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Caroline Flint: I have read some of it but not all of it.
Mr. Francois: What!
Caroline Flint: I have been briefed on some of it.
Mr. Francois: That is an extraordinary answer. The Minister for Europe has not read all of the Lisbon treaty. That is an absolutely extraordinary revelation. It is a bit like the Irish Prime Minister saying that he had not read it before the referendum. That is an incredible answer. If she is Minister for Europe, why has she not read the treaty?
The Chairman: Order. The Lisbon treaty is not entirely relevant to the documents under debate.
Mr. Francois: With respect, it is mentioned a number of times in the documents.
The Chairman: It is related, but it is not the document under debate this afternoon. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind.
Caroline Flint: The Lisbon treaty’s mutual assistance clause, article (1)49, is in accordance with article 51 of the UN charter, which states that countries have
“the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs”,
and as such—
Mr. Francois: You are supposed to be Minister for Europe; how can you not have read the treaty?
The Chairman: Order.
Caroline Flint: As such, they may come to each other’s assistance in the face of armed aggression on their territory. Article 1(49) reflects the reality that EU member states would wish to come to the aid of other member states in the unlikely event that they were the victim of armed aggression on their territory.
The mutual assistance clause does not imply the development of an EU collective defence organisation to rival NATO. Any obligation to provide assistance falls on individual member states, not the institutions of the EU. The European Scrutiny Committee report recognises that position. We accept, however, that we would, under the Lisbon treaty, have an obligation to come to the aid of another EU member state in the specific circumstance that it suffered an armed aggression on its territory. The judgment of what
“all the means in their power”
involves in practical terms is for the UK Government and Parliament to decide, according to the specific circumstances of the time.
The treaty recognises that NATO will remain the foundation of collective defence for its European members and the forum for its implementation. Therefore, the Lisbon treaty retains the clear requirement that any move to a common European Union defence would require two conditions to be met, just as in the current treaty on European Union. First, such a move will be made only
“when the European Council acting unanimously so decides”.
We retain a veto over any such a decision. That is a rather more expansive answer, but basically in line with what I said before.
Jo Swinson: I would like to question the Minister on conflict prevention, which is mentioned in the presidency report. The strategy is understandably very much concerned with weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation. I was pleased to see that, although the strategy itself does not mention small and light weapons, the presidency report does, talking about an update on the implementation of the European strategy to combat SALW. Given that SALW kill far more people than WMD—it is estimated that more than 300,000 are killed by these weapons every year and 1 million are injured—does the Minister think that their inclusion in the presidency report indicates that the EU is starting to recognise this as more of an issue, alongside WMD? Does she believe that SALW should be listed in the strategy, alongside non-proliferation of WMD, as a key security issue that the EU needs to address as a matter of urgency?
Caroline Flint: The answer is, pretty much, yes. We fully support the EU small arms and light weapons strategy and remain committed to the full implementation of the EU-UN programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in these arms. Our goal is to reduce the threat to peace, security and development posed by the uncontrolled spread and accumulation of these weapons. Therefore, it is absolutely right that they should have a place in the discussions on arms proliferation. These weapons can be destabilising within countries and also cross borders. In addition to our work through the EU, the UK has provided more than £31 million since 2001 in support of measures to reduce the supply, demand and availability of these weapons as part of our overall contribution towards maintaining global peace and security. Again, we welcome this move from the EU, but we of course need to see how it progresses and what can be achieved.
Mr. Clappison: I hope that this question is in order. The issue that it deals with—the three declarations—is contained in the documents, Mr. Illsley, and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West did make reference to it in his opening speech, as did the Minister. Can the Minister tell us whether the three declarations in the document—on strengthening capabilities, the enhancement of ESDP and strengthening international security—are binding?
Caroline Flint: No. I think I said that earlier in my opening remarks.
Mr. Francois: The documents refer on a number of occasions to the European Defence Agency, which has already been set up. What is the legal, treaty basis under which it was created?
Caroline Flint: I will seek to answer that point shortly.
Mr. Francois: The EDA is referred to a number of times. What lies behind the question is some controversy about the fact that the EDA was set up without a formal treaty base. Can the Minister explain the Government’s position on that?
Caroline Flint: Clearly, our support for the EU security defence policy is not about supporting a European army but about providing support where we can collectively come together and have an impact on security and defence issues. To that end, we support the activities we have undertaken with the European Union and would seek to do more. We do not see that as being in conflict with anything we might do nationally, so we do not see the problems that the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting in relation to some of the structures and other elements that have been set up but are not operational. Operation stays with member states when they take part. Strategically, they need to have better planning and coherent submissions that we undertake and take part in.
