Previous Section Index Home Page

20 Feb 2008 : Column 455
6.15 pm

I think that that strengthens the position, principally of the United Kingdom and France, although—again, I stand to be corrected—at a given time, another EU member state could be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, so the EU, with 27 member states and a population of about 400 million people, might have three members of the Security Council, two permanent and one elected on rotation.

The EU is a body of 400 million people, so it seems to me reasonable for the high representative to be invited to the UN. The member states, under the treaty, would be beholden to request that the high representative be invited to present the Union’s position—again, if there were a Union common position. If there is no common position, quite properly and in the interests of our country, our position could be presented to the Security Council, of which we are a permanent member.

The provisions of the treaty seem to me an each-way bet. We might be alone at the UN Security Council—there would be no change there, then, if we had never been in the Common Market and in the EU—but we might not be alone; we might have the strength of being able to say that, at the UN Security Council, we have a common foreign policy on a particular issue, which might be Darfur or whatever, and that it is supported by the UK. Perforce that common position would be supported at the UN by France, which is an EU member state. Another EU member state might also be present as a rotating member of the Security Council.

Mike Gapes: May I add a point to my hon. Friend’s argument? There have been occasions over recent years on which the high representative, representing the EU or negotiating on its behalf, has been closely involved in trying to resolve some issue of conflict. Iran is the obvious example, but there are others. Mr. Solana has played that role, and it would surely be helpful to the collective influence of the UK and the EU within the UN system if someone who had been engaged day to day in trying to resolve some of the most difficult international issues could appear before the Security Council and give it his take on those issues.

Rob Marris: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That issue is to do with expertise, but also many hands make light work. We should get more hands on the pump.

If a delicate issue were being considered by the Security Council and if it were clear that the EU had a common position, as evidenced by the fact that the member states that were members of the Security Council at the time were asking for the high representative to be invited, and if that invitation were extended and the high representative attended, other UN member states around the world would know of the solidity of the common position of the EU, of which we are a member. Therefore, our bargaining power would, in a sense, be given leverage, and the treaty helps in that respect.

The proposal is an each-way bet, as I have termed it. That is why I oppose amendments Nos. 258 and 1. They would strip out things that are advantageous to us. Were we to strip out those things, there would be a serious downside, whereas if we leave them in there will be an upside but no downside.

20 Feb 2008 : Column 456

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I shall be as brief as I can, because I hope that the Committee gets on to the other groups of amendments. It is one of the major scandals of this entire procedure that not only does the Committee not have the opportunity to go through the treaty line by line, but that often, owing to the short time allotted, we do not even have an opportunity to debate whole groups of amendments. That is particularly important given the significance of the subject before us tonight.

This policy area contains some of the worst drafting, and it is one in which the Government sustained some of the heaviest defeats in the negotiations leading up to the drafting of the text. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who spoke before me from the Opposition Benches, put the most optimistic complexion on the treaty provisions. I disagree with him, but we have always managed to conduct our disagreements at a fairly genial level. In this case, however, he is at variance with the Government’s position. We know that the Government do not like the text, so we have the odd situation whereby my right hon. and learned Friend is defending a text which was rejected by the Government. We know that because of the many amendments that the Government tabled during the Convention on the Future of Europe.

I had the honour of representing this House and I witnessed the Government’s then representative, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), tabling and speaking to scores of amendments, very few of which were successful. It is difficult for hon. Members and this Committee to find out exactly what those amendments were; we have to trawl through a Commission website. There is no consolidated version of those amendments, but they do exist and I have a copy. There is no doubt that the Government talked tough in advance about their position, but caved in under pressure; they were not successful in amending the text and are now making the best of a bad job.

The problems were compounded by the procedures in the first half of last year when, following the defeat of the constitution, it was resurrected by the German presidency and the resulting negotiations did not even take place in public. At least in the Convention on the Future of Europe, there was parliamentary and public input; in the early part of last year, the negotiations were conducted entirely by officials in secret. Member states were shown the text only 48 hours before it was all agreed in the June European Council. That is one of the reasons why we have a treaty that is virtually incomprehensible. My right hon. and learned Friend said it would be inappropriate now to put the treaty to a referendum because no one would understand it, but the reason no one can understand it is that it was negotiated by officials, without any parliamentary or public involvement. There being no obligation to make it comprehensible, of course we have a text that is ambiguous, contradictory and misleading. The situation has not been helped by the partial and selective way in which Ministers have presented the outcome to this House.

