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20 Feb 2008 : Column 442

Mike Gapes: I agree with my hon. Friend. The need to develop that coherence is also in the interests of the larger countries in the European Union, because we will then not be dependent on countries with small diplomatic services which may not be able to cope with the sheer volume of contacts. How could the Maltese or the Luxembourgers provide the necessary back-up for engaging with China or the countries in Latin America? We need coherence, which the bigger countries can provide, alongside the European Union’s collective institutions.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman mentions Africa. Will he condemn the fact that of 53 African nations, 23 no longer have any form of professional British diplomatic representation? That has a real impact on the welfare of British citizens. For instance, the lack of an embassy in Equatorial Guinea has an impact on the case of Mr. Simon Mann.

Will the hon. Gentleman also condemn the fact that, prior to the treaty’s ratification, the European Union has set up its first embassy—so-called—in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia?

Mike Gapes: I will come to the external action service issues in a moment. On the specific point, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on choices made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to close, for example, the high commissions in Lesotho and Swaziland and to concentrate representation in Pretoria. It is not only in Africa but in some of the Pacific Commonwealth countries where we no longer have diplomatic representation. The Chinese, however, are all over the place.

The Committee has raised that issue consistently in recent years. It is wrong that we no longer have that level of representation, and that is a matter for the Treasury, which needs to provide more resources to the FCO. It also reflects the difficult choice that the FCO has to make on resources to provide greater security and more posts in certain countries. For example, we have a big new embassy in Afghanistan.

The other change is the development of the role of the high representative—now correctly named. The role was never that of a European Union Foreign Minister. That was always an absurdity, because the EU is not a state and it does not need the terminology of a state. We do not have a Foreign Minister or a Foreign Ministry: we have the external action service and a high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. It is important that all hon. Members and people who write about our proceedings use the correct terminology. If those people who oppose the development of a “European super-state” start using the wrong language, they may mislead people into thinking that something exists when it does not. We have, as the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out clearly in its report, an intergovernmental approach to foreign policy, and it is clearly stated that such matters are dealt with on the basis of agreement between the 27 member states.

We can go further. The Committee concluded that the changes in the Lisbon treaty do not risk undermining the common foreign and security policy’s intergovernmental nature. Indeed, there is a greater shift towards the member states, not away from them, in some aspects of foreign policy.

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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman’s powerful argument for more centralisation of the European Union. Is not the point that the argument that he has just made does not apply to the presidency? If the approach is intergovernmental, why do we need a permanent, fixed president? That is what states have.

Mike Gapes: For the hon. Gentleman’s information, the presidency will not be a permanent post but an agreed post appointed by the 27 countries for a period of two and a half years, subject to a further term, and it will have to be made on the basis of agreement between the member states. It certainly will not be a permanent post, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

The role of the high representative obviously relates to the work on external policy that is currently done by the External Relations Commissioner, whose role will be abolished. It is therefore important to recognise the way in which it will work. There is currently a division between the aspects of EU external policy that are handled by the European Commission under the so-called Community method, such as aid-trade development, and those that are handled within the common foreign and security policy, such as the diplomatic statements, sanctions and security policy developed in the European Union, including matters that were referred to earlier about the deployment of civilian and military security missions outside the EU.

5.30 pm

During the preparation of the Select Committee’s report, we heard evidence from witnesses, including EU officials, that that division has bedevilled the effectiveness of the EU’s external activities. Mr. Solana told us that the link between his high representative job and the Commission was “loose” and that the separate nature of Council and Commission decision making

Work on achieving greater co-ordination between the Council and the Commission, for example on energy security, is already under way. In that sense, the Lisbon treaty brings together aspects of the Council and Commission’s external relations functions in a single person, which will be more effective and will move things further in the direction in which they have already begun to try to move. The mere fact that there are two posts at the moment makes it very difficult, even if the individuals get on very well personally. That was the case with former Commissioner Chris Patten, who got on very well with Mr. Solana—he told us that. Nevertheless, the institutional division leads to inefficiency and a lack of coherence. The treaty deals with that problem effectively.

Mr. Redwood: Does the Chairman of the Select Committee agree that he is arguing that a common European position is a lot better than a separate British foreign policy and that he would want a British Foreign Minister to try to accommodate the views of colleagues so that there was always a common foreign policy position? Is not the divide in the House tonight about the fact that some want a common European position on everything while others think that we are better off with a British position?

