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Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): It has already been said that the same people participate in these debates on every occasion, so I suppose that I should plead guilty to being one of the usual suspects. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) is nodding approvingly. It has also been suggested that 95 per cent. of what is said in these debates was said
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during the previous debate before a Council meeting. I must admit that I was surprised about that, because I imagine that few in the Chamber can remember 5 per cent. of what they said six months ago, far less 95 per cent. We must all be operating on automatic pilot to an extent, so I suppose that I should plead guilty to that, too.

Before I mention the summit, it is important to point out the development of the European Union. It started in 1956 as an economic treaty, which was a response to a Europe that had been badly divided militarily, politically and economically in the early 1950s. For the next 35 years, the European Economic Community, which became the European Community, concentrated largely on social and economic issues, so those matters dominated the summits. However, by the time of the Maastricht treaty in 1992, developments began to occur. The Community recognised that one cannot have a cogent economic policy in a global world without having a cogent foreign policy because, for example, political events in the middle east clearly affect the world economy. The Maastricht treaty thus empowered the Community to take a common view on foreign policy.

Developments took place in the 1990s and the Community started to say, “We want to take action on foreign policy.” It was absolutely right to do so, although I know that not everyone in the Chamber agrees. It was illogical to have economic and foreign policy wings without a defence wing, because intervention on foreign policy often cannot take place without a defence capability. By the Nice summit in 2000, therefore, the European security policy was developed. If one believes that the European Union is necessary to bind together European nations with common values and cultures and a desire for the same kind of things in life, the Community must have those wings, which is why I support the approach.

I am not saying that every structure is right. I have followed the arguments that have been made about transparency, although a little more has been made about the openness of European Council meetings than might be merited, given the reality of the way in which the meetings are conducted. I have never known a President, Prime Minister or Foreign Minister say anything in a Council meeting that was not reported in every newspaper in Europe that wanted to report it. What happens at European Council meetings is no secret. The positions that are stated are immediately reported. I have some sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary because we know that if every meeting is completely open, there will be meetings on the side in which confidential positions might be expressed. It is thus not right to pretend that such transparency will do anything to open up or democratise the European Union, so we must examine other approaches.

The role of national Parliaments is important. The European Parliament has no locus with regard to defence policy, so it is important that national Parliaments take a keen interest in what happens on their behalf in the European Union, and that is the area on which I want to address my comments about the summit.

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As the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said, expectations for the summit are limited. I was in Helsinki last week with the Western European Union Assembly Defence Committee. We were given a preview of what the Finnish presidency might consider following the Austrian presidency. One of the country’s ministry of defence officials said that his aim was to make sure that he did not drop the baton during his six months. I understand that and, in some ways, it reflects the reality of EU presidencies.

Each presidency lasts only six months, but not much changes or moves politically over six months. A process that starts during a presidency might be taken forward a little by the next presidency, with something happening in three or four years. The fact that a presidency lasts only six months makes it difficult to do anything, although that problem was addressed by the constitution, to which hon. Members have referred.

The second problem is that it is difficult to have continuity and coherence in the selection of matters for discussion when 25 views are presented and each country has an equal opportunity to put its views. Some nations—Finland was quite open about this—do not have the capacity to run a presidency in the way in which Germany, France or the United Kingdom may do because of their size. It is thus understandable that success for a Finnish presidency would be not to drop the baton.

A general point needs to be made. We all have these debates before summits. Every nation sets out its stall and then has six months to do what it can, after which there is reflection. However, it is rare that the agenda that is promised two or three months before the start of a presidency—the Finns are going through that process now—reflects the issues that are discussed in the Council meeting six months later. The matters that will be discussed at the Council meeting in Vienna tomorrow are not those that the Austrians promised six months ago, which becomes clear if one looks at the content of our debate at that time. Enlargement is clearly important, but there was a lot more talk at the time about making progress on the economic front, such as on the Lisbon agenda and the financial services directive, although, to my knowledge, little has changed on that over the past six months and, indeed, it has not been addressed to any great extent.

