19th Mar 2018

EU should end foreign policy vetoes, Germany says

  • Von der Leyen: EU should not be 'blocked by ... one country' (Photo:

EU foreign policy decisions should be made by majority votes, not by consensus, Germany's defence minister has said.

"We are thinking about perhaps moving towards a majority vote in diplomacy and foreign affairs so that we can respond rapidly to crises and speak with one voice, one European voice," Ursula von der Leyen said at an event in London on Wednesday (28 February).

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"And so you cannot be blocked by the one country who doesn't want you to utter anything in the direction [that] Europe wants to speak," she added, according to the Reuters news agency.

Von der Leyen spoke at a symposium at the London School of Economics (LSE), where she once studied.

The EU treaty currently says that "the European Council shall act unanimously" when it takes decisions on common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

The treaty contains derogations for votes on minor CFSP actions, but even these can be vetoed by any of the 28 EU states on grounds of "vital and stated reasons of national policy".

The German minister's proposal to abolish the cardinal rule comes at a time of deeper EU military integration, designed to create joint rapid reaction forces.

It also comes amid deeper EU integration more broadly speaking in the context of the UK's decision to leave the bloc.

Von der Leyen said on Wednesday that the new EU military capabilities would be complementary to Nato and would focus on humanitarian missions.

Brexit will leave Germany and France as the EU's main military powers, with the German minister saying that European allies had to increase military spending to develop modern capabilities.

"The whole modernisation process will have to go on over years in Germany - and many, many other countries too," she said.

Von der Leyen met with UK defence minister Gavin Williamson the same day.

The British defence chief restated the UK's commitment to EU security after it leaves Europe in March next year.

"Germany is one of our closest allies and I look forward to even closer cooperation," Williamson said.

"The UK and Germany face the same intensifying threats to our way of life and we work closely together to protect our citizens from harm", he added.

The British parliament is currently debating how to legally decouple UK foreign policy from the EU as part of the government's wider Brexit bill.

Speaking on future UK sanctions policy, British foreign minister Boris Johnson told MPs at a debate last week that "the aim of the bill is to grant Her Majesty's Government full power over British sanctions policy after we leave the EU and, in a memorable phrase, to take back control."

He endorsed the bill on the same grounds that Von der Leyen endorsed abolishing EU unanimity - that the UK should not be bound by 27 potential vetoes from other EU states.

"Nothing in the bill will stop us concerting our sanctions with any measures imposed by the EU, but if there is no agreement in the EU, as there often is not, Britain can act independently", Johnson said.

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