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EU: European Security and Defence Policy

Volume 687: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to communicate to both Houses of Parliament on the United Kingdom contribution to the development of European security and defence policy.

My Lords, we will continue to inform both Houses through the European Union and defence scrutiny committees and through Written Ministerial Statements before and after each General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting, and after each European Council and Foreign Ministers informal meeting. We will also continue to brief parliamentarians and parliamentary groups with an interest in European security issues.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I do my best to burrow to paragraph 15 of each communication to see the short reference to the ESDP. Can she explain why the Government pay so little attention, when reporting to us, let alone when speaking to the public, to the major contribution that Britain makes to the ESDP? Ministers often talk as though the ESDP had very little to do with Britain. Does she accept that, of the 18 missions operating under the ESDP recently, Britain has been in command of one and has made a major contribution in most, and that we now provide the heads of the European Defence Agency and Solana’s secretariat and, from next March, the general in command of the EU military staff? There is a good story to tell, but perhaps the Daily Mail and the Sun might not like to hear it.

My Lords, the Government are very proud of their participation in ESDP missions. The noble Lord is right: we have 15-plus missions operating. The Government are very pleased to shout about what they are doing in ESDP. However, good news is often not newsworthy, and when it is to do with the military and the European Union there are two factors working against us vis-à-vis the British press. We look to gain better press about what we are doing in ESDP and hope to be able to brief parliamentarians more frequently. My ministerial colleagues are looking to brief the noble Lord and his colleagues, but, in the mean time, if the noble Lord would like a briefing with officials, I am sure that that would be willingly organised.

My Lords, what progress has flowed from the treaty signed in 2000 by the United Kingdom with France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden with the aim of harmonising our Armed Forces at the expense of our national capacities? Have any other European Union member states joined that agreement? How is any such progress received in Washington?

My Lords, there is no question of our Armed Forces being harmonised as the noble Lord has suggested. The Government are in charge of our Armed Forces, and NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. We want to work with our European colleagues more effectively, which is exactly what we are doing.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Britain contributes a great deal to other EU policy areas; namely, enlargement, which has cemented democracy in southern, eastern and central Europe, and the single market, which although not yet complete, benefits British business and employees? There are important areas to which we need to contribute—for example, climate change, environment and energy policy. Is there not, therefore, a strong case for a more confident and positive assertion of the contribution that Britain makes to the European Union more widely?

My Lords, I wholeheartedly endorse that. I believe that this Government want to be as confident as they can in respect of the European Union. They recognise the importance of working with our partners in all the areas mentioned by the noble Lord.

My Lords, given the Minister’s pride in Britain’s contribution, I am slightly surprised that when you enter ESDP into the search engine on the Foreign Office website, which I looked at last night, five of the links do not seem to mention the UK’s contribution and one link to the Ministry of Defence is broken. Perhaps that is a metaphor for Britain’s approach. How many British Armed Forces, police and civilians are currently engaged on ESDP operations?

My Lords, it is unfortunate that there are not as many links to ESDP on the Foreign Office website as there should be. I will certainly ask my colleagues to look at that, because the links should reflect our pride in the ESDP. I do not believe that the fact that the link with the MoD is broken is a metaphor. I cannot give the number of troops currently engaged, but I will do so in writing to the noble Lord and will place a copy in the Library. However, in 2005, more UK troops were deployed on EU operations than NATO ones. We have offered up to 12,500 troops, 19 ships and 72 combat aircraft, which can be made available as and when needed for ESDP operations.

My Lords, has any thought been given to the European Union contributing to any security dimension of a Middle East peace process, should that get under way? Does she not think that the European Union has a capacity and need to respond should any such process begin in the months and years ahead?

My Lords, I believe the European Union is reflecting on that at present. As the noble Lord will know, the EU has a police mission in the Palestinian territories and a border mission in Rafah. It is also actively supporting Lebanon. No European mission is planned, although there is a German border management project that may create an opportunity for an ESDP mission in that country. These are issues that the Government and the European Union must reflect upon.

My Lords, when it comes to shouting about our contribution to the ESDP, which I am sure brings great enthusiasm and joy to a lot of people, does the Minister recall the American hope that, in relation to NATO, the ESDP would involve no decoupling, no duplication of equipment, task or anything else, and no discrimination, particularly when it came to considering the position of Turkey? Can she reassure us that those criteria have been fulfilled, and that we will not get into more difficulties, particularly as the Turkish issue is causing so many other problems for us at the moment?

My Lords, I can give the reassurance the noble Lord seeks regarding duplication and the good relationship between the European Union and NATO. It may interest him that Turkey is participating with the EU in an ESDP mission. I believe it is the mission in Bosnia; if I am wrong, I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, perhaps I may assure my noble friend that the good work the Government are doing in Europe, including the European security and defence policy, is getting to every part of Scotland. Last Thursday we won a by-election in Eldersley, the birthplace of the other William Wallace.