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3.11 pm

Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to share in the poignancy of the act of apostasy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth)—a poignancy that perhaps only two lads from Huyton could fully appreciate. I shall do two simple things in this short address: set out what I see as necessary and beneficial developments in European foreign, security and defence policy in the past decade or two, and then move on to the difference that the Lisbon treaty makes.

Even bitter opponents of the European Union will recognise the advantages of being part of the Common Market. What opponents do not always recognise is the corollary: the extent of the commonality of interest that that implies. It extends to responsibility for the protection of those at risk within our sphere of influence and to the defence of common interests.

The Balkan wars of the 1990s demonstrated how weak European Governments were when acting alone, and so the need for a common European foreign policy was perceived, in order to address future crises better. Following the St. Malo agreement of 1998, we saw the agreement of European defence policies at Helsinki in 1999 to support the common foreign policy, particularly through the development of the rapid deployment capability. That is why Europe was able to take over responsibilities from NATO in Bosnia, and to continue work in Congo, Sudan, and the other places in that impressive list of interventions for good cited by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his opening address.

In December 2003, the agreement on European security strategy spelled out the main threats to European security, which were terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failed states and organised crime. None of those issues is purely military. They all require more than a military response, and they demand a complete rethink of how we deploy civil and military resources to address future threats. Also, importantly, they require maximum collaborative effort, because such threats do not confine themselves to national frontiers.

Such matters give rise to the consideration of defence procurement, rationalisation of the European Union defence industry base and, importantly, interoperability between our forces—hence the formation of the European Defence Agency to break down barriers, to encourage
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cross-border trade in military equipment and to harmonise the process of research, development and production of weapons and equipment. Such considerations have been made all the more necessary by reductions in defence budgets following the end of the cold war. As previous speakers have pointed out, the divergence of interests between the EU and the USA meant that we could not continue to depend entirely on NATO for European defence and security needs.

We are witnessing a transformation of European forces in terms of their purpose, their equipment and their operation. I was at a conference on this transformation of European forces in Paris about a fortnight ago, and much high praise was given to the European Defence Agency by European defence procurement Ministers and by high-ranking military officers. Indeed, much praise is due to Nick Witney, a Brit—the director who got the EDA off the ground.

What does all this have to do with the Lisbon treaty? Quite a lot. I am one of those who says that the treaty is emphatically not constitutional. It reforms institutions that need reform, specifically in the context of today’s debate. The current EU institutions for making foreign policy are inadequate for the collaborative approach. The rotating presidency means a lack of continuity and expertise, which frustrates our American colleagues, for example. The institutional split between the Council of Ministers, which is diplomatic, and the Commission, which is economic, is counter-productive and inhibits partnership work. The reform treaty will improve the situation in a number of ways to allow for positive, more effective action, such as the merging of the jobs of the high representative and the Commissioner for External Relations, and the downgrading of the rotating presidency. It is a myth that the rotating presidency will take away powers from the UK. As was said by a previous contributor to the debate, if that were so, how could Spain and Greece go their own way on Kosovo?

I put the case that collaborative effort is needed to promote and defend common and individual interests arising out of the successful development of the EU, which we all share. I commend the treaty to the House.

Deferred division

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I now have to announce the result of the Division deferred from the previous day.

On the draft Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008, the Ayes were 257, the Noes were 164, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division List s are published at the end of today’s debates.]

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Treaty of Lisbon (No. 5)

Question again proposed.

3.18 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I must begin with a confession. When I addressed the House on Second Reading, I sought to reassure colleagues who were concerned about the proposed powers of the president of the European Council that they would be exactly the same as those of the current President. In fact, I was wrong: there will be fewer. The President of the European Council currently has a vote, as he is a Head of Government. The new president of the European Council will have no vote in the European Council, so whether we are talking about foreign policy or any other area, the suggestion that the creation of this post will somehow have a new, dramatic and sinister consequence is difficult to substantiate. The individual concerned will not even be able to vote on the matters before the European Council.

The post of high representative is similar. The high representative, like the president of the European Council, will, of course, have influence, but will not be able to vote. Only Foreign Ministers will vote and make the decisions. That must be borne in mind when we try to work out the implications and the overall consequences of the treaty.

Mr. Lilley: The commissioners have no vote when they are in a Council meeting, but I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledges that they have immense power, not only to propose measures but to withdraw them and hold them on the table. No one else has that power.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I am not referring to the commissioners, but to the president of the European Council. If one seeks a comparison, it would be with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has often been handicapped by the Security Council’s failure to provide the mandate that he wishes and has therefore been unable to deliver policy.

