Western European Union dissolved

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    Groundbreaking European alliance disbanded


    By Stanley Pignal
    Published: April 8 2010 03:00 | Last updated: April 8 2010 03:00

    Without so much as a whimper, the body that pioneered six decades of European integration was wound up late last week.

    Based on a 1948 treaty, the Western European Union was a forerunner of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

    But having been edged out of important policy-making by both institutions, it transformed itself into a forum where delegations of national parliamentarians met regularly to discuss security issues.

    The ten-country alliance will now be disbanded in the coming year, it was announced, giving its members enough time to decide which of its activities should be taken over by the EU and which will be discontinued. About 60 staff in Paris and Brussels will be redeployed or made redundant.

    The WEU started out as a collective self-defence treaty designed to keep a close eye on any resurgence in German aggression. It remained in place when, less than a year later, all five original signatories - France, Britain and the Benelux states - also joined Nato, which was more focused on the perceived Soviet threat.

    But the signatories - later joined by Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal - also pledged "to strengthen the economic, social and cultural ties by which [we] are already united" and "to co-ordinate efforts to create in Western Europe a firm basis for European economic recovery" - the sort of language used later by the institutions that became the European Union.

    It is partly the EU's success in fostering ever closer union that caused its precursor's demise. The Lisbon Treaty has given the bloc new powers in foreign and security policy, and formalised the collective self-defence obligations between the EU's 27 member states.

    "The WEU has accomplished its historical role," its presidency said earlier this week. "With the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, a new phase in European security and defence begins."

    The WEU also fell foul of cost-cutting drives across foreign ministries. "From a budgetary point of view, maintaining the WEU became difficult to defend," said Steven Vanackere, Belgium's foreign minister.

    Chris Bryant, Britain's minister for Europe, said: "The Western European Union is no longer relevant to today's European security architecture", adding the UK alone would save €2m ($2.6m, £1.75m) a year.

    The assembly, consisting of some 400 national parliamentarians convening regularly since 1954, will also be scrapped, to the delight of the European Parliament, which resented being sidelined on security issues in favour of the WEU.

    Discussions are in place to keep some sort of forum of national parliamentarians, said Bob Walter, a British MP currently president of the WEU assembly.

    "Large parts of the European security set-up are guided by intergovernmental policy, which should be scrutinised by interparliamentary bodies," he said.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7e9f88e0-42a5-11df-91d6-00144feabdc0.html
     
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