European External Action Service

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr David Crausby 

Ainsworth, Mr Bob (Coventry North East) (Lab) 

Connarty, Michael (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab) 

Dunne, Mr Philip (Ludlow) (Con) 

Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con) 

Hendrick, Mark (Preston) (Lab/Co-op) 

Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD) 

Lidington, Mr David (Minister for Europe)  

Murray, Sheryll (South East Cornwall) (Con) 

Rees-Mogg, Jacob (North East Somerset) (Con) 

Reynolds, Emma (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab) 

Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP) 

Tomlinson, Justin (North Swindon) (Con) 

Winnick, Mr David (Walsall North) (Lab) 

Alison Groves, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(6):

Ellwood, Mr Tobias (Bournemouth East) (Con) 

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European Committee B 

Monday 18 June 2012  

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair] 

European External Action Service 

4.30 pm 

The Chair:  Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant document to this Committee? 

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. It might be helpful to the Committee if I explain a little of the background and why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended this document for debate. 

Under the Lisbon treaty, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the noble Baroness Ashton, now exercises, in foreign affairs, the functions that were previously exercised by the six-monthly rotating EU presidency, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Commissioner for External Relations. The treaty also says that, in fulfilling that mandate, the High Representative shall be assisted by a European External Action Service and that that service shall work in co-operation with the diplomatic services of the member states. 

The Council decision that established the EEAS required the High Representative to report by the end of 2011 and stated that particular attention should be given to certain areas that had affected the shaping of the decision. The first reflects the fact that external relations remain the responsibility both of the Commission, where the High Representative is also a vice-president but commissioners remain responsible for aid and enlargement, and of the EEAS, with its responsibility for CFSP. Accordingly, there was much debate about the most appropriate arrangements for handling instructions to EU delegations by the EEAS and the Commission and for the programming and management of external action instruments, in which, of course, large sums of money are involved. Secondly, and closer to home, there were discussions about the role of EU delegations in supporting member states in their own diplomatic relations and providing consular protection to members of the EU nations. 

In welcoming the report, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said that his focus had been on ensuring that the service established itself in a way that was in the UK’s interests, acting in those areas where it had been agreed that it should act. He said that the EEAS had begun to have a “positive” effect on UK security and prosperity and, in key areas, had 

“delivered new substance to the EU’s external action”. 

He would “continue to ensure” that the EEAS acted only 

“in line with the Treaties”. 

His view remained that member states were 

“best placed to provide consular protection”. 

He concluded by saying this: 

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“HMG is committed to continuing to play a central and leading role on the EU’s external agenda. In 2012, we will continue to engage actively with the EEAS to ensure it focuses on delivering value for money for the UK taxpayer by promoting British prosperity, security and values.” 

The Committee generally agreed with the approach outlined above and welcomed the general arrangements that the Government had negotiated to ensure that the vital distinction between member state and EU competence in international organisations was respected. The Committee also felt that reiterating the Minister’s view that member states were best placed to provide consular protection was particularly apposite, given the Commission proposal for a directive on consular protection for those who live in the European Union when they are outside the European Union. That is why the Committee’s reports on both those related issues are included in the debate pack. 

Although these are early days, the Committee felt that this report on the EEAS’s first year made this an appropriate moment for these and other issues to be debated. 

4.34 pm 

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington):  I, too, welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. Let me say at the start that the Government fully agree with the Scrutiny Committee’s assessment that this is an appropriate moment for Parliament to hold a debate to take stock of how the European External Action Service is performing and the Government’s approach to it. 

I need to remind the Committee at the beginning of my remarks that, of course, the two parties in the coalition Government took somewhat different approaches to the EEAS when the Lisbon treaty was being negotiated, but the position that the Government are united over is that the EEAS is a fact. It was established under the Lisbon treaty, and the priority for the Government now is to ensure that it works in a way that serves and complements United Kingdom interests as well as broader European interests. 

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I want to use the European Union’s collective weight in the world through the EEAS to support and complement the FCO’s efforts to advance United Kingdom international objectives. Bringing together through the EEAS the various EU levers of influence—such as aid instruments, trade access and sanctions—ought to ensure that the use of levers that were previously divided between the external services of the Council and of the Commission increasingly reflects the foreign policy agreements and priorities for Europe reached by consensus in the Foreign Affairs Council. 

Baroness Ashton has worked hard to establish the new service as an effective organisation. She has consistently defended the principle that a common position on European foreign policy requires the unanimous agreement of every member state. I strongly welcome her efforts and her key role in the E3 plus 3 negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue, and the fact that the European Union recently agreed the most far-reaching sanctions ever imposed on any one country. In that case, Lady Ashton and the EEAS worked very closely and efficiently with member states. I also welcome her increasingly active approach to the middle east peace process throughout

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2012. The EEAS has played an important role in making clear to Israel the need for it to relax restrictions on Gaza and to improve the lives of Palestinians living in areas of the west bank under full Israeli control. 

The Government are clear that the EEAS should act only where it has competence to do so under EU treaties. The coalition agreement is clear that there should be no shift in powers from this country to the European Union, which applies as much in the field of foreign policy as anywhere else. We will therefore remain vigilant on any threat of competence creep on the part of the EEAS. It is essential that, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, the EEAS should continue to complement and support, but not replace, national diplomatic services. That is why we have been firm on the fact that, for example, the EEAS should have no front-line role in consular services. 

During the past 12 months, the United Kingdom has led a vigorous campaign to clarify those aspects of EU external representation that were left ambiguous by the Lisbon treaty. We have secured agreement to what are termed general arrangements for EU statements in international organisations. Those arrangements make it clear that whenever the EU speaks internationally, it must clarify whether such a statement is made on behalf of the European Union—since Lisbon, the EU has of course had its own distinct legal personality—of the member states or of both. The general arrangements also spell out that representation does not create competence. That is a significant recognition of our position that the European Union cannot acquire new competence incrementally through its external action. We also remain clear that it is for member states to decide what the status of the EU should be at the United Nations or any other international organisation. 

Finally, the Government have continued to emphasise the need for the EEAS to demonstrate budget discipline. We continue to remind the EEAS and the member states that the Council decision establishing the service committed it to the principle of cost efficiency and to the aim of long-term budget neutrality. Bringing together the European Union’s various external efforts, which were previously carried out by the Commission, the Council and others, ought to save the taxpayer money and not add to costs. At a time when national Governments throughout Europe are enduring significant cuts in expenditure, it is unacceptable that the EEAS budget should increase. We will continue to argue that strongly. 

