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Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Surely enlargement is not in our interest alone. However, will my right hon. Friend assess the damage to our interest resulting from our unpopularity with the candidate countries--indeed, from their hostility--if we were to block their aspirations towards the new Europe?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend puts his finger on the second big problem in the Conservative strategy. Someday, those dozen countries will be full members of the European Union. It is in Britain's interests that they should remember us as an ally and as an advocate of their membership. The Conservative strategy would leave the next generation of new members resenting Britain as a country that tried to block the treaty that paved their way to membership. When the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon speaks, he must defend that policy or, better still, tell the House he is going to drop it.

Agreement to the next round of enlargement and to the launch of the new treaty are Britain's two strategic objectives for Helsinki. However, there is a third: to take

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forward the work on the European security initiative. This is a British initiative. It was initially proposed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Portschach European summit and was endorsed at the subsequent UK-French summit at St. Malo. Over the year since then, we have built up strong support for it among all member states, culminating last month in the first ever joint meeting of the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the European Union. This is not a case of Europe imposing a burden on Britain; it is an example of Britain shaping the agenda of Europe.

Britain took that initiative because it is right. Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo have all shown that crisis management requires a joined-up approach that brings together the economic, financial and humanitarian assets of the European Union and the military assets of the European countries in NATO; but if we are to achieve that, we must address three priorities, and we shall address all of them at Helsinki.

First, the European Union must develop a more coherent and more urgent capacity for crisis management. I shall not readily forget the crisis of the first tidal wave of refugees to reach Macedonia, when Europe's response was handicapped because it was Easter weekend. That is why we now propose a standing political and security committee of senior officials, which will provide a permanent mechanism for implementing the common foreign and security policy and responding swiftly to emerging crisis.

Secondly, we need better transmission between the European Union, which is where we agree our common foreign policy, and NATO, which is the organisation to which we commit our military assets. That is why we are proposing a military committee, which would enable the European Union, in a crisis, to draw on expert and realistic advice on the feasible military options. It would be Britain's intention, and that of many of our partners, to double-hat our military representative to NATO as a member of that committee.

Thirdly, all the improvements in decision making will make no difference in practice if we do not have the capability to carry them out. Britain has already, through the strategic defence review, reshaped our military forces to enhance their capability for rapid, flexible deployment in a crisis; but Kosovo did expose for Europe as a whole a real problem in projecting effective military assets from immobile standing armies. That is why we are advocating that the European nations, co-operating together, should set themselves the target of being able to deploy, within 60 days, a corps level of military force and to sustain it in the field for at least a year.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Has it occurred to the Foreign Secretary that, with five member states of the European Union being neutrals, with some of them not being members of NATO, and with the United States of America of course not being a member of the European Union, there are many complications in what he proposes, and that the solution that he is talking about will create additional problems instead of resolving the problems that he instanced initially?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that this is a complex matter. We have had extensive discussions with the five members of the

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European Union that are not members of NATO. Today I met the Foreign Minister of Sweden, who confirmed that she had no concerns about the way in which we have reshaped our proposals for Helsinki. We expect support from Finland, which will hold the presidency in Helsinki. We have also had extensive discussions with those members of NATO that are not members of the European Union.

This process is not suddenly being proposed; it has been continuing for a year, and now has unanimous support in the European Union and unanimous support in NATO. I doubt that any rational Member of the House could genuinely object to a prudent investment in stronger security for Europe. The Government's initiative has the full support of the Liberal Democrats. [Interruption.] Those wonderful, rational Members. A joint paper arguing the case for it is one of the products of our joint consultative committee.

Even the Conservative party has not dared criticise the initiative for what it is. The criticisms that there have been are criticisms of a grotesque caricature of it--a fantasy that exists only in the Conservatives' imagination. Let us therefore be clear in our minds about what is being proposed. This initiative is about crisis management, humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping--the missions that the Opposition themselves agreed to in office as the Petersberg tasks. It is not about collective territorial defence. That is and will remain a job only for NATO. Nor does it prevent NATO from carrying out those tasks of crisis management if it wishes to do so. Only last week, the Anglo-French summit adopted a joint text that explicitly states that Europe will act only where NATO as a whole is not engaged.

