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No rational person could come to any other conclusion. The similarities are overwhelming: the existence of the high representative, the renamed Foreign Minister, and the simultaneous membership of the European Commission for the person holding that post; the appointment of the high representative by qualified majority voting; the extension of QMV to proposals made by the high
representative and the design of the EU diplomatic service; the creation of the new EU foreign policy fund; the requirement on Britain and France to invite the high representative to present the EUs case at the UN Security Council when a common position has been determined; the creation of a single legal personality for the EU; and a series of defence commitments, including a mutual defence commitment and so-called permanent structured co-operation.
All those points, which are the subject of our six-hour debate today, were in the EU constitution and are in the EU treaty. Indeed, some were among the aspects of the treaty that made it a constitutional treaty in the opinion of the former Foreign Secretary, who is now the Lord Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). He told the House that the creation of an EU Foreign Minister, as well as an EU president, were points that were
central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty.[ Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1001.]
It is as clear in foreign policy as it is in any aspect of the treaty that if the Government were possessed of any honour or honesty in living up to their manifesto commitments, the people of this country would be permitted the referendum that they want and deserve.
Mr. Hague: I am of the opinion that when all the parties in the House have committed themselves to a referendum, that referendum should be granted. That makes this case wholly different from any previous case from 1998, 1992 or whenever else. In the general elections that preceded those occasions, no party had committed itself to a referendum on the European treaty. In this Parliament, every party committed itself to a referendum on a European treaty. The Government cannot therefore mount any credible argument that a difference in the provisions in the treaty from the provisions in the constitution absolves them from their referendum commitment. They can argue instead only that the provisions are relatively unimportant or are small improvementsthat would seem to be the gist of the Foreign Secretarys casethat would not merit a referendum in any case.
That argument, however, comes up against three major problems. The first is that it is generally agreed by observers who set out to be impartial that in this area the treaty makes important changes. The Foreign Affairs Committee of our own House noted that
the Government risks underestimating, and certainly is downplaying in public, the importance and potential of the new foreign policy institutions established by the Lisbon Treaty, namely the new High Representative and the European External Action Service.
The Treaty has large potential and a dramatic impact in the field of common foreign and security policy.
Secondly, it has emerged that important decisions about how exactly the foreign and defence provisions will be implemented are being held back until ratification in this country, in particular, has been completed. The
decisions, for instance, about the role of the president of the European Council in foreign policy and the roll-out of the EU diplomatic service, as well as those about the nature of the all-important structured co-operation in defence, will only be taken later, according to the leaked memo from the Slovenian presidency written on 16 January, when they will no longer be subject to the scrutiny of this Parliament, let alone the people of this country. Those decisions are clearly of huge importance. Indeed, there is a prospect that the scene is being set for a serious turf war between the president of the Council and the high representativenot a clever thing to build into any constitution, and not something that suggests that their roles will be unimportant.
The third difficulty for the Government in making their case is that the changes on foreign policy and defence brought in by the treaty were important enough for the vast majority of them to have been strongly opposed by the Government. The background to that is that for many years there has been instinctive agreement across the House about the relationship of the European Union to foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary gave voice to some of this in his speech. We have all been in favour of member states of the EU working together on foreign policy issues on an intergovernmental and consensus basis. The need to do so in the years to comefor instance, hopefully, in relation to the Balkans and in dealing with the foreign policy challenges presented by Russiais clear. In common with the Government, we wish that there was a more effective and forceful unity of foreign policy approach from EU members.
Across the House, we wish that the approach to foreign policy of EU members had a more forceful unity in facing up to Irans development of nuclear weapons capability and the crimes of regimes such as those in Zimbabwe and Burma. There is no hostility to the co-operation of member states as nation states on a wide range of important issues. As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, that can be a means of implementing our foreign policy here in Britain. The vast majority of us in this House, including the Government, have always opposed the introduction of treaty changes that increase the role of the EU at the expense of member states and of institutions that go beyond supplementing co-operation and supplant it with supranational decision making.