As foreseen by the Council decision to establish the EEAS, Baroness Ashton will issue a review of the service’s work by the middle of 2013. Looking forward, the United Kingdom wants the EEAS to focus on issues where its intervention and Europe acting collectively can make a real difference—in support of national efforts—to the prosperity and security of both the United Kingdom and Europe. As well as continuing the focus on supporting UK policies on Iran, the Balkans and the Arab spring, I also want to see the EEAS focus on developing stronger EU relations with the emerging powers of China, Russia, India and Brazil as well as with the United States, Latin America and other Asian countries to ensure that Europe remains outward looking and engages with the world beyond its own borders. The Government’s policy on the EEAS is to ensure that it provides value for money for the United Kingdom taxpayer. That means ensuring that it supports UK

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foreign policy objectives in areas where we want it to act, that it does not act in areas in which it does not have competence and that it keeps its costs as low as possible. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the EEAS with the Committee, and I look forward to hearing the views of Members during the debate. 

The Chair:  We now have until 5.30 for questions to the Minister. May I remind Members that these should be brief? It is open to a Member, subject to my discretion, to ask related supplementary questions. 

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. In which countries and regions of the world does the Minister believe that the EEAS has been most successful and effective? 

Mr Lidington:  I single out the work on Iran. I have observed Baroness Ashton in Council meetings where, on the back of intensive behind-the-scenes work by her team, she has managed to broker a consensus between countries, the national interests of which differed quite strongly at the start of discussions. In recent months, we have seen the EEAS work effectively over the case of Syria. The Foreign Secretary has been appreciative of the support the EEAS gave the United Kingdom in organising the London conference on the future of Somalia earlier this year. The EEAS has also played an important and useful role in the Balkans. 

Emma Reynolds:  How does the Minister assess the EEAS’s activities and functions during the Arab spring? 

Mr Lidington:  In one sense, it is difficult to make a generalisation about the events that happened in a large number of Arab countries, from Morocco through to Yemen. On the positive side of the ledger, the joint response by the EEAS and the European Commission to the review of the European neighbourhood policy in 2011 was admirable. The proposal that we had out of Brussels was suitably ambitious in scope. It strongly reflected the United Kingdom’s ideas about the need for European Union financial help to be more conditional than in previous years—even decades. It also took on board our points about the need for Europe to be able to offer market integration. Although we are not yet able to move forward with the energy and speed that I would like to see in response to the Arab spring, that was a good start. It is fair to add that it takes two to tango, and that while Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan have been keen to work with the EEAS and other EU agencies to find ways to support both economic and democratic reform in those countries, the response of the Egyptian authorities up to now has been that they would prefer not to engage. That is a pity, but the offer remains on the table. 

Emma Reynolds:  After a year in office, in May 2011 the Foreign Secretary reportedly wrote to every British embassy warning of mission creep by the EEAS. Will the Minister explain to the Committee the reason behind this? Was there a specific trigger or concern at the time? 

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Mr Lidington:  The hon. Lady slightly misunderstood the Government’s purpose. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary asked British embassies throughout the world to be on the alert for any evidence that EU institutions—not solely or mainly the External Action Service—were acting to push the boundaries of the EU’s competence beyond what we considered to be the letter of the Lisbon treaty. My right hon. Friend did not take that decision in a vacuum, because there have been and continue to be examples of such action, and that is what prompted the negotiations that led to the successful outcome of the general arrangements to which I referred in my opening remarks. Since the agreements have been put in place, there have been fewer tensions over where the boundaries lie regarding external representation, although we still have some difficulties from time to time. For example, in the past few months the European Commission applied for a seat on the board of the Green Climate Fund, despite the terms of the draft agreement providing for countries and not multilateral regional bodies to have those places. Also, on occasion, Commission spokesmen at World Trade Organisation meetings have represented the Commission’s position as a common EU one, even though there had not been member state agreement. Those tensions still exist, and the Foreign Secretary acted quite properly in telling British embassies, on behalf of the whole Government of the United Kingdom, to be on the look out for us. 

Emma Reynolds:  Did other member states share Her Majesty’s Government’s concerns about the EEAS going beyond the letter of the Lisbon treaty? Was not such concern triggered primarily with regard to the EU’s voice on UN bodies and committees? 

Mr Lidington:  We did have an argument about the UN’s Fifth Committee, which is the body charged with negotiating the UN budget, among other things, but those problems, as I said, have diminished in frequency and intensity following the negotiation of the general agreement on external representation. 

The direct answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that it depends very much on which issue we look at. On external representation, it is fair to say that some countries—France, in particular—shared our concerns, although they were less vocal in doing so, while other countries were much more relaxed about the idea that statements should be made on behalf of the EU without reference to the legal distinction that has existed since Lisbon between the EU as a collective institution and its 27 member states. Sometimes when the Commission has pushed for its position to be taken as representative of that of the EU—on the board of the Green Climate Fund, or in the WTO, for example—other member states have been with us in saying that that should not be happening. 

Emma Reynolds:  The Minister said in his statement that the UK is now pushing for the EEAS to co-ordinate better the positions of member states with regard to the emerging economies, in particular the so-called BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and China. In that regard, have the British Government started to work with, or found support from, other member states? 

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Mr Lidington:  With regard to the EEAS and the EU as a whole, there is a lot of support around the EU table—of course, the Trade Commissioner and several other commissioners are important in considering strategic relationships, too—for the principle that strategic partnerships can be enhanced, and national policies can be complemented and strengthened, through a sensible deployment of Europe’s collective leverage. 

There have tended to be more challenges when turning those strategic ambitions that are expressed as matters of principle into concrete objectives that are delivered in practice. In part, that is because there are still differences—I was going to use the phrase “turf war”—and arguments about the respective responsibilities of the EEAS and the Commission. For example, when it comes to discussions about trade, the Commission is very firm in saying that the treaties give it, not the EEAS, the competence to speak and act on behalf of the EU as a whole because, as the hon. Lady knows, trade is an exclusive EU competence. 

One of the things at which the Government would like the EEAS to get better is giving a higher priority to the development of strategic relationships and improving the quality of its relationships with those elements of the Commission with which there are difficulties. That would mean that we could see an ambitious European policy for a breakthrough on free trade with the United States, for example, which is something that should be within our grasp but that, for reasons in both Washington and Brussels, is proving elusive at the moment. 

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD):  I welcome the Minister’s remarks overall, and I particularly echo his compliments to Baroness Ashton and her team for their performance in general, and especially in relation to Iran, where the External Action Service has performed an incredibly important role. 

May I ask the Minister about his comments on the External Action Service budget? Although, of course, Liberal Democrats in the coalition entirely echo and support the Government’s position on the EU budget as a whole and want any increases to be limited, when possible, I am not sure from the Minister’s remarks why there is a specific focus on the External Action Service’s budget not being increased. It represents around 0.33% of the overall EU budget, so it has a vanishingly unimportant impact on that budget. As the Minister rightly said, however, the challenges facing the European Union in terms of its external relationships and the world situation, given the complex situations in the middle east and elsewhere, demand a properly well-resourced response, so I would welcome any comments the Minister can make on precisely why he thinks the External Action Service budget should not increase. 