Our amendments are designed to reinstate the position that the Government wanted during the early negotiations, or at least to make the treaty better. Earlier today, we heard a lot from the Foreign Secretary about the role of the European Council and how that will now be the intergovernmental body that will direct, at least strategically,
20 Feb 2008 : Column 457
common foreign and security policy. It is true that the European Council’s role has been enhanced to some extent, but the treaty does not strengthen the intergovernmental nature of the process. Instead of being led by a serving Head of Government of a member state, the Council is now to have a full-time, permanent president who will be supranational.

What we have done in the treaty is create more presidents—that is really what happened during the Convention. Not only are we to have a full-time president of the European Council, but we will still have a President of the Council of Ministers—in some respects, that role will continue to circulate among member states—as well as the President of the Commission, the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Court of Justice, the President of the European Central Bank and the President of the European Court of Auditors. We have a Europe of presidents, but what we were seeking in the Convention was a popular Europe—a Europe for the people. That was the instruction given to those involved in the reform process, and we failed. If one adds together all the presidents and the vice-presidents enumerated in the treaty, one has something that is even more remote from the lives and concerns of ordinary people.

Of course, what we did not know at the time was that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was actually writing his own job description. However, to repeat a point that has already been made this evening, he might have looked a little more deeply into exactly what the job entails. One of the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee was that there are ambiguities surrounding all the jobs of most of these presidents. The search for clarity and certainty in the text has failed.

Another defect has been identified. If we are to have a more powerful, strategic European Council, why are its proceedings still to take place in secret, with no written minutes of any kind? This was the subject of a recent report by the European Scrutiny Committee, which rightly pointed out:

The Committee points out that no one knows what goes on. There is apparently a recording of the proceedings, although that was denied by the previous Foreign Secretary. It was confirmed, however, by Sir Stephen Wall, who was an ambassador to the EU. If there is an accurate recording, though, it is certainly not presented to Parliament or to the outside world.

The Committee recommended that

I strongly agree with that. If we are to have a supreme decision-making body that is going to set the strategic direction of the foreign policy of 27 member states, we are entitled to know what it is discussing, and who agrees and disagrees when a vote is taken. We need to know what is going on. All we have at the moment are the conclusions, which are circulated before the European
20 Feb 2008 : Column 458
Council meets but are never discussed as minutes. A statement is made to the House by the Prime Minister afterwards to tell us what has happened, but there is no clear, definitive record of what actually took place.

If the treaty goes through, this provision will have big implications for the democratic right of this House to scrutinise foreign policy. There is nothing in the treaty to reform those secretive proceedings. Amendments were tabled in the Convention to correct that, but there was no appetite for such reform. There was a desire to keep these matters at European Union level, deliberately to avoid the tiresome habit of member states’ Parliaments inquiring exactly what their Ministers are doing on their behalf.

We can add to that the fact that there is confusion over the roles of the president of the European Council and of the high representative. It has been mentioned several times today that the high representative will be entitled to speak at the United Nations on behalf of the European Union when there is a common position. This is not what the United Kingdom Government wanted at the time, however. The Minister who is going to respond to the debate does not appear to be in the Chamber at the moment, but if he would kindly return before the debate concludes, I should like to ask him whether it is still the Government’s position that the obligation on permanent members to request the high representative to speak on our behalf contradicts the rules of procedure of the United Nations. We are entitled to an opinion on that. That is certainly what was asserted at the Convention on the Future of Europe, and it would be wrong to write into a treaty something that conflicts with the rules of procedure of an international organisation of which we are a member.


The Foreign Affairs Committee carried out a comprehensive study of the roles of these various posts, and concluded that it was

that is, that of the president of the European Council—

We are being invited to agree to a text—the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, whom I see in his place, did not mention this in his very good report—when we are entitled to an explanation of whether the Government believe that these ambiguities have been sorted out before we pass the Bill.

