Last Thursday, on the orders of William Hague, the ECR group in the European Parliament, that includes Tory MEPs, voted to support the formal creation of the European External Action Service. I write formal because the EEAS has been in effective existence for some time. The EEAS is a deliberately bureaucratic name for what is the EU foreign service. It has, blogs Dan Hannan, a budget twenty times larger than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It has 7,000 staff members, operating in 130 global embassies.
Last week's ECR votes were decisive in seeing the EEAS motion pass*. Without ECR support, reports EurActiv, there would have been no decision until the autumn – time, some believe, that could have been used to dilute the EEAS' powers.
Charles Tannock MEP, the ECR's Foreign Affairs spokesman, told EurActiv:
"We were opposed to the creation of the EEAS but we are now reconciled
to engaging constructively within the new architecture in the best
interests of our countries."
That is an EU-constructive rather than an EU-sceptic position. This is the latest example of the Coalition government engaging with the EU in what it calls a "constructive" rather than "sceptical" way. The ambition is to make arrangements work better rather than delay or frustrate.
This morning's Telegraph reports that the EU desk will be moved to the centre of the UN General Assembly as part of a "back down" by William Hague:
"Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign minister or "High Representative", will be given a special seat alongside a new European UN ambassador with "the right to speak in a timely manner, the right of reply, the right to circulate documents, the right to make proposals and submit amendments (and) the right to raise points of order". EU sources told The Daily Telegraph that William Hague, the foreign secretary, was forced to "back down" and accept the plan as part of the creation of a Brussels diplomatic service under the Lisbon Treaty."
"Supporting the EU in having enhanced rights in the UN General Assembly is a good example. We want the High Representative to be able to do what the rotating presidency used to do: to speak and act in support of an agreed common position. The Foreign Secretary explained that policy in more detail in a written ministerial statement earlier today. If the General Assembly agrees, the High Representative will have the rights necessary, and no more than the rights necessary, to fulfil the representational role previously carried out by the rotating presidency. That includes the right to speak after the member states have spoken, but not the right to a seat among individual UN members and certainly not the right to vote in the General Assembly. These arrangements will not give EU delegations enhanced rights in United Nations agencies or in other international organisations."
Mr Lidington was also warm about the relationship that the Coalition wants with Baroness Ashton, the "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy":
"The High Representative has made a very good start to her challenging
role. She has an impossible job-almost three jobs, in fact: High
Representative, British Commissioner in Brussels and chair of the
Foreign Affairs Council. She has been criticised for not being at two
different ministerial meetings that were held in two different
countries at the same time, but that seems more than a little unfair. I
am told that she has 400 days of appointments in the year, and she does
not yet really have a proper department to help her. The Conservatives
wished her well when she embarked on her task and my right hon. Friend
the Foreign Secretary and I are already working closely with her."
Labour MPs were delighted at Mr Lidington's contributions yesterday. Labour's former Europe Minister, Chris Bryant welcomed Mr Lidington's "conversion". And this from Michael Connarty MP:
"I am sensitive about intruding on private grief, but I am witnessing the acting out of a scenario in which a Minister who takes a very positive approach to issues relating to the European Union is surrounded by a large number of Eurosceptic Members of Parliament who had previously imagined that they were serving under a Eurosceptic Government. The words "a cosy consensus" have been used, but I am not sure that what is happening. I see it more as the sweet breeze of EU realism blowing through the Conservative Government."
"I regard this whole decision as a triumph of European aspirations and European parliamentary ambitions over reality. I am deeply worried about the manner in which this game of multidimensional chess will play out, and I have already indicated to my hon. Friend the Minister my concern about the overlapping functions and the contradictions that will emerge between the necessity of maintaining our bilateral relations with other countries and the extremely ambitious proposals in this decision on global reach. It is phenomenal to imagine an external action service on this scale that would in any way be regarded as not interfering with our domestic diplomatic service."
* Not all Tory MEPs voted for the EEAS. Dan Hannan, Nirj Deva and Roger Helmer, for example, voted against. I also understand that Geoffrey Van Ordern MEP abstained.