Friday, June 24, 2005

The march of integration (2)

Just to show that, despite the collapse of the constitution, nothing really has changed, yesterday policy experts, industry representatives and MEPs were meeting in Brussels to discuss what is currently one of the commission’s most treasured initiatives, its "Defence Equipment Policy".

And just to show how irrelevant member state governments really are, all these worthies agreed amongst themselves that national defence markets in Europe should be thrown open to cross-border competition.

First flagged up on this Blog in September 2004, the issue under discussion was the commission's Green Paper on defence procurement, and its intention to circumvent the "national interest" clause in the treaties which exempts defence equipment purchasing from the EU's procurement directives.

This "opt out", currently Article 296 of the EU constitution, is under attack from all quarters, not least German MEP Joachim Wuermeling, who is drafting a report on the issue for parliament's Internal Market Committee. "We have a big black hole [in defence procurement policy] at the moment," he says.

Alongside him is German Green MEP Angelika Beer, arguing that the European Union (i.e., member states) "cannot continue to have 25 watertight markets for defense equipment." Her party considers the commission's green paper proposals, which aim to remove the national opt-outs, as "very welcome".

At the moment, the commission is considering three possible approaches to breaking up national defence markets: a communication to clarify the limits of Article 296; a binding directive to apply EU procurement rules to the defence sector; and a voluntary code of conduct regarding the use of the article.

The EU's European Defence Agency (EDA) is drafting the code, ostensibly on behalf of national governments, but in fact, on the initiative of the commission. Basically, the commission has given member states an ultimatum that, unless it can come up with a workable voluntary code, which makes provision for sharing out defence work across all member states, or it will issue a draft directive with binding procurement rules.

And so, softly, softly, unannounced and unrecognised, doth the march of integration continue.

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