Mr Lidington:  My hon. Friend is right to remind the Committee that the budget of the EEAS represents a very small element of EU overall spending. However, I am an old-fashioned believer in the principle that if one looks after the pennies, the pounds look after themselves. From my participation in EU ministerial budget discussions during the past two years, I am wary of the notion that we pick those elements of the budget that we like and say, “Let’s agree on a level of spending for those,” because we then add up everybody’s favourite budget headings and come up with a global total that,

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unsurprisingly, ends up larger than anyone thought when they started the conversation. If we do not adopt a firm, rigorous, top-down approach to budgetary control in the European Union, we will not get the result that I think we all wish to see. 

Specifically on the EEAS, a principle was established from the decision that formally set up the EEAS that it should be committed to budgetary rigour and should move towards budget neutrality. After all, the EEAS combines within itself two services that were previously separate—one with the Commission, and the other with the Council. I accept that almost any merger involves transitional costs, but the objective of a merger should be to end duplication and to bring about cost savings, but we have not yet seen evidence that the EEAS has succeeded in doing that. Until it can demonstrate that it has eliminated duplication and carried through all possible efficiency savings, we are right to be sceptical of any request for an increase in its budget. 

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):  On this day 197 years ago, Europe’s fate was being decided on the battlefield, but I shall bring the Committee more up to date. The Minister referred in passing to Baroness Ashton’s work on the Palestinian situation, and I accept that she has acted with all determination to try to help to bring about a resolution. Will he tell us whether any real progress has been made, bearing in mind the acute plight of the Palestinians, especially those under Israeli occupation and in the Gaza strip? During debates in the Chamber, I have always made the point that progress depends very much on the United States. 

Mr Lidington:  I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final point that the United States has leverage in the middle east—above all with Israel and the Palestinians in their dispute—that no other country or regional organisation is able to match. The EEAS has sought to do two things. First, it has tried to build a common position among member states that historically have taken disparate views on the Israel-Palestine dispute. That was perhaps most obviously reflected a few years ago during the United Nations Human Rights Council debate on the Goldstone report when the European Union split four ways—some voted in favour, some voted against, some abstained, and some left the room. Not all the gaps have been bridged, but the way in which Cathy Ashton has instilled among Foreign Ministers greater mutual trust and a habit of working together as a partnership between and at Foreign Affairs Council meetings is helping to shape a European policy with greater coherence. 

Secondly, the EEAS has tried to take a more active approach to the middle east peace process throughout 2012. For example, the conclusions at the May Foreign Affairs Council on the middle east peace process were very much the product of EEAS work. I hope that the EEAS can exercise leverage through its missions to the Palestinian territories and its extensive development programme in those territories, and through the EU’s partnership with Israel through the association agreement. I hope that all those instruments and potential political levers can be brought together more coherently. I do not want to exaggerate Europe’s influence when it comes to

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Israel and Palestine, but with greater activity and focus, I think that we could be a bit more effective than we have been in the past. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  I have four distinct questions, Mr Crausby. Am I right in thinking that I must catch your eye four times, if time is available? 

The Chair:  That is right, but can you keep those four questions brief? 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  They are all brief. 

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East talked about emerging markets. I am concerned that we are in fact in competition with other European states in our relationships with emerging markets, and that the EU may not be the most suitable forum for dealing with those relationships, particularly considering that some emerging markets are members of the Commonwealth. Is it therefore not better for us to maintain independence of action rather than trying to act through the EEAS? 

Mr Lidington:  No, I do not see the two things as being at odds. The way the Government see it is that European action and national action should complement each other. I think that every European country accepts that if Europe collectively can use its leverage to do the ground work on getting a better trade deal and conditions with China, India or Brazil, each of us will then be very active in championing our own businesses to try to secure particular trade or investment opportunities. 

For example, let us look at India, because my hon. Friend referred to the Commonwealth. The EU should focus on those areas in the relationship between Europe and India where Europe as a collective force can best add value. Those areas include trade, climate change and security, but we do not think that Europe should try to duplicate at the supranational level all the activity that individual member states carry out. We have been one of the strongest supporters of a free trade agreement with India since the start of negotiations in 2007, and we think that Europe’s collective leverage over trade means that we stand a better chance of getting a better deal for British and European businesses via that route than if we were trying to achieve such a deal on our own. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  My second question is about paragraph 17 of page 21 of the bundle, which says: 

“And the recent COREPER decision on the general arrangements on handling statements in multilateral fora should provide much needed clarity”. 

Will the Minister outline what that agreement says? If he has not already deposited it with the European Scrutiny Committee, will he do so? 

Mr Lidington:  It has been deposited with the European Scrutiny Committee. In summary, the general arrangements say that when a statement is made at an international organisation on behalf of the EU, there needs to be clarity about the fact that the competence being represented is that laid down in the Lisbon treaty. There are various clauses of the general arrangements that provide examples that say that when a treaty provides for a certain area of policy to be a mixed competence between the EU on the

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one hand and member states on the other, a statement should normally be prefaced by the words, “The European Union and its member states”. 

The general arrangements also act, to some extent, as the equivalent of the interpretation clause of a statute, with which my hon. Friend will be familiar. For example, when there has been such a prefatory statement on member states, we will not always argue that the words “and member states” must be included in every subsequent reference in such a statement. It would be accepted, as laid down in the general arrangements, that in those cases the term “EU” could be used as convenient shorthand. However, all 27 member states have accepted the principle that such a reference does not compromise the distribution of competencies laid out in Lisbon. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  I am also interested in knowing more about the European Parliament’s involvement in this process. It seems from the documents in front of us that the European Parliament wants to play a bigger role, and that the European Commission is allowing it some increased responsibility; and there is a committee of the EU that the EEAS is liaising with. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s view on that? 

Mr Lidington:  The European Parliament was consulted on the setting up of the European External Action Service and arrangements on its structures. It is a co-legislator with the Council on the staffing and financial regulations, and the Parliament also has to sign off any amending budgets for the service. It is no secret that the majority of MEPs would firmly support the EEAS’s calls for more resources. 

The EP also wants a bigger role in the development of common foreign and security policy. It saw a role for itself post-Lisbon in CFSP. It was clear to us, equally, that CFSP would remain intergovernmental, and in practice it has remained so. If there is not unanimous agreement by all 27 member states on a common foreign policy position, there is no common European position. 

The High Representative has made some gestures to the European Parliament in a non-binding declaration on political accountability, which states that she will “seek the views” of the European Parliament on CFSP. The Parliament also wanted to use Lisbon to strengthen its role by having Senate-style confirmation hearings for European Union heads of delegation. That did not happen either. It can invite new heads of delegation to speak to it, but it has no formal role in approving appointments. 