Indeed, there is almost British consensus that institutional change is not only irrelevant to an effective common foreign and security policy but can even be a substitute for it or a distraction from it. That was clear from the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee on this subject, some of which makes interesting reading.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who stressed the importance of unity on the question of Russia. Will he explain to the House why the Conservative party and right hon. and hon. Members colluded with Mr. Putin and the Kremlin to
try to install one of Mr. Putins henchmen as president of the Council of Europe against the wish of all the other centre-right parties in Europe?
Mr. Hague: The right hon. Gentleman is making an extraordinary accusation when he says that we have been colluding with Mr. Putin, whom we have never met. I have to tell him that it was provided for in the arrangements for the presidency of the Council of Europe that the position would be taken by a socialist. One of the people who argued that the Russians should take the presidency was, as I understand it, the leader of the Labour delegation and former Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). The right hon. Gentlemans accusations against the Conservative party are rather misplaced.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of co-operation within the European Union on foreign policy, and that is clearly welcome. Does he propose any measures to ensure that co-operation is easier and that the potential for co-operation is enhanced?
institutional change has too often been a substitute for change at the level of policy and a willingness to grasp the nettle of difficult decisions...Whenever there is a problem in European Union foreign policy, the instinct is to say, Lets invent some new procedure.
historically a lot of effort has gone into the procedure rather than the policy.
the CFSP could carry on working quite happily without the changes that are in that treaty.
A dazzling array of Labour Foreign Secretariespast and presentdrove that point home to the Committee. The noble Lord Owen expressed the view that the EU spent too much time on institutional development and press relations, whereas the best way to strengthen EU foreign policy was
practical success on the ground.
if the European Union cannot get an agreement
there will be a huge crisis and...the EU will no longer be able to function.
the last few months have shown that that is not actually so. The EU is functioning and has, indeed, reached some quite far-reaching decisions.
I rather agree with those Labour Foreign Secretaries and academic experts that the concentration of EU and foreign policy should be on practical agreement and grasping difficult issues rather than trying to change the rules.
Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he agree that the treatys changes on common foreign and security policy are so modest for the very reasons that he has just set out?
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman had better take that up with his colleague Mr. Andrew Duff. As I mentioned a moment ago, he said that the treaty would have a dramatic impact in the field of common foreign and security policy. I know that the Liberal Democrats are having some disagreements about how to vote on some of these matters, so perhaps they can resolve that one at the same time as they resolve the others.
Ms Gisela Stuart: I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees that some changes need to be made. The history of the Iraq invasion shows that the Council of Ministers never talked about that country, which thus shows that there is a flaw in how the EU discusses foreign policy issues. Does he think that any of the proposed changes would be positive?
Mr. Hague: I do not think it would have been necessary to pass this treaty for the Council of Ministers to be able to discuss the situation in Iraq. I suspect that the Council did not discuss Iraq because it would have been too difficult for its members to reach any agreement on it. I recommend that the Council take the advice of the Labour partys illustrious former Foreign Secretaries and concentrate on reaching practical agreement rather than on changing the rules.
In fact, the present Foreign Secretary has said that the EUs actions on climate change have done more to show the relevance of the EU than any amount of institutional tinkering. I agree with him on that as well, and indeed the Opposition are in full agreement with that view. There is probably near unanimity in the House about it, so it is even less defensible that the Government, from the Prime Minister down, instead of standing up in the negotiations for their well-founded preference for practical delivery over increasing the EUs powers through institutional change, should have rolled over and agreed to the profound changes and increases in the EUs powers that we are discussing today.
That is why there was complete agreement in this country when the Government said that they had a red line and that there must be no intrusion into Britains right to an independent foreign policy. The fact that Ministers have secured a declaration attached to the treaty that makes clear our rights in foreign policy shows both the importance that they attach to foreign policy and their belief that the treaty intrudes in that area. It as a pity, to say the least, that the legal adviser to the European Scrutiny Committee should consider the existence of that declaration, as opposed to a protocol, to be legally meaningless, but it is instructive that Ministers felt that a declaration had to be made.