Mr. MacShane: I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but does not he realise the damage that he does to the case of Conservative Front Benchers, who for six months or more have been telling us about an all-powerful president of Europe and an all-powerful European Foreign Minister? The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Telegraph report that such monsters are approaching. Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman claims that, like the Wizard of Oz, they may try to pull the levers but not much will happen unless we, as nation states, agree with them. He needs to have that discussion with his Front-Bench colleagues.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I must have that discussion with the right hon. Gentleman, too, because one of the problems that has bedevilled the European Union is that its enthusiasts and its critics resort to hyperbole on almost every possible occasion, thereby damaging both sides of the argument and confusing the British public. That must be borne in mind.

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As one tries to work out the claims and counter-claims about the treaty, the British public are entitled to know whether it will fundamentally impede the pursuit of our foreign policy. It is reasonable to ask whether, if the powers had been available in the past 10 years, any of the most fundamental matters on which British policy diverged from that of most of our European colleagues would have been affected. Rightly or wrongly, we went to war over Iraq. Britain would not have been prevented from carrying out that policy if any of the powers had been in force at the time.

Policy on Kosovo divided Europe 10 years ago as it does today, but Britain was not impeded from making its judgment about what the national interest justified. Although we have differences with European colleagues about Afghanistan, our policy would not be impeded if the powers existed. It is important to make that point, or we confuse our electorate, whichever side of the argument we choose to present.

However, my comments are valid only if the Government are frank about not only the European Union’s achievements but its failures on foreign policy. Kosovo is highly relevant in that context. Nine years ago, we had agreement, not on going to war but at least on the objective of restoring autonomy to Kosovo. That was the purpose of European policy. The then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was clear about the matter. He said that, after the war in Kosovo,

President Clinton said on behalf of the United States that he believed that “autonomy not independence” was required and that

That was effectively the basis on which the United Kingdom went to war.

I therefore find it unimpressive that the Foreign Secretary spoke this week about a common European position, Europe realising its ideals and Europe working positively, when the emergence of Kosovan independence destroyed the whole basis on which this country entered into combat. I want to make a couple of other comments about Kosovo and relate them to whether there should be a common foreign and security policy.

There is a fundamental difference between a single and a common foreign and security policy. We all know that there will not be a single foreign policy for many generations to come, if ever. However, a common foreign policy is different. Let us assume that the European Union did not exist and that we were not constrained in any way by the EU or its institutions. Notwithstanding that, it would be highly desirable for the countries of Europe to try to find common positions if there was genuine and substantive agreement—not artificial agreement—between them. Whether it was on the middle east, Zimbabwe, Iran, Russia or energy policy, it would be highly desirable, from the point of view of the United Kingdom’s national interest, to have allies with whom we could work and present a common position if we were to influence the US, Russia and other parts of the world.

I have no doubt about that, but there are two important caveats if we wish to pursue a common foreign policy. The first is obvious: it must be based on
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unanimity and not on any form of qualified majority voting, not only because that is undesirable in principle and would conflict with our national sovereignty—vital though those points are—but because it would not work. One cannot force a country to pursue a foreign policy that is contrary to its perception of its national interest. The French, the Germans, the Spanish and the Cypriots will not do it, any more than the UK would do it. That goes without saying.

The second point has not yet been made today and it is important. If the Government rightly want to advance common foreign policy, they must do that only when there is agreement on substance, not simply on form. There has been a tendency, not only under this Government but for many years, to go for the lowest common denominator in Europe so that the European Union can say, “We have a common position.” We end up with documents, statements and policies that do not add up to a row of beans because they constitute an attempt to create a spurious unity. I fear that the Foreign Secretary’s statement yesterday on Kosovo falls in that category.

We all know that Europe is deeply divided about Kosovo. We may disagree about the proportions and how many countries will ultimately recognise Kosovo’s independence. However, today almost half the European Union refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence. A statement was produced, and our Foreign Secretary said,

Would not it have been more sensible for the Foreign Secretary to say, “It is disturbing and sad that Europe is deeply divided on this issue, but we’ve at least established some points of agreement, and we might build on that in the future”? That would correspond to reality. However, instead he fell into the trap that catches people on both sides of the argument: anything European has to be 100 per cent. correct or totally wrong. Consequently, the national interest is not well served.

