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European Defence Capabilities

Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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What discussions he has had with European counterparts on the future coordination of European defence capabilities. [112225]

I take every opportunity to discuss with my European colleagues the need for improved coordination of military capabilities, particularly in the context of European security and defence policy, NATO's Prague capabilities commitment initiative and the United Kingdom's bilateral defence relationships. I will be meeting EU colleagues on 19 May and NATO colleagues in mid-June.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response, but does he agree that, with the one laudable exception of the UK, our European partners to date have failed to perform in terms of military procurement and commitment of troops, whether for peacekeeping purposes or conflict resolution? Is he surprised to hear voices in the Opposition criticise our support for enhancing European capabilities? Would he describe the position of Opposition Members as (a) ludicrous, (b) untenable, (c) illogical or (d) all of the above?

Nevertheless, I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observations. It is important that the UK set an example both in spending more money on defence and in spending that money more effectively—something that I should hope Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen would support. What is interesting about their criticisms is the extent to which they fail to recognise the need for European nations to work effectively together to improve the military capabilities available to all through either the European Union or NATO.

The French have a substantial military contribution to make, should they decide that it is politically appropriate to do so.

Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to examine the composition of EUFOR—the European Union force in Macedonia? Is he aware that it is made up of a number of very small contingents from a large number of countries, rather than units of command from single countries under their own commanders, as I would have expected? Does he believe that that is an effective way of deploying a European force?

Obviously, that is a matter for military judgment as to the capabilities of the particular force and from where it should be drawn. I am satisfied that the military advice that has been given is the right advice and that the force in Macedonia is doing a good job.