The final report of the “Future of Europe Group”, did not receive the degree of media attention it merited in the British media yet it amounts to a serious declaration by the foreign ministers of eleven EU member states, including France and Germany and is of huge significance for the question of the UK’s future membership of the European Union. The report is in line with the thinking behind the Treaty of Lisbon and preceding treaties which proposes truly radical developments in constitutional reform, the nature of EU institutions and the division of power between EU institutions and nation states. Not the least of these is the field of treaty amendment. As matters stand, EU treaty amendment whether by the ordinary revision procedure of the simplified revision procedure requires agreement of all member states. The report, however, signals a move to qualified majority voting to make treaty amendments – a fundamental change. The report tells us that such amendments “Would be binding for those member states which that have ratified them”, but this begs the question of how the amendment would affect non-ratifying states within the amended legal and institutional framework?
The implication of the approach flows throughout the report. Take the example of CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy). Previous treaty changes have progressively brought CFSP within the ambit of the EU legal framework but preserved the requirement for unanimity. Now the report proposes to “Introduce more majority decisions in the CFSP sphere or at least prevent one single member state from being able to obstruct initiatives…” (Who could they have been thinking of here?). Given that existing EU law requires individual member states to conform to EU decisions once they have been agreed, the introduction of QMV as foreseen by this report would effectively abolish the UK’s ability to lead an independent foreign policy. To spell it out, we could find ourselves prevented from taking action in support of our interests even though there was a majority in favour of doing so in the UK Parliament or, conversely, we could find ourselves constrained to take action where there was a majority in our Parliament against it.
The report’s other proposals regarding the defence industry, a European Defence Policy and an eventual European army (President and Europe rather than Queen and Country), tend to have the same effect as does the beefing up of the European External Action Service. On this later point, I believe the coalition government made a serious political mistake in embracing the EEAS and seeking to portray it as extending the reach of UK foreign policy. Thereby reversing the much more sensible approach taken by the Conservative Party in opposition. The real purpose of the EEAS was always to lay the foundations for deeper foreign policy integration as now proposed and our support for it now makes it much more difficult for us to resist these new proposals.
On any view of it, this is a radical report. We need a proper, full and open debate on it, as the report itself recognises. We certainly should not try to hide the consequences which would inevitably flow from passing to yet another stage on the road to ever closer union. It is not a question of what speed we should be travelling at on the road, we should not be on it at all.