Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): In answering this part of our debate this evening, I should point out that I am speaking not only to Amendment No. 5, but also to Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, 9A to 9E, 32 to 35, 39, 41 and 42 which have been grouped together. Over the past two evenings of debate there have been two broad and largely contradictory criticisms in this Chamber of the changes in the Amsterdam Treaty to the provisions governing co-operation on foreign policy. There are those, exemplified by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who want a single, integrated EU policy and who think that the Amsterdam changes do not go nearly far enough, leaving CFSP arrangements intergovernmental and so hamstrung. There are those, like my noble friends Lord Shore and Lord Stoddart

26 Mar 1998 : Column 1429

who argue the opposite; namely, that Amsterdam will introduce a single EU foreign policy through the back door. Both arguments are misguided. Her Majesty's Government were right to ensure at Amsterdam that co-operation on foreign policy remains intergovernmental, under the control of member states. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, acknowledged when he spoke on the last occasion that we discussed this matter, in an interdependent world we need to co-operate on foreign policy. That means pooling EU efforts where sensible and in line with UK national interests; indeed, I stress that point. Collectively, we can exercise more weight on the world stage.

However, a supranational CFSP would not be more effective. CFSP is based on the will of member states to act together. Again, and at the risk of wrecking the career of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, I must say that I agreed with him when he said that this will cannot be artificially created through institutional mechanisms, such as QMV. If member states do not hold convergent positions, we should not try to create a false consensus. Such a hollow foreign common policy would weaken, not strengthen, the weight of the EU on the world stage, as member states would be quick to undermine that policy behind the scenes.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as he requested, that Amsterdam is not a Trojan horse for such a supranational foreign policy. Her Majesty's Government ensured, as we committed ourselves to do in our manifesto, that, under Article J.13, no member can be forced to act or not to act against its will. Member states in the Council remain in firm control of CFSP, with the Presidency in the lead in managing it. I can also assure my noble friend Lord Bruce that the Commission has never had, and is not given in this treaty, sole right of initiative in CFSP matters.

As this Government have noted before--and as my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey told Members of the Committee--Amsterdam is a consolidating treaty: it rationalises the intergovernmental arrangements agreed in Maastricht in order to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. In CFSP, it introduces practical steps to streamline decision-making and financing arrangements; to improve the quality of Council Secretariat advice; to improve external representation of the EU; and to enhance the armoury of instruments for action at member states' disposal. Perhaps I may attempt to cover each of those improvements in a little more detail. I give way to my noble friend.

Lord Shore of Stepney: I am much obliged to my noble friend for giving way. I noted my noble friend's response to the leading spokesman for the Opposition and her emphatic statement that we cannot, so to speak, have decisions imposed upon us and that we remain intergovernmental in that sense. However, what does my noble friend have to say about the adjacent provisions in the treaty which allow for enhanced or closer co-operation undertaken not by unanimity but by a majority of member states? Does that apply to the collective defence area? If so, cannot my noble friend envisage a substantial group of states in the European

26 Mar 1998 : Column 1430

Union, led perhaps by France and Germany--though I am not too sure about that--insisting upon or carrying forward this closer co-operation without a British veto to prevent them? Is that not a danger to the cohesion of NATO?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I think the noble Lord will find that much of my contribution is devoted to the point that he raised. But as he has asked me about this categorically, flexibility does not apply to the CFSP provisions. I hope to be able to give him some greater assurance on that point in a moment or two.

I was addressing points about decision-making which I hope will interest the noble Lord, Lord Shore. In line with our negotiating aims the Government preserved at Amsterdam the UK's ability to require unanimity in CFSP decision-making. This safeguard is at the heart of our position. Article J.13 preserves unanimity for all decisions on common foreign policy in the form of common strategies or of joint actions and common positions not agreed on the basis of common strategies; and for any decision with military or defence implications.

Maastricht allowed for QMV for implementation of agreed foreign policy. Amsterdam makes that automatic. Further, it adds the ability constructively to abstain when a member state does not want to be forced to act, but does not want to stop others from doing so. It is for the individual member state to decide whether or not to abstain. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan--as he specifically requested--that constructive abstention cannot be used to make a member state act against its national interest if it is in a minority. These two measures usefully streamline decision-making. The UK is a leader, not a follower, in CFSP. Therefore QMV and constructive abstention are to our advantage as they allow more effective implementation arrangements for what we want. EU election monitoring, for example, could not be held up by bickering over precisely how many monitors to send. Less active member states can stand aside without blocking action by others.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked for clarification on the so-called emergency brake, the provision in Article J.13(2). He asked how it would work. Any member state can require that any decision is taken by unanimity. The reference in Article J.13(2) to,

    "important and stated reasons of national policy"

is a deterrent against frivolous use. Referral to the European Council merely reflects the current reality that if Foreign Ministers cannot agree, they pass an issue to heads of government or state in the European Council to attempt to resolve the issue by unanimity. But the key is that the individual member state has independent control of whether and when to pull the emergency brake. In answer to another specific point from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that decision is not subject to--indeed no decision under Title V is--review by the ECJ. The emergency brake is an important safeguard which recognises the potential sensitivity for all member states of foreign policy decisions, as so many Members of the Committee have recognised this evening.

26 Mar 1998 : Column 1431

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and other noble Lords asked whether a unanimously agreed common strategy on Iraq could have led to a decision by QMV that no member state should use force during the recent crisis. However many times and however many ways this question is put, the answer remains "No". The Government would not have agreed to a common strategy which excluded the use of force. There would thus have been no legal basis for any subsequent decision by QMV not to use force. We would use the emergency brake to block any attempt to use QMV to extend or otherwise change unanimously decided policy. Therefore we would be able to retain our freedom to act again in future, as we have done in the recent past, in a situation such as Iraq.

The noble Lord, Lord Shore, asked about Article J.1. He is right that the article requires that member states support the common foreign and security policy. But under both Maastricht and Amsterdam member states have the power to block decisions which they oppose, as I hope I have been able to demonstrate to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord referred to Article J.9(2) which requires member states to defend the interests of the Union. He threw away the line, "without prejudice to their responsibilities under the United Nations Charter"; but that is, of course, the important line. That means that there is freedom to act as an independent UN Security Council member, and that freedom is not fettered. It is not a new provision. It was in Maastricht.

The noble Lord, Lord Shore, asked again about flexibility. The flexibility provisions are applicable only in respect of the first and third pillars. There is no provision for flexibility as regards this second pillar which we are discussing this evening.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sure the Minister will agree that this is a very complicated treaty and provision. I understand that Article J.13(1) provides for decisions to be taken unanimously. But any one country abstaining does not create a veto. Any decision under Article J.13(1) could not be vetoed by any member.

Let me put a hypothetical position to my noble friend. Imagine, for example, that under Article J.13 the Council had considered the position in Iraq. It had decided, with Britain abstaining, that force should not be used. Bearing in mind that Britain wished to support the United States in its military action against Iraq had not agreement been reached between the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Iraqi leadership, how would the British presidency have been involved? I hope that that is not too complicated.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page