Clause 2 — Addition to list of treaties

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:57 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe) 4:57 pm, 20th February 2008

I begin by saying that I hear the entreaty made by my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin in his point of order. I briefly remind the Committee that when the business motion was debated we pushed strongly for two days of discussion—one for common foreign and security policy, and one for defence. It was unfortunate that, due to the rigged manner in which the Government have allowed the treaty to be debated, when we finished our first three hours of debate, a number of Back Benchers, particularly on the Opposition Benches, were still rising and attempting to catch the eye of the Chair. Mindful of that, I shall do my best to be relatively brief in laying out the position that I wish to advance.

The treaty of Lisbon would have numerous and profound effects on foreign, security and defence policy—effects that would tend to enlarge the powers of the European Union at the expense of member states. Potentially, one of the most powerful agents of that change is the new president of the European Council, so our amendment No. 258 would remove the president's foreign policy role.

The relevant provision in the treaty states:

"The President of the European Council shall, at his" or her—

"level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy."

The first fault with that provision is that it is definitely ambiguous. What is

"at his level and in that capacity" to mean? That is nowhere absolutely specified in the treaty. Indeed, it is why it is now reported that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has been raising queries about what the post might mean in practice. Is it not extraordinary that the man who, as Prime Minister, helped to bring the post into being never bothered to find out what it would mean in detail in reality?

Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague showed so memorably last month when we began to debate the treaty, in the hands of a skilful politician, that post could prove powerful indeed. Over time, he or she could be presented as a counterpart to the American or the Russian President. He or she would have the chief role in determining what the European Council discussed, and would presumably have the Council secretariat at his or her disposal, although that is one of the matters that is yet to be finally determined. In contrast, the current system of rotating Heads of Government holding the presidency would end. No more would each member state have a turn at the EU's helm, helping to give each country a vital sense of ownership of the EU's business; instead, we would have this powerful central figure. So—