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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I warmly endorse the point that my hon. Friend so powerfully made about the brilliant success of British forces in the Iraq war, and, indeed, at all other times. He was at the Ministry of Defence, and I wonder whether he would agree that the forces' principal concern on this matter is the Government's obsession with structures and their
Mr. Spring: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to him for being one of the most outstanding Ministers ever to have occupied a position in the Ministry of Defence.
The Government must ensure that EU military co-operation proceeds only under NATO's umbrella, and without duplication or competition with NATO. I speak with some admiration for the way in which France has set the agenda for the European project over and over again. The proposed EU defence entity is very much a French creation, as indeed are so many other policies in the EU. But let us consider NATO. For decades, France has not been part of the integrated command structure, and that has certainly had a direct impact on the efficacy of the organisation. Although most of the other EU countries have been full members of NATO, has French influence in Europe overall been diminished?
The point is that there will be times when European countries will not feel it appropriate to be part of an integrated structure at whatever level. Is Ireland's influence in Europe less because it is not in the Schengen agreement? Is Sweden ignored because of the single currency issue? Of course not. The blunt truth is that there can never be a viable EU defence identity without British involvement. That being the case, why have we been sucked into this? Of course, this is all about politics and not about defence. Surely everything in history shows us that to do something not specifically for a particular functional purpose, but to make a political point, is invariably wrong in practice and in principle. There is no evidence that the creation of an EU defence identity will enhance European defence capabilities. There is something profoundly unsound in doing something not to resolve a functional problem, but simply because of some misplaced political purpose.
The Prime Minister may wish to forget it, but in 1997 he assured the House that
Dominique de Villepin recently said:
My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex set out the risks of undermining the transatlantic relationship at a time when there is, as hon. Members have observed, rising anti-Americanism. Regrettably, there are those who sit in Governments in our EU partner countries who would not find that unacceptable. By contrast, I invite the Secretary of State to talk to our friends in the EU accession process, who consider that rise with genuine alarm. Like me, the Minister of State for Defence was recently in Turkey, a country to which we should all be greatly indebted for what it did in the cold war. He will have heard in no uncertain terms of Turkey's anxieties.
Our American friends famously helped to preserve our liberties during the cold war. Of course, as we have heard again this afternoon, the nature of future conflict would be very different, but given the inability of Europeans to spend on defence, it is hugely important that our American allies continue to want to be in Europe. I speak as a Member of Parliament who has more than 20,000 American service personnel at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. They are hugely welcome in our midst.
In different economic circumstances, will a future US Administration considering budgetary savings look to their European commitments to secure them? Given the unwillingness of Europeans to spend, and the clear, open and focused desire of some in Europe to create a wholly separate defence identity, what will their response be? There is a limit to generosity. It should be our unequivocal role to understand, without qualification, the nature of the danger and to react to it not by weasel words, but by taking a clear and principled stand.
We want European countries to be strong in defence and to co-operate closely. They need to establish an equitable burden in international security, and they need to spend more in a more rational way, concentrating on today's defence needs. However, that must be entirely and unequivocally within NATO. We, the Europeans and the Americans are united by shared beliefs in democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We can best promote those beliefs throughout the world if America and Europe stand together.
What is it about this Government that means that they so lack self-confidence that they must continually make damaging gestures to gain influence in Europe? Any dispassionate observer who looks at the proposals before the intergovernmental conference will see immediately that there has been almost no substantive British influence on the Convention's proceedings. So we have the worst of two worldssigning up implicitly to a defence identity that adds nothing to our defence capabilities, but for which there is obviously no quid pro
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We have had a good debate, with some fine Back-Bench speeches. I would like to be able to pay a compliment on the speeches that we have heard from the Conservative Front Bench, but at times, even in parliamentary debates, some intellectual honesty is required.
We heard an extremely good contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis). There was also a good contribution from the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), almost in a double act with his near neighbour the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). They spoke well; both are experts on defence issues.
The hon. Member for Gosport gave us to believe that NATO was under some threat. On the contrary, in all my travels in the incoming member states in eastern Europe, I have found that NATO is extremely popular. Those countries reject the efforts of both the anti-Americans, many of whom exist in different parts of mainland Europethere are some here in island Europeand the anti-Europeans, who of course control the Conservative Front Bench.
Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) was slightly critical of the role of France. I refer him to the interview given in Newsweek by General Jones, the US four-star general who is currently Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He went out of his way to praise the quality of the French army, describing it as probably the finest expeditionary force in Europe.
There were animadversions at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech to a paper that was published more than a year ago by some unit somewhere in Germany. I have been as yet unable to find out who is responsible for itcertainly no German Minister is taking responsibility for itbut it will be translated and put in the Library by the Conservatives. I welcome that contribution, and it is good that at long last the Conservatives are translating documents from Europe and understanding how Europe works. They may find that recommendation 21, at the back of that document, states that the only language to be used for any future European military operation should be English. There are other recommendations that would be of great interest to our friends in France, but we will leave Paris to decide whether it wants to take that document, from the thousand papers churned out monthly throughout Europe and the United States, as seriously as the Conservative party has done.
When considering matters that pertain to our security, we have to look at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years' time. When we take that wider perspective and consider the rising powers that we can now see around the world equipping themselves with nuclear weapons or even the capacity to operate in space, it is more vital than ever that the two great democratic regions of the world, where the rule of law, open-market economies and liberal democracies are enshrinednamely, the European Union and the United Statesco-operate even more closely to secure a peaceful and prosperous
Tomorrow, our friends across the Atlantic and in the EU of 25 will read this debate with some amazement. The British Conservative party, which since 1945 has devoted time, thought and political skill to strengthening European defence, is now pledged to criticise and undermine every effort to achieve a more coherent and concerted approach for our European allies. Conservative Front Benchers, with their fanatical anti-European opposition, cannot attract any support, even from their own Back Benchers. The debate has been most notable for the fact that more Liberal Democrat Members have attended it than Members from the main Opposition party. The 25 member states of the European Union will be looking at this debate with some interest[Interruption.] I understand that there may be 25 Conservative Members who have rather more interesting things to work on and discuss tonight. Perhaps some of them could have turned up for this debate.
This country has always believed in the notion of the EU having a common external policy. A previous Prime Minister believed that Europe should have a common external policy and that "greater depth" should be given to Europe's "internal and external activities" to
Several issues have been raised during the debate. We have heard about an issue that was raised during much of last weekthe idea of an operational headquarters at Tervuren, a pleasant suburb of Brusselsbut we now understand that that idea will not see the light of day. It has been argued that there will be some loss of control over the deployment of British soldiers, yet in every European treaty since Maastricht, including in the draft for the new constitutional treaty now under discussion, it has been made quite clear that each sovereign nation state in the EU will control the deployment and use of its soldiers, sailors and airmen.