Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness(Questions 60-78)



Lord Powell of Bayswater

  60. Is there not a point going beyond Lord Morris's, which is that if you had a European armament agency it would only be a short step before all European countries were expected to obtain their military requirements through this agency? That would by implication shut out the United States supplying the European market and in turn mean the United States not buying from Europe. It seems to me that it would be a hugely protectionist step.

  A. Which is something we very much try to avoid, to make it protectionist. Again, it was in the evidence which Lord Robertson gave to the group when he actually quite bluntly said: "...If we proceed with the level of armament spending which we have now, in a few years' time it will not be a question of whether we wish to work with the Americans, it will be a question of are we technically still capable..." The suggestion is that probably the answer would be no and it is that realism which has to enter the final Treaty. We had the debate on capabilities in one week where you had the Franco-German Paper and two days later the German Government cutting defences.

  61. With respect, that is what worries some of us about this debate in the Convention, it is being conducted in a sort of airy fairy world which bears very little relation to reality.

  A. This is where I am sometimes accused of being typically British by introducing a touch of realism and just saying what is really happening in the world here.

Lord Powell of Bayswater: More power to your elbow.

Lord Bowness

  62. One of the recommendations of the working party report deals with improving the arrangements for crisis management (paragraph 52 I think it is). In a report which we are likely to make, the Committee probably would recommend that the civilian aspect of crisis management decisions needs to be approved. Do you feel the recommendations in the working party report go far enough in that regard, particularly on crisis management?

  A. On crisis management I personally would have liked it to go further, but it was simply how much consensus you could get within the group. Again, what you have to be aware of is that what will have been a paper or a pile of papers four inches high of working group reports, Convention discussions, gets distilled into two or three lines of Treaty text, if that. So I think that was part of the debate. I would not expect the precise details of this to be in a part of the Constitution Treaty which we agreed on.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

  63. In a week where we have seen France and Germany again reconfirming their close relationship, do you think that in a wider shallower EU scene, with Greece or somebody like that coming in, even the large countries like ourselves will be left more and more out in the cold, or do you think ESDP will be a joint effort by all European countries?

  A. It is very difficult to say. I regard what happened yesterday as an in-depth Relate counselling for a couple who have been married for 40 years . I shall wait to see how permanent this newly-found love is.

  64. You think there may be a divorce yet?

  A. No, they are bound together geographically and historically. That is inevitable. That is the world. What was quite interesting in terms of the Convention was that neither Germany nor France anticipated how badly the Convention would react to the joint paper. It was the first time, in my memory since Joschka Fischer has been at the Convention, that he spoke and his speech was followed by total silence in the whole room. The method of the Convention is one where, for the first time, you involve parliamentarians, and not just the parliamentarians but also the smaller countries reacted very badly to what appeared to them an attempt by two big ones to say: "We have made a decision and this is where we think it should go without your consent." So that is one aspect. The other aspect is that when we came to areas of defence the candidate countries for the first time in the Convention started to take extremely firm positions. The very firm position was: "You do anything to undermine NATO and we will not agree with this." So the reality of this will be yes, it will be shallower. There will be a strong commitment to NATO because of the new countries who have come in—some of which have only just been invited to join NATO—and I confess it probably will be a very different NATO in a few years' time than the one that they thought they were joining. In the end what will happen—as it did in the St Malo process—is that those who have the political will and the capability who will drive the process forward—and in St Malo it was France and Britain—and I would not be at all surprised if the next step ahead again would be on that basis.

Lord Watson of Richmond

  65. I would like to follow up your last remark. Firstly, I would preface it very much in support of what you have just said because I was at a lunch at the Hungarian Embassy yesterday with the head of their Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Committee, and it was quite clear from the discussion that their reaction to the Franco-German initiative—if you can call it that - is that Europe has actually changed quite fundamentally with enlargement and the French and the Germans would be well advised to take that fully on board. On the second point, you say that the next initiative in the defence area might well follow St Malo in the sense of the same key participants. How do you judge the awareness on the part of both the French and the Germans as to how really quite fundamentally their defence postures differ?

  A. That is a very difficult question because the real difference is so fundamentally psychological and, because it is so deep, it may be more apparent to an outsider than it is to them themselves. I was trying to explain yesterday to a German television crew the difference of the attitude to war in Britain to that in Germany and it is that you are stating the obvious, which just becomes very difficult to explain. So it will continuously show itself in the practicalities, but Germany has moved. Their deployment of troops in Afghanistan was a huge step and I just do not know how it will proceed. I would expect France in this area to continue taking the lead, but there is a deep Germany unease about anything to do with the military.

