EU boosts UK influence, says audit
Britain’s foreign policy is enhanced through its membership of the EU, an FCO review into EU competencies concluded, but it also called for ways to overcome decision-making blockages, especially on security and defence matters, and warned against ‘competence creep’ of the EU External Action Service (EEAS).
The report said the EU offered “strength in numbers” on global matters such as trade, where the global weight of the single market strengthens Britain’s negotiating position.
Similarly, the EU has a “multiplier effect” giving Britain more moral authority on initiatives where it has taken a leadership role (such as the UK’s efforts to secure an Arms Trade Treaty) than if it acted at a purely bilateral level.
The report added that the EU offered a versatile range of tools to tackle global problems such as the Iran nuclear issue or the Syrian conflict including collective sanctions and development aid.
But the evidence also suggests room for improvement. In particular, contributors called for greater clarity on EU foreign policy goals, better decision-making and a more efficient allocation of resources.
The foreign affairs report raises concerns about the performance of EU diplomatic service. “If the internal conditions of EU external action deteriorate, how will that affect our choices of how to deliver international impact in the British interest?” it asks.
Evidence also pointed to the need for more flexibility for smaller groups of states within the Union to work together on a foreign policy matter, or for a country to go it alone, as France did in the case of Mali.
‘Competence creep’ was another concern raised in the review, where it was felt the EU External Action Service (EEAS) was overstepping its boundaries at international fora.
Similarly, in Britain there was sensitivity about “representation creep” where the EEAS assumed a position for all members. Those giving evidence suggested that smaller EU countries without the diplomatic reach or resources and were happy to “offload” decisions on the EU’s diplomatic service.
However, Britain, with its wide diplomatic network and influence, would be reluctant to cede further powers to the EEAS.
Britain takes the view that decisions, particularly on security and defence issues, should remain with Member States and not be subject to majority voting.
The diplomatic engagement to the first tranche of reviews has been muted. Britain invited all EU member states to join the discussions, but so far few have accepted the offer.
Some EU heads of mission say they are adopting a “wait and see” approach until after the 2015 elections.
But ambassadors have been watching the exercise with interest. “To have an audit of competencies is healthy. The EU needs to reform internally to be efficient. It’s time we started discussing that,” said one EU Ambassador.