House of Commons
|Session 2008 - 09|
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
European Committee B
Monday 30 March 2009
[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]European Security and Defence Policy
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr. Illsley. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It might be helpful for the Committee if I explained a little of the background to the documents and why the European Scrutiny Committee has referred them for consideration.
Each presidency submits a report on European security and defence policy to the European Councilin December or Junerecording significant developments over the six months of each presidency, referring to activities undertaken in earlier months, highlighting progress in specific areas and drawing attention to others where further work is needed.
The European Councils 2003 European security strategy, A Secure Europe in a Better World, identified terrorism, weapons proliferation, regional conflicts, state failure and organised crime as the major threats to European security. It set three objectives for EU action: addressing those threats, building neighbourhood security, and developing effective multilateralism. In December 2007, the European Council asked the secretary-general/High Representative, Javier Solana, to conduct a review of the implementation of the European security strategy with a view to adopting any recommendations at the European Councils meeting in December 2008.
On 17 December, the Committee considered the customary end-of-presidency report on the ESDP and decided to retain it under scrutiny. The main reason why was that it had discovered that not only had the Solana ESS review already been adopted, but so too had three major declarations and statements on enhancing the ESDP, which is the operational component of the EUs common foreign and security policy. Those three were: a declaration on the enhancement of ESDP, and a declaration on strengthening capabilities and a statement on strengthening international security, both of which had already been adopted by the EUs General Affairs and External Relations Council in December.
Through the first of these, the Council expressed its determination to give
a fresh impetus to the European Security and Defence Policy,
compliant with the principles of the United Nations charter and the decisions of the UN Security Council, and
in full complementarity with NATO in the agreed framework of the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO and in compliance with the decision-making autonomy and procedures of each.
the shortfall in the resources available in Europe by gradually improving civilian and military capabilities
the prerequisite for allowing Europeans to assume in a credible and effective manner their responsibilities under a renewed transatlantic partnership, to which the European Council reaffirms its commitment.
To that end, the Council subscribed to the declaration on strengthening capabilities,
which sets numerical and precise targets to enable the EU, in the coming years, to conduct simultaneously, outside its territory, a series of civilian missions and military operations of varying scope, corresponding to the most likely scenarios.
By way of illustrating the substance and importance of those documents, the European Scrutiny Committee pointed out that the declaration on strengthening capabilities required a commitment
to develop robust, flexible and interoperable capabilities,
which would entail
innovative forms of specialisation, pooling and sharing of major equipment projects, with priority being given to planning, crisis management, space and maritime security.
would also encourage the efforts of the Secretary-General/High Representative to establish a new, single civilian-military strategic planning structure for ESDP operations and missions.
The European Scrutiny Committee stated that the statement on enhancing international security
decides on specific actions to enable the EU to play a more active role in combating terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organised crime and cyber-attacks.
It stated that the acquisition by Iran of military nuclear capability
would constitute an unacceptable threat to our security, both regional and international.
The Select Committee considered that these documents were bound to have major implications on its future work and that of Parliament. In addition, it judged that the ESDP presidency report, the Solana review, the declarations and the statement should be debated so that the House has the opportunity to discuss the important matters that they embrace.
The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): I am looking forward to serving under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Illsley.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West for his opening contribution. I hope he agrees that the development of the ESDP is important to UK interests and that it demonstrates the positive impact that the EU continues to have on European security. It has proved its worth in this area and is making a difference in areas that are of vital interest to us. The EU has a powerful set of resources: civilian expertiseamong judges, police officers and customs officialsmilitary force and economic might. That makes it uniquely placed to respond to instability.
The UK has played a leading role in making the EU more effective and capable in dealing with the security challenges that it faces. We were at the forefront of launching what would become the ESDP at the St. Malo summit in 1998. We have led many initiatives to improve
We welcome the positive steps taken in a number of areas of the ESDP during the French presidency, in particular in capabilities and the launch of ESDP operations in Georgia and off the coast of Somalia. All those initiatives reflect Government policy. The UK has long pushed for capability development and for smart spending to ensure that the EU has the capabilities it needs, while not duplicating those it has access to through NATO and other multinational actors. Those priorities are reflected in the capabilities declaration annexe of the December 2007 French presidency conclusion.
