Skip to main content

Western European Union

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 30 March 2010


My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

The Western European Union (WEU) has played a valuable role in discussion on European security. It embedded the principle of mutual defence in post-war Europe, promoted consultation and co-operation on defence and security matters in western Europe and has conducted operations in a number of vital theatres, including the Persian Gulf and the Adriatic. Members from both Houses, past and present, have played a valuable role in pursuing the UK’s interests within the WEU and I would like to take this opportunity to pay warm tribute to their efforts.

But the WEU’s mutual defence role was essentially symbolic as soon as NATO was established and successive UK Governments have made clear, as the Lisbon treaty does, that NATO is the forum and the foundation for collective defence of the Allies.

Moreover, the operational role of the WEU has been succeeded by the EU, following the UK-French initiative to create security and defence policy capacity in the EU. With this development, which NATO and the US specifically have welcomed, it is clear that the Western European Union is no longer relevant to today's European security architecture. While the UK recognises the role the WEU Assembly has played in engaging the views of national parliamentarians from across Europe on European defence, we do not believe this justifies the cost of over €2 million a year to the UK alone.

For that reason, the UK intends to withdraw from the Western European Union. In accordance with the Modified Brussels Treaty, we will formally inform the Belgian Government of our decision in April 2010. A 12-month notice period will then follow, during which the UK will remain a member of the WEU, giving an opportunity for discussion on how to develop cross-European parliamentary scrutiny of European defence issues.

Given the inter-governmental nature of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, we believe that this remains entirely a matter for national parliaments and co-ordination between them. There is no reason and no case for the European Parliament to expand its competence in this area.

We are in discussion with other WEU member states on this issue. Many of them also believe that the time has come to radically reform or close the organisation. Following this announcement, we will continue to engage our European partners on this issue and on future cross-European parliamentary scrutiny of European defence.

We will also seek to use this opportunity to improve the exchange of information and engagement between the EU and NATO, including the involvement of non-EU NATO European allies in European defence.