I am sure that the Parliament would like to find ways to extend its influence over not just the EEAS as an institution, but the foreign policy questions that are at issue. Lisbon does not give the Parliament those powers. We think that the European Parliament’s powers should not be extended in the way it wants. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham will not be surprised to know that I disagree with him about the financial side of affairs. I just wondered what the Minister’s view was on the overall budget, and whether he thought that the UK’s share of

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it, which is probably about €75 million, could be better used by the Foreign Office directly, rather than through the EEAS. 

Mr Lidington:  I am always grateful when colleagues from any part of the House of Commons want to speak up in favour of the work that the Foreign Office does, and I always say “Please cc. to the Treasury.” However, the first point to make is that of course the EEAS budget is part of the overall EU budget. It is contained first within heading 5 of the EU budget; and all the headings are part of an annual budget decision. Annual budget decisions must fit within the financial framework over seven years. That is agreed unanimously by all member states at septennial intervals, and, in the United Kingdom’s case, must be ratified through primary legislation. 

There are many items in the European Union’s expenditure that I would put an axe to ahead of its work on foreign and security policy. I believe there are, and I have tried to give, examples of how Europe acting as a group of 27 speaking with a single voice can provide leverage and strength that no one member state—not the United Kingdom, France or Germany acting alone—could. In that sense European action supports and enhances the United Kingdom’s diplomatic reach. 

The EEAS also provides huge opportunities for the United Kingdom if we are willing to grasp them, because we are one of a small number of EU member states with their own extensive diplomatic network overseas, global and not just continental foreign policy interests, and a history of political and commercial engagement with the rest of the world. That puts us in a position where we can have a key role in shaping not only the priorities of UK foreign policy, but foreign policy positions for the EU as a whole. That is why I want us to use that influence to get the EEAS to exercise its leverage in ways that we judge right for the future of the world. 

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab):  I want to ask specifically about piracy in the Indian ocean. To what degree has the EEAS worked with countries in the region such as India and the Seychelles? To what degree and in what ways has that been successful and properly co-ordinated with our engagement with those countries? 

Mr Lidington:  It has played and continues to play an important role. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the record of last Thursday afternoon’s debate in Westminster Hall in which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), spoke for the Government. 

The EEAS is active in Somalia in different ways, which is a further illustration of how it can provide greater focus to different EU policy instruments. The EU is a major donor to Somalia and the horn of Africa generally, and the UK works closely with EU agencies to help deliver political goals, particularly over the political process in Somalia. There is an EU special representative to the horn of Africa. The EUSR is helping the UK to secure agreement from Somali stakeholders to sign up to the joint financial management board for Somalia, which is very much a British priority. The EUSR has had a significant impact in raising the

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EU’s profile and adding coherence to its work in the region. I will recommend that a renewed mandate for the EUSR to the horn of Africa be approved later this month. 

We have been concerned that EU funding for the African Union Mission in Somalia troop stipends is running out. We have urged the High Representative and the EU to find a sustainable solution to supporting this important mission. We also work bilaterally with Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries in the region, but so does the EEAS. It, and particularly the EUSR, is active in keeping in touch with those Governments and seeking their involvement in finding a political solution to the endemic conflict in Somalia. 

Piracy was covered in last Thursday’s debate in Westminster Hall. There was a conference earlier this year—from memory, I think it was in the Seychelles. [ Interruption. ] I am getting a signal that it was not. I think that Baroness Ashton attended an EU-organised conference of regional players in the Seychelles where the problem of piracy was thoroughly discussed. Through Operation Atlanta, the EU has a naval presence in the area that works to the same set of operational guidelines as the NATO force stationed there. 

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con):  The Minister has stressed cost efficiency aiming towards budget neutrality and, at the same time, the potential advantages of working together in the neighbourhood, Africa and Iran. On the other hand, the EEAS stresses the necessary expansion of missions, including more than 20 where delegations have only one EEAS administrator-official, and notes the need in the parts of the world the Minister identified for a “highly developed security culture” with a new security directorate. Such things tend to be a rather expensive. Does the Minister believe that our attempts to drive for budget neutrality will run in contradiction with significant expenditure on expanding overseas missions and an additional security budget? 

Mr Lidington:  We have to be alert to any unjustified upward pressure on costs. When I receive a submission to renew the mandate of an EU special representative, or a common security defence policy mission of some kind, I make a point of pressing for costs to be reviewed rigorously, and for any proposed increase in costs to be challenged. There are a number of examples of our succeeding in challenging some of the first cost estimates and significantly reducing them, and it is important that we continue to do that. No reasonable person would disagree with the idea that the EEAS might seek to increase its staff in particular areas of the world and fund that by making savings elsewhere. That is what many other organisations—not least the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—have had to do. We have been able to increase our footprint and open new sovereign posts around the world while cutting back on back-office expenditure and some secondary posts. 

Details of the EEAS budget include a proposal for a 6.5% increase in building costs and associated costs of the delegations; a 57% increase in costs for building security and surveillance at EEAS headquarters; a 34.7% increase in the cost of contract staff; and an increase in the staff budget, despite a freeze on staff numbers. Each of those four examples suggests that the EEAS could look with greater rigour at its spending. 

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5.17 pm 

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.  

5.32 pm 

On resuming—  

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op):  I should like to ask the Minister about the EEAS’s effectiveness, particularly in relation to the occupied territories in Palestine, from where I returned a week ago. I was disheartened to see buildings that had been built through European Union funds earmarked for demolition and projects that were paid for through those funds demolished either deliberately because of Israeli policy or because of collateral damage as a result of attacks from the Israeli defence force. How effective does he think Baroness Ashton has been in tackling those matters? 

Mr Lidington:  Baroness Ashton is active in expressing, on behalf of all 27 EU member states, our concern about the settlement policy on the west bank and the policy of forced demolitions. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to be able to comment in detail about the cases to which he has referred, but I am happy to look into them and write to him. 

Mark Hendrick:  We see settlements growing very quickly: I believe that the Israeli Government have just announced another 300 units on a settlement. Some British supermarkets—particularly the Co-op, which is close to my heart—are talking about labelling goods produced in settlements. Israelis are labelling goods “Made in Israel” when they are in fact produced in the occupied territories. Do the Government have a view on that matter? Is the Minister aware of it? 

Mr Lidington:  With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am aware of the issue, but it is very much the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rather than of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the EEAS. Again, I will undertake to give him chapter and verse and write to him at a later date. 

Martin Horwood:  I welcome what the Minister said about the African Union Mission in Somalia. It is to the African Union’s credit that it has shown so much commitment and that its troops have shown so much courage in Somalia over the years. Indeed, it would be a tragedy if the territory that has been won at great human cost were sacrificed because of lack of resources. 

My question is, however, on a much more prosaic issue: the staffing of the External Action Service. It is tremendous that we have a British head of the External Action Service. In fact, there have been a string of senior appointments to the service, which displays the depth and the expertise of British diplomats. Can the Minister update us on the progress of British appointments to the middle and lower levels of the External Action Service—I appreciate that he may have to write to me on that—because I am concerned that under the previous Government we saw a bit of a slump in British appointments to EU institutions overall? They are an important way in which we engage with Europe, remain at the heart of Europe and, in many cases, take a lead in Europe. We have enormous experience and expertise

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in diplomacy and foreign affairs and we should be leading the External Action Service. Perhaps the Minister can update us on the progress on that. 