One of the problems with the structure is that one must always monitor what is happening across the three faces of the European Union: the economic, foreign policy and defence fronts. No presidency can concentrate on all three fronts, but an event that happens during the six months, such as an oil price shock, the invasion of a country that affects the interests of the European Union, a civil war, or a major migration, can immediately become important. If no focus is put on the structures necessary to deal with such events in advance, the European Union becomes an impotent organisation. That is why even though the Austrians tell us that European security and defence policy is not a main focus for the summit, given some of the things that I want to anticipate—I will not go on for too long—ESDP will be important. We should thus monitor it to ensure that we are doing what we should to execute the policy.

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We are all aware of the threats that we face under ESDP. There is complete agreement about the threat from failed states of terrorism and the threat of environmental and other natural disasters. Although I am a strong advocate of a European Union that is bound together, I am also strongly in favour of NATO because of the defence interests of the United Kingdom. Many EU member states have also realised that their defence is crucially dependent on NATO. Before some argue that ESDP is all very well, but the real defence of the country is something else and we do not want a European army, I point out that the argument that is put for a European defence policy is not against NATO, but an argument that NATO should be complemented. I have found that that is the case in not only this country, but, increasingly, throughout Europe.

Mr. Walter: Was the hon. Gentleman as surprised as me that the Foreign Secretary did not refer at all in her opening remarks to ESDP and, particularly, the decision taken by the European Union to send 1,500 troops next month to Congo, to which the United Kingdom is making both a financial and physical contribution?

Mr. Henderson: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a lot on her plate. She will be aware that she will have to respond to points like that tomorrow or the day after, which I am sure she will do very effectively in support of all our interests.

My first point about ESDP is that preparation must be made in advance. There is no point in our finding out that we need 1,500 troops to go to the Congo in three weeks’ time, and that foreign policy is in favour of that, if we cannot deliver.

My second point is this. We heard another interesting speech from a Finnish Member of Parliament at one of the meetings that I attended last week. He said, “The real threat today is not to a nation; it is to a people and communities.” In some senses, that is true. The dangers posed by terrorism and the like do not threaten any nation in particular, but they threaten communities and peoples across nations. That has been recognised by countries such as Austria. It will be interesting to hear what the Austrians have to say at this week’s summit. Their traditional neutrality, which enabled them to remain outside the threat from the cold war, is no longer a defensible position. To defend their nation, they need to do more. They are beginning to recognise that the most effective way for historically neutral countries to become part of European defence is through the European Union as it combines with NATO countries to strengthen European defence. That is not a new development, but I think people are more conscious of it than they have been in the past.

Capability requires the addressing of strategic issues. First, have enough resources been allocated by the various European Union countries? At summits, everyone talks of their enthusiasm for foreign policy and co-operation on defence policy, but they must also commit themselves to allocating the necessary funds within their own nations, or their armed forces will not be able to deliver their share.

Secondly, there always needs to be a very sensitive assessment of European public opinion. If European
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defence is truly to defend Europe, the policy must have the backing of the European people. If the European people believe that the European Union is not operating as effectively as it should, we will lose a great deal of our international defence capacity.

Thirdly, we must ensure that the systems are there to execute the policy. I shall not dwell on this in depth, but it has been recognised that the battlegroup concept that reinforces a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force cannot always be appropriate. Smaller units, but coherent units, are needed, and that is where the battlegroups come into play. The various European Union nations are now committing themselves to joining battlegroups, which is an important development.

Mike Gapes: My hon. Friend mentioned a 60,000-strong force. Is it not regrettable that the Helsinki goals have not been met in the European Union? We have a real problem. A number of countries—not ours, but Germany and some of the bigger EU nations—have not delivered even on the rather limited commitments to changing defence capabilities in Europe that were made a few years ago, since when there have been more and more commitments on which they have not delivered.

