rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Europe in the World (48th Report, HL Paper 268, Session 2005–06).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this report was prepared by Sub-Committee C of the European Union Committee and concluded just prior to the end of the last Session. At the time I chaired the sub-committee, and I am grateful to the present chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for allowing me to present this report to the House. My thanks are due also to the witnesses in the inquiry: Mr Hoon, the Minister for Europe; Mr Robert Cooper, the director-general of external economic relations in the Council secretariat; Ambassador José Cutileiro, special adviser to President Barroso; Mr Patrick Child, chef de cabinet to the External Relations Commissioner; my noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, a former Vice-President of the Commission; and Mr Erwan Fouéré, the European Union Special Representative to Macedonia. I also thank the members of the then sub-committee for their work and our then Clerk, Dr Emily Baldock, for her help in organising the inquiry and preparation of the report, all within a tight timetable.
At Hampton Court in 2005, Dr Solana, the High Representative, and the President of the Commission were asked to address co-operation on external relations which led to the communication entitled “Europe in the World: Some Practical Proposals for Greater Coherence, Effectiveness and Visibility”. The communication formed the basis and subject of this inquiry. In June 2006, the European Council welcomed the communication and agreed to a stock-taking on its implementation at the end of the Finnish presidency. The presidency conclusions of December 2006 make no more than a nod in the direction of the communication and its recommendations. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House what progress is being made and confirm that there is indeed political will among member states to take matters forward.
The common foreign and security policy has been a rapidly growing area of activity and is of considerable importance—too important to be left on one side following the French and Dutch rejection of the constitutional treaty. The sub-committee was supportive of the Commission’s aims expressed in the communication and decided to examine them in more detail from a positive point of view to see what could be done within the existing treaties and whether the proposals could go further.
The communication points out that Europe faces both economic and security challenges: the growth of the new economies in Asia and elsewhere, terrorism, organised crime and regional conflicts to name but some. The Commission proposed that member states and the European institutions examine how to work together to develop and implement external policies; how to increase effectiveness of all policies and actions, external and internal; and how to strengthen accountability and increased visibility of European Union policies.
The Union has a number of what the Commission describes as “external policy assets”, including enlargement, which itself is an instrument for the extension of peace, stability and democracy, and should continue to be so for so long as the aspirant countries remain convinced of the genuineness of the EU’s intentions; the European neighbourhood policy, offering a stake in the internal market and helping the process of reform in the countries to which it applies; trade, which was outside the remit of the sub-committee and this report; development policies which offer specific instruments, especially through the medium of the European development fund dealing with governance and peace-keeping; the common foreign and security policy, which offers relations with strategic partners around the world; and lastly, disaster response and crisis management work in the field through the European security and defence policy—the ESDP. There are many examples of humanitarian assistance and civil protection work that has been undertaken, and the police missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all demonstrate the growth and development of the ESDP.
Although member states, the Commission and the Council all have their own role in external relations, the European Union itself has a growing and wide responsibility on the international scene, but even if the objectives are clear, implementation falls to different parties. The three must therefore work together to ensure that whenever possible there is a unified global presence. The Commission advanced the convincing argument that there is a link between the internal and external policies of the Union. The development of an energy policy and justice and home affairs are but examples.
Chapter 2 of the report looks at the Commission’s proposals for greater coherence in external affairs. There is undoubtedly a need for improvement. The committee has noted this in a number of previous reports. The constitutional treaty would have brought institutional change, in particular the abolition of the rotating presidency, the Foreign Minister with a place in both the Commission and the Council and the External Action Service. It is worth noting the evidence of Robert Cooper from the Council, who noted:
“The EU’s ambition is to speak with one voice and it is a very laudable one, but then we send three people to do it—the Presidency, the High Representative and the Commissioner”.
The treaty would have fused these three.
How successful will the Commission’s proposals be and do they go far enough? Are they possible within the treaty as it stands? We believe that it was possible to go further and that the institutions and the member states should continue their search for new ways forward. However, without the constitutional treaty or something similar, it has to be recognised that there are limitations. In the opinion of the committee, the Commission’s proposals do not amount to cherry picking, and in any event I would say that if something is a good idea, why not do it?
Chapter 3 examines the proposals to improve strategic planning. In particular, the Commission proposes a meeting at the beginning of each presidency between the President of the European Council, the presidency Foreign Minister, the Commission President, the External Relations Commissioner and the High Representative. They propose likewise the attendance of the High Representative at the meetings of the Relex commissioners. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, pointed out that as the High Representative would not have a clear position at those meetings, his influence would depend upon his own personality. In their response, the Government referred to difficulties in achieving these meetings because of the extensive travelling of the High Representative.
Nevertheless, in the report we welcome the proposals. But if they are not to be mere window-dressing, then, as Robert Cooper also told us, it is the day-to-day co-operation that really matters. Officials in both the Council and the Commission need to work together and build relationships. We noted the encouraging examples of the Commissioners and the High Representative working together. If that leads to the presentation of joint papers for discussion in Council, it will be an improvement. It is a pity that the paper which is the subject of this report was not produced jointly. It would have had greater force had it been. Nevertheless, there is evidence that joint papers are now accepted. We noted that in the papers to be produced in connection with the Africa strategy on which the committee reported earlier.
Typical of the problems that exist is the existence of the Commission’s own crisis centre and the Council’s situation centre. If the centres cannot be amalgamated, and apparently they cannot be, then the problems of sharing information and intelligence need to be addressed.
The European Union is represented at a number of international organisations and the Commission’s proposals include early work to enable joint presentation of a European Union position. The Commission has considerable resources and these should be available to the presidency at short notice. We recognised that the Commission’s proposals for its participation in the euro-zone meetings are sensitive and largely matters for members of the euro-zone.
In Chapter 4 we looked at the presence of the European Union in the field and at the relations between the Council and the Commission. The Commission proposes that Council and Commission should consider the double-hatting of European Union special representatives where appropriate and that the positive experience of Macedonia should be drawn upon. We were extremely fortunate to hear evidence from Mr Erwan Fouéré, the European Union Special Representative in Macedonia. He was sure that double-hatting is a good idea per se and that Macedonia is not a special case. He was enthusiastic even on areas of overlap of competence. He obtained joint instructions and—far from creating conflict between the institutions—co-operation and contacts between different desks in different offices have been boosted. It is clearly of benefit in Macedonia and should be seriously considered especially in other parts of the Balkans. It is important to note, however, that this recommendation is based on the special representative being in the country and not in Brussels, and that the special representatives are, as in the case of Mr Fouéré, people of sensitivity who can work with both institutions. To have worked for both is a considerable help.
The Commission also looks for better use of Commission delegations, the special representatives and the embassies of member states. This has to be common sense and we urge the Government to take a pragmatic view about co-operation between the presidency, the member states, the special representatives, the ESDP mission representatives and Council secretariat officials. We referred to this in our previous report on Africa and again make the case in respect of Addis Ababa and the western Balkans.
In Chapter 5 we looked at co-operation between EU institutions and member states. The Commission looks for greater co-operation between member states in the area of consular assistance, especially in disaster situations. We had some doubts about this and particularly the Commission’s desire for its delegations to play a supporting and complementary role. On balance—and witnesses confirmed this—consular assistance is a matter for member states. Nevertheless there may be a role for Commission delegations to offer support in crisis situations. The Commission could explore this further with the Council and member states. While there may be reservations on some elements—and those reservations may be legitimate—they should not be used as an excuse to preclude common sense and practical measures of co-operation between member states and the different offices of the Union.