Mr Lidington:  As my hon. Friend says, there is a problem with the under-representation of the United Kingdom right across European Union institutions and, given that the great majority of External Action Service staff previously worked for the Commission or the Council external services, that British under-representation was carried through when the EEAS was set up. There are 15 United Kingdom FCO staff who now work for the EEAS. That will rise to 19 later this year. That is part of the additional category of EEAS staff, which is national diplomatic officers who are moving to work for a period of years for the External Action Service, before returning to their home country. 

As well as Lady Ashton, we also have some other significant appointments in the EEAS. British citizens hold posts such as chef de cabinet, the managing director for Africa, the special representative of the Sudan, the heads of delegation in Switzerland and Bolivia, the special adviser on Turkey, minister-counselor in Washington, the head of the China unit, the first secretary (political) in Beijing and the first secretary (political) in Pretoria. 

In the latest round of jobs for heads and deputy heads of mission, the United Kingdom got one of the seven jobs on offer. The Germans got the deputy head of mission in Kabul and the French did not get anything in that round. Although we are under-represented, we need to address that not only at the EEAS level, but by trying to improve the language skills of young British people more generally by encouraging more of our bright graduates to apply for entry into the European civil service through the concours. 

The Chair:  If no more Members wish to ask questions, we will now proceed to the debate on the motion. 

Motion made, and Question proposed,  

That the Committee takes note of an unnumbered Report by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, deposited on 4 January 2012 by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to the European External Action Service; and supports the Government’s policy of engaging actively with the European External Action Service to encourage the EU to make the best use of its collective weight in the world where the Member States of the EU agree to act together, and thus to complement our national diplomatic efforts to promote British and European prosperity, security and values.—(Mr Lidington.)  

5.38 pm 

Emma Reynolds:  I welcome the opportunity to discuss the role of the European External Action Service at a time when foreign policy challenges are incredibly great, particularly in regard to the situation in Syria and the ongoing talks on Iran. When the Labour party was in government, we supported the stated aims of the EEAS from the outset, as well as its creation as a service, as outlined in the Lisbon treaty, that 

“shall work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States”. 

The service is still very much in its infancy. Bringing staff together from the European Commission and the Council and member states’ diplomatic services was never going to be easy and we are still pretty early on in doing so. 

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Apart from having a coherent staffing structure, it is also incredibly important that the EEAS has a clear definition, clear boundaries and a clear direction. We believe that the EEAS works most effectively and adds value when it works alongside and supports British diplomacy. We are happy to underline examples in which the EEAS has been particularly successful. There has been some discussion today about the international talks on Iran which are chaired by Baroness Ashton, who has been widely praised for her dealings in this matter. In Libya the EEAS assisted in co-ordinating the evacuations of European Union citizens. The service’s programme in Kosovo has contributed to progress in promoting the rule of law and taking steps to combat corruption. 

Today’s debate has also been useful because it has given the Government an opportunity to clarify their position on the EEAS and given us the opportunity to listen to those clarifications. There is a danger that the Government are undermining the role of the EEAS, particularly in regard to its role on the UN. From the discussions that I have had with diplomats and others, and those working in Brussels, it seemed that the UK was marginalised and isolated in this respect. I am glad to hear the clarifications that the Minister has offered today. At the same time, the Government are saying that the EEAS should in some instances widen its role. Although I find myself in agreement with the Minister, especially about the Government’s emphasis on the EEAS’s role towards the emerging economies, I am in disagreement, albeit in a very friendly manner and not for the last time, I am sure, with the hon. Member for North East Somerset, 

I do not see any contradiction between on the one hand having a bilateral trading relationship with these emerging economies and trying to further those relationships and, on the other, as the Minister eloquently set out, having the collective leverage of the EU in changing the rules of the game particularly, for example, with regard to China. In China, there is a growing middle class and significant opportunities for British business in its services sector but that sector remains closed to those opportunities for the time being. If we are to open up such opportunities, I do not think that the UK will be effective in acting alone; we will be much more successful from using the leverage of the EU. 

Our vision of the EEAS is one of a service that sits alongside and adds value to member states’ own diplomatic services and, where appropriate, works to co-ordinate the actions of EU countries where there is agreement on those matters. Although some hon. Members might want to wind back time and abolish the EEAS—we have not quite heard that yet but I am pretty sure we are about to—the Opposition would argue that the EEAS is here to stay and so the British Government should engage constructively with it and maximise the presence of our own diplomats. The hon. Member for Cheltenham has already set out the experience, history and success of our own Foreign Office so it is right that we should maximise our influence in the EEAS and amplify our voice through the EEAS where member states are in agreement. 

5.44 pm 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  The hon. Member for Walsall North has already pointed out that today is Waterloo day which, it seems to me, was the antepenultimate time

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that an effort to create a European superstate was defeated by the actions of the British. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East took the words out of my mouth by pointing out that there would be some who would be in favour of the abolition of the EEAS altogether and who would think that it could be better done by diplomatic bilateral agreements with the major players in Europe and that it does not need the whole of the European Union superstructure to achieve this. However, I want to come on to some specific points in relation to the documents before us, particular money. 

One should be eternally vigilant about the spending of taxpayers’ money, but the European Union is not at all good at that. Although the creation of the EEAS was meant to be fiscally neutral, it has not been, and the service was subject to an expansion as soon as the ink was dry. It is worth reminding ourselves that that is how Europe so often operates; it says one thing but does another. 

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester pointed out, we have had 118 additional statutory posts. What it says on page 24 of the bundle is rather splendid: 

“For 2012, the EEAS was obliged to request an increase of €26.9 m.” 

I like the use of the word “obliged”. I am sometimes obliged to request more money in my parliamentary salary, but regrettably, that obligation is not always met by the other side of the bargain. When the EEAS feels obliged to ask for more money, I wonder why it has to get it, and whether it might be possible to refuse those requests, particularly for 2013 when, in an age of austerity, we should have a decrease. It has to be said that when the EU enforces strict austerity on member states—I think of Greece, Spain, Portugal and even France—it is outrageous that it then demands ever more money for its own fine dining and buildings. 

I point out paragraph 32 of the High Representative’s report, which shows how desperately understaffed that service is in comparison with the European Commission, stating that 

“for example the normal ratio of IT staff is 10% in the Commission and 1.4% in EEAS”. 

My heart bleeds for it that only 1.4% of their staff is involved in IT. However, what actually concerns me is that the European Commission is so inefficient that 10% of its staff are involved in information technology. That is a shocking figure, and I do not believe that any business in the land, other than IT companies themselves, should have that high a percentage. 