Mr. Henderson: I agree, although I recognise the difficulties encountered by nations whose attitude to defence post-1945 has traditionally been different from those of Britain and France.

I think that the battlegroup concept is quite a good way of building up a momentum that will, I hope, bring about a rapid reaction force that is a combination of larger battlegroups. What is needed is more interchangeability. We must all be able to operate each other’s equipment. I believe that there are some 18 different armoured personnel carriers in Europe, and about 15 different radio systems. That is common gear; it is not sophisticated technology on which any one country wants to be ahead of another, but it does not operate in a unified way, for historical reasons. The European Defence Agency may help to deal with that, but I think we also need a great deal of political will on the part of our leaders at the summit tables.

The civilian response is also important. It is all very well having a rapid reaction force, a common policy, battlegroups and interchangeability, but much of the European Union’s work depends on civilian support. Much more needs to be done, and I hope that the subject will be raised at this week’s summit. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister will refer to it when he winds up the debate.

There is clearly no point in sending 1,500 troops to the Congo to try to secure law and order unless we also help to strengthen the economy of the Congo, and make larger aid contributions than we have made historically. There is no point in sending the troops if there is not the medical capacity to ensure that people are remaining that little bit healthier while they are being given some law and order.

In such areas as Bosnia, it is crucial for resources to be invested in training. We in the United Kingdom have a good record in that regard. We must liaise with the new gendarmerie force. We have a different approach from the French and the Spanish. It is
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important for the summit or one of its committees to address that, as part of a civilian response team.

Governance is also an important issue. It is not about telling people how they should lead their lives, but about saying that there may be better ways of doing things, and that people may wish to consider them. In that context, democracy is a core value. We must devote more effort to conveying that message.

I do not think that there will be a reduced need for the ESDP in the future. The European Union has a crucial role in that regard. The ESDP will be brought into focus in connection with the growing environmental challenge. Existing commitments must be honoured: we currently have some 14 commitments, mainly in Europe. We need a debate on to what extent, and in what circumstances, the European Union should intervene beyond the boundaries of Europe. There must be international coherence on that.

We all foresee continued instability in Kosovo, which, although the position is better than it was seven or eight years ago, is still a dangerous and divided place. I expect the EU to be called on to take action there.

Mr. Cash: Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on the question of what legal powers exist for the creation of the European Defence Agency and, indeed, the enhanced role of Javier Solana as the proposed Foreign Minister for Europe? Whether or not he continues to be called the high representative, the question of what functions he performs remains.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all the talk of defence policies—the common foreign and security policy, the European security and defence policy and all the rest—means nothing if the money is not available and that the commitment in the individual countries is to reducing defence expenditure rather than increasing it?

Mr. Henderson: I took a note of what the hon. Gentleman said, because I know that he is always very precise and will not let me get away with giving him an imprecise answer.

I have already said that the resources must be there or none of this will work: it will just be hot air. As for the European Defence Agency, many European defence companies supply the EU nations. In a sense, the agency is a common procurement agency operating on a voluntary basis. That is a good development. I do not envisage the creation of compulsory procurement systems through the EDA; the aim is to encourage different nations.

On Solana’s role, the European Union is a major economic and political unit. If it sits down at the World Trade Organisation or at other international agencies and if it liaises with NATO and the United Nations on the contribution that it can make in, for example, Afghanistan, someone of high standing must be present to articulate the views of the EU. That does not mean that the high representative or co-ordinator of foreign policy in the EU is higher in the pecking order than the Foreign Secretary in Britain or her equivalents in Germany and France. That is not the case. Anyone
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who does not believe me need only go to a European Council meeting where it will become immediately obvious that the high representative is not the main player. However, he is an important player, and it is right that he should be.

