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Dr. Julian Lewis: Surely the right hon. Gentleman is setting up an Aunt Sally because the aspect of Europe that featured in the Opposition's unsuccessful election campaign was that of joining the single currency. That was the focus, and the response was that there would be a referendum on the subject. The Government argued

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successfully that the referendum, not the election, would determine the outcome. He cannot have it both ways and claim that the outcome of the election shows that the electorate rejected the Opposition's policy of opposing the single currency.

Donald Anderson: I refer not just to the campaign, but to the tone of the Opposition during the previous Parliament. As a witness in that, I call Lord Hurd, who said that the Opposition should learn that they could

I ask even the hon. Gentleman, whose credentials are well known, to reflect carefully on the former Foreign Secretary's wise words.

On broader European matters, ensuring greater stability in Europe is in all our interests because there are massive threats on the periphery of Europe. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife mentioned Macedonia, and there is instability in Ukraine. Happily, there is now greater stability in Russia.

However, we need to consider other areas of potential instability, which threaten any complacency in Europe. They include north Africa, where there are enormous populations and great poverty. The equivalent of the relationship between the Rio Grande in Mexico and the United States is that of the north of the Maghreb and Europe. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said, we must also consider the sad reversal of Camp David and the enormous dangers that the crisis in the middle east poses to us all.

The result of the Irish referendum on the Nice treaty is significant. The problem with referendums is that one cannot negotiate with the people. There is no national psychiatrist to diagnose the factors that induced the Irish to reject the treaty on a low turnout. There was a motley coalition, which included anti-abortionists, pacifists, those who felt that small nations would get a bad deal from the treaty and others who perhaps simply wanted to kick their Government. President Mitterrand once said that the French always gave the answer to the wrong question in referendums. Events in Denmark show that it will be difficult to determine what amendments, if any, will be enough to change the views of the people of Ireland.

Enlargement is a major factor. A decisive step was taken at the Gothenburg summit, and enlargement must proceed. The Berlin wall fell only 12 years ago. During this Parliament, recasting the map of Europe will begin and stability will spread eastward. Even those who describe themselves as sceptics about Europe, perhaps for the wrong reasons, will accept that, in our new, expanded Europe, there will be more brakes on the train and greater difficulties in reconciling the more diverse countries that will join from central and eastern Europe. However, that is our destiny.

Let us consider our relations with NATO. No one has mentioned the important speech that President Bush made in Warsaw. In the past, we have been uncertain about the US Administration's views about NATO enlargement. We knew that the open-door commitment existed, but there were rumours that, initially, the US was prepared to

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open the door only to Slovenia. However, President Bush made a clear commitment in Warsaw recently. He spoke at Warsaw university, and argued that all Europe's new democracies,

In a significant passage, he continued:

President Bush said that when NATO leaders gather for the Prague summit in 2002,

He called for a Europe that included Ukraine and that was "open" to Russia. Historians will surely find that the Warsaw speech was important.

Some talk about a choice that this country must make between the US and Europe. I believe that, while examples such as Echelon, trade disputes and Airbus can be cited, it is in our interests to maintain the closest relations with our key ally, the US, and with our European partners.

When we consider the rapid reaction force in Europe and what the Americans now call missile defence, some argue that there should be a trade-off between them, and that the Americans will go soft on the rapid reaction force if we in Europe accept their proposals on missile defence. I hope that we will reject that idea and view both proposals on their merits.

If Europe is prepared to pay the price militarily, there is a strong case for a European capacity, as long as it is involved only when NATO does not wish to be engaged. By our active engagement, we can help to develop the rapid reaction force constructively.

I share the enormous misgivings of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife on missile defence. I also share his happiness that that great democracy, the US, is now holding an internal debate about it because of the changed Senate.