Power grabs are always a concern, and I believe that the Minister appreciates and shares that worry. As ever, we should consider the text regarding consular status, and the Government must be determined to stop power grabs happening. It looks as though the EEAS wants to take on consular responsibilities and that other member states are keen for that to happen. I encourage the Government, however, to show backbone—as they always do, and as I can rely on the Minister to do in these negotiations—in order to prevent power grabs. 

That leads on to international organisations. What concerns me about pages 36 and 37 of the bundle is that the EU is using the EEAS once again to pretend that it is a state rather than an international body. To take one point, page 37 states: 

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“EU representation will be exercised from behind an EU nameplate”. 

That is something that a state does, and we are considering this point in terms of the EU’s application to be a signatory to the European convention on human rights. It is pretending to be a state, but it is not, and as it pretends to do so, it builds up powers and there is a competence creep. 

On page 36, the bundle states: 

“The EU actors and the Member States will ensure the fullest possible transparency by ensuring that there is adequate and timely prior consultation on statements reflecting EU positions to be made in multilateral organisations”. 

We hope that that is a one-way street and that the EU will tell us what it is going to say, because without consultation, it is not allowed to say anything at all. It can only act by unanimity. One wonders why it says that there must be a full consultation, when it has no standing to say anything without not only consultation, but approval. We should watch the wording of such documents carefully. 

That ties in with the European Parliament, and I was very much reassured by the Minister’s comments when he said that the European Parliament wants more power, but will not get it. I am concerned that the High Representative views herself as being accountable to the European Parliament over that matter, when in my view, the European Parliament is not a player at all. 

Mark Hendrick:  I was a former member of the European Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs when I served there in the 1990s. European parliamentarians are directly elected to the European Parliament, which is the voice of the electors in the EU. Is it not right and proper that any European High Representative is accountable to the organisation that represents people at a European level? 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  I disagree with the hon. Gentleman for the simple reason that foreign policy must be based on unanimity among the nation states, and therefore the Foreign Ministers of the individual member states are responsible to their own Parliaments for the policy. Baroness Ashton, noble though she is, is merely a mouthpiece of the unified voice of the member states. She cannot and must not run an independent foreign policy, and therefore she cannot be accountable for it to anybody other than the people who tell her to go out and do it. She may then be able to do it well or badly, but that is a matter of judgment as to how good she is at her job, which is not what I want to debate. She cannot, however, develop her own independent policy, for which she ought to be accountable. 

Mark Hendrick:  I do not think anybody is suggesting that the European Parliament has co-decision on foreign-policy matters, but it is important that directly elected politicians at a European level are consulted and bear in mind the views of directly elected members of the European Parliament when they make decisions. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  I further disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We are the ones to whom the Government are accountable for foreign policy. There is no other body that has the right to ask for that accountability.

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It is an intrusion on the rights of this Parliament for the European Parliament to interfere in such a way, and the Government must be absolutely certain that the European Parliament does not manage to intervene in this area. 

In conclusion, we see on page 26 of the bundle that the European Parliament wants 

“a sense of collective ownership in the external agenda of the EU among Member States, the European Parliament, the Commission and other key stakeholders”. 

I do not want to see that sense of collective ownership. I want to see a strong British foreign policy working effectively for our national interest, which may conflict with the national interests of our friends in Europe. They may be our allies, but we are not always on the same side of every argument. As Palmerston said, we have eternal interests, but we do not have perpetual friends. We should always bear that in mind and treat the EEAS with the greatest possible caution. 

5.52 pm 

Martin Horwood:  It has been an interesting debate so far. Not for the first time, I will disagree somewhat with the tone of the remarks on Europe of the hon. Member for North East Somerset. However, I am happy that I largely agree with the remarks of our Minister in the coalition Government, so that, at least, is a welcome development. 

The post-imperial rhetoric about Europe of the hon. Member for North East Somerset is getting somewhat tiresome, and it tends to distract debates such as this into discussing budgets and competencies to the exclusion of the bigger picture, which, as other hon. Members have pointed out, is the potentially hugely important role that the external action service can play in representing Europe’s views to the world, in expressing European values of democracy and freedom in diverse and challenged areas of the planet and, by doing so, actually expressing British values and the British commitment to freedom and democracy at the same time. That is the bigger picture for which we should really be aiming. To hear the hon. Gentleman cantering across the political landscape like some post-imperial Don Quixote constantly tilting at the idea of a European superstate does not properly address the issue. 

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con):  Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is not promoting a European-led foreign policy? 

Martin Horwood:  Of course I am not, and that is the whole point. The issue is not about one side promoting foreign policy against another side; it is about the sharing of foreign policy objectives where they can be shared. I am not in favour of Britain abandoning foreign policy leadership in the areas where we want leadership. If, for example, in talks at the UN framework convention on climate change, or in trade negotiations, we want the EU to take the lead and to express our views along with those of other member states, that is perfectly appropriate. 

I was pleased with what the Minister said about staffing in response to my earlier questions. He recognises that there is a deficit in British appointments to EU institutions as a whole and that that is in danger of

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being replicated in the external action service. He was exactly right to address the issue of entry of British civil servants into EU institutions and perhaps the more underlying issue of language skills of British graduates, which it is important the Government try to address. 

I was a bit less convinced by what the Minister said about the external action service budget. Just because we are in favour of containing costs overall, as we are with the UK national budget, it does not mean that we want every single component budget to be reduced; otherwise, we would never have argued for an increase in NHS funding or in overseas development funding to 0.7% of gross national wealth. We would effectively be arguing for the fossilisation of the budget and a situation of complete stasis. If the challenges facing the EEAS and the demands on it are expanding, it seems perfectly reasonable, if economies can be found elsewhere in the EU budget, to allow the EEAS budget to increase accordingly. If our elected representatives in the European Parliament agree, I do not see why Her Majesty’s Government should not take a fairly relaxed view of the matter. 

On the role of the European Parliament, as the Member for Preston rightly pointed out, just as we, elected representatives in the United Kingdom, want to express our views on EU institutions and appointments, elected representatives in the European Parliament should have the right to do so. Including EEAS appointment hearings seems like a good and democratic thing to do. 

Richard Graham:  Will my hon. neighbour clarify the statement that he has just made? He seemed to say that if Members of the European Parliament are relaxed about something, then it is no business of Her Majesty’s Government to question it. Will he clarify that a little bit? 

Martin Horwood:  My hon. neighbour has misheard me completely if that is what he thinks I said. I said that if elected representatives in the European Parliament are relaxed about an increase in the EEAS budget—it is certainly up to us, if we want to, to challenge it, and we have an absolute right to do so—we should not particularly challenge it. We should be relaxed about an increase in the EEAS budget if economies can be found elsewhere in the EU budget. As a Government, we are rightly committed to containing the costs of the EU, just as we are in favour of containing costs not only in our Government, but in other Governments. However, I think we should be relaxed, if economies can be found, about increases to the EEAS budget, because it faces enormous challenges. 