Lord Inge

  66. Could I follow up Lord Watson's questions. I would not disagree with what you say both on the psychological problem that Germany has in committing troops for reasons we all understand, and equally I think what a dramatic step it was for them to deploy troops to Kabul, which I thought was an enormous plus. Having said that, if Germany does not come and fill its place in the size of the capability—because, to be honest, in terms of military power and military capability they must be an absolutely fundamental player if Europe is going to have the capability—if they cannot produce that capability and still have problems, then I would argue that Europe still has major problems.

  A. I think you are right.


  67. I have a couple of questions really based on the Franco-German Partnership. I note what you said about the reaction of the Convention and how they have acted, but is there nevertheless not a danger that what these countries say carries a huge amount of weight regardless of what happens in other countries and, in a sense, what Paris and Berlin are trying to do is to start the Intergovernmental Conference early, that is to say, they are putting in their national equivalent of what is their position, and whether the Convention likes it or not, that is going to be very significant? Is there not a danger that we in Britain are missing from the nucleus? It is the consensus view that the British representatives have done brilliantly so far in the Convention in adding a touch of realism to debates, but the danger now surely is that other countries follow the lead. Mr Papandreou is going to come on the Convention in February, and we obviously need to take the lead, otherwise however sensible our objects are we are going to find ourselves outflanked by these States.

  A. I see why you asked that question, but I think you are wrong and I will tell you why. You will be wrong if the Convention proves its worth. It is a challenge now for the Convention. If we, as the Convention, allow this to become an intergovernmental conference, then only we will be responsible for that failure. The great strength that Peter Hain has is that, unlike Joschka Fischer and unlike de Villepin, he sits through two days of preliminary sessions, he responds to the debates, he intervenes regularly, he sits through his working groups—he is now on his second working group, which is a huge chunk of his time. Foreign Ministers arrive with their television crews. The Convention gives them a time slot so it meets with their diaries. If they have the time they may listen to the speech before, in courtesy just to one speech afterwards and then they are out. So they do not affect the kind of real opinion-forming in the Convention itself, and both Joschka Fischer and Villepin were severely criticised last Tuesday by a number of speakers. One of them described it as saying, "I object to being used as a posting box for tomorrow's newspaper articles by foreign ministers." I think that probably the Greek foreign minister will find the same problem, the time commitment, to influence the thinking in the Convention. So if in the end you are right, then it will have been our failure by allowing this to happen.

Lord Williams of Elvel

  68. How do the applicant countries that you have react to the SDP in general? Are they happy with the recommendations about increasing the Petersburg Tasks and all that? Will they join in, do you think?

  A. Yes, I think the applicant countries would. Quite a number of them would have liked to go further on this area. They feel quite comfortable with military action. They may have some problem with up-to-date capabilities, but in terms of the political willingness, that is not a problem for them. You have to remember that at the time this debate was held and concluded there was also quite an unease between those in late November, would they be likely to join NATO in Prague, and then there was a huge relief in December that yes, they were all invited. I think they had suceeded.

Lord Powell of Bayswater

  69. My Lord Chairman, I would like to come on to the issue of qualified majority voting, QMV. Last week we took evidence from the Foreign Office who assured us that there could be absolutely no question whatsoever of QMV in the defence area, though they might consider a limited extension of it in the common foreign policy. Yet reading this report and some of the associated papers, one gets the impression that the French and the Germans at least are thinking of QMV when it comes to reinforced co-operation. Is this yet another area where you think the Working Group is all hot air, and governments are not going to let it happen? Or do you think the resistance, which was encapsulated in the Maastricht Treaty, to having QMV in defence is going to hold?

  A. I come back to the fact that the Working Group was dominated by the neutrals. That is reflected in some of the aspirations. What I regard as my task is to undo what at the moment is in the Treaty, which separates foreign policy from defence, try to get that back into one article which makes it quite clear that one is dependent on the other—and that actually is the area which has fairly strong consensus—that this is, and will remain for quite some time, intergovernmental. There are some aspects of foreign policy where you have no input, you can be communitarian, willing and able, but I think that there is a really broad consensus that this is an area which is intergovernmental.

  70. I accept that there is a consensus that it is intergovernmental, and I accept that the Working Group was dominated by neutrals and this is actually a Franco-German proposal. Some of us might think that Germany is getting a bit close to getting neutral. In practice, they are talking seriously about QMV, extending it to areas of defence and seeing what happens in other areas of Convention business where the French and Germans are agreed. You do not think there is a serious risk of their attempting to introduce QMV into defence?

  A. Yes, I think there is a serious risk, but I think it would be one of the areas where there will also be a significant group simply saying, "This is one step too far", and I would be amongst them.