Those of us who have expressed anxiety about the boost to the arms race that may occur because of missile defence or son of star wars can now cite some evidence for our view. China has threatened substantially to increase its intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the past week, President Putin said that he is inclined to increase the warheads on Russian missiles. The arms race could therefore receive a major boost, which would be in the interests neither of the US nor of the world.

Perhaps missile defence can be operational, if at all, only in 10 or 15 years because of technological failures and a greater debate in the US about the financial side. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence not to jump too quickly into bed with the US on missile defence. We should question the capability and the intention, and share the scepticism of many of our allies. We should not be dragged along by the silken thread of the marketing exercise in which our US allies are now engaged.

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The third world has hardly figured in the debate. I want to concentrate on Africa, but I join others who welcome what the Government have said about the new Bill on strategic arms exports. It is tardy; the Scott report appeared in 1996.

I welcome what has been said about a new commitment to the third world. In the cold war, the super-powers had to bid for the support of the African countries, and dictators could walk tall. They knew that they would not be criticised because their votes were needed at the United Nations. Nowadays, we can view Africa more dispassionately, with no post-colonial guilt. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe did, we can talk more brutally and realistically to Zimbabwe and other black dictatorships. We can be more realistic about Africa.

We also have to understand that Africa is an area of enormous concern. We must relate to and build up the regional centres in Africa that are capable of supporting their immediate regions. I am thinking particularly of South Africa. I rejoice at the visit last week of President Mbeki, and we must look to South Africa--which has enormous potential--and to the Southern African Development Community region to see the prosperity and the hope of South Africa rippling out to its region and elsewhere.

I suppose that if one can talk of a sceptred isle, one can talk of a sceptred continent. We in Europe have enormous advantages in terms of our stability, prosperity and democracy. In my judgment, it is in our interest to expand those benefits and blessings beyond our immediate shores not only to the periphery of Europe, but to Africa. It is in our interest, but it is also right for us to do so.

11.59 am

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson). I entirely concur with him on the value of the role played in the previous Parliament by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which he chaired with such distinction. I am sure that his voice will continue to carry great weight on matters of foreign affairs in the current Parliament.

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment and wish him well in his new responsibilities. He and I have crossed swords for a number of years in the field of home affairs. I know better than most the mixed emotions with which he will have left the Home Office. I look forward to joining issue with him from time to time on the areas of his new responsibility and I hope that my criticisms--when criticisms I make--will be constructive, as I think that they were, on the whole, in the previous Parliament.

There are clearly important differences between the Government and the Conservative party in some aspects of foreign affairs, most notably, of course, in our relations with the rest of the European Union. The Foreign Secretary was quite right to use the phrase "the rest of the European Union" in his speech and he was quite right to dismiss as absurdly irrelevant the categorisations of anti-European and pro-European. He was absolutely right to say that we are part of Europe, but that does not diminish the legitimacy and importance of our engaging in proper debate about the terms on which we engage with the rest of the European Union or about the future course that the European Union should take. I believe that those matters will continue to play an important part in our debates in this Parliament.

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On foreign affairs in general, there is no need for there to be--indeed, in an ideal world, there should not be--significant differences across the Floor of the House. Of course, scrutiny of what the Government do is essential, but there need not be and should not be any fundamental differences of approach.

I want to make one other preliminary remark before I pass to my main point. The shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), congratulated the Government on the increased importance that they were attributing to the Commonwealth. However, I was very disappointed that the Foreign Secretary did not really mention the Commonwealth in his speech at all. The word "Commonwealth" passed his lips on only two occasions, unless I am much mistaken, and one of those was when he was describing the title of his office. I was somewhat relieved when he did that, because I had rather thought that, in view of the absence of any substantive discussion of the role of the Commonwealth in his speech, the word might have disappeared from the title of his office. Indeed, I went so far as to check in the front of Hansard that he still was the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

I believe that the potential for the Commonwealth to play a much larger and more influential role in world affairs is considerable. I hope that the Government will take seriously that potential and seek to increase the role of the Commonwealth. It can be a force for good on many international issues of importance.

