Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness(Questions 47-59)



Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. You are most welcome. Many of us admire the way that you seem to spend your entire time going from committee to committee. Thank you for coming to this Committee. As you know, we are particularly interested in defence this morning and, therefore, because I believe we are going to have divisions in their Lordships' House this morning, I want to get on as quickly as possible so we do not interrupt your time with us. Can I ask Lord Inge to open, please.

Lord Inge

  47. Could you say whether you think the euro defence mechanism is going to be included in the Treaty? I think the reason we are asking that is so we allow some members to develop defence capabilities further through enhanced co-operation. I have some difficulty understanding how this might develop and I think what France and Germany are doing is an example of how we handle Iraq which adds a dimension to that sort of question.
  (Ms Stuart) First of all, thank you for asking me to be here because I think it is quite unique that we have Treaty preparations where parliamentarians are involved. That is why I think it is important for me to report back to you where things are going. It is a very strange mechanism, also, in which decisions are made because we have working groups which are dominated by neutral countries in terms of their membership. A report then goes to the whole Convention, the whole Convention then debates it and around that you have governments taking actions as they do that, so you have three inputs. What appears to be happening is you have quite a firm commitment to have in the new constitution provisions for foreign, security and defence. The Treaty as it stands at the moment has got two separate headings, something which I feel very uncomfortable with because I think defence and foreign policy, one supports the other, and to try and separate the two is something I am still very much working on, trying to combine it and make it clear that the two are together. I have always taken the view that, yes, there will be a provision but it has to be one where we build up capacity, where we build up capacity not in competition with NATO but in support of NATO. The big political debate which is as yet unresolved is that there are a group of people in the Convention who think the reason why the European Union does not have a clearer foreign policy is because we do not have the mechanisms. There is another group of people who say the mechanism will not create the political will and it is no good pretending that something is there when it is not. I have always taken the latter view. It would not be very sensible to create a mechanism which binds the euro into a common position and then there will be countries which will still break ranks and then it seems a failure of the Union. We say yes to enhanced co-operation but is the political will there, we do not know. One final point: I have always taken the view that in those areas which remain inter-governmental we must not overlook parliamentary control which is not yet entrenched currently.

  48. I am confused, I have to tell you. I am a simple soldier. If you are going to run complex military operations, it is very easy to talk about them in peace time but if you are involved in something like Iraq, there is a need for clear understanding of who does what. Do you think the people who are devising these structures really understand that? It does not matter in peace time, it matters dramatically when you are doing something as complicated as Iraq or maybe even worse. Is there an understanding of that complexity, how you need—I have bored this Committee with this—strategic direction which you give at the top and then you allow people to get on with it or is going to be micro-managed at the same time? So not only do you have a very complex structure but on top of that you are trying to micro-manage something which cannot be micro-managed.

  A. If I can quote what Lord Stockton said in one of the working groups when he reminded everyone that it is politicians who decide to go to war but it is the soldiers who actually then, on the ground, fight the war. If we confuse those two things we are in trouble.

  49. All I would say is that soldiers need politicians to give them strategic direction and not micro-manage the campaign once they have told them what they want them to do. I think perhaps I would disagree with you in the sense that actually you get the best out of your military if you are getting the right strategic direction from your statesmen.

  A. Let us put it that way. It will be a constitutional Treaty and I think within that Treaty it should be clear who makes the decisions. What you are worried about actually would not be in the constitutional Treaty but that is a different aspect.

Lord Powell of Bayswater

  50. I just want to pursue Lord Inge's point. One gets the impression reading through the very full report that there is a willingness on the part of most people involved to do everything together except spend more money on defence. The impression left is that this is really about institutions, not about defence. The willingness to have any substance to a European defence policy just is not there. Is that a fair criticism?

  A. It is a fair criticism and it is not. This was a report of the working group, the most detailed one, which was, as I said, very much dominated by neutral countries, if you look at the composition of it. There were three members which were two government representatives from Germany and from France and I was the British representative from the parliamentarians. It was really the three of us who kept stressing it is building capacity which is very important, not trying to provide the structures because it is no good pretending that we can do something when the capacity is not there. The noble Lord Robertson, I think, made the very forceful point to the group when he said when Germany after their long political struggling finally decided to deploy 600 soldiers in Kabul they had no means to fly them to Kabul, they had to hire Russian planes, 145 at a cost of $245,000 each. I think that point really hit home. You are quite right, there is a large number particularly of neutral countries who want to focus on the institutions. It is a conflict that is there.

  51. Do you think the more realistic view which you clearly represent will be properly reflected in the final outcome of the Convention?

  A. I think so. The reason why I am quite confident is that all the Conventioneers—if you would like to call them as such—realise that unless our Treaty is accepted by governments we will not have succeeded and governments are probably more realistic on that point than we would be.

