Friday, March 18, 2005

A tetchy Peer

In July 2004 the EU established a European Defence Agency (EDA), about which we wrote as recently as last Sunday.

What is particularly offensive about this agency is that its establishment pre-empts the EU constitution which makes provision for this agency to be set up by virtue of Article I-41 3. Without waiting for ratification, therefore, the "colleagues" have gone ahead and set it up anyway.

As a result, it has a somewhat anomalous status, not being formally an EU institution but nevertheless coming under the control of Javier Solana, the EU's putative "foreign minister". As such, it reports to the EU Council of Ministers.

This position was recently explored by the House of Lords European Union Select Committee – the report of which was published this week.

It turns out that the agency is to be funded directly by member states, outwith the EU budget, with the UK contribution being £2.5 million this year and £1.5 million per annum thereafter – which is in addition to our general EU contribution.

On this basis, one of the witnesses to the committee, a certain Dr Sarah Beaver, Director General of the International Security Policy Division of the MOD, sought to represent the organisation as an "inter-governmental" agency.

This cut no ice with Lord Tomlinson, who launched an icy blast at the unfortunate Dr Beaver, telling her in no uncertain terms that it was not "inter-governmental". Having established that it was responsible to the Council, he said, he informed her, with a precision that seems to elude Denis MacShane and the FCO, that:

The Council is a European Union institution. The main European institutions are the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the Commission. The Council of Ministers is a formal institution of the European Union. It happens to be made up of ministers, but if they want to meet inter-governmentally, they do not meet as the Council. If they are meeting as the Council, they are a European Union institution.
So much for the FCO's claim that, as the EU Constitution give more power to the Council, it gives power back to the nation states. Before they repeat this lie, they should perhaps consult a very tetchy Peer.

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