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About the Assembly

1955-2005: Half a century of parliamentary debate on European security and defence


The Assembly of WEU, which has its premises in Paris, was founded in 1954 and held its opening session on 5 July 1955. As the first European interparliamentary assembly for security and defence matters, the Assembly is a forum for debate that today has three main areas of activity:

(a) It represents the parliamentary dimension of Western European Union based on its consultative powers vis-à-vis the WEU Council as laid down in Article IX of the 1954 modified Brussels Treaty. It scrutinises the full implementation of the collective defence obligation laid down in Article V of the Treaty. Article IX of the Treaty states that

the Council of Western European Union shall make an annual report on its activities [...] to an Assembly composed of representatives of the Brussels Treaty Powers to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe.”

The fact that it is treaty-based makes the WEU Assembly, together with the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, one of only three such parliamentary institutions in Europe.

(b) Following the transfer of WEU’s operational activities to the EU in 2000, it acts as the Interparliamentary European Security and Defence Assembly, focusing on the European Security and Defence Policy and the further development of the European Union’s civil and military crisis-management capabilities.

(c) It also continues to scrutinise intergovernmental cooperation in the field of armaments and armaments research and development, which are funded and carried out by the 19 nations of the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG) (the work of this Group is soon going to be taken over by the European Defence Agency) and the Western European Armaments Organisation (WEAO) (17 nations), two organisations operating under the aegis of WEU.

European national parliaments send delegations to the Assembly, which currently has some 400 members.  In 2005 plenary sessions will be held on 13-15 June and on 5-7 December. Committee meetings are held on a regular basis together with colloquies, conferences and seminars on specific topics.

The European Union has now embarked on a further stage of integration: that of EU-led international civil and military crisis management in the framework of a joint security and defence policy. On 29 October 2004, the EU Heads of State and Government signed the Constitutional Treaty. The text contains important procedural innovations aimed, among other things, at making ESDP decision-making more efficient and confirming the European Union’s ambition to become a serious actor on the international stage.

This European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is not a single Community policy. It remains intergovernmental. One of the fundamental democratic cornerstones of our times is that any intergovernmental cooperation should be mirrored by interparliamentary cooperation. WEU, NATO, OSCE and the Council of Europe are successful examples of that principle. In practice, because the EU’s High Representative is also the WEU Secretary-General and the members of the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC) also make up the WEU Permanent Council, there is already some structured dialogue on ESDP issues between the national parliamentarians represented in the Assembly and the ESDP executive.

However, until now, neither the Assembly of WEU nor the European Parliament has been given the remit necessary to ensure the same level of parliamentary scrutiny of the EU’s ESDP activities as is provided for in the modified Brussels Treaty. This includes the fundamental obligation on the part of the Council to provide a written annual report on its activities and to reply to parliamentary recommendations and questions. The Assembly is currently acting as the interparliamentary platform for the ESDP on the basis of the parliamentary instruments for which the WEU legal framework makes provision. The Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the EU, which is appended to the Constitutional Treaty, could open up additional possibilities for interparliamentary dialogue on ESDP.

But despite all the institutional changes in Europe, the Assembly of WEU is still the only European parliamentary institution that allows national parliamentarians to monitor security and defence issues. It provides a forum for debate where European political leaders – such as heads of state and government as well as foreign affairs and defence ministers – regularly engage in discussions with national parliamentarians from all the WEU nations and beyond. The Assembly maintains a close dialogue with the Russian Federation and also regularly invites parliamentarians from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Ukraine to take part in its debates.

Against this background the Parliamentary Assembly of WEU continues to make a dedicated contribution to all issues of security and stability on the European continent. The “Petersberg tasks” defining the scope of ESDP’s crisis-management activities, the (former WEU) Satellite Centre providing the EU with a certain degree of autonomy in analysing space imagery, the growing Europeanisation of NATO structures, the vision of a European chain of command and the handbook on military standards and proceedings given as a reference to the EU Military Staff – all these are results of WEU’s past experience and of the political impulse and input provided by national parliamentarians working together in the Assembly.

In view of its experience and composition, the interparliamentary nature of the Assembly is clearly a model for the future structure of collective participation by national parliaments in the EU.

To carry out its tasks the Assembly appoints a Presidential Committee, a Standing Committee and six other permanent committees which prepare reports and recommendations. The Presidential Committee is the steering body of the Assembly. The Standing Committee, composed of the members of the Presidential Committee and members of the Assembly, acts on behalf of the Assembly between plenary sessions. The Assembly has ten Vice-Presidents. The Clerk to the Assembly and his staff provide the secretariat.

The main political work is done by the Defence Committee, which is concerned with European security and defence issues from an operational and military standpoint, by the Political Committee, which addresses the political aspects of European security and defence, and by the Technological and Aerospace Committee, which 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.

The members of the Assembly meet twice a 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 members of the Assembly meet twice a 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.



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Tel: (+33)1.53.67.22.00 – Fax: (+33)1.53.67.22.01; info@assembly.weu.int – http://assembly.weu.int
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