Lord Powell of Bayswater: Again, I hope you prevail. Thank you.


  71. By the time the Convention is over, it looks like there will be the will to go to war. It will be a war fought mainly by the Americans using a bit of NATO around Turkey maybe. I worry sometimes that the European Union is in danger of making itself look silly by sitting in committee rooms in Brussels discussing enhanced solidarity or enhanced co-operation in defence matters, whilst a war rages not too far from its borders, in which it plays only a minimal part. By the fact that we are discussing this while war is going on, it seems to me, we run the danger of losing credibility in Washington, at a time when that is the last thing we ought to be trying to do. Do you think there is any danger of this?

  A. Yes, I think there is a danger. For example, when people talked about the Rapid Reaction Force and the initiative then of the European Union to have almost a kind of duplication, again as Lord Robertson said, we have two million people in uniform in the European Union, but when it comes to finding soldiers who can actually be part of that Rapid Reaction Force we have a problem just finding those 60,000. It is now the real crunch time, as far as I am concerned, between those who I think politically almost wish to alienate the United States and wish for NATO not to continue, because their vision of Europe has always been one of being an alternative power bloc to the United States, and those who do not wish that to happen. I think the sheer reality on the ground, that we do not have the capability to develop, I think will begin to sink in with those who seriously think about it. As to what happens now in the outside world, it is never the right time, this is where we are, and I do not pre-empt anything that will happen in Iraq. In the meantime we will have to try to write our constitution.

Lord Watson of Richmond

  72. I have two questions, if I may. First of all, how significant do you think it will be, in how the whole issue of European co-operation in the defence sector is seen, if the French actually in the end do play a military part, albeit rather small, in any action that takes place in Iraq? That is my first question. I was at the German Embassy last night where all the celebration was going on. It was extraordinary how careful the French were being about committing themselves—I am sorry, how careful the French were being not to commit themselves and not to take any action. I thought that that was quite interesting—double negatives. My second point really goes back to the earlier question. For better or worse, the French and the Germans have taken the initiative, have laid things on the table, have a certain momentum therefore. Whether that is part of an attempt to turn us all into the IGC or not, we shall see. Do we not need some significant proactive initiative from the British side? Would it not be better if we were putting things on the table, rather than skilfully objecting to what other people put there?

  A. Yes, I think you are touching on the age-old British problem about whether we are, or whether we are only seen to be. Whenever we enter these European negotiating rooms we have a list of things that we do not want to see happen: the others have a list of things they wish to see happen.

  73. Can you jump the box? Can you do it differently this time?

  A. I think we have actually been on this occasion extremely positive and have been seen to be positive on certain areas where, as in the area of capabilities, we really wanted to build that up. You have to understand, in the Convention there are very few people who really want to talk about defence; most of them politically do not want to talk about defence. I attended a working group by the European Socialists where we discussed defence, and there the speaker opened his remarks by actually saying, "We have got to get through this, because it is not really terribly socialist to talk about defence." The political battle of the Convention is really that the European Parliament feels this is an area where they are completely excluded from the decision-making process, and for them success would be if they now have a say in defence. So that is where the real debate will be. Again, as to what Germany and France will do, I do not know.

Lord Harrison

  74. I, too, want to talk about the age old British problem in respect of the European armaments agency, and you were very clear that you would not want the right initiative to lie with the Commission in this area if it were to happen. Like, Lord Morris, I have a sense that there is an awful lot of duplication going on when we are calling—as we repeatedly do—for an increase in resources. This is one way to achieve that—not the only way by any means, we still need an increase in expenditure, but it is a way. I thought that the Prime Minister in his Cardiff speech was implying that something positive has to be done in this area. Can I invite you, again, to say how you can negotiate this tricky area but come up with the result that we can pool resources together much more effectively than we have done hitherto, so that we do fulfil the ambition of providing greater resources for our armies?

  A. We already have some very good structures, which are all in existence, whether its OCAR or LOI, and all the systems are there. What we, as the Convention, cannot do is impose the political will amongst the Member States to contribute to that and I would have thought the United Kingdom, for example, also probably would not react too well to a suggestion that the European Union dictate to us what the percentage of GDP on defence spending would be. So whilst this is an area where we are very active, we would not like to give the European Union the power to tell us. If we say we do not want the Commission to have the right initiative, then this is a consequence we have to live with. This is where we run up against this age-old problem of being seen as negative. There has been the suggestion of, for example, a military college which should be created, to which we in the United Kingdom say: "That is fine, the concept is fine, but we already have one in Rome in the context of NATO. Why are we creating something new which would cost money but not increase capacity?" At that point we are seen as negative. Actually I do not think this is negative, if we stop people from doing something which is expensive and highly aspirational, but does not deliver anything on the ground.