There may well be cases where it would be sensible for premises to be shared. That would have to be on a case-by-case basis and subject to the agreement of all parties in all cases. We welcome the Commission’s proposals for staff exchanges between the diplomatic services of the member states and its own staff. That was supported by our witnesses. The United Kingdom and others have a wealth of experience to share with the European Union, and we welcome the Government’s support for this.
Chapter 6 of the report deals with the need for improved accountability and the greater visibility of policies. The chairmen of the foreign affairs committees of national parliaments meet during each presidency on the initiative of the parliament of the presidency country. In addition, the European Parliament calls meetings of representatives of national parliaments’ foreign affairs committees. These all provide for a useful exchange of views, and it is suggested that the External Relations Commissioner and the High Representative attend to brief participants as a matter of course. The committee welcomed that. In my experience the meetings, particularly those at which Mr Solana has been present, have been useful. In their response the Government see no problem with the suggestion, but, in the interests of parliamentary involvement, I ask the Minister to take the matter forward by confirming that the Government will actively promote the idea, which will need forward planning by the institutions, the presidency and the presidency parliaments.
Greater visibility for European Union initiatives and foreign policies is a matter to which the Government should give due prominence, and they should be prepared to give credit to the EU for its successes. Too often the temptation is to take the credit nationally. Without due recognition of what we are able to achieve jointly, it will not be possible to establish the credibility and desirability of the European Union’s policies. I thank the Minister for the Government’s response, and note that the committee’s recommendations are generally supported. I hope that in speaking to the report I have conveyed to your Lordships the importance that the sub-committee placed on this communication. I commend the report to the House, and invite your Lordships to take note of the same.
I crave your Lordships’ indulgence to add my personal thoughts on this subject. Surely it is crucial that in the area of common foreign and security policy we do everything possible to achieve a unified and coherent European policy. Of course we shall not always succeed, but it must always be worth trying. Whatever other relationships we wish to pursue, the relations with our partners and neighbours in the European Union are of importance.
Angela Merkel, in her recent speech to the European Parliament at the commencement of the German presidency, said that foreign and security demands are being made upon the EU from all sides, and referred to the western Balkans, Kosovo, the Middle East, the neighbourhood policy and the Black Sea region. There is the whole question of our relations with Russia. The new members from central and eastern Europe will expect and deserve more than self-interested bilateral policies from the large, older member states. There are the questions of the new neighbours: Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia.
Is there to be a European neighbourhood policy-plus, or have the Germans already lost that in the face of Mediterranean interests? Future enlargement also looms large for the western Balkans, to say nothing of Turkey and many more. Are we going to equip the European Union to deal with those issues more effectively than at present or refuse to consider changes merely because they were part of the constitutional treaty?
If there is to be a political commitment to trying to achieve a genuine, common, successful European foreign policy, we need to address the issues wherever possible, particularly the rotating presidency and the role of the High Representative as Foreign Minister. We cannot play games and say that any proposals in the treaty must either be rejected or, if supported, go to a referendum. I hope that the leaders of political parties will start to give a lead, not just to other Governments but to their own electorates. I hope we shall hear from the Front Benches in your Lordships’ House that they too support treaty amendment to achieve the changes I have referred to without any commitment to a referendum, and at the very least will support the finding of as many ways as possible to make progress within the existing treaties and support the initiative of the Commission, as set out in the proposal. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Europe in the World (48th Report, HL Paper 268, Session 2005–06).—(Lord Bowness.)
My Lords, in view of the previous debate on the Eurotunnel, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, as he has made his way up from Ashford in Kent today. In view of the inclement weather, I wish him a speedy return after our speedy contributions to this very important and timely debate.
I ask the Minister first of all about the Prime Minister’s comments to the Liaison Committee on Tuesday, where he seemed to say that after he has gone the United Kingdom will need to decide whether it lays greater emphasis on working with the European Union, perhaps at the expense of the work it has done with America. It was always my view that the Prime Minister was right to be as even-handed as possible, but I wondered how my noble friend interpreted what he said.
The debate is also timely because the report on the European Union in the world, which is an excellent contribution to the Commission’s paper, demonstrates that the EU does not reflect its economic power, its military strength or the fact that it is the biggest market in the world. We seem to have been concerned, for understandable reasons, with creating affluence within Europe rather than influence outside it. It is also true that collectively as a union we do not punch our weight; indeed, we punch below it.
Nor are we punchy enough in getting across the European Union view to the wider world. I have never quite understood why we have not been more influential, for instance, in the Middle East. After all, the countries there are our neighbours, and we should be having a much more influential dialogue with them than has hitherto been the case. That is understandable. Europe is not like America. It is sui generis, a combination of 27 countries, but we should make efforts to make a virtue of the vice that we are many countries in a union. If the EU is performing its role less effectively on the world stage than it might do, the United Kingdom, as part of the union, also lessens its own effect—although that is separate from the sterling work done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our Ministers in that respect.
In their reply to the Commission’s paper, the Government make a point of saying that the Commission’s proposals are distinct from those of the constitutional treaty. It is understandable that that is said; however, the proposals may be distinct, but they are not unrelated. In common is the need to make the European Union more effective and efficient. That has to do with how we set about working ourselves and the complications that are arising minute by minute.
Let us look at the most recent creation of the trio of countries—the present, future and future perfect—that will take the presidency of the Council of the European Union, added to the current triumvirate of past, present and future countries. That begins to complicate matters, although there may be felt to be a need to be able to look more strategically, look into the future at greater length and build up consistency.
I am in favour of what is said about strategic planning, the High Representative and meetings with the Commission and Council, but I share the Government’s concern that if these liaisons are to be fulfilled, the High Representative, who is often outside Brussels, will spend more time in meetings. We must never trespass into the area whereby improving co-operation means asking the High Representative to attend more and more meetings. That could create the paradox of less co-operation in the long run. We must be judicious in our selection of what is done in trying to build up co-operation. On co-operation between Council and Commission officials, will my noble friend talk about the practical ways forward that we in the UK will promote? Given that I am asking a number of questions, I will be very pleased for my noble friend to write to me if he is not able to respond during the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has already pointed out the irony that one of the suggestions made in the Commission’s proposal was not subject to a joint consultation. Nevertheless, there is scope for development, and I hope that the Government are sympathetic.
The noble Lord alluded to information exchanges, the crisis centre and the situation centre. If they cannot be merged, will my noble friend say a little more about the Government’s response, which I think is lukewarm? They say that the sharing of reporting and analytical resources is limited. In what way are they limited? What can be done to put it on a more positive basis?
On the Commission’s representatives on the euro-zone, while I wholly acknowledge the inviolability of the European Central Bank to retain its independence, it seems a lukewarm and inadequate response for HMG to say that these are matters for members of the euro-zone alone. That is not the case. The euro is a creation of the European Union which affects members of the European Union standing outside the euro-zone. A change in interest rates may well have a knock-on effect on the economy of the United Kingdom. On ECOFIN, there are other areas where we may be represented in the foreign fora of the world, where we may want the Commission to speak up on behalf of those countries which fall outside the euro-zone.
Double-hatting has been commended. Macedonia seems to have been a shining example. I was very pleased to meet its Deputy Prime Minister recently and to have that confirmed. There is scope for further development on co-operation between Council and Commission representatives with regard to the west Balkans and Addis Ababa. However, I note that again HMG’s reply is that they will take this into account. Can we be more positive? What are we going to do to activate the opportunities that arise and be more coherent in the wider world?
The Government support consular assistance in crisis situations, but why only in crisis situations? After all, if we co-operate when we do not have a crisis, there are immediate benefits, but co-operating in non-crisis situations means that we are more effective in a crisis because we are used to the idea of co-operation.