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Mike Gapes: I take it from that intervention that the right hon. Gentleman wants inefficiency and incoherence between the Commission and the high representative. Frankly, I would agree that he and I have a different view about whether we want an effective European Union that is coherent and efficient. He presumably wants an ineffective European Union—or perhaps no European Union at all. We will no doubt have a chance to debate that in future.

The need to bring together all the possible instruments for action abroad is one of the most important lessons for us to consider internationally. We have had comment in other contexts about the difficulties of co-ordinating all the different agencies that work in Afghanistan. Work in the Balkans—in Serbia and Kosovo, for example—has involved a lot of incoherence, because there are so many different offices, individuals and players. The EU has been trying to co-ordinate the signing of the stabilisation and association agreement with the Government of Serbia in Belgrade, and it has to engage with the European Commission, the European security and defence policy mission to Kosovo and other agencies in the EU family. Having one person, a high representative with overall responsibility for all such matters, would make that co-ordination and effectiveness easier to achieve.

The Lisbon treaty also gives the high representative explicit responsibility for ensuring the consistency of the EU’s external action. For the first time, it brings together a single set of principles and objectives that will govern all the EU’s external activities, both in Community areas and in its common foreign and security policy. Linked to that is the high representative’s role in respect of the European external action service, which will be under the representative’s control.

As the FAC noted, many aspects of the new service remain to be worked out in practice. Until it is established, there will naturally be some ambiguities, but it is already clear that it will be made up of officials from existing departments of the Council secretariat and the European Commission, as well as people seconded from national diplomatic services. Moreover, although the treaty does not spell it out explicitly, it is likely that EU representation outside the EU will be integrated into the new service.

Unless a member state wishes the EU to take on the role, the EU missions and representations will not replace individual member states’ diplomatic posts abroad. I referred earlier to Slovenia’s lack of diplomatic representation in Africa, and that should be compared with the very large diplomatic footprint that countries such as France, the UK or Germany have around the world. However, as was noted in an earlier intervention, that footprint does not extend everywhere.

How can the UK use other countries’ diplomatic missions—something that, to an extent, we already do in some parts of the world? There are countries where the British are not present but the Germans or French are, and the EU’s external action service might, in time, develop a similar role, but that will not mean that it determines UK foreign policy or that we cease to be an independent state. All the myths to that effect must be laid to rest, one by one: they are scaremongering, and they bear no relation to the reality of the world as it is, or to what it will be after the Lisbon treaty is ratified and comes into effect.

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The creation of a single EU external action service that will support the high representative and operate alongside national foreign offices and their staff should encourage the development of a more unified EU approach to foreign policy. It should also reduce the amount of duplication in the European Council and European Commission bureaucracies in Brussels. For those reasons, I believe that it is very important that we support the foreign policy elements of the Lisbon treaty, and that we reject the amendments before us today.

The best way to protect our national interests is to have high-quality British people from our diplomatic service working at all levels in the EU’s institutions, including the external action service. That should be regarded in our Foreign Office as a good career move for the people involved, who should be able to improve their promotion prospects by putting their EU work on their CVs. As happens with officials from other EU countries, our people will be able to have an input into the EU system and to influence the policies that are adopted collectively. The result will be that the EU will be more effective and coherent, and that it will work more in Britain’s interests.

Mr. Davey: I rise to speak primarily because the Liberal Democrats have concerns with every amendment in this group. In that regard, we have something in common with Conservative Front Benchers. They confirmed today that they are against every single measure in the common foreign and security policy; I can confirm that we are against every single one of their amendments. They would undermine a sensible and modest package of proposals.

Amendment No. 258 would delete the proposal relating to the president of the Council. The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) seemed to think that that would become a powerful position; he suggested that it would be akin to the presidency of the United States in due course, and that the proposal was a stalking horse for a new presidential element to the European Union. He skirted some of the facts, such as that the president of the Council will be accountable to all the Ministers from all 27 states and will be able to act only when all 27 states have agreed and given the president a remit, as well as that the president will not have a vote. If he really thinks that such a position is equivalent to the presidency of the United States, he is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Mr. Redwood: A long time ago, the British people were asked to vote on whether they wanted a Common Market, and they voted yes. They have never been asked whether they want a common defence, foreign and security policy; why would the hon. Gentleman not put that to the British people?

