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St. Malo Agreement

Volume 454: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

I meet the French Defence Minister on a regular basis, including at meetings of EU Defence Ministers where, collectively, Ministers take forward work on the European security and defence policy consistent with the 1998 St. Malo declaration.

St. Malo was important because, for the first time, British and French Governments agreed to work together to improve the capabilities that are available not just for Britain in Europe but for the specific relationship with other EU countries. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the progress that has been made in implementing the principles of St. Malo, bearing in mind that there seems to have been a difference of opinion between him and the French Defence Minister over the funding of the European research initiative?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that from the outset the United Kingdom has consistently provided leadership to drive forward the capability development agenda, and we have been successful in ensuring that the ESDP develops in a way such as to be both supportive of and supported by NATO’s crisis management activities. Of course this is not a zero-sum game, given that the European Union allies are 19 of the 26 NATO allies. My right hon. Friend refers to a discussion that took place at the last meeting on the budget of the European Defence Agency. We do not have any dispute of principle with anyone else on the matter, but we do have a debate on the detail of how the principles are to be achieved, and in particular, on the operational budget that should be allocated. That does not reflect any lack of support from the UK for the agency—on the contrary, it shows our desire to see our scarce resources spent to best advantage.

Will the Secretary of State recommit himself to NATO, as opposed to the growing EU force that some countries are talking about? St. Malo and the Berlin-plus talks mean that many people based in Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe headquarters are double-hatting. An increasing emphasis is being placed on the EU to create its own military force. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm to the House that we will stand by NATO and not see an EU force develop?

I have no difficulty in giving the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he needs about us standing by NATO. However, we should recognise that there are areas in which the European Union can complement the work that NATO does, and we should examine these on a case-by-case basis, but we should take advantage of the opportunity that the ESDP provides to help improve the overall capability of all the members of the European Union, given that 19 of them are also members of NATO.