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Defence: EU-NATO Co-operation

Volume 704: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to promote synergy and reduce possible friction between NATO and the European Union on defence matters.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Trooper James Munday, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan on 15 October.

The Government agree that a close relationship between NATO and the EU is essential, and we place priority on fostering synergy and reducing possible friction. We are urging our allies and partners to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to allow NATO and the EU to support common objectives in Afghanistan, Kosovo and elsewhere. We also support closer co-operation on military capability development.

My Lords, from these Benches we also send our condolences to the family and friends of the trooper in the Household Cavalry Regiment who was sadly killed.

Does the Minister endorse her Secretary of State’s enthusiastic support for a European army, as reported in the weekend’s press? Can she tell the House why it was necessary for the MoD to put out a statement this morning that supposedly clarified his views?

My Lords, it was necessary for the MoD to clarify my right honourable friend’s views because the statement attributed to him was not actually made. The Secretary of State does not back a European army. The UK’s policy remains that there will be no standing European army, navy or air force; there has been no change in that situation.

My Lords, these Benches join in the earlier tribute.

Given that the position and attitude of France are clearly pivotal in the overall relationship between NATO and the EU, is the noble Baroness encouraged by the fact that the French forces recently deployed as reinforcements in Kapisa, in eastern Afghanistan, are under American command?

My Lords, it is quite true that the attitude on the part of the French has changed significantly since the election of President Sarkozy. He has made it clear that he wants France to play its full part in NATO, and it is advantageous to all of us that France is engaged in Afghanistan in this way. We would like all those involved in NATO to play their full part and to improve the situation in terms of burden-sharing.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the inspiration for the European Union’s military ambitions comes largely from the French with their unfortunate ingratitude to the United States of America for saving them in two world wars? Until that attitude is cured, friction within NATO can only continue.

My Lords, I do not think that that is an accurate description of where we are now. It is clear that President Sarkozy has renewed the connection and ties with NATO and the degree of discussion that he has with other partners. That has to be in the interests of everyone, as is the French presence in Afghanistan that I mentioned earlier. We need NATO to work closely with the rest of Europe. We should not view NATO and Europe as being somehow in competition but see them as complementary to each other. There is a great deal of scope for that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the idea of a European army is most strongly floated in two sectors of opinion: first, the Europhobe lobby in Britain and Ireland; and, secondly, the soft Left in Germany and Belgium, who want to have a European army but do not want it to have to do anything? Does she further agree that co-operation among armed forces in Europe is very different from the concept of a European army, very much in Britain’s interest, and, indeed, a necessary part of the further development of an effective defence policy for the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I do not always agree with the noble Lord on some of these issues but I agree with him today. Very few people are actively promoting the concept of an active European army, and perhaps that is not surprising because we do not have a NATO army or a United Nations army. All the actions that we enter into are the result of voluntary decisions. We are not obligated to be in Afghanistan or Iraq; we are doing it because we think that it is right. I think that that is how the situation will remain. Not many people other than those who are very frightened of the concept of a European army are talking about it at all.

My Lords, given that several EU member states impose significant caveats on their troops in Afghanistan, does the Minister consider that the idea of a European army as an effective fighting force is a bit of a non-runner?

My Lords, it is true that many countries, even when they are co-operating in Afghanistan, have put caveats on the limits of their forces’ activities. We could do with better burden-sharing and fewer caveats. However, we have made some progress and there are some important initiatives around, such as the UK-French initiative on helicopters where several countries are offering to provide helicopters or pilots and others will co-operate on training for operational purposes. So it is not all gloom and doom, but I certainly do not think that one European army is the way forward.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of her answers today will have added to the confusion about whether there is or is not a European army? In the Council of Europe, of which I have been a member for many years, there is much talk of the European army and its existence, although we are told to call it the rapid reaction force so as not to frighten the horses. Does this army exist or does it not?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her statement about British policy on a European army, but could she make it absolutely clear to President Sarkozy that the British Government will not under any circumstances fall in with his plans and his desire for a European army? That would be very helpful indeed.

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of what President Sarkozy said on 17 June this year—not that it is my job to defend President Sarkozy. He stated that,

“armed forces are and will remain national. They will not be integrated into any supranational force”.