The EEAS has phenomenal potential. The Minister put it very well: the service allows us to focus on promoting British values and supports and enhances British diplomatic reach. It supports British interests as well as broader European interests, and it complements the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That seems an important vision to hold on to. Europe has demonstrated how working together and how a confederation of free democratic states can achieve peace and prosperity in one continent, and that is an important message to take to the rest of the world—the European neighbourhood and other continents. Alongside

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other states, we should take the advantage, promote the EEAS and allow it to develop and perform the role that we want it to perform. 

5.59 pm 

Mr Lidington:  I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I will try to respond briefly to their points. I turn first to the comments made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East. She alluded to the importance of the European Union’s relationships with the emerging economies, and she referred to some of the engagement that the EU has had through the external action service with countries in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. In this final stage of the debate, it is worth enlarging on that question. That is an aspect of foreign policy that, in the British Government’s view, ought to be at the heart of the priorities of the European Union and the external action service. 

The United Kingdom has from the start been the foremost champion of the enlargement of the European Union. That has been the case right back over successive British Governments’ terms of office, and it was given memorable expression by Margaret Thatcher in her Bruges speech when she spoke of Warsaw and Prague being as much European cities as Paris, Bonn or London. She took very seriously that view of Europe as an enterprise that stretched beyond its original membership. 

If we look at the history of eastern and central Europe in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall and compare it with the 20 years of its history after the treaty of Versailles, we can see the immediate contrast. Over the past two decades, unlike in that earlier period, we have seen human rights, democratic government and the rule of law becoming entrenched in parts of Europe where they were crushed for most of the 20th century by civil strife or by tyrannies of extreme right or left. One reason for that—it is not the only reason—is that the European Union, and membership of it, provided a means of institutionalising those values and traditions for the good of those countries’ inhabitants and for the greater security of the European continent. 

The European Union must continue to look outwards. The work of the external action service in the foreign policy dialogue between the EU and Turkey, for example, and the work of the EU special representatives Peter Sørensen in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Samuel Zbogar in Kosovo in promoting the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, are important elements on the European Union’s agenda. 

Where I disagreed with the hon. Lady was in her comments about the United Nations. I was ever so slightly alarmed at her suggestion that the Government were being too cautious and not sufficiently generous in making space for a greater EU role at the United Nations. At the resolution of the General Assembly last year, the point at issue was how the EU’s representation in the General Assembly should change to reflect the fact that the Lisbon treaty removed the foreign policy role of the rotating six-month presidency and gave a foreign policy role, on behalf of the Union as a whole, to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The resolution enables the EU to speak—where a unanimously agreed common foreign policy position exists—on behalf of the EU as

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whole from its observer seat next to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the back of the General Assembly chamber where the international organisations with observer status are seated. 

I hope that the hon. Lady, in chiding the Government for their position, was not suggesting that the Labour Opposition want the European Union to exercise a more significant role in the United Nations—perhaps to have more than an observer status, or to have a role in the Security Council as well as in the General Assembly. A number of European political leaders—notably, but not just, in the European Parliament—have advocated that. That is not a shibboleth; it is a development of representation that is argued about by a number of people in various member states. 

Emma Reynolds:  I cannot help but think that the Minister has wilfully misrepresented my position. Regarding the EU speaking with one voice on UN committees, I was arguing that there was a bit of a stand-off, with the UK Government in one corner and 26 member states in the other—does that sound familiar? I was not suggesting that the EU should replace the UK and France in the permanent five. The Minister should not attribute that view to me or my party. 

Mr Lidington:  I am grateful to the hon. Lady. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg:  I was worried that Labour would give away our veto in the way that they gave away our rebate. 

Mr Lidington:  My hon. Friend is right to ask such questions. 

In response to the hon. Lady, although I would prefer the UK not to be on its own, as it is from time to time, I am not afraid of our being on our own if that position is in defence of the demarcation of competencies provided for in the treaties. The disagreements over the representation of the EU in United Nations committees triggered the negotiations that led to the successful conclusion of the general agreement on EU statements in multilateral organisations, a copy of which is in the tagged documents at pages 36 to 38. 

On the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, although I am sorely tempted to go into comments about Waterloo day and to mention the presence of Marshal Blücher and the Prince of Orange on the Duke’s side in the battle, I want to come straight to his comments about the budget, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham also mentioned. The key point is that every part of the European Union—every agency and institution—ought to look hard at every budget heading for which it has responsibility and ask itself whether every item of spending is necessary and whether every part of its activity is delivering as good value for money as might be attainable. The EU institutions and agencies owe that to taxpayers throughout Europe, who are forking out through compulsory imposts for their salaries and other costs. 

As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said, the early direction of external action service budgets has been upward. In part, that has been due to the transitional costs of merging institutions, which I mentioned earlier, including taking on the

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national diplomats, which the UK and many other member states wanted, in addition to officials being transferred over from the prior Council and Commission external services. 

On the 2012 budget, it is important to see the EEAS budget within the broader context of heading 5, “European administrative costs”, of which it forms part. The EEAS bid was originally for an increase of 5.8%. The final outcome negotiated by a qualified majority vote was an increase for the EEAS of 5.34%, but that was part of a wider deal that saw a real-terms reduction in the overall level of heading 5. If I set the EEAS’s budget within that broader context of heading 5, particularly given that the decision was made by a qualified majority vote, it was a reasonable outcome as far as the United Kingdom was concerned, but that should not remove the responsibility of the EEAS itself to look vigorously for economies and better value for money. During my earlier comments, I listed particular areas of EEAS expenditure where I thought there was insufficient evidence that it had tried hard enough to find those savings. 

Martin Horwood:  The EEAS report explains some of the background to why security expenditure is going up. It is moving into a more high-profile role, including covering issues relating to Iran, counter-terrorism, and relations with countries such as Russia. There is some risk, and sensible precautions may be required to offset it. Such precautions are routinely taken by diplomatic and Government services in member states, and it is only reasonable that such security measures should exist for EEAS civil servants. 

Mr Lidington:  One certainly understands why there may be a need for enhanced security measures in today’s world. Indeed, I have just approved an explanatory memorandum to the scrutiny Committees on the proposed budget for the EU’s special representative in Afghanistan, which includes a significant increase in security costs, justified by the acknowledged greater security risks in Kabul compared with a year ago. My argument is that sometimes, but not always, there is an assertion that the EEAS needs additional resources, whether for security or other reasons, but that it is not backed up by comprehensive analysis and evidence to justify it. 

When I ask my officials to challenge initial budget estimates for common security and defence policy missions, more often than not we are able to achieve significant savings from the original level of budget proposed. That suggests that sometimes what we have from the organisation to start with is an opening bid, and that if we look good and hard, we may find that there are areas where savings can be made without harming the EEAS’s ability to deliver the foreign policy outcomes that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham and I want it to deliver. 

