Wednesday 18 September 2019

Q&A: Does this affect our military neutrality?

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
John Downing

John Downing

Q. What did France do in Brussels yesterday?

A. France invoked Article 42.7 of the 2009 EU Treaty of Lisbon. This provides mutual assistance between member states in event of attack. It is the first time it has been invoked. All 28 EU countries, including Ireland, said Yes.

Q. What does this Article 42.7 actually say?

A. "If a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance within Article 51 of the United Nations Charter."

Q. Does Article 42.7 have any effect on Irish military neutrality?

A. The Irish Government has insisted it has absolutely no effect on neutrality. Officials argue that Ireland's long commitment to military neutrality stands. They argue that it is restated in the major foreign policy document 'Global Island' published last January.

Q. Is the Government right?

A. This was a contentious issue during the two debates on the EU Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and 2009. Voters rejected the treaty first off. The EU gave additional guarantees on neutrality which helped secure a Yes vote second time around. Claims that the EU will "march Ireland to war" have never been realised.

Q. What does Article 42.7 do in practice?

A. Article 42.7 essentially means that if a member state suffers armed aggression on its territory, the other member states are obliged to give it assistance by all means in their power.

Q. Does that not amount to collective defence?

A. Not really because the Article also specifies that "this does not prejudice the security and defence policy of certain member states". That means States retain control over national security/defence policy.

Q. Are we sure Ireland is one of these "certain member states"?

A. Yes. Ireland, along with Sweden, Finland and Austria, are neutral EU member states. Malta and Cyprus, which joined in May 2004, are not members of the Nato military alliance. Ireland is a member of Nato's Partnership for Peace (PfP) since 1999. PfP does peacekeeping, search and rescue, and humanitarian aid.

Q. But doesn't "obliged' really mean "bound to"?

A. Again Irish officials argue that in realpolitik terms all member states have a wide latitude within the limits of their own policies, law and resources.

Q. Could Article 42.7 lead to Ireland taking part in a new EU military operation against terrorists?

A. Brussels diplomats pointed out that EU High Representative Federica Mogherini stressed that supporting France does not necessarily mean an EU defence mission. States can assist by other means.

Q. But what if the EU did want an EU mission?

A. In such cases Ireland can only deploy personnel on missions abroad if the famous "triple lock" is undone. This means permission is needed from the Government, the Dáil, and authorisation from the United Nations Security Council.

Q. So what happens next?

A. France may outline what it needs in assistance. Ireland and the others can consider how they can respond. France may yet also seek more time on meeting EU economic targets.

Irish Independent

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