Previous Section Index Home Page

Let me end by referring to a solidarity clause that I do not think has been sufficiently ventilated. It gives the European Union the ability to require member states to make available military resources to prevent a terrorist attack. Hon. Members who wish to look it up will find the reference in article 188R, which is a new provision in the treaty. As far as I can tell, it is judiciable by the European Court of Justice. In other words, there is no voluntary spirit involved. If a request is made, member states, including Britain, would have to give military assistance or make military assets available. That would be done not in response to an actual attack, but possibly to prevent a terrorist attack. That is a significant extension
20 Feb 2008 : Column 461
of European Union power and a restriction on the freedom of action of all member states. How it can be asserted that British independence of thought, policy and action is uninhibited by this treaty is mystifying.

Perhaps the best demonstration of that point is the fact that, yet again, the provision was opposed by the Government in the negotiations. I hope that the Minister for Europe, who has now returned to his place, will spend less time arguing against amendments that the Government promoted at an earlier stage of the negotiations. Instead, I hope he will start to find the spirit that the Government at least partly found during the Convention—standing up for British interests in complex negotiations, although there was a failed outcome.

My amendments and those of my hon. Friends will help to rescue this treaty from where it has ended up, although they will not do so comprehensively because of the solidarity and loyalty clauses, which have an overarching effect. In my view, they will erode British independence in foreign policy to the stage where we will become exclusively a continental power, whereas we are partly continental and partly what General de Gaulle called “maritime”. We must retain the ability to choose in foreign policy. Sometimes we have chosen the continent—sometimes we have had to rescue the continent—but at other times we have chosen a global role, a maritime role and a role that perhaps associates us more closely with the Anglosphere. If the treaty and these provisions go through in their current form, that choice and destiny will be denied us.

Mark Lazarowicz: The right hon. Gentleman’s contribution, with respect, seems to exemplify the type of approach that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) described, whereby the Conservative Front-Bench team and the majority of Conservative Back Benchers present choose to read into the treaty proposals the most alarmist outcomes possible. Such outcomes could only possibly come about after further treaty changes had been agreed upon by all the member states and, in any event, they could not in any sense be regarded as inevitable. Certainly such outcomes are not at all comprehended in the proposals.

I am sure that some Conservative Back Benchers from the Eurosceptic majority—that is what it now appears to be—believe that the treaty will bring about such consequences, but I have difficulty in believing that the Conservative Front-Bench team really believes that such things could happen. Nevertheless, its approach to the amendments and to the substantive policy debates on the issue since we began our consideration a couple of weeks ago has been to set up a series of Aunt Sallies and to try to frighten the public with scenarios that, when pressed, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) has had to concede, even today, were only theoretical possibilities rather than inevitable consequences of the treaty proposals.

One example, which we discussed earlier, was the attempt to parallel the new president post with that of the Presidents of the US and Russia. I do not want to make too much of it, but it is quite instructive that Conservative Front Benchers have chosen to make that parallel. The purpose of trying to suggest, entirely erroneously, that the five-year presidency was in any sense parallel to the US presidency could only be to put
20 Feb 2008 : Column 462
into the public’s mind the suggestion that an EU president would be akin to President Bush or other American Presidents and that the treaty brings in that sort of constitutional change. Anyone who reads the proposals knows that that is not the situation, but it is an example of how the Conservatives are trying to frighten the public.

6.45 pm

Another example is the way in which the high representative—an important and welcome reform—is being promoted as being, in effect, an EU Foreign Minister, when the proposal has in fact been hedged about with many restrictions and limitations. Indeed, the proposal could be criticised for not going far enough. If anyone is in any doubt about that, they need only refer to the words of former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who said that in the revised proposals Britain has already weakened all attempts at further European integration, including rejecting the title of Minister for Foreign Affairs. The reality is that the high representative will be nothing like the EU Foreign Minister that the Conservatives suggest is being created.

Those are two examples of the fairly extreme, but at least rational criticisms of the proposals that we have heard from some members of the Conservative party. There are even more extreme proposals from some sections of the party represented in this House. I had the great fortune last night of being here until 2 am in support of the Government’s proposals for local government changes in Shropshire. I had some time on my hands, as one does at the time in the morning, so I had a closer look at my e-mails than I might do earlier in the day. I was interested to receive an e-mail from the office of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—I have told him that I would raise this point if I had the opportunity to speak today. It was an invitation from the hon. Gentleman to attend an event launching the FreeNations website, presenting

I had a quick look at the website, which contains a list of Eurofederalists—a list of conspirators that makes the conspiracy recently outlined by Mohammed al-Fayed seem modest in comparison. That list includes not only, as one might expect, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), but the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway) and even my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). For him to be denounced as a Eurofederalist is an indication of the outer reaches of reality that are occupied by some members of the Conservative party.