The steps taken under the French presidency, and which continue under the Czechs, for capability development through a series of voluntary initiatives aimed at filling gaps in EU military capabilities are important in building a more effective ESDP. Civilian capabilities will come under the spotlight increasingly in the coming months, with the Swedes planning to make them a central part of their presidency. We welcome the establishment of a joint civilian-military strategic-level planning structure under the French presidency to ensure greater coherence between the EU institutions, civilian and military planners, the EU and NATO.
The rapid deployment of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia to back up the agreement of 12 August was a significant achievement and led to the initial withdrawal of Russian forces after the Georgia conflict. Getting monitors on the ground within three weeks of the mandate being agreed demonstrated what the ESDP can do if the political will is there.
On the military side, Operation Atalanta is now operating from the Northwood headquarters under the command of Rear-Admiral Phil Jones. Since the beginning of the European Union operation in December 2008, only one merchant vessel registered with the maritime security centre in the horn of Africa and operating in the wider gulf of Aden region has been seized by pirates.
Today, we will discuss the review on the implementation of the 2003 European security strategy. The review provides a helpful assessment of the EUs progress in tackling key security and defence threats over the past five years. In the drafting of the review, we were successful in securing references to key UK priorities, such as the implications of climate change for security, energy security and the responsibility of states to protect their populations. The Government agree with the key conclusions that Europe needs to be more active, capable and coherent to meet current and future security challenges. The security strategy and review form a framework under which EU actions in the external field should be taken forward.
I will address a couple of points highlighted by the European Scrutiny Committee in its consideration of the documents under discussion. First, there were concerns
Secondly, the ESC expressed interest in the ESDP mission evaluation process, which, as I stated in my letter of 22 January, we firmly support and pushed for. The road map for evaluation was agreed in October 2008 and is now being implemented. A lessons learnt paper has been completed on the mission to Georgia, and another such paper is under way for the missions to Guinea-Bissau and EULEX Kosovo, which will be drawn together in a report at the end of 2009. Although the reports will be internal documents for the EU, I understand that the work is of interest to the scrutiny Committees and the House, and I will undertake to keep them informed.
Last week, the Foreign Secretary announced a reduction to the number of UK secondees to civilian ESDP missions for the next financial year. I reassure the Committee that that does not signal that the UK is pulling back its commitment from civilian ESDP; we are not pulling out completely from any mission in which we are currently involved. In the past, we have tended to provide highly skilled personnel who contribute strategically to mission success, and we will continue to do so. The reduction in the number of secondees does not alter the Governments strong belief that the EU should use both its civilian and military tools to be a central player in international conflict resolution and prevention.
Finally, in response to the comments made on scrutiny, the processes for handling the parliamentary scrutiny of documents was discussed at some length at the evidence session on 4 February. I will, however, offer a further explanation with reference to the documents under discussion. The review of the European security strategy was endorsed by the Council as part of the presidency conclusions at the December European Council. The Government believe that draft Council conclusions are not subject to scrutiny. As I indicated in my letter of 18 February, as soon as the Council conclusions and the accompanying review and declarations were available in final form, they were deposited with Parliament. I will continue to work with the ESC to overcome differences in relation to the scrutiny process.
The Chairman: We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. I remind the Committee that questions should be brief and that supplementary questions are allowed subject to my discretion.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Illsley, and I welcome you to the Chair; I look forward, as I am sure do my colleagues on the Committee, to serving under your chairmanship. I also thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West for introducing the debate on behalf of the ESC.
The ESC report heads the bundle of documents before us. The 2003 European security strategy was controversial owing to a lack of parliamentary scrutiny, and the ESC made plain to the Government that it wanted to see the latest strategy in good time. The ESCs report, however, states that
the Minister still does not refer to, let alone explain, her failure to deposit the ESS prior to adoption, despite the Committees clearly expressed request for this to be done, or why she felt unable to share with the Committee any of the thinking that has now produced these important statements of future policy.
It goes on to criticise her further. Will she give a clearer explanation than that just given as to why those documents were not deposited in good time to allow the ESC to look at them? Her attempt to address that earlier was rather weak.
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