Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Third Report

Appendix 2 Letter from The Minister for Europe

Thank you for your letter of 4 April about the Franco-German proposals to the Convention on the Future of Europe.

You asked what the Government thought of the Franco-German proposals, in particular the section on external activities of the Union. We welcome the Franco-German contribution to the debate on Europe's future and believe it contains some good ideas, for example, the creation of a full-time Chair of the European Council.

On the detail of the external activities section, we strongly support the idea of more coherence in EU external action, strengthening the High Representative, giving him formal right of initiative in Common Foreign and Security Policy and the right to chair the external part of the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

As the Committee are aware (from the various evidence sessions in which colleagues and I have taken part), we continue to have several key questions about how "doublehatting" the High Representative as both High Representative and External Relations Commissioner could work. We continue to ask partners (including Paris and Berlin) what status the "European Foreign Minister" would have in the Commission, to whom he/she would be accountable, and who would mediate in the event of a dispute between the Council and Commission. This will clearly be one of the key issues for the Plenary discussion of the draft external Treaty Articles on 15-16 May.

We share your interest in the exact nature of how the Franco-German proposal for more Qualified Majority Voting in foreign policy (but unanimity in defence and security issues) would work. From our point of view, it would be difficult to distinguish between what is a foreign policy issue and what is a security issue. So we do not see how this proposal could work in practical terms, as the oral evidence you quote from Sir Stephen Wall and Peter Ricketts indicates. We welcome the recommendation in the External Action Working Group report that any decision to move to more QMV in CFSP would be taken by unanimity in the European Council.

The Franco-German proposal for some Council Secretariat staff to work in the Commission delegation offices overseas was one of the recommendations of the External Action Working Group. It clearly makes sense, as part of our efforts to improve coherence, for council Secretariat and Commission staff to do more joint work. Likewise, we welcome the idea of more synergy between Commission, Council Secretariat and Member State staff in Brussels, although we think the title of an EU Diplomatic Service is misleading.

On the Franco-German proposal that ESDP operations should be able to go ahead even if all Member States do not wish to participate, there is already provision in the Treaty for Member States to choose not to participate in ESDP as a whole, as Denmark has done. The Treaty also provides for a Member State to choose to constructively abstain from a particular ESDP operation. The decision on whether or not to commit personnel to an operation remains for member States (although the decision to launch an operation is taken by unanimity). We want to see ESDP remain fully inclusive, and believe that any decision for operations with defence or military implications should continue to be taken by unanimity.

You asked whether there were other significant relevant submissions to the Convention on CFSP. Seventy two documents were submitted to the External Action Working Group. If the Committee are interested in the other contributions, they can be found at (by clicking on proceedings, then Working Groups, then Working Documents Group VII).

I am copying this letter to Jimmy Hood MP, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee; Dorian Gerhold, Clerk to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee; Michael Carpenter, Legal Adviser to the Commons Committee; Les Saunders (Cabinet Office); Philip Kendall (FCO) and Gareth Bayley (FCO).

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