I make that point because it illustrates the position of an increasing number of Conservative Members. They actually believe some of that stuff. They believe that there is some plot, as the website helpfully sets out, to do through the European Union what Hitler attempted to do between 1939 and 1945. That illustrates the problem for Conservative Front Benchers: they have to try to bridge the gap between some contact with reality and the extreme views on the Conservative Back Benches, which are gaining a higher and higher profile in their party.

20 Feb 2008 : Column 463

My view is very simple. I want to see the EU working more effectively. I believe that the situation in the EU institutions does not allow the member states of Europe to work together as effectively as they could. The proposals for the presidency and the high representative are sensible measures that will allow the Union to work more effectively to meet the challenges of our time, and that is why I oppose the Conservative amendments, which would reduce the improvements in efficiency and efficacy that I want to see brought about.

Mr. Harper: I shall try to be relatively brief, as I know that one or two Members still want to speak and that many Members want to get on to the next group of amendments. I shall limit my remarks more narrowly than I had intended.

I speak in favour of amendment No. 258, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and our right hon. and hon. Friends, which concerns the role of the president. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh was careful and, despite what Labour Members have said, he was in no way alarmist. He made it clear that he was suggesting not that there should be instantaneous changes but rather that there should be changes over time. He was right to warn us of that.

It is worth remembering that one of the powers of the presidency of the US, other than the President’s specific powers as commander-in-chief, is the use of the office as a bully pulpit. That is a phrase that is often used in America and means a forum in which the President can argue diplomatically with other states, as well as arguing through the media to persuade citizens to influence the legislature—sometimes going over the heads of Congress. That is exactly what it would be reasonable to anticipate that the role of the permanent president of the Council might turn into, particularly if the person appointed is a character like Tony Blair. I do not necessarily mean him specifically, but he is someone whom we know, to our cost on these Benches, has some formidable skills when it comes to arguing and articulating positions. Many Labour Members were persuaded by him to do things that they perhaps would rather not have done.

The case put forward by a number of my hon. Friends seems perfectly reasonable. If a character such as Tony Blair were to take the position of president and use it as a platform and an opportunity to speak to the media around the world and to speak in diplomatic council, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that it would develop over time into the sort of powerful position that my hon. Friends have described.

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman’s point is without substance. There is no way that the French, the Germans or the Spanish—or anyone else—will allow a president of the Council to dictate everything in Europe because they will require that person to stick strictly to the mandate. Until the treaty changes that, I do not think that such fears are in any way justified. The hon. Gentleman should be a bit more objective.

Mr. Harper: If what the hon. Gentleman says is true, then, contrary to what the Chairman of the Select Committee has argued, the president will not transform the effectiveness of the EU’s position abroad. Such a
20 Feb 2008 : Column 464
transformation will occur only if the changes to the roles of the high representative and the president make that position more effective. If those changes are modest and do not have the effect that I have suggested, I do not see how the transformation argued for by the Chairman of the Select Committee will occur.

Mike Gapes: If the hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will see that I did not use the word “transformation”. I talked about how it would make the system more effective and coherent. I stand by that. We are talking not about transformation, but about incremental improvements, which are contained in this relatively modest treaty.

Mr. Harper: I thank the Chairman for that intervention. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh was not arguing that there would be instantaneous changes. Part of the argument is that those changes will be incremental, but, over time, enough incremental changes have significant effects. That is all we have said. I do not see how such comments merit the charge of being alarmist or of scaremongering, which were among the phrases used by Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. I shall conclude my remarks on that subject, because I do not want to take up any more time than is entirely necessary.

Let me speak briefly about amendment No. 1, which concerns the UN Security Council. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) seemed to be arguing quite forcefully that the position of a country on the Security Council should be relative to its population.

Rob Marris indicated dissent.

Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he kept saying that the fact that Britain has a population of only 60 million meant that we were lucky to be on the Security Council. He suggested that it was outrageous that India was not a member, given that it has a population of 1.1 billion.

If an EU spokesman habitually addresses the UN Security Council, it will not be long before other members—or countries in the General Assembly that want a place on the Council—will suggest that the EU spokesman should take the place of Britain and France. That seems to be the logical consequence of the argument, and it is something that would weaken rather than strengthen our negotiating position on the Security Council.

