Peter Sutherland: the need for QMV in foreign policy

Peter Sutherland

From a speech given to the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust in London on 22 November 2006:

The success of any foreign policy depends on political agreement on the goals to be achieved, the will to commit resources and the ability to take timely decisions. As I have argued above there is no doubt in my mind that the Community method is by far the most effective method of taking decisions. I know there are doubts and hesitations in several Member States, including the UK, but I am convinced that for all Member States there is a far better chance of achieving national goals in foreign policy by working through the EU than trying to achieve these goals alone.

In light of the challenges facing Europe we cannot continue to allow all decisions to be taken on the basis of the lowest common denominator. I recognise that you cannot have QMV for military action but for the vast majority of foreign policy issues there should be no insuperable problem in introducing majority voting. This could be done in stages. First, with an “emergency brake” to provide for consultations at the European Council in the event of a major disagreement; second, moving to a super qualified majority; and then, some day, in a third stage, to the normal QMV procedures. I understand the Quai d’Orsay carried out a survey last year seeking decisions since 2000 where France would have been outvoted in foreign policy. With the notable exception of Iraq (and here military action was involved) there were no cases. I rather suspect there would be a similar result if the same assessment was made by the Foreign Office in the United Kingdom or Germany.

Whilst I believe we must move steadily towards QMV in foreign policy, I also recognise that this itself is not a panacea for an improved foreign policy and will take time to achieve. This is why I think there has to be action on a number of other issues. These include:

  • the designation of an EU foreign minister (combining the roles of High Representative and Vice President of the Commission)
  • the creation of a European diplomatic service
  • legal personality for the EU
  • the end of the rotating Presidency role in foreign affairs

Read the whole speech here.

About the Author