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The UK government is keen to herald the agreement reached in Lisbon on 19 October over the EU Reform Treaty as little more than an institutional breakthrough. Cautious of the national ratification process which is to follow and in order to deflect repeated calls for a referendum, they insist that its primary purpose is to streamline the functioning of an expanded Union of twenty-seven countries.
This is true to the extent that articles relating to institutional reform and the majority voting practice predominate. Yet, as a document born out of the ambitious thinking which underpinned the now buried EU Constitution, there are undoubtedly aspects of this treaty which retain more than a veiled sense of aspiration.
In the field of Foreign Affairs and Common Security and Defence Policy, this sentiment is palpable in that most, if not all, the proposals of the Constitution have been kept within varying degrees. In fact, developments in this domain are far more wide ranging than simply straightening out some minor functional issues.
The support provided to a newly appointed 'High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy' by way of a European diplomatic corps known as the European External Action Service, should provide greater visibility and co-ordination to the actions of the EU. Nonetheless, with common positions difficult to reach with sufficient speed and the prevailing nature of national diplomatic efforts on the world stage, it remains to be seen how this might successfully operate without becoming more than a large scale general secretariat for the High Representative.
The Lisbon treaty, as it will become known after its formal signature in the Portuguese capital on 13 December 2007, also further defines the 'Petersberg' tasks to include Joint Disarmament Operations and Security Sector Reform. The addition of these new civilian and military roles effectively widens the scope of the Union's peacekeeping and state-building objectives. With the EU clearly dotted with a series of relevant tools such as the economic, social and judicial organs required in order to facilitate post-conflict reconstruction, as well as the policing and military forces needed for security purposes, such developments are a welcome pooling of efforts serving to strengthen European capabilities, as long as this is done in conjunction to similar efforts undertaken within the North Atlantic Treaty.
Two further elements of the Lisbon treaty are expected to have significant implications on the future of European Union's Security and Defence policy:
- Firstly, the establishment of a new 'Solidarity Clause', whereby the 'Union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available' in order to provide assistance to another EU country in the event of a terrorist attack or disaster. Such a formulation explicitly institutionalizes the concept of collective assistance between EU member states, and arguably paves the way for an EU common defence clause at some stage in the future.
- Secondly, with the opportunity for 'Permanent Structured Co-operation' in the defence field emerging out of this treaty, a framework by which a group of nations can decide to forge closer relations and co-operation, the prospect exists for this otherwise 'Common' Security and Defence Policy to move ahead at different paces.
It's no real surprise to anyone that the Lisbon treaty will promote a number of the Union's strategic objectives amidst general reforms pertaining to institutional practice. This has indeed been done in each treaty before it, and in the event, some of the developments in the field of ESDP may be welcome. What sticks out most on this occasion is this Government's eagerness not to be caught out in the process, perhaps demonstrating how much Gordon Brown's vision for the future of European politics is still a little tentative.
Head, European Security Programme
The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.