Rob Marris: I am sorry that I did not make myself clear, although I stressed that I wanted the UK to remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council. I said more than once in my speech that it was arguably a historical anomaly that a country with a population of 60 million should be a permanent member. I still wish us to be a permanent member, but we are susceptible to countries such as India arguing that that representation is wholly disproportionate. I expressed the view—the hon. Gentleman may disagree—that the provisions effected by the treaty would strengthen our position on the Security Council and make it more likely that we would be able to remain a permanent member. The treaty means that we would rotate membership with France
20 Feb 2008 : Column 465
and perhaps one other country, and that we would represent not 60 million people but, in matters governed by a common policy, more than 400 million.

Mr. Harper: In a way, that seems to be the same argument as the one advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). He said that, when there was a common policy, Britain and France—the two members with a permanent place on the UN Security Council—could make it clear that they were enunciating the EU position. My right hon. Friend said that that could be perfectly satisfactory, but the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that the EU representative would outline the common EU position seems to render the case that Britain and France should be there much weaker. I see that as a danger, and I do not believe that it is a possibility that we should raise.

I am not being especially alarmist, and I do not think that things will change instantly if the treaty is passed. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh, who said from the Front Bench that that is a risk that we should avoid.

The more significant point was alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who noted that it had been argued that a common EU position could be reached only through unanimity. Although the initial position can be reached only in that way, my right hon. Friends pointed out that a new provision in the treaty would insert QMV into the implementation of such proposals.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West read out the first part of the relevant article. I do not think that what it proposes is a good thing, as it could be used in such a wide way that what is said to be the EU’s common position could be something that Britain does not agree with. As a result, there is also a danger that the EU representative could put forward a position that is at variance with the one advanced by Britain. That would be very damaging.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, the Government were opposed to any move to QMV on foreign policy matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) told the House that the current Secretary of State for Justice had made it clear that that would be “simply unacceptable”, but we now have QMV in 11 areas that affect foreign policy.

It is not so long since the Government were arguing that QMV in those areas would be “simply unacceptable”. However, they lost the argument, and that is why they are now trying to present a brave face and put the best possible gloss on matters. I believe that it would be very damaging for the high representative and the president to argue for positions that Britain does not support, given that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said, it is essential that common EU foreign policy is decided by unanimity. That goes to the heart of the matter. I agree, and I think that the treaty sets us on a road that leads to the common foreign and security position being decided not through unanimity, but through qualified majority voting.

20 Feb 2008 : Column 466

My final point is on language. The words that we use are important. The high representative may not be called a Foreign Minister, the external action service may not be called a diplomatic service, and the missions may not be called embassies, but it does not mean that they are not effectively those very things. The outside world will treat the high representative as a Foreign Minister, missions will be treated as embassies, and the external action service will be treated as a diplomatic service. That is the reality, although the language may be different.

7 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): A connoisseur of conspiracy theories would have a lovely time if they attended the debates on European constitutional issues that we have in the House from time to time. I have been to a great many such debates, starting off with the Maastricht debate, and including the Amsterdam and Nice debates. On every occasion, I can recall the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and others arguing that national sovereignty was about to come to an end, and that if we passed the legislation in question it would bring to an end centuries of British constitutional history. Today they are still arguing that if we pass the Bill before us the same effects will ensue. They always do their homework and are always extremely interesting to listen to, and I do not wish to run down their sincere convictions on the subject, which I have known about for a very long time, and which I thoroughly respect. However, their predictions are in danger of running out of credibility.

The treaty’s provisions for a European common foreign and security policy are extremely desirable, sensible, and pragmatic—and, I shall argue, extremely modest in their effect when we consider what might have been called for given the circumstances in which we find ourselves in the modern world. The provisions include important reforms that are desirable for two reasons. First, it has been clear to a great many people for a long time that, in the modern world, a platform of 60 million people with single-nation status is simply not sufficient to solve some of the problems that we face. That goes for the economy, climate change and the environment, and many other matters, and certainly for foreign and defence policy.

If we wish to have an effective, positive influence on the stability of the world, we need to join forces, pool our resources and join our voice to those of like-minded countries. We need to put structures in place, so that if we come up with a common initiative or make a common démarche on a particular matter, we are taken seriously and it is not regarded as a temporary coming together of a group of nations whose opinions might diverge again the very next day; we should instead be seen as a major world force that has coherence, conviction and sustainability. Many of us have been making that analysis for a long time. It is of course the basis of the development of the European defence and security policy initiative, which has come to fruition in the treaty.

Next Section Index Home Page