I told my noble friend before the debate started that I would say a few words about sharing consular premises. I have long believed that we could make more of an advance in this area, most notably for the security of our people and the staff of other embassies, who work in foreign parts and may benefit from having secure premises if we co-locate. But other savings that can be made mean that we can bring to the fore resources of which we might otherwise be starved. In that case, we will then give a better service to UK citizens and other EU citizens. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, reminded me that we have that kind of co-operation with some of our Commonwealth colleagues, so why should we not here? In addition, can my noble friend report on what we are doing in the United Kingdom to aid and abet staff exchanges between Council and Commission officials?
I have two more points. We talk much here about the Commission and the Council but I should like to see much greater exchange, especially with the staff of the European Parliament. Again, there are opportunities here that are almost wholly omitted from the paper, and I wonder whether my noble friend would respond to that.
Finally, the summary refers to the need to encourage greater knowledge of the European Union and what we do actively in the world to promote the ambitions and policies of not only the United Kingdom but the European Union. Can my noble friend say a little more about how we can be positive in saying that the European Union does much good work on behalf of the United Kingdom and we should jolly well say so?
My Lords, I was particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, in his closing remarks referred to the European Parliament. Often in this country it is fashionable to mention all the other institutions except for the parliament; there is a collective unconscious agreement, even if it is not a conspiracy, that we do not really mention it very much and regard it as being of very little importance unless it gets into the newspapers with some dramatic headlines. That is a pity as it has a very viable and valid role to play and should be regarded as an extremely important institution not to be feared by any of the national parliamentary institutions of the member states.
As this all started under the October 2005 Hampton Court summit meeting with the UK presidency, I hope that it will be the case in future that the UK Government will enthusiastically follow and copy some of the ideas in this report. I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and all noble Lords involved; I would include myself in that except that, unfortunately, I was not a good attender at the later stages of the evidence taking, due to other commitments, although I was there at least at the beginning. I hope that the report will be received by the House as a useful contribution to the debate, much of it very technical, about how the modern European Union can work more efficiently in a functional way, but also with some interesting details that go into geopolitical aspects.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, if I may embarrass him, has been a very distinguished chairman of the committee. I hope that I will not annoy him by saying that he is considered by most people to be a good European; I hope that that is all right and does not cause him difficulties with any of his colleagues on his Benches, as I regard it as a matter of praise and a compliment. I wish my noble friend Lord Roper, his successor, well as chairman of the committee from now on.
I shall save time, after the very sensible exhortations from the Whips’ Bench about time and weather, by saying that I agree more or less completely with all the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Harrison. Double-hatting and the Macedonian example were referred to in paragraph 155 of the report; that is just the beginning. The whole of the European Community and now the Union has groped slowly—painfully slowly, sometimes—towards greater cohesion, and there is still a lot more work to be done. One remembers the fusion of the three communities of years ago and how long it took to come together. It is a slow process, but in a way that serves to reassure public opinion—or the opinion of those who wish to follow these matters in detail—that the process is based on serious foundations and is seriously thought-out.
The report also highlighted the fact that the Commission proposed that there should be a high-level strategic planning meeting at the beginning of each presidency. The noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Harrison, referred to that. It will be an extremely important key to the future. More and more people throughout the world, starting in Europe and fanning out further afield, accept the global role of the European Union. The notion that the United States could be the leader of the Western world is old- fashioned and out of date. The United States has, sadly for those of us who love the United States and the American people, made so many mistakes in strategic and geopolitical matters recently—mainly in its involvement in the Middle East and Iraq, which has been a huge disaster for America as well—that world public opinion will no longer accept the hegemony and leadership of the United States, unless by some miracle we return to the wise presidents and Administrations of yesteryear, who wished to be the guides to the Western world. But that happened in post-war recovery days and that time may have passed.
The United States must be alongside all the other main entities of the world in coming together in a small planet, where there are urgent problems to be solved, to work with the European Union, Russia, China, India and South America. The whole of South America has become a very important area, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, acknowledged in his recent visit to Santiago de Chile. I include Africa in that, and helping Africa. It is the last continent that needs urgent help and could be the dynamic, high-technology continent in 70 or even 50 years time. Who knows? Each continent has its turn in world history, does it not?
The growth and success of the euro worldwide is an accomplished matter. It is a matter of fact now and not just an emotional supposition. The euro has overtaken the United States in issuing universal bonds both on public and private sector accounts. The euro is firmly established inside the European Union as a successful and confidence-building currency.
Given the improvements in the machinery, functioning and modalities of inter-institutional liaison, which are so expertly and splendidly set out in the committee’s report, what will be the priorities of the EU in the future? I offer a few homespun thoughts, leaving out the complex details, given the time pressures of today’s debate.
The European Union is very important from the point of view of putting over the philosophy of balanced economic policies and of combining the imperatives of economic growth and the good bits of the Anglo-American economic model with the strong social welfare tradition of European Union countries. That is a somewhat unfashionable thought for the newspapers of this country, but I am sure that it would meet the wishes of the wider European Union public and of those in the eight new member states from eastern Europe and even of those in the two islands, which, being small territories, are less beset by substantial economic problems.
I hope that we are agreed that the United States needs to concentrate more on its own internal problems. It has huge unsolved economic and social problems and can no longer concentrate on being the policeman of the world while ignoring those problems. We still see the overhang of the tsunami that occurred in the richest country in the world and the fact that people have not been rehoused. United States citizens must be deeply worried about these matters and anxious that the US should settle more of its internal problems. That anxiety has surfaced in the presidential campaign.
The United States should deal with world problems as one power among many other equal entities rather than saying, “We call the shots and determine policy”. That is very important vis-à-vis Israel/Palestine. This June will mark the 40th year of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Arab man or woman in the street presumably makes a comparison between the rightful ejection of Iraq from Kuwait a year after its invasion and Israel not being obliged to leave the occupied Palestinian territories 40 years after its invasion of them. Some 32 United States vetoes, many of them under Chapter 7, have prevented Israel doing what is required, as moderate Israeli citizens now realise. This is causing harm to Israel, which is a great country. I support Israel enormously as a country, which, like any other, has its own internal problems of some magnitude. However, I do not support its occupation of the Occupied Territories.
The European Union has a lot to do with aid to the third world. I am glad that the European Union/African Union policy is now developing. It is in its early stages. The African Union is still a very weak body and much more needs to be done with the help of the European Union. In the future the European Union will be involved in helping to modernise and reform the UN, working on energy policy, the environment, climate change and many other matters. I am sure that it will do so with increasing skill and support from all the member states.
My Lords, as a non-member of your Lordships’ European Union sub-committee, which prepared this excellent report under the chairmanship of my noble friend, I hope that I may be permitted a slightly different approach.
By way of background I should mention that I served as a Member of the European Parliament after the first direct elections in 1979. I represent your Lordships’ House as a member of the parliamentary delegation to the assembly of the Council of Europe and to the assembly of the Western European Union and have done so for several years. If the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, thinks that the role of the European Parliament is neglected, he needs reminding of the role of the assemblies of the Council of Europe and of the WEU.
I returned only yesterday from Berlin, where the Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU was meeting to consider its future and in particular its role as an assembly of national parliamentarians representing a wider Europe than the European Union and what that role should be in monitoring, for example, the European security and defence policy. I remind your Lordships that the WEU was originally set up by the Treaty of Dunkirk some years before the Treaty of Rome was signed up to.
The role of the WEU was discussed in relation to various missions—the force recently sent to the Congo, the situation in Kosovo and the Balkans, the involvement in Operation Althea and other missions that have been referred to. It is a matter of concern that there is an overlap and lack of clarity between the roles of the WEU and the European Union. Given that the report encourages greater visibility and increased co-operation, I hope that in future similar circumstances the role of the WEU will not be forgotten.