Mr. Jenkin: Is not the problem the fact that the institutional frameworks that have been created for a common foreign and security policy have led to the expectation that there should be agreement when that is unlikely? We thus end up with charade policies.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: My hon. Friend may be correct, but the point of aspiring to have statesmen rather than politicians is that they can get beyond that and consider genuine national interest. Whatever the institutional arrangements that may have been created, no one can persuade me—they should not try—that we should require anything other than unanimity on foreign policy. As long as that remains the case, and it must, if we have statesmen governing our affairs, not only in this country but in other European countries, and they want to argue for a common foreign policy on any matter that is important to this country, it should be based on substantive agreement on genuine issues, not on cobbling together some form of words that pretend to a spurious unity.

Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con) rose—

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Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I am sorry, but I am running out of time and therefore cannot give way to my hon. Friend.

Foreign policy goes to the heart of national sovereignty, which common policy does not preclude. However, common policy must be based on substance, not form. The Government, as well as others, have failed that important and relevant test.

3.28 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and I share his view on the hyperbole heard from all parts of the House and outside. He rightly spent time on Kosovo and referred to the situation nine years ago, when he may have been much closer to the scene. However, the situation nine years ago is not the situation now. That is the important point that we have to understand and accept, and which has indeed been accepted, not only by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, but by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in his response.

I agree entirely with the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea on a common foreign policy. It is not possible—it is not in the treaty, nor is it anywhere stated—to have foreign policies based on qualified majority voting. The qualified majority voting principle was introduced in Amsterdam in 1997, on the basis of secondary considerations. The fact that Romania, Spain and Cyprus have not recognised Kosovo shows that it is perfectly right, in respect of unanimity in foreign policy, that each individual state can and does go its own way. I also agree with him on the question of the lowest common denominator. As someone who supports the European Union and has done for many years, I find it sad that it is the lowest common denominator that unites member states.

One subject that has not been mentioned today—I am happy to be the first to get into it—is that it is almost 10 years since 4 December 1998, when the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair met French President Jacques Chirac at St. Malo in what became a defining moment in the development of defence policy. We have had a great debate today, with concerns expressed by the Opposition, on the role of NATO. However, at that summit in 1998 the two leaders resolved the dilemma of the Union’s relationship with NATO, declaring that Union security would rest with NATO.

It has been pointed out that President Sarkozy has made some statements about NATO and France getting closer, which would be beneficial. However, Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Chirac agreed at St. Malo not only that NATO would be the defence of Europe, but that there should be some institutional and practical arrangements, to act militarily where NATO chooses not to act. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) made some interesting points about that when he was here, but did not feel that that could happen under the European Union.

However, it was agreed at St. Malo that there would be—and could be—humanitarian and rescue tasks. They could include peacekeeping operations or crisis management, under principles already laid down in
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what were known as the Petersberg tasks, to which the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) have referred. The Petersberg tasks were agreed at the Western European Union ministerial meeting in June 1992.

Mr. Cash: My concern is that the hon. Gentleman is forgetting that there is, effectively, a mutual defence clause in the treaty, which prescribes that where one member state is attacked, the others are obliged to provide it with

That takes the St. Malo position much further. Furthermore, just as, for example, the Germans are not doing the right thing in relation to article 5, with respect to what is happening in Afghanistan, so I fear that duplication with NATO will produce exactly the same kind of results that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea mentioned, namely that things will start fragmenting and people will start breaking up the arrangements, which will affect NATO and undermine our overall commitment.

Sir Stuart Bell: There are 21 member states in the European Union that are also members of NATO. In the situation that the hon. Gentleman described, of one member state not coming to the defence of another that was attacked, if he is saying that that is what we should do, that would not go down well elsewhere. He also widens the debate when he talks about NATO in Afghanistan and the relationship with Germany, which is a separate issue. However, I agree that there ought to be stronger representation of NATO forces in Afghanistan from countries other than ours.

Let me return to my central theme and refer again to the points made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, who served in the Army, and the comments by Lord Owen about success on the ground. The European Union’s missions over the past few years, to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred, have included police missions—it must be stressed that they were indeed police missions—in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad. When Chad was mentioned, there was some protest from the Opposition Benches from a sedentary position. Actually, the intervention in Chad, by way of a police mission, was to secure refugee camps. I am sure that the refugees in those camps would not have appreciated the kind of reaction that we have heard in the Chamber today. Also, there have been police missions in Moldova and Ukraine, so the EU has had some positive effect in various parts of the world.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary referred to the work of the group of three Union Foreign Ministers, who have been holding talks with Iran on its nuclear enrichment programme. That, of course, had the support of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. This is another element on which the Union can work together. The point made by the right hon. Gentleman, which is perfectly valid, was that the relationships between the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom come from intergovernmental action. That is perfectly right.

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