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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The European Parliament



Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

The 754-member European Parliament (EP) is a key institution of the European Union (EU), a unique political and economic partnership composed of 27 member states. The EP is the only EU institution that is directly elected. Although the EP does not formally initiate EU legislation, it plays a significant role in the EU’s legislative and budgeting processes, and works closely with the two other main EU bodies, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers).

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serve five-year terms. The most recent EP elections were held in June 2009. The EP currently has seven political groups, which caucus according to political ideology rather than nationality, plus a number of “non-attached” or independent members. The EP has 20 standing committees that are key actors in the adoption of EU legislation and a total of 41 delegations that maintain international parliament-to-parliament relations. The EP is led by a President, who oversees its work and represents the EP externally.

Once limited to being a consultative assembly, the EP has accumulated more power over time. Experts assert that the EU’s latest effort at institutional reform—the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on December 1, 2009—increases the relative power of the EP within the EU considerably. The EP now shares legislative power with the Council of Ministers in most policy areas, giving the EP the right to accept, amend, or reject the vast majority of EU laws (with some exceptions in areas such as tax matters or foreign policy). The Lisbon Treaty also gives the EP the power to decide on the allocation of the EU budget jointly with the Council, the right to approve or reject international agreements, and greater decision-making authority on trade-related issues.

Many analysts note that the EP has not been shy about exerting its new powers under the Lisbon Treaty, and in some areas, with implications for U.S. interests. In February 2010, the EP rejected the U.S.-EU SWIFT agreement allowing U.S. authorities access to European financial data to help counter terrorism; in July 2010, the EP approved a revised U.S.-EU SWIFT accord, but only after several EP demands related to strengthening data privacy protections were agreed to by the United States and the other EU institutions. EP data privacy concerns also necessitated a new round of U.S.-EU negotiations on another anti-terrorism measure that permits the sharing of airline Passenger Name Record (PNR) data; an updated U.S.-EU PNR accord was ultimately approved by the EP in April 2012. Meanwhile, the EU and its member states are currently unable to join a new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)—negotiated by the United States, the EU, and several other countries to strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights— because the EP has rejected it due to civil liberty and free speech concerns.

Although supporters point to the EP’s growing institutional clout, others assert that the EP still faces several challenges of public perception. Skeptics contend that the EP lacks the legitimacy of national parliaments and that its powers remain somewhat limited. Criticism has also been directed at the costs incurred by the EP, especially given what some consider to be duplicate EP facilities in several European cities and consequent travel expenses incurred by MEPs.

Ties between the EP and the U.S. Congress are long-standing, and institutional cooperation currently exists through the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue (TLD). In light of the EP’s new powers following the entrance into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EP and its activities may be of increasing interest to the 113
th Congress. Also see CRS Report RS21372, The European Union: Questions and Answers, by Kristin Archick.


Date of Report: January 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS21998
Price: $29.95

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Friday, January 25, 2013

The United Kingdom and U.S.-UK Relations



Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs

Many U.S. officials and Members of Congress view the United Kingdom (UK) as the United States’ closest and most reliable ally. This perception stems from a combination of factors, including a sense of shared history, values, and culture, as well as extensive and long-established bilateral cooperation on a wide range of foreign policy and security issues. In the minds of many Americans, the UK’s strong role in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade reinforced an impression of closeness and solidarity.

The 2010 UK election resulted in the country’s first coalition government since the Second World War. The Conservative Party won the most votes in the election, and Conservative leader David Cameron became the UK’s prime minister. The Conservatives partnered with the Liberal Democrats, who came in third place, with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg named deputy prime minister. The Labour Party, now under the leadership of Ed Miliband, moved into opposition after leading the UK government since 1997.

Economic and fiscal issues have been the central domestic challenge facing the coalition thus far. Seeking to reduce the country’s budget deficit and national debt, the coalition adopted a five-year austerity program early in its tenure. With the UK entering a double-dip recession in 2012, the government has been maintaining its austerity strategy under considerable pressure and criticism. Austerity has also heightened social tensions and contributed to rising political friction between the coalition partners. Although the coalition arrangement went smoothly during its first year, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have subsequently disagreed about a series of domestic issues, including a number of proposed changes to the country’s political system.

Europe has been another source of tension. The UK has long been one of the most skeptical and ambivalent members of the 27-country European Union (EU). While the Conservative Party remains a stronghold of “euro-skeptics,” the Liberal Democrats are the UK’s most pro-EU political party. The Eurozone crisis has deepened British antipathy toward the EU, fueling calls to reclaim national sovereignty over issues where decision-making has been pooled and integrated in Brussels. Some analysts believe that a British departure from the EU is a growing possibility; Prime Minister Cameron may seek to renegotiate some of the terms of membership and put the UK’s relationship with the EU to a national referendum in 2015. Adding another note of uncertainty to the British political landscape, Scotland plans to hold a referendum in 2014 on whether to separate from the UK and become an independent country.

In recent years, some observers have suggested that the U.S.-UK relationship is losing relevance due to changing U.S. foreign policy priorities and shifting global dynamics. An imbalance of power in favor of the United States has occasionally led some British observers to call for a reassessment of their country’s approach to the relationship. Despite such anxieties, most analysts believe that the two countries will remain close allies that choose to cooperate on many important global issues such as counterterrorism, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, and global economic challenges.

Given its role as a close U.S. ally and partner, developments in the UK and its relations with the United States are of continuing interest to the U.S. Congress. This report provides an overview and assessment of some of the main dimensions of these topics. For a broader analysis of transatlantic relations, see CRS Report RS22163, The United States and Europe: Current Issues, by Derek E. Mix.