None of that has stopped Conservative Members roaming the globe claiming that we are plotting the end of NATO. Their defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), went to Washington and told members of Congress:

Just to show that he was not prejudiced against the British Government alone, he also threw in some gratuitous insults against our German allies.

There used to be a convention that Opposition Members, while abroad, refrained from criticism of the Government. In this case, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green not only ignored the convention but deliberately went abroad to lobby against the British Government and their allies. If we had ever done that in opposition, Conservative Members would have loudly denounced us as disloyal, irresponsible and unpatriotic.

Mr. Cash rose--

Mr. Cook: I have already given way to hon. Gentleman once. Will he forgive if I do not give way to him again, because once was quite enough for me?

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Foreign Secretary's comments are a bit rich from someone who supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the cold war. On the more serious point, the right hon. Gentleman said that the process would produce a deployable corps of

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European forces for a year. I begin to doubt that it will. Does he appreciate how big a corps is? I wonder where those troops will come from. However, if such a corps is produced, the problem is that the United States will look constantly to Europeans to deploy that force. Its commitment to NATO and to the joint political and military commitment that has sustained the west and the transatlantic alliance will begin to disappear.

Mr. Cook: Before coming to the House, I read the telegrams that have come from Washington. The telegram about the discussions held with the State Department yesterday on the Anglo-French communique contains the report that the State Department had been over the document with a fine-toothed comb and could find nothing in it of concern to it.

The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Neither I nor any of my colleagues at any time when we were in opposition went before a Congressional Committee to argue against the stated foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government. I would have no problem if the defence spokesman for the Opposition came to the House to argue his case and to criticise the Government. However, we object to the fact--Conservative Members would have objected to this when they were in office--that such criticisms were made before a foreign power and before the Committee of a another Parliament.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Cook: No, I wish to continue my speech.

The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was not only wrong in his conduct, but he was wrong in his facts. Far from weakening NATO, the improved military response that we demand will provide resources not just for the European Union but for NATO. The Government are firmly committed to NATO as the cornerstone of our defence. It is because of our commitment to NATO that we were able to play a key role in maintaining the cohesion and resolve of the alliance through the Kosovo conflict. It is because of that commitment to NATO that we were able to secure the appointment of one of our colleagues, Lord Robertson, as the head of NATO. What is damaging to the alliance is any attempt to play party politics in Washington and to sow unjustified doubt about Britain's commitment to NATO.

The agenda for the Helsinki summit throws into sharp relief the different European strategies of the Government and the Opposition. We go to Helsinki to make a success of the summit and to get agreement to a new treaty, progress on enlargement and stronger European security. If they had the chance, Conservative Members would go to the summit to veto the new treaty and thereby block enlargement and stop the European security initiative. They would do so not because of any calculation of Britain's national interests, but because of a prejudice against Europe.

This Government understand the enormous benefits that our membership of the European Union has brought Britain. We know that we shall best secure the future of Britain by making the most of that membership.

The free movement of goods has removed barriers to our exports. The free movement of capital has strengthened the City of London. Recognition of our

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professional qualifications has helped 100,000 British citizens to take up work in the European Union. Our strength in the world is greater, not weaker, as a result of our membership of the European Union. In the current trade talks, Britain is able to promote British interests more effectively as part of a European bloc than we would ever be able to do on our own.

It is in Britain's interest that Europe should be a success. We shall therefore work to make a success of the Helsinki summit. Its agenda offers the prospect of a European Union that is wider, European institutions that are more effective and a European security that is stronger. We ask for the support of the House in working for those objectives that serve both the future of Europe and the interest of Britain.

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