By the same token, perhaps I may now turn to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which—I realise that trade was not part of the committee’s remit—has an extremely important role in monitoring various global organisations. For example, there are annual reports on, naturally enough, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and on the WTO and the OECD. The presidents or secretaries-general of those organisations normally come to our meetings to hear the reports, to participate in the discussions and to be accountable for their organisations. As long as the United Nations lacks a democratically elected forum, the role of a regional assembly representing 46 countries—as the Council of Europe now does—is vital, as is the role of the European Parliament, which represents albeit only 27 countries.
In that context, various subjects spring to mind which require accountability, visibility and more co-operation at a wider level. The Oral Question that I asked this morning, to which the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, responded, is relevant. It concerned Colombia, the fight against drugs and the need for concerted action not only in carrying out programmes that require the co-operation of every country in the world, but in monitoring the effect of those programmes and learning from that experience, as the report mentions. The environment is another issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, referred, where one country alone cannot solve the problems.
All those issues require better co-ordination and strategic planning. I am at one with the conclusions of the report on that, but my plea is that we must have horses for courses. Where organisations already have a specific remit, it is not necessary for the European Union to duplicate it. An example of that is the current process of setting up a costly fundamental rights agency within the European Union, given that the European Court of Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg are experiencing major budgetary difficulties. It is strange that all the member countries of the European Union, which are also members of the Council of Europe, do not see that as an unnecessary duplication.
The report states in Chapter 6 that relations with national parliaments and the European Parliament should be fostered, but I hope that members of the committee will also encourage more communication and complementarity between the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU.
Finally, whatever people may think of our membership of the European Union—and there are widely diverging views on that—the rest of the world undoubtedly sees us as part of Europe, whether one is talking about the Europe of the European Union or the wider Europe. I would like to think that it is both. I am all for recognising and highlighting Europe’s role in the world and I very much welcome this report and this debate.
My Lords, I very much welcome the report, as I do the introductory remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, which I thought were excellent. I regret that I am not a member of the sub-committee but, when I saw that the debate had been tabled, it seemed to me that, rather than reducing the time available for speeches from a quarter of an hour, on such a broad subject the temptation would be to speak for much longer.
Clearly Europe has shaped the world. Whether it is the Portuguese and Spanish in South America, the Russians in Siberia, or the French, the Dutch and the British in south-east Asia, the world as we see it at the moment is very much a European invention.
The report was in some ways a disappointment to me, but it needs to be seen in the context of this communication from the Commission. It is very much a plan B in that plan A was the European constitution, which gave a much greater role to the European institutions in foreign and defence policy. I think that that is how we have to view the matter. Indeed, the communication starts by headlining the important areas of Europe but then moves down into what I would call a technical and management agenda.
It is important to remember some of the issues surrounding Europe and some of the areas where Europe stands at the forefront in the world community, a number of which have been mentioned already. For example, with its 27 member states it has a population of half a billion and is smaller only than India and China; it has the largest world economy—something like $13 trillion per annum, which is larger than the United States and on a par with NAFTA; and it accounts for about one-fifth of world trade and is the world’s largest trading partner. In addition, as my noble friend Lord Dykes pointed out, not only are most bond reserves held in euros but the euro is now responsible for some 25 per cent of international reserve currency. That compares with the pound sterling at 4 per cent and the yen at something like 3 per cent.
So Europe is a very big player in the world, and it is sometimes forgotten that it is a unique political organisation: it is both a community of member states and a community of citizens. That has not previously been seen in the world, and it is unique and successful in terms of international co-operation. However, it is seen very much as being big on global trade but a minnow in otherwise projecting its power. I suppose that that comes back to the famous Kissinger comment from the 1970s Nixon era, “When I want to speak to Europe, who do I call?”. We now have a telephone number that the Secretary of State in the United States can call—that of Javier Solana. As we know from the European constitution, we wanted a much greater role than is available at the moment but, even on soft power issues, Europe can be very proud about the number of things that it has done.
As well as being the largest trading partner, Europe has also been active in areas such as the development trade rounds. As we know, Doha has stalled and we hope that it will be successful, but I believe that, as a unity, Europe has managed to keep those talks alive and still wishes them to succeed. European trade used its leverage and power to get Russia to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, and that signature brought the protocol into force globally. Europe was able to give its assent to Russian membership of the WTO in exchange for that, and that was an example of it successfully using its leverage on trade to make the globe better.
On climate change, the EU made the Kyoto Protocol possible. We now have the largest emissions trading system, which has its difficulties but will be a model for future global trading of carbon, a major way in which carbon emissions will start to be cut world-wide. On its European neighbourhood policy, the EU is using its trade connections with other aspiring neighbourhood nations in the European, north African and near-eastern spheres. It has been reasonably successful in all those areas.
Its largest success, however, is enlargement. One of my great loves is history. Look back to the 20th century, with the cost in lives and misery of crumbling empires; one-fifth of the population, 5 million people, disappeared through the dissolution of the Ottoman empire, of which 1.5 million were Armenians with 700,000 casualties in the First World War. The breakdown of that empire caused misery and genocide. The dissolution of our own empire in India and Pakistan saw casualties of 500,000 and 12 million refugees. We have seen the same with the French empire in south-east Asia, with Vietnam and the self-genocide that latterly took place in Cambodia. The former Soviet empire, with the 10 member states that moved into Europe and complied with the Copenhagen principles, has been a fantastic success for transition between non-democratic command economies and the security of the democratic, successful and growing market economies we have today.
In the early days, Europe clearly failed in the former Yugoslavia, and particularly Bosnia. Even there, we have now managed to put our efforts into Bosnia and Macedonia much more effectively. We have perhaps made that situation more successful, but we still have some way to go with battle groups and rapid reaction forces.
Where will it be important for Europe to go in the future? A number of areas have already been mentioned, and I will not go through them at any great length. Certainly, development is one. However large and effective we make European organisations such as FRONTEX, we will certainly not be able to contain the refugee problem in north Africa, and further east in Europe, unless we can allow and promote the development of those economies. On climate change, we will be unable to build our sea walls sufficiently unless we can further lead the world on emission reductions.
Europe must also build up its military capability. Although France, Britain, Greece and Cyprus spend respectable proportions of their GDP on defence, that is certainly not the case for other member states. It is important that, while remaining close to the United States in NATO, Europe must build up its own independent capability for military action around the St Petersburg tasks. That is a priority for helping world order and projecting that greater power.
Europe is no longer the shaper of the world that it was. The United States has been that for many decades; although it is perhaps losing the confidence of the world, as my noble friend Lord Dykes mentioned earlier. It is increasingly looking towards Asia rather than Europe for the future. The world deserves better than that. It deserves at least two major democratic blocks in geopolitics. The United States will, I hope, be joined by India as a future world power, but we must also be there. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, pointed out that Europe can never be taken seriously when three delegates visit other nations for negotiations.
Neither the management techniques in this communication nor the stronger global goals of the European Union will be fulfilled if Europe does not speak with one voice at member-state level, particularly the EU three—Germany, France and the United Kingdom. We may have been successful; we shall have to see. It is not looking that good at the moment in the visits of Foreign Ministers to Tehran. For EU foreign policy to be a real success, we have to be united in visits to Washington, Baghdad and Beirut as well.
My Lords, I speak as the current chairman of Sub-Committee C. I succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, last November, and I must begin by saying how much I appreciate the work that the sub-committee did, under his chairmanship, to produce the report that we are considering today. We have had a significant change in the membership of the committee, and we are grateful to members of the sub-committee who put in a serious amount of work in order to prepare this report. We appreciate the work that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, did during his three years as chairman of Sub-Committee C, in the main European Union Committee, on which he still sits, and in his links with other foreign affairs and defence committees through the various groupings in which he has represented this House. He will be a difficult act to follow.