I want to focus on a different area today. For some time now, it has been apparent that the relationship between Europe--I mean Europe and not simply the United Kingdom--and north America is encountering considerable difficulty. I should perhaps declare an interest, in that I have formed and also chair a non-profit making organisation called Atlantic Partnership, which exists to draw attention to the dangers facing this relationship.

The points of friction between the two sides of the Atlantic have emerged with blinding clarity since George W. Bush assumed the presidency of the United States. However, it is a great mistake to suppose that he is responsible for those points of friction. The truth is that the transatlantic relationship that the new President inherited was already under strain.

It is also true that the differences and difficulties had to some extent been shrouded by the ambiguity that was the hallmark of the new President's predecessor and that still finds many echoes on this side of the Atlantic. The tensions on trade, the environment and defence in particular were already present. They are real and they are acute. Of course, what makes them more difficult to resolve is the fact that fundamental changes are taking place, both in north America and in Europe, which, again, could make it ever more difficult in the years that lie ahead to maintain that Atlantic partnership, which has been such a powerful force for good in the world.

What are those underlying forces, which, in my view, are beginning to drive America and Europe apart? Let us start with north America. The extent to which north America is increasingly preoccupied with the Pacific and what lies beyond has become increasingly apparent in recent years. The centre of gravity in north America has increasingly been shifting westward. California is the

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most populous state of the United States. Many of the most significant developments take place on the west coast; silicon valley and Microsoft are both there.

Beyond that coast, across the Pacific ocean, lie lands that matter more and more to north Americans. Japan, despite its recent difficulties, remains an economic giant. For the United States, China is both its greatest opportunity as a marketplace of enormous potential and its greatest threat as a potential super-power in the first half of this century.

The increasing preoccupation with other parts of the globe is reinforced by demographic trends in north America. There are growing numbers of citizens of Asiatic descent in Canada and the United States, and the growing Hispanic population in the United States in particular tends to look south to Mexico and the rest of Latin America beyond, rather than east to Europe.

Those trends are mirrored by some of the forces at work on this side of the Atlantic. The factor that contains the seeds of rivalry to a greater extent than any other is the drive towards European integration. Let me say at once that I recognise that by no means all those who espouse the cause of greater European integration are anti-American, and I accept that it is perfectly possible to desire the creation of a politically united Europe and to want that Europe to remain a partner of the United States, but that is certainly not the view of all European integrationists.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that many on the continent of Europe and some in this country are explicitly motivated by a desire to create in Europe a rival centre of power to the United States. Some of them seem to be keen to use any opportunity that arises to strike a position that is different from that of the United States, often with the only purpose of creating and emphasising that difference. If one adds to that the end of the cold war, which was the cement that held both sides of the Atlantic together in the face of the nuclear threat from the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that differences of view on so many of the great issues facing the world have become more and more marked on both sides of the Atlantic.

Those differences have become so well documented that I do not need to spend a great deal of time itemising them. One of the first to surface related to trade. European attitudes to the import of bananas from the Caribbean and of genetically modified and hormone-treated food from north America have aroused strong reactions in north America, while north America's insistence on promoting the export of the latter to the EU has aroused strong reactions in Europe.

The trading relationship will obviously be difficult to manage. There are legitimate rivalries. Commercial interests differ, and Governments are increasingly called on to assist their own companies. Conflicts are inevitable, but the consequences are grave. In my view, it was not the activities of the demonstrators outside the conference halls of Seattle that caused last year's talks on the next trade round to collapse; it was the failure of the United States and the European Union to agree. Had they been able to agree, I believe that a new trade round would have been established, to the lasting advantage not only of Europe and north America but of the world as a whole. There could be no more striking example of the importance of that relationship to the world at large.