  75. We rightly cower against the duplication of institutions, but we apparently do not cower against the duplication of resources. When you say what is required is the political will, I want us to move on to the front step and to have those kinds of initiatives which make a reality of the ambitions we have.

  A. We probably are already on the front step in the sense that whenever it comes to any of these demands, we are one of the very few who can actually deliver them. When it comes to any kind of joint action, who has the expertise, who is providing the staff and who is providing the soldiers. So we are on the front step because we are amongst the very few countries who are actually able to deliver. What I hope will happen is that we have a kind of recognition that the headline goals are starting to be met, we do not just have paper commitment; if we look at both the candidate countries, the kind of expertise they have, that that gets better co-ordinated. I come back to what I keep saying time and time again during all this work which is that paper commitments are worthless, it is capability building and it is real capability. The figure of two million soldiers in uniform is meaningless unless you can go deeper and say how many of them could you actually send into action. Probably the most significant thing, which happened over the last couple of months was the final agreement by Turkey and the finally moving ahead of Berlin Plus.

Lord Inge

  76. Perhaps I could direct you to the point you made—it is a slightly woolly question—about people not really being interested in defence. They have to go through the motions, but they are not really interested in defence. Is that because they actually do not really believe it is necessary? In other words, do they not recognise the challenge is out there, or do they think that if we need defence it is probably only peacekeeping, peacemaking, right down the lower end of the spectrum, so you do not have to worry about that; that if there is something really big and nasty, America will do it anyhow?

  A. If I turn the answer almost on its head, we had some very interesting discussions about whether the word "peace" should be included in the objectives of the European Union Treaty. I then queried a wording which was put forward—which sounded extremely worthy and wonderful and highly aspirational—and I said that that wording you are suggesting would actually mean that should, God forbid, the United Kingdom, only with the United States, take action against Iraq, we would be in fundamental breach of the European Union Treaty and could probably trigger off the Article 7 procedure to have us expelled from the Union, which to me was an argument I thought would defeat it, it was so fundamental. There were some people who looked at this quite seriously and thought this would be a very good idea that we bind ourselves into being terribly peaceful. There is a whole generation out there who think it is our duty to get to a position where we would not need defence and they see it as a kind of political failure that we still need the military. They look at Britain and they have said this to me: "You are the only country which regards military action as a means of achieving glory." This shows you a very fundamentally different attitude. I just say: "We are more realistic." It is not that we do not share the aspiration of a peaceful world, but if you have not got it you have to have the means to do something about it.

  77. When evil crosses the borders the Balkans and Europe does absolutely nothing?

  A. Indeed.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  78. This is perhaps more a comment than a question. You did comment on the reaction in the Convention to the arrival of the two bruisers, the Franco-German bruisers, who rather messed up the tea party temporarily. I do understand, however, that it is most important for us to understand the effect on the Convention. My comment is that from the British point of view there is quite a lot to be said for action which smoothes the passage from the end of the Convention to the IGC and perhaps this may help a bit in that direction. The reason why is that I would not like to see a big break between the Convention and the IGC. The British public would immediately get rattled and say: "We did not get it, it was going to be good and now it is not good" and so on. It is quite important to show that it is one continuum if we can do that. Do you wish to comment on that?

  A. No, you are absolutely right. At the early stage of the Convention some people criticised Giscard D'Estaing for doing a continuous round of capitals. I have always defended him for doing that, I think he was absolutely right and proper to do so. As you say, the Convention can only be a success if at the end, broadly speaking, the governments accept this. The point I was trying to make earlier is that the Convention is also a process by which all of us learn and all of us at some stage change our minds on positions which we came in because we become aware of different dynamics. and that is why I think if you have the bruisers doing short appearances, not only do they deprive themselves of this opportunity to really learn but it also means that they are not influencing the floor of the convention, they are not changing minds and hearts, and that is where I think Britain has actually been really strong because all of us have been there, have taken part, and have always engaged in the debate. That has changed people's minds about our attitude. We are no longer seen as the wreckers but in many areas they do understand why we have particular views. We have huge support, particularly in Scandinavian countries, where they view the world in very similar ways.

Chairman: I think that brings our session to an end. I think I speak for the entire Committee by saying we have had a fascinating period with you. Thank you very, very much for coming. You have been admirably concise and thoughtful and interesting. Speaking as a former government chief whip, I do not know what on earth you are doing here and why you are not running a department halfway up Whitehall as a minister of the Crown! We appreciate that.

  A. Thank you.

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