The Commission paper to which this report refers was a response to one of the important developments of the British presidency during the second half of 2005 in the Hampton Court summit in October. I was in Berlin recently for a meeting called by the German foreign ministry to look at future developments of the European security and defence policy, and references were made to the Hampton Court process. I was a little puzzled about what the Hampton Court process was; was it something to do with a maze or was it something else? In fact, the phrase “the Hampton Court process” is the taking forward of this set of relationships between the different pillars of the European Union. It was pleasing that the German Foreign Minister was able to refer to that as an important action that each presidency feels it has a responsibility to continue.
The Commission document referred to increasing the coherence, effectiveness and visibility of the European Union in relation to the rest of the world. As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, at one level that is a technical and managerial matter. However, it is important to have the management working effectively if the resources that are made available to the European Union by our taxpayers are to be properly and usefully spent, and are to have the necessary effects to which he referred. It is sometimes said that one of the great strengths of the European Union in its relation to particular crises or more generally to other countries throughout the world is the range of instruments that it has available. Certain bodies have only a limited range of instruments, but the European Union has a particularly wide range, as was set out very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, in his introduction.
It has been interesting to see the remarkable development that has been made in the European security and defence policy in the relatively short period since the Nice Treaty in 2003 and the number of ESDP joint actions, not only in the Balkans, but in Africa and, until the end of last year, in Aceh in Asia. The European Union has experimented with a whole range of actions, some directly defence-orientated, as was the force that went into the Congo to assist in peace-keeping for last year’s elections. Others are police missions, as in Macedonia and now in Bosnia, and in other places advice on justice is given. The European Union has therefore been able to develop important instruments in these areas. As of January this year, the EU has two battle groups available for deployment at relatively short notice.
However, the problem which is taken up so clearly in this report is inter-pillar co-ordination—co-ordination between those activities which are the responsibility of the Commission and those activities which are the responsibility of the Council. That is seen very clearly in the discussion, which was an important part of this report, on so-called “double-hatting”—that you will have in a country, as one has in Bosnia, a Commission representative responsible for all the economic activities and a European Union special representative responsible for political and security matters. They report back to different people in Brussels. That does not always mean particularly effective co-ordination.
That is why, as the Committee’s report points out, the experience in Macedonia is so important. For the first time, a single individual is the European Union’s special representative as well as the Commission’s representative, and has therefore been able to co-ordinate and make much more effective the impact of the European Union’s activities in Macedonia. In the EU’s preparation for the future deployment in Kosovo, assuming that agreement is reached on Mr Ahtisaari’s report on Kosovo, will the international civilian representative, who will be the European Union’s special representative under the present planning, also represent the Commission, or will there be a double-hatting on that occasion? That would obviously be of considerable interest.
I comment briefly on some of the points which have been made. I speak on behalf of the sub-committee because it has had a chance to consider the Government’s response to the report received at the end of last month. We are pleased that the Government have agreed or noted all the recommendations. They have taken a positive attitude, and, indeed, that is made clear by Mr Hoon in his covering letter to the formal response.
As has already been said, there were two or three particular points on which we would like further consideration. The first point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. We recommended that encouragement should be given to Dr Solana, the high representative, to attend as often as possible the meetings of Relex, the group of commissioners responsible for the external relations of the European Union. As the Government point out, that is not easy because of the amount of time that Dr Solana spends away from Brussels. None the less, I hope that, despite what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, it will be possible for him to attend because, quite clearly, that is an important and practical level of co-operation.
The second recommendation that we wish to watch and to continue to see develop is consular assistance. One is not talking about arrangements between different European Union member states to help each other’s countries but whether it is appropriate for the EU Commission’s representation in a member state to provide consular assistance. We believe that raises important legal points and should be examined with a great deal of care. We therefore agree with the Government that the situation should continue to be watched, and if any proposals are brought forward by the Commission for consideration in that area the appropriate sub-committee of the European Union Committee will want to examine them with very great care.
I was pleased that in his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, referred to the presence of the high representative and the Commissioner for External Relations at the biennial meetings of COFAC; the meeting bringing together the foreign affairs chairmen of the national parliaments. Their presence gives a reality to those meetings and ensures that they are held to account by the national parliaments. That is important because, in these areas of intergovernmental co-operation, the national parliaments have particular responsibility.
I conclude by once again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for all that he has done. As we have learnt from the closing part of his speech, I am sure that he will maintain his active interest in these matters.
My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will welcome at least one contribution in this debate on Europe in the world from someone who wishes that the EU would live in the real world. If it did, it would drop all the ambitions contained in the report and dissolve itself into a free trade area between consenting democracies as soon as possible, with foreign policy and defence left to those collaborating democracies.
However, this is a deeply Euro-phile report which assumes that the EU should take on even more responsibility in international affairs. I hope that your Lordships will not consider me too naughty if I say that that is not very surprising when one looks at the composition of the committee of your Lordships' House which compiled it, in which I fail to recognise a single declared Euro-sceptic. Quite a lot in the report coyly wonders whether the EU's recent communication and the proposals supported by the committee are in fact legal in the absence of the proposed EU constitution. I refer in particular to paragraphs 21, 22, 25, 35 and 138, which I do not have time to quote.
My question for the Minister is, as usual, quite simple: what are the clauses in the existing treaty of Nice, being the legal basis for all EU activity, which justify the proposals that we are considering? I do not see them set out in the report.
In anticipating the answer to that question, I remind the Minister of the written answers given by Mr Barroso, the President of the EU Commission, to Mr Daniel Hannan MEP on 20 March last year. Mr Hannan asked what were the legal bases for the European External Action Service and the European Defence Agency. Mr Barroso replied that,
“provision is made for the setting up of the European External Action Service by Article III-296(3) of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe”.
In other words, the External Action Service is justified only by the constitution, which does not exist. Therefore, it is illegal. Does the Minister agree? If not, why not?
Mr Barroso went on to tell Mr Hannan in the same answer that the legal base for the European Defence Agency was Article 14 of the treaty establishing the European Union. The Minister will know that Article 14 only allows the Council to adopt joint actions in specific situations, and does not empower an agency to act generally.
Can the Minister enlighten us as to the legal bases in the treaty of Nice which justify the proposals in the report? I look forward to his reply and wish him well.
My Lords, I had rather feared that we might miss the contribution from the independence party to this debate, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for coming in. One could have an interesting debate about which world is real and which is the virtual Daily Mail world in which the independence party prefers to live, but perhaps we will leave that for another day. I am sure that we will have the opportunity to debate such issues time and again.
I, too, compliment the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, on the report and say how well he chaired the committee. I know from visits to Brussels that reports from this sub-committee, as the others, are taken very seriously not only in the European institutions but within other Governments. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Roper has succeeded him. I have had the pleasure of working with John Roper since long before either of us thought that we would make the red Benches. We were members of staff at Chatham House together 20 years ago, and we worked on international and European issues for a long time.
If the constitutional treaty had gone through, we would now have a European Union Foreign Minister and the EU External Action Service would be getting under way. That would have caused some complications, but there would have been certain economies. I recall that the first draft of the EU security strategy, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, read with great care, included a paragraph pointing out that the 15 member Governments of the European Union employed 35,000 diplomats. EU27 must now employ something in the order of 40,000. That paragraph was struck out of the final draft because a number of member states, including France, objected to what they saw as implicit criticism of maintaining national representations even though they duplicated one another’s work.
When I was in Beijing in November, I was grateful that the Irish ambassador invited me and one or two others to an evening at which we met the Commission representative and the ambassadors of half a dozen of the smaller member states. Every European Union member state has an embassy in Beijing, and all of them are writing reports on political developments in China as well as promoting their separate trade interests. We had an extremely interesting discussion about whether they could justify their separate activities in political reporting and maintaining the specific Irish, Austrian, Slovenian or Danish political interest in relations with China.
