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Mr. Robathan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the common European security and defence identity. However, I feel that I must apologise in advance for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on Thursday. I happen to know that he will be visiting the Duma on that day.

Mr. Maples: I am told that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate is out campaigning in the European elections today. No doubt, that is what all the other 200 or 300 hon. Members who would be present if this were not the day of the European elections are doing.

Let us be clear about what we are discussing. We are discussing a European security and defence identity--not an identity within NATO, as set out in the 1996 Berlin NATO summit, by the Prime Minister in Amsterdam or by the Secretary of State for Defence during the debate on the strategic defence review, but a European Union military capability. That is fundamentally different.

The Prime Minister took his position a little further in an article in the New York Times on 12 November, where he said:

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    The next day, at the North Atlantic Assembly in Edinburgh, he did the same by saying:

    "We must change this, by ensuring that the EU can speak with a single, authoritative voice on the key international issues of the day, and can intervene effectively where necessary."

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does my hon. Friend agree that the key point about a common foreign and security policy is not simply whether European NATO states and EU states that are not in NATO agree to work in harmony on defence issues, but whether a majority of those states can impose a defence or foreign policy commitment on a minority of those states that might disagree?

Mr. Maples: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Clearly, at present, that is a separate pillar of the European Union, and it will require unanimity to do anything, but we have been down that road a few times before on other subjects. We find that what starts out requiring unanimity soon does not. I will come to our reasons for thinking that European defence is much better dealt with in NATO than within the European Union and why it will be dangerous to have two overlapping alliances.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: I am most interested in the hon. Gentleman's analysis. As he knows, I take a much more sympathetic view towards the idea of a European security and defence identity. If his fears are well founded, why is it that, in the United States, there has been support for the initiative that the Government have been taking, with the support of others, including ourselves?

Mr. Maples: I will come to the United States position, but it is not supporting that idea. It supports the development of the European security and defence identity within NATO. It makes that clear again and again. What was agreed at Cologne breaches the principles that Madeleine Albright set out in her Financial Times article about decoupling, discrimination and duplication. When one talks to American diplomats and the American State Department privately, they say that they are very concerned about the matter. I will come to why that is so.

Therefore, there has been a fundamental shift in defence policy. There has been no change of circumstances. There has been no international event to provoke the necessity for rethinking our defence alliance arrangements. There has been no explanation of why the shift has happened. The House of Commons has not had an explanation of why the Government have thought it appropriate to make a 180 degree change on defence policy.

It is a big change. We have had no explanation. The Secretary of State made no attempt to explain it today, and the Prime Minister made no attempt to explain it on Tuesday, because it is being done not for its own sake but for the sake of good relations with Europe. If we can throw a few British interests into the pot to have a better weekend in Austria, Cologne or wherever it is, let us do it. It has been done not to improve our security, but because the UK is not in the euro.

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We are running up from 1 January 1999. Everyone else will be in the euro. The Prime Minister wants to be at the centre of Europe, at the core of decision making. He is getting left behind because we are not in the euro. He needs to find something else that will get him into it. That is an appalling way to govern the country, where the UK's national interest is not put first; the Prime Minister's ego is. It is, apparently, not enough for him to enjoy the sycophantic adulation from his Back Benchers; he needs it abroad as well.

I cannot think why the Prime Minister bothers to go to these meetings because he just signs up to anything that the French or Germans put in front of him. We saw that then. We saw it at St. Malo and in Cologne. We saw it when the presidency document on the matter was signed by the Government without debate or criticism. That is not the right way to look after our interests.

Our position on the issue is what it has always been and what the Government's was until 19 October last year: the development of a European security and defence identity within NATO is an excellent idea. Michael Portillo was at the forefront of the initiative at the Berlin NATO summit in 1996. We are all for more European military co-operation.

The relationship between British and French forces at operational level is fantastic. It should be developed. We are the two countries most serious about defence in Europe. We are all for greater interoperability, which we need if we are to act together in joint task forces in Kosovo and such places. We need to do things together. We need to set up mechanisms by which Europeans can act without the United States if the United States does not want to be involved--we all agree about that--but that is in place. That was set up at Berlin. The arrangements were set up to allow that to be done, using the Western European Union and NATO planning and command structures that are already in place.

The United States made it clear that, in those circumstances, it would make available its heavy lift, intelligence and communication assets, which we do not have. We cannot undertake such operations without those assets. We do not have them, but the United States has said that it would make them available.

We do not support the responsibility being transferred to the European Union. It will undermine NATO. We will have two parallel overlapping alliances with slightly different agendas in Europe. If it undermines NATO, it will undermine the United States's commitment to NATO and to the security of Europe. That is fundamental.