Mr. Francois: There is a lesson for the Minister here. If she is going to come before a Committee, she should do her homework. After all that boilerplate, can she just tell us under what basis this organisation of which Britain is now a member was created?
Caroline Flint: I think it is the Nice treaty that we work under, in terms of the European Union. If we go to Lisbon, we will be under the Lisbon treaty. That is the treaty that is being reformed and amended. That is how the EU operates.
Mr. Francois: The Minister is quite right that the Lisbon treaty—which I have read—formally constitutes the European Defence Agency, but is she saying that the EDA was constituted under the treaty of Nice, because I am not sure that that is correct?
Caroline Flint: I will verify that fact for the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Clappison: The secretary-general—the High Representative—is to present a report to the Council in May on planning for EU-led operations at strategic level. Have the Government received a draft copy of that report?
Caroline Flint: I have not seen a copy of that report. I can check whether it has gone through officials.
Mr. Clappison: Will the Minister say a few words on how that planning structure will stand in relation to NATO?
Mr. Francois: On page 84 of our bundle, in her letter to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Minister states that the so-called 2010 headline goals allow for 60,000 troops to be deployable within 60 days. How many of those 60,000 troops are British and which units are they drawn from or earmarked to come from? Are any of them also double-hatted in any other NATO or solely UK role?
Caroline Flint: This and some of the other measures in the declaration are about thinking through how we can respond to different threats. As far as I am aware there is no precise measurement of how many of those 60,000 the UK would provide, because we respond to situations on a case-by-case basis. Clearly, there are discussions about how we can meet that capability and what standard of readiness is required. I would have to look further at double-hatting. Again, part of the capability is to look at what we should be able to do. For example, we have worked with the French on funding for helicopters. In some of the conflict countries helicopters are often a suitable piece of equipment to transport people in and out and to do the job. That is an area where I understand that we have been particularly successful in building the fund and therefore ensuring that we are capable of providing, at pretty short notice, the type of equipment that might be needed, including helicopters. Again, that is something that is being worked through by the various structures that look at the potential demands and needs in this area.
Mr. Francois: I understand the point about helicopters. In fact, I will come to that. However, I want to make a point about troops. I would not expect the Minister to know the details down to the last infantry section—in all fairness, I do not expect her to give me an absolutely precise number—but in broad terms are we talking about a battalion, a regiment, a brigade? What is the approximate size of the UK force that it is envisaged will contribute to that headline goal of 60,000?
Caroline Flint: As I have already said, I do not want to give a figure here when I have clearly said that it is something on which I will provide more detail later, should it become available. I do not think that 27 member states have been asked to provide that amount of detail, but I stand to be corrected. I will try to provide a clearer answer to that question before the end of the debate.
Jo Swinson: I want to look at the section on terrorism and organised crime, particularly in the Solana review, which is on page 94. I found the section slightly unbalanced because the vast majority of it was on terrorism. Although Europe undoubtedly faces great challenges from terrorism, organised crime is of equal concern, particularly when many of the day-to-day problems facing our constituents—the drugs on our streets, the trafficking of people into the sex trade in this country and the proliferation of weapons within our communities—are often the result of organised crime.
I would like to hear the Minister’s view on whether organised crime is being given enough priority within the European Union, with particular regard to a paragraph on page 95, which talks about the need for better co-ordination on these issues. It says in conclusion:
“Progress has been slow and incomplete.”
I am interested to hear what the Minister thinks the barriers have been to better co-ordination on terrorism and organised crime, and also what she thinks might be done to address those issues, because they are clearly vital for everyone in the country and beyond.
Caroline Flint: The hon. Lady is right to draw some links between terrorist activity and organised crime, because I am afraid that, as we are only too well aware, the funding of terrorist activities can often involve that type of criminal activity.
We are looking at a number of things, such as how we might develop closer co-ordination on criminal matters through the sharing of information between European authorities, especially where there is a link to terrorist financing. We are also looking at how we can step up co-operation on counter-terrorism technical assistance overseas, particularly in Pakistan and the Sahel region, which are facing an increased terrorist threat that directly threatens EU interests.
Most recently, it has been agreed, at either a General Affairs and External Relations Council or another council, that, on Afghanistan, we should be looking at matters much more regionally, in terms of the impact in Pakistan, and we have been considering some of the obvious joint work that needs to be done in both countries.
We recognise that we need to ensure that all member states have a broader and deeper understanding of the threat of terrorism. However, they also need to understand where organised crime fits into that picture. Therefore, we are looking at how we can work better in this area and make the necessary links. That is not always easy, because, as the hon. Lady will recognise, sharing of information in these areas is obviously hugely important and the more information we share, the more risks we may open ourselves up to. Nevertheless, that is something that we are trying to work through as we examine the different ways that we work together across the European Union.
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