There is instability in Kosovo and the problems with energy policy in Nagorno-Karabakh may well require a military intervention at some stage in the future. Moldova is a problem and I see trouble potentially moving from the middle east into Turkey if it does not spill over into Turkey from Iraq, which is also possible at some stage. Many border issues will be crucial to the interests of the European Union in the coming period, so there are many reasons why the ESDP is an important pillar within the EU’s structures. It should receive serious consideration at all summit meetings and not just when there is a particular emergency. I am sure that that is the overwhelming view of people in Europe. We have the same values and the same cultures and we want the same things. We want to be defended and co-operate in our defence, and that is why these issues are important for the Austrians in the next weeks, for the Finns in the following six months and for the other nations that take over the presidency in the future.

3.21 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). He is a glutton for punishment in these debates, and I suspect that I am becoming the same. In my four years as shadow Foreign Secretary, I spoke from the Front Bench on, I think, eight occasions. I missed the last European debate, because I thought that it would be a great relief not to have to be here, but I have been tempted back today. I see that the former Foreign Secretary—now the Leader of the House—has not been so tempted after the many times that he addressed the House on European issues, although he pushed his nose around the door just now to see what was going on. He took one look at us all and fled. Unlike the rest of us, he is not a glutton for punishment.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary on his tremendously powerful, positive and aggressive speech. The arguments that he deployed have given many of us comfort about where our party is going on Europe at this time. I was delighted that he was able to produce so much new material; I think he said that about 85 per cent. of it was new. I managed to find new material for my first two speeches but, after that, I started altering the order in which I delivered the paragraphs, if only to keep myself awake.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I wanted to do so because I think that something serious is happening within the EU, but that we are somehow missing the plot, in that we all assume that the European constitution is dead. We do not like using that word, but that is the impression that has been created in the past months in many debates on the subject. If we really persuade ourselves of that, we will be taken for a very big ride.

I asked the Foreign Secretary about the completion of the process on the constitution. I said that when I
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was shadow Foreign Secretary, I was given to understand that, two years after the signing of the constitution, it had to be ratified by all 25 member states. That was made clear to us in a particular way; not least, it was made clear when I pressed for an early referendum from the Government on the issue and was told, “No, no. We’ve got two years in which to ratify and we intend to hold our referendum towards the end of that two-year period rather than towards the beginning.”

Suddenly all that has changed. At a relatively unnoticed meeting of the Council of Ministers the other day, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers decided that they were going to extend the period within which the completion of the constitution could take place. The Foreign Secretary described it today as the extension of the period of reflection for a year, which sounds innocuous. I take what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) says about sitting and thinking and just sitting. But what is happening is neither. What is on offer is a means of trying to find a way to fly in the face of the verdicts of two members of the EU who expressed quite clearly through referendums their view that they did not want the constitution to go through.

We talk about coming closer to the people of Europe and listening to what they have to say, but what we have here is our Government being complicit with many other Governments in deciding that if they keep the process of reflection rolling on for long enough, the constitution will come back again in the end. That is a dangerous precedent to set in a Europe that is asking its citizens to have faith in what it is doing. It is an extraordinary move and I believe that, in some ways, it drew its inspiration from the almost incredible fact that, since last year’s no votes in France and Holland, the reaction from the Government in this country on the vital question of the future structure of Europe has been a spectacularly deafening silence. I listened with great care to what the Foreign Secretary said today. She did not mention structure. She talked about the nuts and bolts, but she did not talk about the machine or the vehicle. Yet only two or three years ago in all the debates that we had on the constitution, those issues were the important ones for the Government in the development of Europe. Now there is just deafening silence, and that is why we are in danger of being taken in.

In that context, I very much welcome the speeches of my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary—the one that he delivered today and the one that he gave last week. If I may say to him in a friendly way, they have been somewhat long in coming, but it is important that they have now been made. However, for everyone else there is almost the feeling that the future structure of Europe is the issue that dare not speak its name. I was amazed to be told by a senior journalist on a national newspaper—I will not say which paper—that “We don’t do Europe any more.”

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