There is a great deal of duplication and, when the Comprehensive Spending Review hits the Foreign Office shortly and we have to cut the number of our embassies, the question will come up of how far it is practical and useful to combine further in third countries and to share with other European countries where we can. I am happy to say that the British Government have one of the best records in the European Union on this. I visited our embassy in Reykjavik, where the Germans have one side and we have the other, and we share security, transport and the conference room. I know that there are similar arrangements in east Africa and in central Asia, where the British have for extremely practical reasons gone in with the Germans, the Commission or other European countries. But in the states where we are not now represented, it would be helpful to have perhaps one British national in someone else’s representation; it would be better than having no representation at all.
Out in the field, we co-operate relatively easily. When I was in Tblisi two years ago, the British ambassador kindly took me to a briefing by the EU special representative—not double-hatted—for the south Caucasus, at which representatives of all the EU states that have embassies in Tblisi, of which there are a small number, met the Commission representative and the special representative. That makes a great deal of sense. I only hope that they wrote a single, joint report afterwards, to save time and to ensure that they had relatively common views. Such practical ways forward are very much in Britain’s interest.
The report talks about declining rivalries in Brussels. I welcome the evidence that the bureaucratic rivalries between the Commission and the Council are now in decline. I had a call three or four years ago from a member of the External Relations Directorate-General of the Commission, who told me that papers were being written internally about the three Ps—in any competition between the growing Council secretariat and the European Commission, staff had to protect the powers and privileges of the Commission. There are still one or two echoes of that in the report, and I hope that the British Government do their best to criticise this when the Commission attempts to have extremely sharp elbows. The Council secretariat has grown remarkably and rapidly in the past 10 years. It has a military staff of over 200, and a foreign policy secretariat under Solana and others, and working together more closely, which includes much more extensive staff exchanges, is highly desirable.
The Commission paper, for fairly obvious reasons, does not mention one of the problems that we have institutionally; namely, that there are too many commissioners, particularly those who deal with external relations. There are coy references to the Relex group of commissioners. The relations between different commissioners concerned with different aspects of external relations are not always easy, but there are also national rivalries between national Governments and the European Union institutions, to which others have referred. How the European Union looks to its major partners is a real problem. I was invited to a joint conference and EU-Russia summit under the last Swedish presidency. I stood there watching the European Governments present their common view to the Russian Government. First we had Anna Lindh, the Swedish Foreign Minister, followed by Commissioner Patten and then Javier Solana. Standing behind them as they spoke, just to ensure that they were all there, were the 15 ambassadors to demonstrate that they were very much part of the same thing. I stood there thinking that, if I were a Russian, I would not take this seriously. I suspect that the Russians did not. The EU still does not have a common policy towards Russia, and desperately needs one.
I am privileged to be leading a small group from this House to Russia next week, and I hope that we will hear from EU representations there that we are edging a little closer to a European Union common policy; we certainly need one. Practical co-operation on the ground, particularly in smaller states, is what we need next. I note the references in the report and in the paper to the experience of the Asian tsunami in a remote part of Indonesia and in southern Sri Lanka, areas in which one needed active and rapid responses and where representation from Britain and other EU states was thin. We certainly need less duplication of effort, and we need to ensure that small countries are better covered. Again, I should say in passing from my limited experience and observation, that the quality of Commission delegations in third countries is highly variable. Some are excellent, and some are not.
There are tremendous advantages, which I hope the British Government are actively pursuing, in further staff exchanges not only from Whitehall but into Whitehall. It is very good to have more people from the Commission and from different countries working for some time in the Foreign Office. The British have an excellent record of being open to the nationals of other European Union states working in Whitehall, a record that is much better than the equivalent ones of our other European colleagues. I strongly hope that the British Government support the general double-hatting of EU special representatives. That is entirely desirable. I also hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the British Government are now actively pursuing further progress in co-location.
I shall make another couple of points about accountability and visibility before I conclude. Again, as I read the report, it seems that it is practical and useful for the British Government to be more relaxed about the European Parliament’s external relations committee being able to move beyond the strict competencies of the first pillar and to discuss some of the broader principles of external action and common foreign policy—it does not make sense to keep it in one box, spending rather too much time on little issues—and to encourage it to launch a broader debate on the principles of European Union foreign policy. The closer co-operation among chairmen of national parliamentary foreign affairs committees is highly desirable; I hope that Her Majesty’s Government strongly support that development.
My biggest criticism of the Government comes from what is said in paragraphs 140 and 142 of the report, which refer to the inadequacies of,
“the presentation of the EU’s role in the world”.
“The EU has substantial economic and political resources at its disposal, but its position on the world stage needs to be reinforced … This cannot be done unless the Member States in particular publicly acknowledge what the EU is doing”.
Paragraph 142 says:
“The United Kingdom Government should give a political lead by publicly recognising what the EU is doing in the field of external relations and in giving due credit to the EU for its successes”.
Far from being in the lead, the United Kingdom Government are a laggard on this. I hope that in a few months’ time, under a different Prime Minister, we will at last have a Government who are prepared to stand up to the Murdoch press and to admit what we have achieved in Britain’s interests through closer co-operation in foreign policy, defence policy and development policy in the European Union.
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate, all the more so for the varied responses today. I thank my noble friend Lord Bowness for calling it. His expertise and experience in European affairs and his work on countless committees in your Lordships’ House have set a high standard. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will be a very distinguished successor. I thank also the committee for its hard work in bringing the report together.
The content of the Commission’s communication Europe in the World—Some Practical Proposals for Greater Coherence, Effectiveness and Visibility leaves much to be desired, yet it is hugely valuable to be given insight into the workings of the Commission. What appears important is how the European Union sees itself in the world. Ironically enough, both the Commission’s communication and the report before us expose the unnecessary confusion of roles, particularly with respect to European security and defence policy. Although the EU has been expanding its role in the world for some time, operating European security and defence policy missions across the world, from the western Balkans to Aceh in Indonesia, those efforts have been undermined by duplication of effort and poor co-ordination. I was interested to read that the Commission acknowledged that, stating in its communication that,
“the impact of EU’s policy is weakened by a lack of focus and continuity in its external representation”.
That is a good reason why the European Union should not seek to supersede member states’ foreign policy.
There is clearly much scope for improving the internal management structures of the Commission and the Council and for better communication between the two bodies. We recognise fully the viability of the role that the EU can play in international terms; take, for example, the ongoing resistance to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, technology and material. Yet, the report makes it clear that internal decisions on nuclear proliferation have obstructed the flow of information and the pursuit of action.
What must be avoided is attempting a united foreign policy merely for the sake of presenting a united front. Take, for example, the words of the Finnish president, who, after last summer’s crisis in Lebanon, stated that action was difficult because there were,
“real differences of opinion between Member States”.
It is right that, where there is agreement, member states should be able to enhance the impact of the united weight of their opinion by speaking with and through the EU. We would not deny that there has been success in the field. The EU intervention in Macedonia, mentioned by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and others is a good example of where EU intervention can contribute to foreign policy where there is consensus between member states.
Paragraph 36 of the report refers to the EU speaking with one voice, but at no point does it define the practical limits of its external activities. It must not be forgotten that those practical limits exist. The extent to which the EU can involve itself in foreign policy must be limited to the extent to which member states agree on any given point of that policy. There are and always will be real differences between member states. That is natural and must be respected. We believe that ultimate authority over foreign policy must remain with the member states seeking to find consensus—where there is none, it is not only a fruitless task but a wasteful one. My noble friend Lady Hooper mentioned the importance of the Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the WEU, and we should forget the important work that they do.
