the very vague provision in Maastricht, this has firmed up substantially: "might" has become "will", but it does need a unanimous decision of the European Council.

Nevertheless, Corbett is right that the commitment to move to a common defence is in Maastricht. It is simply firmed up by the constitution.

Had O'Brien cited Article I-41 (7), he would have been on stronger ground. As outlined in our earlier posting, this imposes on all member states mutual obligations of "aid and assistance" by all means within their power, should any member state be the "victim of armed aggression". This, for the first time, turns the EU into a fully-fledged military alliance.