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EU External Action Programmes

Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2010

I recently stressed to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, the importance of delivering greater efficiency savings from the merger of European institutions with a view to achieving the agreed goal of budget neutrality. Both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I will continue to press this point strongly during our contacts in Brussels and with our European colleagues in other capitals.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He refers to budget neutrality, but I understood from an earlier question that we were talking about budget cuts in the EU. Surely my hon. Friend will accept that nothing is going to be acceptable to people in this country except budget cuts in the EU while we have to make severe cuts to our own British diplomatic service.

We believe that the External Action Service should operate only in those areas of policy where collective action at European Union level can genuinely add value to the work already being done by national diplomatic services. We will certainly be looking for economy, but I am sure that my hon. Friend would want to see the secondment of national diplomats, including those from the United Kingdom, to the European External Action Service and not to rely entirely on people transferred in from existing European institutions. That will require a short-term spike in expenditure for the EEAS. The High Representative has committed herself to bringing that down as soon as possible and to seeking 10% cuts in her budget as a first priority.

Does the Minister not agree that it would be totally unacceptable if the UK’s contribution to the EU budget were to rise? Given the fact that we are facing massive cuts in all areas across the board domestically, it must be the case that in this area—and across the board—this country’s contribution to the EU must be cut.

I think it is important that we seek the greatest possible value for money and economy in expenditure in every aspect of European Union spending, whether that is in one of the relatively small items of expenditure, such as external action, or in one of the large items, such as agriculture.

Is the Minister aware of the enormous cost to the British taxpayer of the United Kingdom’s remaining outside the EU’s Schengen agreement? Is he aware, for example, that this year there will be four times more Chinese tourists going to Germany than to the UK because of the additional complications that this absence creates? Will he stand up for tourism businesses in the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and other tourist venues in the UK and look to engage with Schengen in a more appropriate manner?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who leads for us on these matters, is very clear that the priority for the people of the United Kingdom should be the maintenance of our own domestic controls over our borders and not giving control of immigration policy to European institutions.

I am amazed to find out that Schengen has anything to do with the External Action Service. I certainly welcome the Minister’s balanced approach to this matter. In fact, is it not true that in other parts of the EU the complaint is that there is far too much British influence in the diplomatic corps of the European External Action Service? Surely we must commend that, because it will bring a UK perspective to the actions in the EEAS that we should welcome.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that complaint is frequently heard in Brussels and in other European capitals. What I would say to those Members of the House, on both sides, who, like me—I freely admit it—voted against the establishment of the EEAS is that now that this body exists we should do all that is within our power to help shape it so that it can be used to give greater leverage to British influence throughout the world.