The European Union is not able to have common policies in those areas not because the institutional framework is not in place, but because we are different sovereign states with different interests, agendas and histories. We find it difficult to agree on those things. If we had the same objectives, we would have no difficulty in acting together, as we have, for example, over Kosovo. It is not the machinery that is at fault.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I am straining to understand the mischief that the hon. Gentleman is describing. If he looks at the Official Report later, he will find that he said, among a long litany of things, that there could be circumstances where there could be some conflict in Europe with which the United States does not wish to be involved; I think that he said that.

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Therefore, it seems plainly obvious that we need to have the mechanisms and institutions with which Europe can respond collectively. Inexorably, logic tells us that the vehicle for that must be the European Union.

Mr. Maples: I thought that I said that we supported what was initiated at the Berlin NATO summit in 1996, which made arrangements under which the European members of NATO could act without the United States, using NATO planning, command and control procedures and American assets. There may be circumstances in which the Europeans want to act without the United States. At the moment, it is difficult to envisage that happening because we seem incapable of doing anything without the United States taking the lead. Kosovo is an interesting example of something that the Americans probably would expect us in Europe to be able to sort out by ourselves, but which we clearly could not either at an operational level or in terms of leadership. If we get to the point where we can, let us be able to do it--I have no problem with that--but the arrangements are in place by which one can undertake the task through NATO.

I come to the American opposition to the moves. It is significant and it was signalled way back in June last year, when William Cohen, the United States Secretary of Defence, said that its commitment to a greater role for Europe was evidenced by its support for WEU as a vehicle for strengthening the European pillar of NATO and for the European security and defence identity within NATO. He made it clear then that the United States saw the development as something that would happen within NATO, but the Prime Minister took the policy further by signing an agreement with the French in December in St. Malo. That is where it is out in the open.

Paragraph 3 of that agreement says that

the things that were envisaged at Berlin--

    "or national or multinational European means outside the NATO framework."

Clearly, that was seen by President Chirac as a major shift in policy. It was no wonder that he was pleased because the French have been pursuing that agenda for some time. He succeeded in changing the opinion that successive British Governments had held for many years and in opening a chink in the United States-United Kingdom relationship, something that has long been a French policy objective. It is not fully integrated into NATO. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in getting it fully integrated two or three years ago when we made serious efforts to do so.

The United States's response to that was again cautious. James Foley, the State Department spokesman, said:

nothing about anything independent happening outside NATO and within the European Union.

Madeleine Albright wrote a definitive article a few days after that in the Financial Times. The American position was made politely, in the friendly way that we would

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expect from our closest ally, but absolutely clearly. She said:

    "We will examine all proposals on European defence and security with a simple question in mind: does it improve our effectiveness in working together? . . . the emphasis should be placed on enhancing the practical capabilities Europe brings to our alliance.

    This means avoiding what I would call the Three Ds.

    First, we want to avoid decoupling: NATO is the expression of the indispensable transatlantic link. It should remain an organisation of sovereign allies, where European decision-making is not unhooked from broader alliance decision-making."

What happened at Cologne does exactly that--it unhooks European decision making from alliance decision making. Mrs. Albright continued:

    "Second, we want to avoid duplication: defence resources are too scarce for allies to conduct force planning, operate command structures, and make procurement decisions twice--once at NATO and once more at the EU."

However, Cologne sets up a series of committees and staff structures. It talks of developing satellite, intelligence and heavy lift capability, all of which is duplication on already stretched budgets. She continued:

    "third, we want to avoid any discrimination against NATO members who are not EU members."

The Cologne document makes a passing reference to making some arrangements by which those members can be involved, but important members of NATO are not members of the EU--Turkey, Norway and the three new members, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. There will probably be more. Those states will not be involved.

The Western European Union provided a forum in which all of those states could be involved and have access to NATO assets. We are now developing something that excludes those states. At Cologne, all those principles were broken.

It is pretty clear where our European partners are going. In February, Emma Bonino wrote an article in the Financial Times saying:

Mr. Prodi, the new President of the European Commission said in "On the Record" two weeks ago that Europe needed to develop its own army to enable it to act quickly to intervene in crises like Kosovo.

That is how they see it. What the Germans, French and Italians want is clear and we are going along with it. No doubt, we think that we can get off this roundabout, or this train, at some point and that we do not have to go the whole way. It is 100 per cent. clear to me where those countries want to go and it is not in our interests to go there with them. There should be some extremely good reason for doing what seems to me to be acting against our national interest and the views of the United States.

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