The high representative will have at his disposal not just what amounts in most respects to a foreign ministry—although it is to be called an external action service—but more than 100 delegations, which to all intents and purposes are embassies. It has been calculated that more than 7,000 members of staff are working for these overseas delegations and for the Commission in Brussels on foreign and security policy and external matters. It is certainly clear to me that the new high representative’s staff and the ministry at his disposal, as well as the overseas delegations, will be heavily dominated by the Commission. Yet the exact role of the Commission is another ambiguity in the treaty, so one of my amendments is designed to remove from it the quite unnecessary confusion over whether the high representative or the Commission can table proposals on foreign policy matters.

20 Feb 2008 : Column 459

The Commission’s role is further enhanced by the fact that the high representative will also be a vice-president of the Commission. Such double-hatting was a matter brought up in the Convention and subsequently as something that the Government did not want. In trying to clarify and simplify the roles of EU institutions, it makes no sense to leave such ambiguities in the text.

Another problem relating to the Commission’s role and how it will interact with that of the high representative is the fact that the European Council and its president will have to practise “mutual sincere cooperation” with the Commission, as written into the text in article 9. If the UK or any other state seeks to assert its independence in foreign policy, it will run up against the problem that the European Council—the decision-making body—and its president will be obliged mutually to co-operate not with member states or the UK but with the Commission. I find that to be a distortion—once again, the Government did not like it in the negotiations—and it should have been removed.

The melancholy fact remains that, regardless of the text, the momentum and the internal dynamic of the EU will sweep away the Government’s red line defences in any case. The clearest example of that are the numerous loyalty and solidarity clauses in the text. Even if we manage to take out some of the specifics through the amendments, we are still left with member states’ obligation to seek an “ever-increasing degree of convergence” of their actions, as in article 11. That is an echo of the existing treaty obligation for member states to seek “ever closer union”. At great political cost, the Government managed to get some of that taken out of the existing text, only for it to re-emerge in the new form of seeking an increasing degree of convergence in foreign policy.

Moreover, it is the high representative who will have a new power to ensure compliance with the obligation—again, a new obligation—for member states to support the European Union action. If there is a change of Government after a general election and the new Government seek to take a new angle on foreign policy and form some new alliances, they will not be able to do so if the policy is the subject of a pre-existing position to which the previous Government signed up.

Mr. Bone: It is slightly worse than that, is it not? A Government may have agreed a common position on a foreign issue to start with, but foreign issues change. We might take a different view from the rest of Europe after agreeing initially to a common approach. Will the high representative say, “I will not say any more about that now”? I fear that he will continue to side with the majority view in the European Union.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Yes, These developments are, to all intents and purposes, irreversible, and undermine one of the basic constitutional tenets by which we live: that no Parliament can bind its successor.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I hesitate to advertise some of the demons whose existence some of our colleagues refuse to accept, but if the Council invited the high representative to formulate a proposal on the basis of a resolution of the Council, that proposal would be subject to qualified majority voting. It is possible that a newly elected Government who did not even agree to the initial invitation for the high representative to make a proposal would be stuck with qualified majority voting on its implementation.

20 Feb 2008 : Column 460

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My hon. Friend rightly mentions a new provision in the treaty which extends qualified majority voting in the way that he has described. It means that once the high representative has been invited to present proposals, qualified majority voting will apply. Any member states must veto at a very early stage even the proposal to request a proposal from the high representative. That is a significant extension of qualified majority voting. Again, the lack of clarity in the relevant clause was criticised by the Foreign Affairs Committee, but to no avail.

Rob Marris: The right hon. Gentleman seems to be reading the provisions in a very different way from the way in which I am reading them. The second paragraph of article 24 (1) on page 19 of the consolidated texts states:

—end of quotation. [Interruption.] I will complete the quotation if Members want me to. After “unanimously”, it continues

End of quotation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could tell us where the treaties provide otherwise. It seems to me that what I have read out suggests it is a question of implementation as well as defining.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman did not complete the quotation, which continues

[Hon. Members: “They do provide otherwise.”] My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) will probably try to find the exact point in the text.

Mr. Clappison: The words “where otherwise provided” refer to article 31(2). If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) looks at that paragraph, he will find a list of examples in which qualified majority voting applies.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: That was a good answer from my hon. Friend. It is true that a new provision in the texts extends qualified majority voting if the European Council, acting on the basis of unanimity, requests a proposal from the high representative. Once that request has been made, qualified majority voting applies, even when the proposals are not implementing measures. That is a significant advance in qualified majority voting.

Next Section Index Home Page