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Session 2003 - 04
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Standing Committee Debates
Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference Debates

The Future of Europe

Standing Committeee on the Intergovernmental Conference

Monday 1 December 2003

[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

The Future of Europe

3.30 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Cook. The Committee has helpfully been provided with the summary of the latest presidential proposals, but not the text of those proposals. The text is available—it runs to about 50 pages—and it contains some important amendments to the draft constitution, many of which are contrary to the Government's wishes. If we are to have an informed debate, the Committee should be provided with the text of the new draft articles, rather than the presidency proposals, which are in a highly attenuated form.

The Chairman: I am a little uncertain whether an English version of the text is immediately available. I shall endeavour to establish whether it is ready to hand, and if it is, I shall have it brought into the Committee as soon as possible. That is being attended to as we speak.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Cook. You may recall that I have twice asked whether the Attorney-General would be good enough to advise the Committee on matters of law. I wrote to him in my previous incarnation, and in his reply he said:

    ''In view of my role as the Government's chief legal adviser, therefore, I do not consider that it would be appropriate for me to attend the Standing Committee to advise the Committee on the legal and constitutional questions which are being raised by the draft EU Constitutional Treaty.''

Part of his argument was that his appearance before the Committee would

    ''clearly conflict with our role in the provision of confidential legal advice to the Government.''

I do not want to labour the point, but the authority to which the Attorney-General referred to on matters of international law—the treaty obviously falls into that category—includes this statement on page 225 of Edwards ''The Attorney-General, politics and the public interest'':

    ''Talk of an absolute prohibition against such disclosure is totally insupportable.''

Of course, it is the responsibility of Ministers to determine whether legal advice should be given. I therefore ask that the Secretary of State should be requested to allow the Attorney-General to disclose his advice.

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The Chairman: It might have helped if the hon. Member had allowed the Secretary of State to say something before raising the matter as a point or order. I repeat what has been said on two previous occasions, that the Committee is open to any Member of either House. If the Attorney-General wished to attend, he could do so. I suggest that we make progress.

The Committee has up to one and a half hours—at least, it did have when we started—for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement and for Members to put questions to him. We shall then have a debate on the Adjournment. If it has not been previously concluded, I shall adjourn the debate when the Committee has sat for two and a half hours.

In addition to members of the Committee, any Members of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords may ask questions and take part in the debate. Questions and contributions to the debate should be brief in order to allow as many Members as possible to participate.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): We have placed in the Commons Library the text of the draft presidency suggestions that were before the intergovernmental conference of Foreign Ministers on Friday and Saturday. It is also available on the presidency website. The suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) is a good one. I hope that it is possible to hand Members copies of the paper during the sitting, and if we are in a similar situation again, I will ensure that copies are supplied in advance.

Over the weekend, I attended a conclave of European Foreign Ministers on the intergovernmental conference. It started on Friday and continued until Saturday lunchtime: most of us had arrived on Thursday evening for an early start on the Friday morning. I do not intend to go into the details of all the proposals in the paper: it was a work in progress, and much of it has been overtaken by subsequent discussion. The presidency makes that point in the text, which states that

    ''the current document is intended to evolve in light of subsequent discussions''.

I propose instead to focus on what was actually discussed in Naples. However, it may assist the Committee—and particularly the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—if I draw attention to annex 2 of the presidency proposals on the primacy of EU law. It states—and there is no argument about this—that there should be a declaration for incorporation in the final Act with regard to article I-10(1). That article has caused a certain amount of interest in the House and in this Committee. As I have been making clear, there will be a declaration:

    ''The Conference notes that the provisions of Article I-10(1) reflect existing Court of Justice case law.''

Mr. Cash rose—

The Chairman: Order. There will be no interventions on the Minister's statement.

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Mr. Straw: I will be happy to respond to the hon. Member for Stone later.

There was no formal agreement on any single point in Naples. That is the nature of negotiations such as these. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Members will have heard me say on radio and television that I was pleasantly surprised at the constructive atmosphere and what I regard as positive understandings on many of the conclusions, —but not all—. There was a real sense of momentum, which I had not anticipated, and a will to wrap up the discussions this year, if that is possible. That is welcome, although I have stated many times—I am happy to repeat it—that that will not happen at the expense of a satisfactory text. We would very much like to finish by the end of the year, but whether we can finish then depends on there being a text that meets United Kingdom national interests.