Mr. Davey: I believe that the British people should have a referendum on the whole European Union to encompass that matter and many others. It is time to have an in/out referendum so that the British people can put the anti-Europeans to flight. I believe that the vast majority of the British people do not share the Euroscepticism clearly evident in some Conservative Back-Bench Members—

20 Feb 2008 : Column 446

Mr. Gummer rose—

Mr. Davey —although not the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman should be a bit careful about the issue. The House is elected by the British people to make decisions as a Parliament. That is the basis of the British constitution. There is no question but that we have that job and that duty. People know how we voted, and we must stand by our votes. Referendums are always the refuge of those who are not prepared to stand up for what they believe and vote as they should. The fault of this Government is to have promised a referendum and not delivered it, but their fault is double. They should not have promised it in the first place, and having promised it, they should have delivered it.

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman’s position on the matter has been consistent; I do not disagree that he fought on that position during the last election. I fought on the position that there should be a referendum on a constitutional treaty. The best way to honour that pledge is to have an in/out referendum, because it is the question closest to that of a constitutional treaty.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): I am pleased to hear views being expressed by the Liberal Democrats in the House. When my local paper wished to know where all the political parties stood on the issue, I was the only one who responded. There was a resounding “no comment” from the Liberal Democrat and Labour parliamentary candidates. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman shares my view—I should like his comments on it—that people would like to engage in the debate. That debate is stifled not only within the Chamber but outside it, and that is part of the problem. People cannot debate the arguments, because they are not being put.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind hon. Members that a debate on whether to have a referendum will take place later, in the next few days.

Mr. Davey: I am certainly happy to abide by your ruling, Mrs. Heal, and to talk to the hon. Lady outside. I know the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St. Albans, and I am sure that he will want to comment; he is not normally a quiet candidate.

Amendment No. 1 deals with the United Nations Security Council. When challenged on it, the hon. Member for Rayleigh had absolutely no answer. He must accept that the treaty proposes the most timid, modest, small change that could possibly be made to the relationship between the European Union and the United Nations Security Council. The idea that the British Government or a serious political party should be against the European Union speaking with all the authority of 27 member states and backing a policy that we have agreed is absurd.

Amendment No. 156, which I believe was tabled by the hon. Gentleman or his colleagues, would prevent the European Union from signing any international agreement. The EU would not be able to sign a trade agreement, an agreement on climate change or any agreement that was in the interests of our people. That shows what an absurd position he is adopting.

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Mr. Francois: Amendment No. 156 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I am sure that he will make the case for it.

Mr. Davey: If I made a mistake, I apologise to the hon. Member for Rayleigh, but I say to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that the amendment is still absurd.

5.45 pm

Mr. Henderson: I refer to amendments Nos. 1 and 258. I am slightly unfamiliar with Committee stage discussions these days, and I am not sure whether the Opposition intend their amendments as probing amendments or whether they have a more serious purpose. Perhaps the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) could clarify that.

I am not sure whether amendment No. 258 deletes the concept of a president of the Council from the treaty or whether it prevents a president of the Council from having a view on external affairs. I suspect that it deletes any reference to the president, which implies that the current situation would continue, whereby there are potentially three different spokespeople for the European Union on external affairs matters.

Those who have been in regular contact with the European Union know that the current position is untenable with 27 members. With six members of the original Community it may have been possible, as the presidency came round every three years and there could be some degree of continuity. With 27 members it becomes almost impossible to conduct business in the long term. Particularly in relations with outside bodies and other international bodies, there is a need for administrative consistency so that people know whom they are speaking to, what kind of person they are and whether they can trust them. That is crucial in international negotiations, which is why a presidency is needed.

That brings me back to the question whether the amendment was intended as a probing amendment. Was it meant to probe whether the presidency would be like the President of the United States? Clearly, that is not the case. The president of the European Council would have very limited powers and would have to be extremely careful to stick closely to the mandate that that person was given. There would not be a huge amount of discretion, if I anticipate correctly the future relationship between the president and the Council. That may be a point that Tony Blair is examining. I do not know whether he is a candidate or not, but he would be wise to work out what the job description was if he wanted to put his hat in the ring.

With regard to amendment No. 1, there is a myth that must be killed off. There are many legitimate and credible reasons to argue against the treaty and the foreign affairs and defence aspects of it, but the idea that it will in any way deny Britain access to the United Nations at the Security Council, the Assembly or any of the intermediary committees is just not realistic. The president will be there to represent a common position of the European Union in whatever is being discussed. If there is no common position, the president will not be there; the president could not be there unless originally there was unanimity—or, as my European friends say, consensus—on the issue under consideration.

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