Legal personality

The Charlemagne building, home of EU foreign policy (picture JLogan)

The British anti-European newspapers are concerned today about the prospect of the European Union acquiring “legal personality” as a result of the next European treaty. This was Article I-7 of the constitutional treaty of 2004, and the idea still sticks around.

The papers object that the EU might then sign international treaties without the approval of the member states. This is of course nonsense in several directions.

First, any negotiating mandate will be agreed by the Council of Ministers, as will any final deal agreed. The negotiations of any treaty would themselves be conducted by the European Commission, but the member states remain decisive.

Secondly, this system already exists: the European Community has legal personality right now and is an influential actor at the World Trade Organisation, for example. (Read about the confusion over EU jargon here.)

To give the EU legal personality would enable the EU to play the same influential role in other international issues as it does in trade. And that’s important, as those same anti-European newspapers might care to admit, if they read their own business pages.

For example, read Irwin Stelzer, adviser to Rupert Murdoch, in today’s Sunday Times. Commenting on American concerns over China’s trade policies, he remarks that “trade issues now relate as much to national security as to mere economics.” (Read the article here.)

That’s right. But without legal personality for the EU, Europe’s trade policies will fail to incorporate the essential security dimension.

About the Author