On Friday, we held a wide-ranging discussion of the so-called non-institutional issues. I again made clear what was set out in the White Paper, which is that it is essential to preserve decision making by unanimity throughout the tax articles—as well as some other articles that have tax implications—for social security, own resources and key aspects of criminal procedural law. The presidency proposals on those matters do not meet our concerns. I also set out our opposition to the revised proposals for an extension of qualified majority voting in common foreign and security policy: I made it very clear that that was unacceptable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) will be interested to know that I also made clear our concerns about the proposed energy chapter. My Dutch colleague, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and I submitted a redraft to the presidency. I cannot think of a single issue on which the UK has been isolated, which is good. The UK and the Dutch are concerned about the unacceptable extension of Community competency in the energy field. Those articles are supposed to reflect existing articles that are to be found elsewhere in treaties. The UK has a separate concern, which does not directly worry the Dutch. They have a different view about the possible tax implications of that article, about which I have made separate representations to the presidency. I once again set out our concerns on the so-called qualified majority voting passerelle clause.

At lunchtime, we discussed various aspects of justice and home affairs, including those relating to civil procedure. As I made clear, the proposals in the note from the presidency on that issue meet our principal concerns. When we discussed defence over dinner on Friday evening, the atmosphere and common understandings reached were different from what happened on the two earlier occasions when we discussed defence. The first of those occasions was in Castellorizo, a Greek island about 3 km from Turkey, where we met for an informal Foreign Ministers' meeting under the Greek presidency. The second occasion, about five or six weeks ago, was at a dinner in Luxembourg. Both the presidency's effort to find consensus and the ideas developed jointly by the UK,

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France and Germany give me reason to believe that we can find a way forward on defence that is compatible with the UK's key interests.

I believe that our proposals on structured co-operation and mutual assistance in the face of armed aggression meet the tests that we put forward in the White Paper. The arrangements that they establish should be open, flexible, militarily robust and, crucially, entirely consistent with 'strong and continuing commitment to NATO of all the partners. Other member states will now have a chance to consider the proposals, but I hope that those ideas will quickly be accepted as the right way forward for a strengthened European security and defence policy.

The UK, France and Germany submitted amendments to paragraph 7 of article I-40, which is on the mutual defence guarantee; article III-213, which is the detailed article on structured co-operation; and a draft protocol, which is paved by articles I-40 and III-213. As we have made those proposals to the presidency, they are theoretically the property of the presidency. I say that to anticipate the entirely reasonable point that may be made by the right hon. Member for Wells. As I speak, we are seeking an agreement on making them public; in any event, I shall now provide a summary of the key points in the draft articles.

Considerable advances have been made on mutual defence. Command Paper 5897, which contains the full text of the draft constitution from the Convention, has what appears to be a mutual defence guarantee. It says that

    ''closer cooperation shall be established, in the Union framework, as regards mutual defence.''

It goes on to say:

    ''In the execution of closer cooperation on mutual defence, the participating Member States shall work in close cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.''

It does not give any indication about the pre-eminence of NATO. The draft that we have put forward is considerably amended, and is much more satisfactory. Our draft reads that if a member state is a

    ''victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other''

member states undertake to provide

    ''aid and assistance by all the means in their power...in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.''

That is simply a statement of fact, rather than an extension of competence by the European Union. In any event, we are all bound to provide such assistance under the terms of the United Nations charter.

The article continues:

    ''Commitments and cooperation in this''

field shall remain ''consistent with commitments'' undertaken within NATO, which

remain for states who are members thereof. That is the basis of their collective defence and the instrument for its implementation. It makes it clear that the European Union is not a collective defence organisation.

Perhaps some of the neutral member states—Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Austria—will want to make further amendments to the opening paragraph of the amendment to paragraph 7 of article I-40. If they do, we will consider such changes on their merits,

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but I do not anticipate that they will cause the UK any difficulty. We will ensure that that part of the article is satisfactory for neutrals. It is a red line for them, not us, but it is something on which we would support them. I made that clear with regard to Ireland.

The texts on structured co-operation are more complex. I do not intend to read them out, except for one or two particulars, which I shall describe. The existing proposals for articles on structured co-operation are defined in article III-213:

    ''Those Member States listed in the Protocol . . . which fulfil higher military capability criteria and wish to enter into more binding commitments . . . hereby establish structured cooperation between themselves''.

