THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF ANDRIJ SHKIL
Assembly of Western-european Union
The Assembly was founded in 1954 when the 1948 Brussels Treaty on European security and defence cooperation was modified to establish the “Western European Union”. It contains an unconditional mutual defence commitment on the part of member states (Article V). That article stipulates that “If any of the High Contracting Parties should be the object of an armed attack in Europe, the other High Contracting Parties will, in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, afford the Party so attacked all the military and other aid and assistance in their power”.
Article IX of the modified Brussels Treaty obliges WEU member governments represented in the Council to provide national parliamentarians who sit in the Assembly with а written annual report on their security and defence activities.
The parliamentarians examine the report and make recommendations to governments which are bound to reply. The aim is to ensure that cooperation between governments at European level is mirrored by cooperation between national parliamentarians meeting at the same level.
When intergovernmental policy is accompanied by interparliamentary scrutiny, there is more transparency and democratic accountability than when scrutiny is confined to the national level alone.
The Assembly, located in Paris, examines and supports intergovernmental activities at European level in all areas of European security and defence including cooperation on defence equipment. Following the transfer of Weu’s operational activities to the EU, the Assembly’s main focus is to scrutinise the Eu’s European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) while continuing to monitor the implications of Weu’s collective defence commitment under Article V of the modified Brussels Treaty, as well as cooperation with NATO under Article IV, which establishes an organic link between WEU and the Atlantic Alliance. The Assembly pays particular attention to issues like peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa.
The Assembly’s legality
The main feature of the modified Brussels Treaty is that it obliges the WEU Council to report on security and defence activities to national parliamentarians in the Assembly. No such obligation exists for the EU Council. Hence the Assembly is currently acting as an interparliamentary forum for the ESDP on the basis of the parliamentary instruments for which the WEU legal framework makes provision. “Double-hatting”, the system whereby а person works for his or her country in both the EU and WEU, facilitates the dialogue between parliamentarians and governments: the Ambassadors representing member states in the Esdp’s main political steering body, the EU Political and Security Committee (PSC), also make up the WEU Permanent Council, which regularly meets the Assembly’s committees. Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers sit on both the EU and WEU Councils.
The EU High Representative Javier Solana, who is responsible for the ESDP, is at the same time the WEU Secretary-general, thus creating а link between both organisations at the highest executive level.
This process does not amount to scrutiny of the executive in the strict sense of the term, which is the prerogative of the national parliaments. Rather, it constitutes а mechanism for being informed and consulted by the European decisionmakers both before and after decisions are taken, so as to be able to monitor intergovernmental activities at European level in the field of the CFSP and ESDP. This makes it easier for each national parliament to exercise democratic scrutiny over its government and is also essential for winning the full support of citizens for the ESDP.
The Assembly enables national parliamentarians from all EU and/or European NATO member states to establish а structured dialogue with the EU executive, giving them the opportunity to cross-examine Ministers from those countries. By being better informed about ESDP issues as а result, they are more able to scrutinise their own governments’ security and defence policy and to promote а European vision of security and defence questions. In scrutinising its government’s policy, а parliament must be able to take full account of European interests.
Who are the members of the Assembly?
38 European countries, including all EU and European NATO member states, have the right to send parliamentary delegations to the Assembly. It currently has nearly 400 members. Many are members of the defence, foreign or European affairs committees in their own parliaments. The number of delegates depends on the size of the country. In recognition of the accession to the EU and/or NATO of а number of European countries which are WEU associate members and associate partners, the Assembly has extended the voting rights of their parliamentary delegations and granted them “affiliate” status. While this falls short of full membership, it entitles them to vote on the substantive texts (i.e. recommendations) in committee and in plenary session.
Parliamentarians from WEU observer countries and from other EU member states whose governments have full rights in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), but no status in WEU, are now also entitled to vote in committee. Affiliate associate partner delegations take part in all Assembly activities including committee meetings and plenary sessions, but do not vote on the texts. However, like the parliamentary representatives of the permanent guest and special guest countries, their parliamentarians may speak in plenary debates.
What are the Assembly’s structures?
The main work is done by four committees. The Defence Committee is concerned with European security and defence issues from an operational and military standpoint. The Political Committee addresses the political aspects of European security and defence. The Technological and Aerospace Committee is concerned with matters pertaining to defence and dual technologies and to cooperation in the field of armaments. The Committee for Parliamentary and Public Relations is responsible for cooperation with national parliaments and monitors and analyses security and defence debates in national parliaments as well as parliamentary questions put to national governments. It also makes comparative studies and proposes improved benchmarks for government accountability.
How do national parliamentarians work in the Assembly?
The members of the Assembly meet twice а year for plenary sessions and throughout the year in committee meetings, conferences and colloquies. Each committee appoints Rapporteurs from among its members, who present draft reports and recommendations on current security and defence issues to the competent committee. After several debates during which the draft recommendations are often considerably modified, committee members vote on the final texts which are then submitted to the plenary session for amendment and adoption by the Assembly. Assembly Recommendations are sent to the Council, which is obliged to give written replies. Parliamentarians also have the right to put questions to the Council.
The Assembly’s achievements
Governments and citizens appreciate the Assembly’s strategic reflection on all questions relating to security and stability on the European continent. The Assembly’s reports are recognised as reference documents for the international debate on security and defence issues. Progress in European security and defence integration has often been initiated by the Assembly’s
- the Petersberg tasks, agreed by WEU Ministers in 1992, still define the scope of ESDP crisis-management activities;
- the former WEU Satellite Centre in Torrejón/Spain now provides the EU with а degree of autonomy in analysing satellite imagery for intelligence;
- the WEU Institute for Security Studies in Paris has been transferred to the EU;
- Defence Ministers participate in the Council’s activities;
- increasing Europeanisation of NATO;
- recognition of the need for а European chain of command;
- the handbook on European military standards and procedures, given as а reference to the EU Military Staff;
- Europe-wide cooperation on defence equipment and in particular the creation of the European Defence Agency.