some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

6.9 p.m.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, my first instinct is to extend my sympathy to the Minister. She faces summing up on a debate in which the speeches have varied from matters of great seriousness and, in the case of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, information which is valuable to us all, to a speech such as the one we have just heard, which reminds me of nothing so much as the kind of thing that was talked about by the League of Nations in the 1930s. I thought that we had grown out of that sort of thing. But the other reason for my sympathy, and perhaps a more important one, is that the noble Minister has had so little oratorical support from her own Benches. I would hardly take Lord Kennet's usual expressions of paranoia about Israel and the United States as much comfort there. But not only has she had few speeches, I would point out that the Benches behind her have, for the most part, been empty. That is not, I think, what Lord Salisbury meant by "splendid isolation". It is, after all, very important that members of a governing party should show an interest in foreign affairs. Otherwise, how will the points made by two former Permanent Secretaries of the Foreign Office about the weakening of our representation overseas be corrected? It is necessary that there should be support in the governing party for an adequate budgetary provision for foreign policy.

Having expressed my usual sympathy, may I now proceed to the topic. I find myself, not unusually, wholly out of sympathy with almost every speech that has been made and, in particular, with the speech, which I much admired in its composition, of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. It is my view that far from doing a lot as president of the European Union for the coming six months, the less we do the better.

As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, pointed out, the experiments in foreign policy hitherto made by the European Union have, on the whole, been unsuccessful. How can the European Union make an important contribution to a situation as dangerous as that in the Middle East--and here I agree with other speakers--when a country as close to Europe as Algeria baffles their attempts to prevent massacre? In Europe itself many people would say that, on the whole, the role of the European Union in the former Yugoslavia was an impotent one until the power of the United States was brought to bear.

I do not think that one should be surprised about that. We have constantly had it pointed out to us--indeed, it was pointed out in several speeches, leading perhaps to different conclusions--that the individual member states of the European Union have their own interests, their own policies and their own outlook. Therefore, it is somewhat presumptuous when Britain suddenly says "Oh, we have six months, we are going to be their leader". If we are to be their leader then British proposals, British interests and British views would

28 Jan 1998 : Column 281

have to chime in with at least the majority of members of the European Union, and that does not appear to be the case.

I think that is particularly important in relation to a topic on which other noble Lords with greater competence in these matters have spoken; namely, the proposed single currency. It appears to be the case that the current leaders, if you like, in Europe, the Franco-German combination, regard this as the main task before the European Union over the next few months, even exceeding in importance enlargement and even relations with other continents.

My view is that although Britain is in the unfortunate position of having to preside over these discussions--and I agree it has no opt-out here--the degree of its input should be minimal. I am convinced that the project of a single economic and monetary union for an area stretching from Lisbon to Leipzig is bound to be disastrous. There is no way in which one can see an area of that kind following similar or, indeed, identical monetary and fiscal policies without creating social tensions which would possibly even lead to international conflict if it was felt that the pressure to perform, to make economic policy in certain directions, arose from pressure from more powerful neighbouring countries. The best we can hope for is that at the end of six months we will not be any nearer to that and it will be for others--God help the Austrians who preside next--to see the thing through.

Similarly, it is always nice to think of doing things, if one is a government, which one can do something about. My feeling is that one can do nothing about Europe. We have been talking about reforming the common agricultural policy ever since we became part of the EU. We could do something in Commonwealth countries. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the Caribbean, and I have talked in this House about bananas before. But there is something other than bananas which is related to Europe. As was pointed out to me recently by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, it is felt in British possessions or dependencies in the Caribbean that it is wrong that they have to pay overseas students' fees when they come to this country whereas those in the French possessions in the Caribbean, because they are regarded fictitiously as part of metropolitan France, are treated as though they were British. If we could look at a few matters like that, and there are possibilities in other parts of the Commonwealth, we would do much better than going in for grand projects which may only lead to pain.

6.17 p.m.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, the terms of the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond invite us to consider issues of external policy which arise in the context of our presidency of the European Union.

I wish to draw attention to one such issue which I believe to be of considerable importance relating to our policies in central and eastern Europe. These policies involve both the European Union and NATO. We shall

28 Jan 1998 : Column 282

be launching negotiations to enlarge the European Union during our presidency and, if I am not mistaken, Parliament will, in the first six months of this year, be invited to approve the ratification of the protocols which have already been signed to admit the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to NATO. The issue which I wish to raise this evening will therefore be exactly at the point of intersection referred to in the Motion.