I want to refer briefly to the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset about power grabs by the European Union in terms of both representation and consular services. On external representation, I urge all members of the Committee to look closely at the text of the general arrangements, because many safeguards are set out. For example, under paragraph 3: 

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“The EU can only make a statement in those cases where it is competent and there is a position which has been agreed in accordance with the relevant Treaty provisions.” 

That takes us back to the point that my hon. Friend acknowledged, that as far as the common security and defence policy is concerned there cannot be a European Union position unless there has been unanimous agreement between all 27 member states. All it needs is one member state to block that, and no such position exists. 

It is not the EEAS that is challenging our position that consular services are fundamentally the responsibility of member states; it is much more that the Commission is taking the initiative. The Government’s view is that there is a useful role for the European Union to play, in line with the treaties, in supporting the work of the national diplomatic services on consular matters. I completely understand why a number of the smaller member states, which do not have anything resembling the extensive network of posts that the United Kingdom or France have, want to see the EU take on a further role in terms of consular work and wider diplomatic representation. It is because it would enable them to extend their leverage further. 

Martin Horwood:  Is there another way in which we can see the possible use of consular services? As the Minister said, we need to look for economies wherever possible. Even if Britain wants to maintain a completely comprehensive set of diplomatic missions, there is potential for economy among European Governments. They could pool resources and establish more consular missions where they do not have such extensive diplomatic networks. 

Mr Lidington:  There is already a good system in place under which unrepresented EU nationals are looked after by the mission of an EU country that has representation in that third country. Certainly, from the UK’s point of view, we take seriously our responsibility to provide consular services to unrepresented EU nationals where we are the lead member state in a particular third country. I caution my hon. Friend when he talks about merging consular services. The extent to which consular services are defined and the number of people to whom they are extended varies from one member state to another. That is one of the difficulties with the current proposal from Commissioner Reding. There are suggestions that a directive should compel member states to offer the same levels of protection to unrepresented third country nationals as member states provide for their own citizens. 

A number of member states have expressed real concern about the prospect of consular shopping, with unrepresented nationals trying to find the best package available to them, and also about member states having a legal obligation to provide consular services to third country nationals when there is no similar legislation in place for their own citizens in their domestic law. Some European Union member states offer consular services to third-country relatives of their citizens and others do not. When we talk about harmonisation, there are some really tricky policy issues that would have to be addressed. 

Mark Hendrick:  Nobody wants to see a country called Europe, but people should not talk about Europe as if it is a foreign country. People say “in Europe” as if the UK is not in Europe. The Minister himself talked about speaking with one voice. Anything we do together

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can add value to the relationship that exists and make for a more coherent and integrated voice, especially at a time when we see the development of the BRIC countries, and the emerging economies and consequential powerful political developments. Does the Minister not feel that providing consular services to countries that cannot afford them themselves is one good example of how we can work together for the benefit of all rather than talking about what we have that is different? 

Mr Lidington:  I am saying that we already have an effective system under which consular support is given by EU embassies in third countries to nationals from unrepresented EU member states. We saw that most dramatically last year in Libya, when the United Kingdom and other bigger EU countries with representation there were active in making contact with, registering and assisting the flight of other member states’ nationals. We do not need a directive of the sort proposed by Mrs Reding. I have seen no evidence suggesting that any substantive improvement would be made; rather, some political and financial risks might well be involved. 

Richard Graham:  As the Minister rightly points out, there is a well-established system for representing countries that, for whatever reason, have decided to close their mission in extremis. Does he agree that those who seriously advocate a complete pooling of consular services forget the significant security implications about how visas are given to foreign nationals who want to come to the UK? 

Mr Lidington:  My hon. Friend makes a good point about the security of visas. Emergency travel documents issued by the United Kingdom Government are, for security reasons, valid only for the single journey; once people have returned home, they have to apply for a new passport in the normal way. 

I want to finish by addressing the comments made by several of my hon. Friends about the size and the ambitions of the EEAS and how its role relates to those of national Foreign Ministries. The EEAS is roughly equivalent to the Dutch foreign service in size. It is not some giant that dwarfs the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Quai d’Orsay or the Auswärtiges Amt. In sterling, the EEAS budget for 2012 is about £396 million; the FCO budget is about £1.5 billion. Of course, the figures are not directly comparable, because the responsibilities of one do not exactly match those of the other; for example, the Foreign Office’s £1.5 billion includes elements of the BBC World Service, the British Council and subscriptions to international organisations. However, the key point remains that the FCO’s budget is significantly greater than that of the EEAS, and the same is true for the numbers of staff. 

Mark Hendrick:  Will the Minister tell the Committee how many European Commission representation buildings throughout the world are used for EEAS operations? I would have thought that they involved commitments that existed before the EEAS was set up. 

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Mr Lidington:  I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer on the number of buildings. He is certainly right that most of the European Union’s external missions around the world were inherited from Council or Commission posts that existed prior to Lisbon. I can give him a little information: according to the latest count, there were 3,611 EEAS staff, of whom 1,551 were in Brussels and 2,060 in delegations overseas. Those overseas missions covered 140 posts—most in individual countries and some in international organisations. To look at the FCO figures by way of comparison, we have 4,580 UK-based staff, of whom 1,890 work overseas. There are also 8,659 locally engaged FCO staff working overseas in a variety of capacities, including up to deputy head of mission for British embassies and high commissions. The FCO has 137 sovereign posts and 52 subordinate posts. There are 56 locations headed by locally engaged staff, and seven countries where we have no embassy but the Department for International Development has an office. The Committee can see that UK representation remains extensive. There are about 27 locations around the world where the EAS is represented but not the UK. That will go down to 26 shortly, when we open our embassy in Madagascar. 

My point is that the Government remain committed to a vigorous UK foreign policy devoted to asserting and strengthening the interests of the people of the UK worldwide. We are a European power but we have global interests that we are determined to protect and advance. In fulfilling that mission for the FCO, we need to work bilaterally with many different Governments around the world, some in Europe and some beyond Europe. In addition to our bilateral work, we need to work with and through a number of important international organisations, of which the European Union is one of the most important for the pursuit of British interests. 

We see the role of the external action service, in relation to UK foreign policy, as being an organisation with the capacity to provide greater leverage and reach to deliver foreign policy outcomes that will benefit the prosperity and security of the people of the UK. On that basis, I ask the Committee to endorse the motion. 

Question put and agreed to.  


That the Committee takes note of an unnumbered Report by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, deposited on 4 January 2012 by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to the European External Action Service; and supports the Government’s policy of engaging actively with the European External Action Service to encourage the EU to make the best use of its collective weight in the world where the Member States of the EU agree to act together, and thus to complement our national diplomatic efforts to promote British and European prosperity, security and values. 

6.28 pm 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 19th June 2012