It is an illustration of the consensus that has existed in the House for many years that almost every provision in the treaty that concerns foreign policy has been opposed by Ministers at one time or another. It is now the Foreign Secretarys job to put a positive gloss on everything that his predecessors opposed in the Governments name. He now says that they were asking searching questionsa phrase that recurred throughout his speech this afternoonso let us look at some of the searching questions that they asked.
In the first place, the Government were opposed to the EU Foreign Minister or high representative also being a member of the European Commission. As the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn, who is now the Secretary of State for Justice, said:
We would have preferred to have explicit separation of those two posts.
That is a bit more than a question, although perhaps not very searching. At the same time, Ministers were trenchantly opposed to the idea that the proposals made by the EU Foreign Minister should be agreed by QMV. In December 2003, when he was still Foreign Secretary, the present Secretary of State for Justice also said:
QMV on proposals made by the Unions Minister for Foreign Affairs is simply unacceptable.
Is simply unacceptable the tone of a searching question? I do not know what things are like in the former Foreign Secretarys house, but when my wife tells me that something is simply unacceptable it is not a searching question but something much more emphatic. The right hon. Gentleman also said:
We made it clear that common foreign and security policy is an inter-governmental matter, and must be established unanimously.
Yet that searching question was cast aside. The article to which he was objecting is in the treaty, and it was in the constitution. The difficulty with it is obvious, as is the reason that the Government opposed it. The Council could unanimously ask the EU Foreign Minister to present a proposal, with Britains agreement; but if the proposal was unsatisfactory to the British Foreign Secretary, the EU Foreign Minister would then find that that unsatisfactory proposal was subject to QMV. The Government evidently shared our fears about that, but they capitulated.
The Government capitulated again over the creation of the European diplomatic service, or external action service. When that service was proposed, the then Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), said in a written answer:
We believe that it remains for EU member states to organise their respective bilateral diplomatic services at the national level.[ Official Report, 23 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 226W.]
I am delighted that he is present to be reminded of his version of a searching question. It clearly stated the Governments policy that they were not in favour of a European external action service.
Mr. Hague: Yes, although it is right that British nominees should take part if the service is established. When the right hon. Member for Rotherham referred to the best brains being sent, he was rather giving a hint that he would like to sent as one of the services ambassadors, as the phrase is one that he would certainly like to apply to himself. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point. The EU is sometimes in the habit of setting up institutions before it has the full legal authority to do so. The service should not be established or recruited to before the treaty has been ratified by Parliament.
Yet the Government have now agreed to the creation of such a service and to its rules on diplomatic and consular protection being determined by QMV, even though they used to be opposed to all of that. The Governments opposition was deep and long standing: as recently as last June, only days before the treaty was signed, the Foreign Secretarys immediate predecessor, the right hon. Member for Derby, South, fought a spectacularly unsuccessful last-minute rearguard action against the creation of the external action service. She reportedly said that the creation of such a service could be seen as state building and that Britain was opposed to it.
How can it be that the creation of the service was sufficiently alarming to the Foreign Office for the Foreign Secretary of our country to make every effort to stop it even at the final hour but, when the Government caved in and agreed to it, it became something that was no threat at all and a matter that Parliament did not need to worry about?
At the same dinner in Brussels, at the Foreign Affairs Council that preceded the Lisbon summit, the right hon. Lady the former Foreign Secretary also made a last-ditch effort to prevent the EU Foreign Minister or high representative from becoming the permanent chairman of the meetings of Foreign Ministers. Again, if that is of no account, why did the Government go to such lengths to try to prevent it? Is it the present Foreign Secretarys position that his predecessor was wrong to try to prevent those things? Was she only asking searching questions when she declared her opposition at the last minute?
When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the UN Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Unions position.
The Governments approach to that was unambiguous. When the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) put forward the Governments views to the European Convention drafting the constitution, he argued that that entire paragraph should be struck out altogether. He said:
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