Lord Inge

  52. By that you mean that they will give more money?

  A. That would not be in the constitutional Treaty for the European Union.

  53. The two are not connected.

  A. There was one example. There was a suggestion at one stage that we should create a group who would co-operate on defence and you would have a mechanism where you can be part of that group based on your percentage of GDP spending on defence. That was rejected in the end because individual countries calculate defence spending so very differently. In some countries pension payments are part of the defence budget, so you would not be a good admissions criteria. So it will not be enshrined in the constitutional Treaty but there is an awareness that it is the political will which matters.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

  54. In the provision of the working group which speaks of collective defence and the possibility of there being a collective defence clause in the Treaty it is made clear there is a division of opinion about this. What I am not clear about, and I know I should be by this stage, at least as clear I suspect as Ms Stuart, is whether what is described as a closer type of co-operation on defence, which is set out at paragraph 63 of the working group report under the Treaty, actually represented the view of the committee at all, a permissive clause, a kind of enhanced co-operation. It does read as though this is the conclusion of the whole group although there were differences of views about who would wish to participate.

  A. That part of the report is a clear joint view, the defence co-operation.

  55. Yes.

  A. Where there was a real political divide was whether we should have within the constitutional Treaty an equivalent of Article 5, which would be a mutual defence clause. The view I took in the committee was that I could live with an Article 5 of the WEU Treaty provided it was made clear that it is delivered through NATO, and that was when the political divide opened. Therefore, you will find a commitment in that report that the European Union is not a defence union, an aggressor, and the report is slightly unclear where it leaves us in terms of the equivalent Article 5.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  56. Can I ask you a question specifically on that part of the report which is headed "More Solidarity". I am very much in favour of creating more solidarity but of course it is the way that you handle it which is very important because there is going to be a clause, is there not, in the Treaty. It is going to be a major clause, so we have to be careful about it. As I understand it, there are basically three positions. There is one for which there is broad support which does not imply 100 per cent support, broad support, which is a clause which provides an obligation to work together in the face of threats from non state entities. This is what I call the "against the Ricin makers' clause" and there seems to be quite big support for that. The second one is where there would be a common security clause which would go much wider and not be necessarily a military defence. The third is a collective defence clause. Could you give us a view about, first of all, which way you think it is going to develop, this approach, and the extent to which you support that which has the broadest support, which is the first one, the solidarity clause related to threats from non state entities?

  A. I was very content with that clause. The only word in that clause which slightly worried me was to "prevent" terrorism.

  57. Yes.

  A. Which I feared suggested pre-emptive action, so that is open to debate. As to the following ones, the big political debate here is countries like Finland, for example, will argue that if we want mutual co-operation, mutual defence, we can join NATO, it is open to us. It is a political choice. If, for whatever reason, we have chosen not to join NATO, then that is a signal that we do not wish that. I think for the third option there is less support. In the middle you will find there is a fair amount of movement. Some countries have got real problems, the Swedes, for example, the minute you mention the word defence, they will not accept it but they will work more in peacekeeping. The big debate in the working group then was where does peace keeping stop and where does it become proactive. Again, I think in terms of the constitutional Treaty, we will end up certainly with the first option but I would be very surprised if it went further than that.

Lord Williamson of Horton: Thank you very much. I must say the collective defence clause would be difficult from the point of view of the British public because of our other obligations in NATO. The first one does have quite a bit of attraction.

Lord Morris of Aberavon

  58. May I quote the apparent differences in the philosophy regarding the European Arms Agency. In paragraph 64 we hear that many groups supported it, HMG apparently has not done so and there is a long history of the desirability of a coherent European arms procurement. I have an interest in this as far back as 1968 when we built the Tornado. As regards operational requirements, I always thought it difficult to understand, as we have tank warfare, we are about to engage possibly in the same war, a wholly different approach of Germany on the one hand and ourselves on the other. There is a long history of failure to meet agreed government targets. The order is agreed and then it is changed. Is this the reason why we are less enthusiastic for the European Armaments Agency or is there something more fundamental and deeper and can the two views be reconciled?

  A. I confess I was slightly surprised when I read it was your Lordships' Committee's impression that HMG was not in support of that. Certainly I made the case in the working group, and because defence is an issue which is so deeply governmental I very much took the advice of the Foreign Office on this, we are in favour of it but we prefer the phrase "capabilities agency". What my concern was, and I know the Government's concern also, that we did not wish to create a bureaucracy which did not deliver the capabilities on the ground. In the early stages of the work I sensed there was ever such a slight movement of some people to move defence procurement which at the moment is not within the remit of the Commission into a Commission remit which is something which we would have objected to. We kept stressing the word "capabilities". In that sense it is very much the UK Government view of the more we can co-ordinate that procurement which increases real capability on the ground without just raising a bureaucracy which will look good on paper but actually does not deliver, so I think it has our support provided it is practical. Is it undermined by the history of failure to deliver? When you hear the target of this aircraft or not, it is 200 aircraft for Germany and 100 for Italy and 50 somewhere else and then the financial ministers a year later say "not 200 we will make it 50", that makes a nonsense of aspirations. When you talk of capabilities I say it is whether it is going to be effective.

  A. You are quite right, we keep coming back to what a constitutional Treaty can provide in terms of what we wish to do. If the political will is not there, which in this case is the will to provide the money for it, then these aspirations in the Treaty will come to nothing. I think what we tried to avoid was creating a structure which pretended to be something which in the end it was not.

  59. The emperor has no clothes.

  1. Indeed.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003