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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): In that case, can the Minister explain why the EU force--I think that it is an army--needs a military committee, a political committee to direct it, beefed-up strategic intelligence and extra transport? Is it not, in practice, a scheme for a comprehensive military force that does things that NATO does not want to do--not under NATO command and not in co-operation, but separate and deliberately so? Have not the Government lost to the French on that very issue?

Mr. Vaz: I am really sorry that, after I have opened this debate and all the discussions that have taken place, the right hon. Gentleman simply does not understand what we have been talking about. As he heard me say right at the beginning, NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. As he also heard me say, of course any

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operation of that type will have to draw on NATO assets and NATO command structures. That is precisely what I have just said.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Vaz: I shall give way in a moment. Let me make a little progress first.

The EU military staff will not do operational level planning, nor will it provide command and control structures. It will be a small secretariat with officers on secondment from national Ministries of Defence. It will support the EU military committee and maintain close contact with NATO headquarters. There will be about 140 officers in the EU military staff. It is fanciful to think that that could rival or duplicate the work of the 2,000 or so officers at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, and nor would we want it to.

For small EU-led operations, the alternative exists of planning done by national headquarters, such as the United Kingdom's permanent joint headquarters or the French equivalent. That might be appropriate, for example, for an evacuation of EU nationals or a straightforward humanitarian mission. Regardless, EU nations would decide on an operation only after consultation with NATO and once it was clear that NATO was not going to act. Does the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) understand that, or does he want me to repeat the sentence?

Dr. Lewis: The Minister has rightly said that there will be no duplication of assets, which is absolutely true. If the EU rapid reaction force is operating, it will have to use assets previously allocated to NATO. Is it not correct that the EU rapid reaction force will be operating only on occasions when NATO does not wish to be involved? Therefore, is not the consequence that, when the EU rapid reaction force is operating on such occasions, it will be taking away forces from NATO, thus leaving NATO with fewer forces for those operations in which it does wish to be involved?

Mr. Vaz: The hon. Gentleman almost got it right. He was fine up to the last sentence, when he really lost it. Of course the force will draw on NATO assets, but it will do so because NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. There will not be any operations other than those in which NATO has said that it will not act. The hon. Gentleman was fine until the last sentence.

EU nations will determine the objectives for an EU operation and will be responsible for its strategic control and political direction. Some hon. Members seem surprised that a NATO command structure used for an EU-led operation should come under the EU's control for the duration of the operation. However, that would seem to me to be a statement of the obvious. If the United Kingdom mounts a national operation, it is the United Kingdom that will decide. If NATO operates, NATO nations together take the decisions. If the EU undertakes a military operation, who should decide its strategy and direction but the EU nations themselves?

The Nice report sets out, at annexe VI, how the EU will ensure the closest possible involvement of non- member states in the ESDP. That applies from

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consultations in the routine phase, to their rights and obligations in the EU-led operation. During every presidency, there will be meetings with the non-EU European members of NATO and, separately, with those countries plus the other candidates for accession to the EU. That consultation will be intensified as a crisis emerges. At that point--indeed, at any point--non-member states can call for additional meetings with EU countries.

In recognition of the importance of NATO's place in the ESDP, European members of NATO outside the EU will have the right to take part in any EU operation using NATO assets. Other non-member states can be invited to do so. When non-member states are making a significant contribution to an EU-led operation, they will take part in its day-to-day management on the same basis as participating member states. That is precisely the kind of dialogue that we had today in Brussels when the NATO Secretary-General and the Macedonian Foreign Minister met EU Ministers to discuss the serious situation in Macedonia.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman is guilty of playing games with words. The reality, as he knows very well, no matter how much sophistry he applies to it, is that the key phrases in annexe VII mean that what happens between the EU and NATO

and that

The Minister knows well that when those words were written, they did not intend, as the Prime Minister said to President Bush, that everything would be under the command of NATO, as he had promised.

Mr. Vaz: The hon. Gentleman just cannot bear the thought that the United States of America and ourselves--President Bush and Prime Minister Blair--were able to agree on European defence on 23 February, because he has spent so much of his time trying to undermine the relationship between the two countries, with his weasel words in Washington. That is a disgraceful way to treat such matters. I realise that he is preparing for the inevitable leadership election after the general election; I am sure that the telephone banks are already set up. None the less, I assure him that we are very comfortable with the words of President Bush and the Prime Minister at Camp David. That is what the hon. Gentleman cannot get over.

At Nice, there was agreement on the roles and composition of the permanent political and military structures within the EU for crisis management. For the convenience of Conservative Members, I can tell them that those are set out in annexes III to V. The General Affairs Council on 22 January decided how they would be established.

The Political and Security Committee has replaced the EU Political Committee. It is responsible for day-to-day management of all CFSP issues. It will be the main interlocutor of the North Atlantic Council. The PSC and NAC met for the first time on 5 February. As well as taking forward the ESDP, they are concentrating on the practical issues of NATO-EU co-operation in the Balkans.

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The military committee brings together national Chiefs of Defence Staff or their representatives. It will be the interlocutor of the NATO military committee. Most nations, including the United Kingdom, appoint the same military representatives to NATO and the EU, to ensure a coherent approach.

The discipline and coherence of the EU and NATO military committees will be a useful preparation for the new responsibilities of the current UK military representative, Sir Michael Willcocks; as hon. Members may be aware, he has just been appointed to succeed Black Rod.

The military committee will be formally established once its first permanent chairman is appointed, later this spring. The military staff will also be formally established later this spring, following a decision by Javier Solana, the High Representative.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Vaz: I have given way several times in this debate, and I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman now. He can take part in the debate. I am well aware that only an hour and a half has been allocated for it, and I shall not therefore cover the provisions in the Nice report for taking forward the civilian aspects of crisis management and work on conflict prevention. Both of those are important, as the Balkans crises show, and the EU work on them under the Swedish presidency is proceeding well.

Let me, in closing, re-state the fundamental points for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Wokingham. The ESDP is good news for Britain, Europe and NATO. That is why the Government developed it, why Europe supports it and why the United States and NATO have welcomed it in the statement made by President Bush and the Prime Minister on 23 February. This Government, the United States Government, our EU partners and NATO allies are engaged in making a success of the ESDP. Nice was an important step towards realising the goals of a NATO-friendly ESDP. It was a good result for NATO and a good result for Britain.

11.40 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): It sets a new record for brazenness in this place for the Minister of State, in the circumstances in which he finds himself, to talk about integrity and hypocrisy. No wonder not a single member of the Cabinet had the face to come here tonight to support him, including his boss.

This is a very important matter. We all congratulate the Select Committee on European Scrutiny for having brought it to the attention of the House. I hope that, at least for the rest of the evening, it will get the attention that it deserves.

Let me start by saying clearly and unambiguously, so that there can be no doubt at all, that Conservative Members are completely in favour of enhancing the defence capability of the European members of the Atlantic alliance. We are completely in favour of enhancing the European pillar of that alliance, so long as that is done in such a way as to reinforce the alliance as a whole. That means taking with us all the members of the alliance in Europe, EU and non-EU, and, of course, Canada and the United States.

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It is perfectly true that the previous Conservative Administration played a very positive and proud role in the 1994 Washington--I mean NATO--summit, which agreed on the concept of a European strategic defence identity within NATO and on deploying a joint taskforce. However, we did that in such a way as to reinforce NATO, to ensure that all the allies were behind the decision and to enhance the links between us and the United States.

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