Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-65)



Lord Powell of Bayswater

  60. My Lord Chairman, I would not be quite as cavalier as the Minister in assuming that the underlying American attitude towards Europe's ambitions have not changed really quite significantly as a result of recent experiences. I just want to point out very briefly that he has clarified helpfully the Government's attitude on ESDP—that we must stick to unanimity—but I do not think the position on CFSP has been so satisfactory. We have a situation where a Cabinet Minister last week assured the House of Commons that there was no sense in having QMV in foreign policy, and the situation this morning where the Minister clearly believes there are circumstances in which he would support using QMV in foreign policy. I find those two statements a little difficult to reconcile.
  (Dr MacShane) No, I do not think so. I need the actual quote of my Rt Hon friend last week.

  61. I have it here. It is coming your way.
  (Dr MacShane) He said that he did not envisage QMV being used. Here we are: "Nor is there much sense in extending QMV to foreign policy," but we already have QMV in foreign policy and so far it has worked generally in Britain's interest. A massive extension in the abolition of intergovernmentalism, abolition of unanimity or anything that touches on national interest, security interest and military deployments, that we are not up for. As I say, you will find when we get back to discuss this at the Convention that other governments are revising their position but, as it were, the alternative vision of 15, soon 25, independent, autonomous, competing foreign policies also is not something that Britain wants to support. I am fairly clear in my mind that what will emerge out of the InterGovernmental Conference—because the Convention is simply one stage, it will propose, the InterGovernmental Conference will dispose—will not threaten the nations that control their foreign policy. If they so choose to pool foreign policy decisions and actions collectively in the European Union so much to the good, but not at any stage compromising what is seen as a profound national interest. It is not fair for me to ask questions: do we really want to see all of Europe's foreign policy on any issue blocked by Luxembourg or Estonia? I pick those two decent and respectable countries out of the hat. I am not sure any of us would be happy with that.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

  62. To some extent my question has been answered. Minister, you did mention that majority voting operates in some respects already and it seems to me that is something that we should not overlook. For example, where there is an agreed European strategy, as in the case of Russia, it is possible for decisions within that strategy to be taken by QMV, but there are some other areas, the Government is not in any sense seeking to depart from that principle either, is it?
  (Dr MacShane) No. I cannot think of any EU foreign policy decision that has been taken on the basis of QMV. As I said, policy must be agreed unanimously, implementation may be agreed by QMV, but I do not think—and there are more experts on Commission practice than me sitting around this table—we have an example of that.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  63. No, it has never been used, my Lord Chairman.
  (Dr MacShane) It can actually act as a spur. That is to say, if every country knows it simply has to say no or not turn up and nothing will ever be decided, then there is no actual pressure on countries to come to agreement on foreign policy issues. In that sense, QMV, in some areas can put effective pressure on countries to come to agreement by consensus without invoking a formal vote. Iraq has been a salutary lesson for us all. All of these things are now, as it were, in the wash and we will continue discussing collectively with yourselves and other colleagues in the other place and with our partners on how to make this work. Foreign policy is just too sensitive, as it were, to not require the deepest thought and to ensure that any institutional changes or a new single external affairs representative really adds value to the European Union and adds value to British interests within the European Union.

  Chairman: We are coming to a close. Lady Park wants to come in quickly.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

  64. Just very quickly, Minister. Since we have succeeded in going for what, ten years now, quite a long time, without making a decision about QMV and Europe has survived, I cannot really see any argument for considering—because we might in the future encounter one country that ditched something we all wanted to do—that it matters that much. Basically speaking, if we want to do something and it is in our national interest, we will do it, and that is true of all the other countries. If we have got so far without QMV and foreign policy, I cannot see why we have to consider it now?
  (Dr MacShane) Lady Park, the theory of "If it works, why fix it", does not seem to be enshrined as a golden rule in Brussels, but you make a powerful point. Iraq, as I said, has revealed perhaps some of the thinness of the assumption that there was a future world of stronger European foreign policy decided without the full consent of all its Member States, and we will have to reflect very seriously on this in contributions to the next stage of the Convention debate and ultimately in the IGC.


  65. Minister, I am going to ask you a final question, which I hope rather winds up this most interesting session this morning. You have acknowledged that the United Nations, NATO and the European Union have all had very severe setbacks with the events of the last few months, and whether or not it will ever be the same again is a matter for speculation, but you made a point that there is a need for trying to put things together again as best one can in the time ahead of us. Do you think that process would be helped if the United States' Government moved back to its more traditional role of having a multi-lateral approach to alliances and away from the situation, which Lord Bowness referred to, where there was this approach by some people in Washington, which we detected, this philosophy of saying: "We, the Americans, are going to do this, if you want to come with us, all very well, but if you do not, just get out of our way." Do you not think the rebuilding of these institutions would be helped if the Americans returned more to their traditional philosophy?
  (Dr MacShane) The United States has always been stronger when it has worked in partnership with allies. America is a nation ruled by law, not by men, as they themselves say. The shaping of international law through the WTO, through other institutions, is now a major priority and the United States will come to accept and realise that. We have an administration at the moment in the United States which takes certain positions, but I would add that if Europe had spoken with one voice and clearly shown a united determination not just to call for Saddam's disarmament, but a willingness to will the means as well as demand the end then Saddam would have been faced with the united will of the democratic world and the United Nations. So it is not just America that maybe has to make multi-lateral institutions work, but European Union nations have to take the UN seriously. If you want to pass 17 resolutions calling for the disarmament of Saddam after 12 years, ca suffit—if I can use a French term—that is enough, and you should put your soldiers where your mouth is. I do not know if that is diplomatic enough.

  Chairman: Minister, you have given us a most interesting morning. We have explored a great many issues which cause this Committee a great deal of concern. Thank you for coming. We much appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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