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EU Operational Headquarters

Volume 535: debated on Monday 14 November 2011

It is the policy of this Government that NATO remain the cornerstone of UK defence. We see no justification whatsoever for a permanent EU military operational headquarters, and we will continue to oppose it. We have been clear that the establishment of a permanent operational headquarters would be a duplication of existing capability provided by NATO, would permanently dissociate the EU from NATO, and would be an unnecessary and unjustified use of resources.

The lesson from recent military operations is that our operations with joint and existing allies have enabled military objectives to be achieved. The Secretary of State is clearly right that the proposal to create an EU headquarters would be a duplication, but would it not also curtail the involvement of some of our existing allies in military objectives that we may wish to undertake?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. It would duplicate and undermine arrangements we have in place that have been demonstrated to be perfectly adequate.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that spending money that the EU does not have on these headquarters is an absurd waste that would also cause confusion in the military chain of command in terms of duplication of effort?

Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is something that we do not need and cannot afford, and that would be damaging to our overall military capability.

The Anglo-French defence accord has been a success, but let us not forget that it was largely negotiated under the previous Government. May I ask this Government whether other agreements are being discussed with other member states of the European Union?

On Wednesday I am going to meet my Nordic and Baltic counterparts, and I have already had discussions with my Italian counterpart. It will be the Government’s policy to seek bilateral arrangements with other European allies where it is appropriate and in the interests of both parties to collaborate.

I realise that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth), who is responsible for NATO matters, is not here, but I am sure that the Secretary of State can respond. I agree with response he gave to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). The Secretary of State is aware that Holland has withdrawn its main battle tank fleet and that Denmark is cutting its navy and ground-based air defences. These are just two examples of defence cuts among our European allies. As a nation, we are part of a European collective, but will he detail what work he and his ministerial colleagues are undertaking to ensure that NATO maintains a coherent capability?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reiterating that there is cross-party support for resisting the temptation or blandishments for an EU operational headquarters. On ensuring that the European part of NATO remains effective, I again pay tribute to my predecessor, who never tired of exhorting our NATO allies to do their bit to maintain NATO effectiveness. I shall certainly continue in his footsteps.