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INSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS International representation

A Union with one voice?

By Jennifer Rankin  -  06.05.2010 / 04:40 CET
The Lisbon treaty was supposed to clarify who speaks for the EU in international negotiations, but that is proving difficult.

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Fact file

Sincere co-operation?

It is no surprise that it is still hard for member states to agree a common line where their views are opposed. The Lisbon treaty was supposed to ease the emergence of common negotiating positions, by extending qualified-majority voting in some areas. But this does not clear up what the EU should do when consensus is required.

The possibility has been raised that when EU member states cannot agree a common position, they should abstain en masse in international meetings – an issue that came up when the Netherlands and the UK abandoned an agreed EU position and voted for stronger protection for endangered bluefin tuna at a recent international meeting. Malta accused them of departing from the doctrine of “sincere co-operation”, a provision of the Lisbon treaty that requires countries to “assist each other”. The Commission also considers that the countries are in breach of those parts of the treaty.

But Sandy Luk of ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation, dissents. In the bluefin tuna case, the Netherlands and the UK were entitled to vote as they did, Luk says, because by this stage of the conference a rival EU proposal had already failed. “The common position had been reflected, which meant that the UK was free to vote for stricter rules.”

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