This report turns the spotlight on the real impetus in Europe behind the so-called common foreign and security policy, which is referred to daily by EU Ministers and is an essential means of securing Europe’s influence on the world stage. Indeed, we can see the inversion of the purposes of foreign policy no more clearly than in the EU’s handling of Darfur. In a situation where NATO had already pledged to provide support for the African Union mission in Darfur, France, in the summer of 2005, insisted on parallel EU involvement. That resulted in a duplicating of resources and separate, simultaneous airlift operations and a period of distracting prevarication. What is more, the structure of EU foreign policy bodies duplicates NATO—the European Defence Agency, the EU Military Staff and the EU operational planning capability, to name but a few from a long list.
We welcome the acknowledgement in the report that the current treaties are adequate and that a constitution is not required for the EU to act effectively. We actively encourage the EU in its work in the world, where that work is well placed, well considered and achieved on the basis of real, not imagined, consensus. Yet, the proposals included in the Commission’s suggestions all point to the same thing: the Commission is set on ushering in the constitution by the back door. While we do not object to double-hatting—for example, in the dual role of high representative and External Relations Commissioner—it is vital to preserve the existing, discrete boundaries within each of those roles. The high representative must not, for example, become bound by the Commission, in his capacity as high representative. The high representative must have a mandate from member states. I would be grateful if the Minister could reassure the House that, in his capacity as attendee at, for example, the Relex group, the high representative would be clearly briefed on his role and that there was no possibility of his taking on the mantle of, effectively, a European Foreign Minister.
There is clearly a need for foreign relations to be more effectively and efficiently co-ordinated, and double-hatting might be the answer. However, this must be pursued with great care and reserve. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made some good points about the wisdom of this country sharing offices and staff with other members in some co-locations. Role sharing may be a way of improving the workings of the EU, but it is important that there are safeguards to protect the existing boundaries between the Commission and the Council.
My honourable friend in another place, Graham Brady, asked the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government would make it clear to Chancellor Merkel that the EU constitution was not acceptable to Britain and that a referendum would have to be held on any new treaty containing significant elements of the constitution. The Minister rather skirted around the issue, and I would be grateful if he could give some firm answers to those questions today.
We on these Benches believe in a positive vision of Europe, a Europe that is outward looking, not inwardly obsessed. Yet, while a consideration of Europe in the world is still fuelled by the importance of the cause of ever-closer union, I have little hope. I refer to the excellent summary by my right honourable friend William Hague in June of last year:
“Those who wish the EU to supersede its Member States as a foreign policy actor have as their prime aim not the furthering of our common interest but the increase of the EU’s power. Many of the advocates of that goal seem more interested in creating a counterweight to the United States than the propagation of our common values of freedom and democracy”.
The title of the Commission’s communication on which the committee’s report is based gives it all away. It is entitled “Some practical proposals for greater coherence, effectiveness and visibility”. It is the last aim of the three that concerns me. The EU should focus on transparency rather than visibility.
My Lords, like others I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for his persuasive speech in opening the debate and the work of Sub-Committee C, as well as for his remarkable contribution over recent years to this work in your Lordships’ House. I have read this report, as I have read others, with genuine enjoyment; it is provoking and makes us think about these issues. I also wish the noble Lord, Lord Roper, well in succeeding him. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken.
First let me set out a little context. The United Kingdom took the opportunity of its presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2005 to champion a more results-oriented Europe. It is well known that at the Hampton Court informal meeting we managed to get an agreement which resurrected the Lisbon agenda, focused on improving the EU’s competitiveness. But what is less commented on is that we also managed to win approval for a programme that identified areas where the Council secretariat could co-ordinate more closely with the Commission in crisis management situations. The original Europe in the World Commission communication, published in June 2006, followed in the results-oriented logic of the Hampton Court agenda, but it focused not only on the Commission and Council secretariat but also on the high representative and the presidency of the European Union, the European Parliament and the member states.
As the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have made clear in another place and in correspondence, we have consistently been supportive of this work. It rightly does not anticipate a constitutional treaty but is predicated on practical reforms that are possible under current treaties. It also focuses on amending existing arrangements rather than establishing new processes. Indeed, as the committee identified in its report, much of what was set out in the Commission’s communication was happening already at the working level. As the Government stated in their official response to the committee’s report, this useful work will continue to be taken forward by the German presidency and the Commission, and we will continue to support it fully. That does not and will not usher in the constitution by covert means—a point which I think has been put to me; I am clear on that—and there is no change on the referendum position.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, made several points here. I do not believe either that there is a case for superseding our own foreign policy objectives. Were foreign policy always to be the outcome of long periods of gestation, perhaps in theory it might be possible to reach unanimity across a body as diverse as the European Union, but the world does not generally permit that, or at least it happens only occasionally. On most issues, ultimate authority is bound to remain in sovereign state hands for most issues.
Perhaps I may deal with the issues addressed in the report. The call for improved co-operation and coherence in EU external relations must certainly be welcomed, and the Hampton Court agenda focuses on exactly that as well as on effective delivery. I welcome it again today. I also welcome what is said on strategic planning. The Government think it is a valuable proposal. Although not much is said in the concluding statement about the strategic perspective—which suggests to me that there is a good deal more work to do on it—there is a general good will to take it forward. I make that point to the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Dykes, who specifically raised the problem. There is no need for member states to say much more about the good sense of it because it is so self-evidently sensible to have a strong strategy.
We are agreed about co-operation between the high representative and the Commission. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that the meetings of chairs of foreign affairs committees is a useful innovation which should be used to its fullest. The Government believe that the high representative should take part in such meetings when he can. But I am keen that this should be a practical observation. I know that Javier Solana has played a vital role in many international negotiations—indeed, I have had the privilege of being present at a number of them—and I would deeply like to see him in Africa, in Kosovo, in parts of Latin America and elsewhere because of the value he can add to such negotiations. So there has to be a practical outcome. My noble friend Lord Harrison made the point that we need to see him but also that he is most effective when he is abroad, a point shared by the noble Lord, Lord Roper.
We believe that co-operation between Council and Commission officials requires closer working relationships but there are already many good examples of it in practice upon which we can draw. We have made it clear that we are in favour of joint papers for discussion. Where such joint papers can be created—and, again, there have been a number of them—they are a reflection of good consensus. Often there are not joint papers because there has not been enough consensus to generate them. One has to be realistic about that.
My noble friend Lord Harrison asked about information exchange. The Government have said—not half-heartedly—that certain distinct roles limit the way in which reports are prepared. The fact that there are functionally distinct roles will on occasions mean there will have to be some degree of separation.
On EU participation in multilateral organisations, there is no difference between the committee and the Government about the importance of the EU preparing well for multinational meetings because the world looks to the EU for as much coherence as can be achieved on such occasions. I also share the view that, although we cannot say a great deal about the euro-zone for obvious reasons—my noble friend Lord Harrison pushed me on this point—certain treaty obligations involve us and require of us a view.
The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and other noble Lords raised the issue of double-hatting. There is a need for a case-by-case analysis of what will work to the greatest possible effect. Probably no one model would work completely. Whether or not this causes some regret, in my view the prospect for double-hatting in Kosovo is distant; I do not believe it will happen immediately. It is probably several years away because the international community will have to stay in Kosovo for a while and there are different roles and functions to be fulfilled there.
Co-operation between the Commission and the Council is obviously extremely important. This is another area where there has been a good deal of co-operation and where pragmatic judgments have led everyone to conclude that it is worth proceeding in this way. I have absolutely no doubt that we can do so within the framework of existing treaties without having to invent other arrangements. I shall return to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in more specific detail in due course.