The enlargement of the European Union was recently debated in this House in December on the basis of a report prepared by the sub-committee of the European Community Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It examined in some detail the financial consequences of enlargement. It was an excellent report and won the general endorsement of those who took part in the debate. So it may be appropriate in this debate to say something about the security issue which will arise in the context of the NATO enlargement. I hope that we may be able to debate these matters more fully when we receive the Government's explanatory memoranda on these protocols under the revised procedure regarding the so-called Ponsonby rule agreed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, in the last session. It is not clear to me whether the Government plan to propose the establishment of a scrutiny committee for that purpose, but that might well be considered.

Unlike some other security treaties, notably the Brussels Treaty establishing the Western Europe Union, the North Atlantic Treaty does not irrevocably commit its partners to come to the immediate military assistance of one of their number in the case of external attack. Nevertheless, by ratifying those protocols, we shall embrace the three acceding states from central Europe under the general security protection which the NATO umbrella provides.

The question that I put to your Lordships is whether that enlargement of NATO is wise. The external frontiers of those three states have been the subject of successive military campaigns in the past century, ever since the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and, in the lifetime of most of us here this evening, the infringement of the German-Polish frontier in September 1939 provided the casus belli of the Second World War.

I have read recently that the three Baltic states also intend to apply for membership of NATO. Having admitted their southern neighbours, it may be difficult for us to deny them. By admitting the three Baltic states to membership, NATO would however extend its broad security protection to zones overlapping the frontiers of the former USSR. It may be the case that the Russian Federation and the Ukraine have accepted in principle the concept of the inviolability of frontiers but, as far as I know, they have not accepted explicitly the current frontiers and their unease at the present enlargement of NATO is quite evident.

Of course, we have no reason to believe that the present rulers of Russia entertain any latent objectives as regards regaining their lost territory. But I fear that we may be providing some grounds for a future

28 Jan 1998 : Column 283

nationalistic Russian tendency if we do so. Historically, many of those territories, and particularly the Baltic states, have been under Russian control. Many Russians would like to see a return to the status quo. For them, the events of 1941 are not so much an unhappy distant memory; rather a recurrent nasty dream. Their feelings about what happened in 1941 are similar to what we feel about 1940, but are even stronger.

Western policy in that area appears to be based on the principle that, however grave the horrors of the past century, the only way in which to prevent them in future is to draw the lines where they now stand and to stick firmly to the status quo. If that is indeed our policy, we need to make it rather clearer and to state it more frequently than in the recent past.

In my own reflections on that subject in the past few years, it has seemed to me that we need a security organisation of a different type--a grouping of states committed to peace and to finding practical solutions, particularly to the problems involving nationalities, minorities and frontiers. Its task would be to build confidence among its members which would come to believe that they could use that organisation and the trust that they had created with the other partners as a means to provide the peaceful resolution of disputes.

I believe that France did make such a proposal a few years ago but we said that we did not like it. I do not quite know why. Something of that kind exists in the OCSE, the successor to the CSCE. However, although it has been an invaluable and useful mechanism by providing the link by which NATO forces are made available in Bosnia, under the overall authority of the Security Council, OCSE does not seem to have much public recognition, mutual commitment or clout. It is possible that some of the new organs created by NATO, such as the Co-operation Council or the Partnership for Peace, could develop in the way I have described, but I doubt whether that is happening at present.

My fear is that central and eastern Europe is at present a security vacuum. Since the collapse of the Warsaw pact, there has been no regional security organ. We have happily consigned the Cold War to the dustbin of contemporary history, a receptacle which must now be full to bursting point. But we have not yet replaced the frozen and horrible certainty of the Cold War with anything durable and worthy of confidence in that critical region.

I suggest that it is an important issue calling for close attention and action by the British presidency. Last week the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, presided at a remarkable function at the Foreign Office which marked the publication of two new volumes of documents about east-west relations in the early 1970s. The theme of one volume was the gestation, birth and growth of the Helsinki process. That was a task at which her department laboured at the time with considerable success. My suggestion is that the moment may have arrived to take up those issues again. If, in the course of the next six months, we can chart a policy for our successors in the presidency to follow in relation to central and eastern Europe, we shall have done something really useful.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page