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EU and NATO: Peace in Europe

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the contribution by the European Union and its predecessors to peace in Europe compared with that of NATO.

My Lords, both the European Union and NATO have made invaluable and complementary contributions to peace in Europe. We do not consider it appropriate to compare the two as they serve different functions. While NATO has ensured, and continues to ensure, our security, there is more to peace than just security. It requires stability, shared values, economic development and political co-operation. The European Union has contributed that. We firmly intend to remain an active and committed member of both.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s compliment about NATO, but I am afraid that the rest of his Answer merely repeats the EU’s standard propaganda to justify its existence. Is it not true that democracy is the best guarantor of peace and that the EU is a deeply undemocratic institution? Secondly, is it not also true that the EU is failing on every other front as well so that it has become an emperor without clothes?

My Lords, I think the noble Lord will agree that democracy is a many-layered concept. It requires the rule of law, good judicial standards, effective policing, fighting corruption, good and free business enterprise and freedom of the press. All those are areas where EU operations are effective. No one is saying that everything in the European Union is perfect at the moment. It obviously has major problems, particularly for those who are members of the eurozone, but it is unrealistic to dismiss all those very important elements of peace and democracy to which the EU contributes alongside the harder power that NATO can deliver.

My Lords, at the expense of trying to do some damage to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, I say that I thoroughly agree with the part of his statement about democracy being the best guarantor of peace. Will the Minister confirm that the European Union buttressing emergent new democracies in Spain, Portugal and Greece made a major contribution in that area and therefore relieved NATO of many of the problems that it would otherwise have had in defending its southern flank?

As I said, I think the two things are complementary. I know that the noble Lord, who is a considerable expert on these issues, would not forget the role of the Council of Europe, originally set up at the instigation of this nation which took a lead, which has helped to bring values to the whole European continent. All three institutions have made their mark.

My Lords, Senator John McCain, after recently visiting Libya, said that,

“the US has got to play a greater role on the air power side. Our NATO allies neither have the assets, nor frankly the will—there's only six countries of the 28 in NATO that are actively engaged in this situation”.

Does my noble friend agree with Senator McCain and what pressure is the UK putting on the non-participants to pull their weight? Is this not the real test of NATO’s credibility?

The Libya issue is going a bit further than this Question, but the Americans are playing an active part, as we know, in a whole range of areas in trying to bring some stability to a divided Libya. Other members of NATO are in constant dialogue and have been asked whether they will contribute. It is true that not every member of NATO is involved. There is the particular question of Turkey, which has not so far played a hard-power part in the NATO operation. At least this is a core of members in NATO and it is under NATO organisation as a whole, so it is working.

Does the Minister not agree that conducting a beauty contest of the sort posed by the Question is a futile exercise and that what we really need to be focusing on is how NATO and the EU can work together and co-operate in areas where they are both involved, of which there are quite a lot in the Balkans and north Africa? Will he say something about the progress of the remit that was given to the High Representative, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and to the Secretary-General of NATO at the NATO conference last year to report by this spring on how the problems that have arisen about co-operation between the two can be eased?

The short answer is that foreign ministers, including our own Secretary of State, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and NATO leaders are on the case. There is pressure to try to make progress and overcome the particular problems that arose over the Cyprus-related issue of Turkey, with which the noble Lord is extremely familiar, which have slowed down the integration and co-operation. Even so, in areas such as the West Balkans, where Eurofor and KFOR are operating, they have worked very closely together, so at a practical level there has been progress but on the bigger issues, which tend to be the visible ones, I agree that it has been slow progress for precisely the reason I mentioned.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the two most militarist nations in Europe were France and Germany and it is one of the great miracles of the post-war period that they devoted their efforts jointly to setting up what is now the European Union rather than fighting each other? The implication of the approach to the economic union of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is that they have denied our children and grandchildren their inalienable right to die on the battlefields of Europe.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, with great moderation, that a beauty contest between these organisations is rather pointless. All one wants to avoid is immoderate statements claiming perfection for one against the other. All these institutions have played their part. Occasionally some enthusiasts get a bit too outspoken on the part that one institution has played and that is the time for moderation.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comprehensive reply to such a silly, childish and provocative question. Does he agree, further to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that the east European countries becoming member states of the European Union has contributed massively to continued peace?

I think I heard a bit of immoderation the other way at that point. There is reason and sense in all these points of view and if anyone strives to go too far in claiming perfection for one organisation over the other it is bound to produce a reaction, which is just what we are hearing today.

Does the Minister agree that instead of this raking over the past of whether NATO or the EU made the biggest contribution to peace we should be looking to the future? Does he accept that this is a future where our great ally the United States, the anchor of NATO, is looking to Europe to step up to the plate and live up to its responsibilities in Libya and north Africa and that there is a huge responsibility on the British Government, with our French allies, to persuade the rest of Europe to live up to those responsibilities? We will be successful in doing this only if we have a British Government who are fully committed to and not semi-detached from the European Union. Will he persuade the Prime Minister to make a strong case for a bigger role for Europe in accepting these wider responsibilities?

The noble Lord makes a number of points. It is certainly true that the United States is expecting the European Union to contribute more to the overall NATO scene as we are doing. This explains why the original worries of the United States about duplication and overlapping have evaporated and the EU and NATO are working very effectively together. The coalition Government believe that we should have a very positive role in the present European structure, in its reform and in meeting its future problems. However, there is a wider world as well, with which we have to connect, and many of these issues are not just American responsibilities or European responsibilities but global responsibilities requiring a global partnership.