Date of Report: December 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL33105
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Northern Ireland: The Peace Process



Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

Since 1969, over 3,500 people have died as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom. The conflict, which has its origins in the 1921 division of Ireland, has reflected a struggle between different national, cultural, and religious identities. The Protestant majority (53%) in Northern Ireland defines itself as British and largely supports continued incorporation in the UK (unionists). The Catholic minority (44%) considers itself Irish, and many Catholics desire a united Ireland (nationalists).

For years, the British and Irish governments sought to facilitate a political settlement. After many ups and downs, the two governments and the Northern Ireland political parties participating in the peace talks announced an agreement on April 10, 1998. The resulting Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) called for devolved government—the transfer of power from London to Belfast—with a Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive Committee in which unionist and nationalist parties would share power. The agreement also contained provisions on decommissioning (disarmament), policing, human rights, UK security normalization (demilitarization), and the status of prisoners.

Despite a much improved security situation in the years since then, full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been challenging. For years, instability in Northern Ireland’s devolved government was the rule rather than the exception; decommissioning and police reforms were key sticking points. The devolved government was suspended for the fourth time in October 2002 amid a loss of trust and confidence on both sides of the conflict; this suspension lasted almost five years. During this time, London and Dublin led talks with Northern Ireland’s political parties to try to find a way forward.

On May 8, 2007, Northern Ireland’s devolved political institutions were restored following a power-sharing deal between the traditionally anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The DUP and Sinn Fein are the largest unionist and nationalist parties, respectively, in Northern Ireland and have long been viewed as the two most polarized forces in Northern Ireland politics. London and Dublin hoped that this deal would entrench the political settlement embodied in the Good Friday Agreement and produce a politically stable devolved government.

In 2008, tensions rose between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the outstanding issue of transferring authority for policing and justice affairs from London to Belfast. Given the sensitive nature of this portfolio, the parties had been unable to agree on its devolution at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. After protracted negotiations, the parties reached a deal in February 2010 paving the way for the devolution of police and justice powers in April 2010.

Successive U.S. administrations and many Members of Congress have actively supported the Northern Ireland peace process. For decades, the United States has provided development aid through the International Fund for Ireland (IFI). In recent years, congressional hearings have focused on the peace process, police reforms, and the status of public inquiries into several murders in Northern Ireland in which collusion between the security forces and paramilitary groups is suspected. Such issues related to Northern Ireland may continue to be of interest in the 113
th Congress.


Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS21333
Price: $29.95

 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey’s Accession Negotiations



Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

October 2012 marked the eighth anniversary of the European Union’s decision to proceed with formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union. During the first six months of 2012, accession negotiations with the EU had basically reached a political and technical stalemate with no additional chapters of the EU’s rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire opened. On July 1, 2012 when the Republic of Cyprus assumed the 6- month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, over the objections of EU officials, made good on his threat to freeze relations with the EU that involved Cyprus ensuring that no formal progress on accession would be achieved for the remainder of 2012. The EU’s enlargement process is normally overseen by the member state holding the rotating EU presidency.

Sensing that the accession process would achieve little in 2012, but not wanting to place Turkey on hold until after the Cypriot EU presidency concluded, the EU Commission proposed to initiate a new relationship with Turkey outside of the formal accession negotiations. On May 17, 2012, the EU’s new “positive agenda” with Turkey was launched. The “positive agenda” was described by the Commission as intended to bring fresh dynamics into EU-Turkey relations and by others as essentially an “institutional trick” intended to circumvent the Cyprus problem. Some believe that the new initiative appeared to be an actual informal accession negotiation and seemed comprehensive enough that it could eventually replace the accession process and more fully define future relations between the EU and Turkey, for some as a “privileged partnership” and others a “virtual membership”, but for most skeptics, something short of full EU membership. It appears the “positive agenda” will continue through the Irish presidency of the EU which began on January 1, 2013.

On October 10, 2012, the European Commission issued the first of the annual EU assessments of the enlargement progress made by the candidate countries. In its report, the Commission, while offering a few positive conclusions, expressed its overall disappointment with Turkey’s progress on a number of issues leading Ankara to express its disappointment with the "biased" and "unbalanced" report. Turkey’s continued refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to EU member Cyprus, or to open Turkey’s sea and air ports to Cypriot shipping and commerce until a political settlement has been achieved on Cyprus as well as Turkey’s position on the Cyprus EU presidency were problematic. On December 11, 2012, the European Council released its conclusions on enlargement. While the Council struck a more positive note regarding Turkey’s importance and listed several issues where the Council felt Turkey had made progress, it nevertheless repeated the shortfalls outlined in the Commission’s earlier assessment. For average Turks, EU membership seems to be becoming more irrelevant as Turkey’s economy continues to thrive and as Ankara continues to reposition and strengthen itself in its own neighborhood between secular Europe and the Islamist emergence in the Middle East. Many Turks seem to feel “being European” or achieving membership in the Union may no longer be needed in order for Turkey to define itself or to have a strong partnership with Europe.

This report provides a brief overview of the EU’s accession process and Turkey’s path to EU membership. The U.S. Congress has had a long-standing interest in Turkey as a NATO ally and partner in regional foreign policy and energy security issues. Although some Members of Congress have expressed support for Turkey’s membership in the EU, congressional interest and enthusiasm seem to have diminished recently.



Date of Report: January 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS22517
Price: $19.95

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