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Defence issues have also led to considerable concern. There has been a great deal of debate on the impact on the Atlantic relationship of the European rapid reaction force. I have spoken about this previously and will no doubt do so again, so I do not intend to spend a great deal of time on it today. However, it is worth noting that the Gracious Speech uses language that has often been used by the Prime Minister in this context--it refers to the European Union's ability to act

As Conservative Members have pointed out in the past, there is no reference in the appendices to the treaty of Nice that provides a detailed constitution for the European rapid reaction force to limit its ability to act to those situations in which NATO chooses not to do so. Had that language been inserted in those appendices, at least some--although not all--of the concerns of Conservative Members about the development of such a force would have been significantly mitigated.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on these matters, laid out three preconditions that he said should be observed if the European rapid reaction force was not to cause some of the difficulties to which I have referred. However, none of those preconditions is met in the language that was agreed at Nice and is set out in the appendices. Moreover, none of them has been met in the structures that have been established so far to take the European rapid reaction force forward. It therefore remains to be seen how it will work out in practice, but the initial omens are not encouraging.

That is not the only element relating to defence that has caused problems for the Atlantic relationship. The United States' plans for its new system of missile defence have undoubtedly led to concerns on this side of the Atlantic. It is perhaps predictable that those on this side of the Atlantic who seek to demonise President Bush conveniently overlook the fact that those plans were supported by the previous US Administration. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife made much of the fact that some of the new chairmen of the relevant committees in the US Senate have reservations about the plans. However, this is not simply a partisan issue in the US--many Democrats support the President's plans. There are clearly considerable concerns over the issue that have yet to be resolved.

The issue that has perhaps led to the noisiest disagreement is that over the way forward on climate change following the Kyoto protocol. Now more than ever, it can be seen how tragic it was that the opportunity for agreement on this issue was missed in the talks in The Hague last November. I have previously paid tribute to the Deputy Prime Minister for the Herculean attempts he made on that occasion to broker an agreement between the US and the EU. As we know, he thought that he had put such an agreement in place, only for it to be rejected at the last minute by his European colleagues. I believe that, had that agreement been allowed to stand, it would have been much more difficult for President Bush to have resiled from the United States commitment to the Kyoto protocol--had he wished, in those circumstances, to do so.

My sympathy with the Deputy Prime Minister is the more marked because I was in a similar position in 1992. At that time, in the run-up to the Earth summit in Rio, it

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looked as though the current President's father would not attend that seminal conference because the US was not then prepared to sign either of the two major conventions that would be on the table at Rio--the biodiversity convention and the climate change convention.

I went to Washington as this country's Environment Secretary, without any publicity. I saw all the relevant Cabinet members. I drafted some amendments to the convention with Robert Zoellick, who is the present Administration's trade representative. I reached an agreement that was acceptable to the rest of the European Union. That made it possible for President Bush Sr to attend the Earth summit in Rio, for the United States to sign the climate change convention, and for real progress be made on climate change in the intervening decade--although not as much as many of us would have liked.

At least on climate change, agreement was reached at Gothenburg last week to set up a high-level group, including personal representatives of the European Union and the United States, to continue dialogue on these issues. That seems to me to be the best way forward. However, as we have seen, climate change is not the only issue giving rise to difficulties.

I commend to the Foreign Secretary the possibility of establishing a standing conference of high-level representatives of the European Union and the United States and Canada. That standing conference should anticipate transatlantic disagreements before they arise, identify them in advance and recommend courses of action that would mitigate them. If those issues have already surfaced--as have many that we have been discussing--that standing conference could provide a convenient forum for continuing dialogue.

However difficult the individual issues that give rise to disagreement may be, I believe it is essential that we all keep in mind the overriding importance of sustaining and promoting the Atlantic partnership that has been such a powerful force for good in the world. If it flounders, the planet we inhabit will be a less safe and a less prosperous place. Friction undoubtedly exists, but it must not be allowed to develop into fracture. It behoves us all to do what we can to avert that danger.

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