In other words, there is a self-electing club with the capacity for higher military capabilities. That is established in the protocol and forms an inner group, which would, under the provisions of the existing draft article, determine who could come into the new arrangements. That group would become an exclusive club. Under the provisions that we have proposed with France and Germany, the model has changed from being essentially exclusive to an inclusive one. There is no suggestion that such member states should be listed in the protocol. It says:

    ''Those Member States which wish to participate in permanent structured cooperation defined in article I-40(6), who fulfil the criteria and''

accept

    ''the commitments in the field of military capabilities . . . shall notify their intention to the Council''

    ''the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs''.

The system is already inclusive.

The suggestion that member states would have to fulfil higher military capability criteria has been dropped. Smaller member states, or those with lower levels of spending as a proportion of their GDP, could still become members of the structured co-operation arrangements if there were things that they could bring to the party. Under the draft document, the decision to establish structured co-operation will be taken by the Council acting under qualified majority after advice from the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. There are also provisions for member states to come in and to leave. The draft provides a more inclusive arrangement, which I consider to be much more satisfactory.

It is important to make the point that this is simply about capabilities, not operations. In any event, European security and defence policy is limited to the so-called Petersberg tasks. That is spelled out more particularly in article III-210, at the top of page 108 of the current document, as:

    ''The tasks referred to . . . in the course of which the Union may use civilian and military means, shall include joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including''

peacekeeping ''and post-conflict stabilisation.'' All those tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including the support of third countries in combating terrorism in their own territories. They do

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not, however, relate to mutual defence if there is an attack on another nation, as happened to us in the Falklands in 1982, or to major military action of the kind in which the United Kingdom has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. The treaties—rightly, in my view—make no provision for the European Union to be involved in such action on such a basis. We are talking about much more limited tasks, like those in which we are engaged under the EU autonomous operation in Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Balkans, the articles would have ruled out an aggressive EU military operation in Kosovo, although the operation in Bosnia after Dayton would have come within the arrangements.

We made good progress on Saturday in our discussions that focused on the institutions. The presidency's revised text on the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs was helpful on the powers of that position and meets our concerns, although our concerns about the title have not been met. I argued strongly that the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs had to be answerable to the Council rather than to the Commission on matters relating to CFSP. To use a phrase that I am afraid I used often at the meeting, double-hatting is fine—anyone can wear two hats—but as the Good Book says, one cannot serve two masters at a time. At the moment, the combination of articles 24, 25 and 27 would pull the guy in two directions. Obviously, that is not acceptable. I have explained why at some length and I think that that is accepted.

One of the most potentially divisive issues is voting: whether we stick with the Nice compromise arrangements or move to the more arithmetically straightforward arrangement, provided for in the draft constitution, of 50 per cent. of member states and 60 per cent. of the population constituting a majority. A number of member states, particularly Poland and Spain, find that unacceptable. As I made clear on page 33 of the White Paper,

    ''The Government remain content with the Nice system of voting. For all of its complications, it was a product of lengthy negotiations and agreed as part of a broader package.''

It continued:

    ''we will consider any new proposal on its merits, looking for a balance between the ease with which legislation can be passed and blocked.''

I also made it clear in and outside the meeting room that we would support Spain and Poland in their difficulties.

There was an imaginative suggestion in the course of the discussion. As we have to stick to the arrangements agreed at Nice until 2009—no one argues that we should demur from that; it is already provided for in the original draft new treaty—instead of having a divisive argument now about how the voting system should be changed post-2009, we should have what is called in the trade a ''rendezvous clause''. We would then meet, presumably in 2007 or 2008, to consider our experience, which is only limited at the moment, of operating the Nice provisions. We could then decide whether to change the system or not.

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On the composition of the Commission, there was a lot of sympathy for those smaller member states who are concerned always to maintain their own full Commissioner, for reasons that I understand. I supported those very small states—Malta, Estonia, Luxembourg and Cyprus—that would have fewer than six Members in the European Parliament under the proposals in their argument that six should be the minimum. It makes no difference to us; we have many more than six. However, given that there is now a wider range of activities inside the European Parliament, it seems unreasonable to expect those small delegations to operate efficiently on behalf of their countries if they have fewer than six Members. There was quite a lot of support for that.

As for the next steps, hopefully the European Council will reach its final conclusions. Whether it will or whether it turns out to be a drip-dry weekend when we need five or six shirts because the weekend runs into Wednesday, I do not know. However, the dates for that are 12 and 13 December, a week on Friday and Saturday. There will be the usual pre-European Council debate in the Commons on 10 December and I shall appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 December.

 
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