As the Minister also responsible for consular assistance, I am wholly with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on his analysis of the issue. I say to my noble friend Lord Harrison that I am afraid it requires that we take our responsibilities under treaties in a way that does not readily permit the involvement of the Commission. I can say that, from some of the tougher areas of consular work, I would not want us to be held up by having to develop other kinds of arrangements when the task is helping British citizens who are in significant difficulty abroad. We can act as other countries act on behalf of their citizens.
There has been a good deal of sharing, none the less. I saw it in the evacuation from Beirut, a huge operation by any standards. I was always delighted when we could achieve that. Sub-Committee C mentions that premises and support services should be shared on a case-by-case basis, as has been put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and my noble friend Lord Harrison, and there are many examples of that working. I do not think there will be a lot of new build of joint embassies and facilities from the current financial perspective, much as I might wish it to be otherwise. There are also occasions when people are not desperately keen to do this because various countries have different views about the level of security, for example, or about the way they want to present themselves through their missions. We all have to make our judgments on that. Occasionally, though, sharing buildings, security or basic facilities can improve the security of our missions when they are serving abroad. That can make it a much easier task for those missions to do what we need them to do, without having to be distracted by the needs that unfortunately press in around areas like security.
The staff exchange programme is a good initiative, and we will certainly be closely involved in it. I think all member states have secondees at both the Commission and the Council but, Brussels being Brussels, I am not able to tell your Lordships’ House how many of them there are or where they are. Still, when you go there, you see them. I can tell you about our country, where we do keep the information. We already have secondees from member states—
My Lords, I cannot tell the House because Brussels does not keep the statistics—exactly the reason I gave less than 20 seconds ago. I do not think it has changed in that period. I can tell your Lordships that we had 13 secondees at senior levels in the FCO during our presidency, and we want to continue that pattern.
We will want to take forward, as the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Roper, have said today, relations with the European and national parliaments. There is a good deal of work to be done, and no lack of enthusiasm about doing that. In our view, commissioners should most certainly make that one of the priorities. If there is to be a meaningful democratic process in any parliament, it must be one where the information provided comes from those people who carry the major responsibilities for the work.
As for public support, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has made a strong case for making sure that people know of the EU’s achievements, many of which he has set out. I agree with him about them. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has suggested that perhaps we have not taken as leading a role as we could. The committee was more generous to us in recognising what we have done, and I appreciate that. I do not believe we are wanting in that area, and if anyone believed that others are much more forward, they would have to give me an account that I could understand of why, despite France and the Netherlands being so forward on this issue, their referendums turned out as they did. Engaging public support is critical for any political institution. We agree with the general force of the argument put forward by the sub-committee.
In this debate the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has led the way in valuing the EU’s work, as have the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others. I follow in their footsteps for a few moments. The external policies of the EU have seen considerable successes, which have come generally from closer co-ordination, the subject of this debate. In my view they all need to meet a test that I have put to the House before; namely, that we should say, when we do things: does closer co-ordination add value to what we are doing, or does it not? There are pragmatic judgments about that. There is a world role in doing these things well, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. He mentioned trade and soft power, and the noble Lord, Lord Roper, said—and I agree with him—that we can achieve that; it helps weld the pillars together and make more sense of the work overall.
I would like to comment on the common foreign and security policy. Through the EU common positions, one aspect of the CFSP which we are able to say to third states—be it the Zimbabwean regime, the Governments of Iran, Sudan or Belarus—is that all 27 states of the European Union share a common view of their behaviour. Thus our messages, and sometimes the demands we make, carry much greater weight. But the CFSP, as many of your Lordships will know, is more than just a declaratory tool. We currently have nine European security and defence policy missions deployed outside the Union; these include peacekeepers, military observers, police mentors in Bosnia—some of the areas that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned—work in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have border monitors and police mentors in Gaza; we are training the Iraqi Justice Ministry officials. In addition, this year we will see the deployment of two new civilian missions to Kosovo and Afghanistan to focus on rule of law issues.
There is hard evidence that these policies are delivering for the EU, but they are also delivering for the United Kingdom. Those are just as much our objectives—as, indeed, are the EU’s significant external financial instruments. There again, we see how co-operation delivers for both the EU and the UK. To an extent, all these instruments do what it says on the tin. Across the world, they are focused on three core political objectives: to provide stability, security and prosperity in the EU’s neighbourhood; to support sustainable development at an international level; and to promote responsible political governance and global stability. Those objectives are why people wish to join an enlarging EU. It drives those values right through the countries that prepare for membership and then join. Enlargement must be one of the most satisfactory outcomes in the progress towards a peaceful continent that probably any of us have seen in our lifetime. I will say no more about enlargement because of time, but I believe that it is fundamental to our objectives.
I will in a moment please or upset the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, with my response to his points. My noble friend Lord Harrison mentioned the need for greater depth in European experience and referred to the Prime Minister’s speech. I think the Prime Minister was making the point that we need balances between our key alliances; Europe has to play a real role in those balances. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, also set out the importance of European roles, aside from, but preferably not in conflict with, the United States.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is right to remind us of the other institutions in Europe and the need to work closely with them to avoid too much duplication. But it is true that in the Council of Europe—which reaches far further, to 46 states—there are areas in which very real achievements can be had by making sure that that work continues successfully. I am wholly with the noble Baroness on that point.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will not mind my saying that I feel as though we have been round this circuit more than a few times. I do not accept that there will be a successful Europe which is based only on a set of trading relationships, with no social dimension and no other cohesion involved. It is hard to think of an example in world history that has achieved that. Mostly obligations to one another so that one can live in a civilised way with one another are part of the objective. I hear what the noble Lord says about Mr Barroso and the treaty of Nice, but I think I can summarise the point in the way that Professor Alan Dashwood did in the evidence he gave the committee, when he said that there was no legal impediment to the creation of an external action service. This is a reference to the Commission staff and the Council secretariat working together, often informally, but much more closely and to greater effect. I repeat the point that I have made in answers to the noble Lord before. A formal European external action service, such as the one defined in the constitutional treaty, with a legally defined role, will need a treaty base that it does not currently have. Whatever is said by anyone else, that is our view.
It has been a very important and useful debate. Of course, it would be great, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, says, to have more common policy when, for example, we meet the Russians, but the immediate history of all 27 nations and their relations with Russia in its former Soviet Union mode shows that it will be some time before we will get to that point. It is work in progress, as is evident when you talk to the representatives of those countries.
However we look at it—whether we think that the progress is fast enough or not—this debate has demonstrated that European Union Sub-Committee C has produced an excellent report that focuses on how we can be more effective in some of the areas that are vital to the United Kingdom. They are important for the EU but much more vital for the United Kingdom. We will keep the House informed of developments in that area through regular contact and correspondence with the European Union Select Committee and in the debates that we have among your Lordships.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and presence this afternoon. In closing, I underline the fact that the common foreign and security policy and ESDP already exist in the treaties. The Commission’s paper made it clear that it was not reopening the debate on the constitutional treaty and was looking at how to enhance the implementation of policies under the existing treaties. That was how the committee viewed the Commission proposal and the committee was largely supportive of those proposals in that context. I accept that there may well be, as my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever said, practical limits to achieving a common foreign policy in every case, but we should take every opportunity to enhance the prospect of achieving the consensus to which the noble Lord referred where it is possible—and where it is possible to find it we need effective means of implementing and projecting it throughout the world. That is in our interests and the interests of the European Union.
Lastly, I thank all noble Lords for their kind remarks to me personally as chairman of the sub-committee and I wish every success to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and the new sub-committee, as well as its new clerk, Kathryn Colvin.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 4.48 pm.