European Security and Defence Assembly

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 6 April 2010.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 2:30, 6 April 2010

What his policy is on the future of the European Security and Defence Assembly.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

Following the lead we in the UK gave last week, as laid out in my written ministerial statement, all 10 member states have agreed to close the Western European Union. We believe that future arrangements for inter-parliamentary dialogue should reflect the intergovernmental nature of European security and defence policy, should involve all EU and non-EU European allies and should be cost-effective for the British taxpayer.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I thank the Minister for that response, but is he not closing down one organisation without clearly setting out the arrangements that he wishes to put in place for the proper scrutiny of international defence issues?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

That was not a unilateral decision, although the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that Britain took the lead. Many countries said that they wanted further action and that the architecture for examining common security and defence policy in Europe was no longer sufficient, but they did not want to do anything about it. We took the courageous step of saying that we wanted to withdraw. We now have a year during which we can negotiate precisely what the future structure should look like. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and others who have sat on the Assembly, but it was costing us some €2.3 million a year, and we believe that that money could be better spent elsewhere.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

Whether it is the WEU or the Council of Europe, is the Minister satisfied that we increasingly only have structures that serve those countries which are member states of the EU and that therefore marginalise those countries which are not? I think that that will do us long-term damage.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

The complexity of the WEU was that it had so many different categories of membership. There were the 10 core member countries, but all 27 members of the EU were allied, and then there were other countries, such as NATO allies, who took on observer status. That is why we believe that now is the right time to put together a more appropriate structure, so that the Parliaments around Europe, including our allies such as Turkey-one of the countries which my hon. Friend may have been alluding to-can closely scrutinise the common foreign, defence and security policy that has developed across the whole of Europe.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The Minister pointed out in his written statement of 30 March that the EU's common security and defence policy remains intergovernmental and is thus a matter for national Parliaments. How does he see these arrangements operating in future, and how will he accommodate NATO allies such as Turkey and Norway, which are associate members of the current Assembly but which are not in the EU? How is this actually going to work?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

One of the most important things is that we ensure that we have a cost-effective structure. The costs that have been incurred by the WEU Assembly alone for the United Kingdom over the past few years have been phenomenal. We believe, as does every other country among the 10 core members, that it is right to wind up that organisation. We do not believe it would be right-I can probably garner the hon. Gentleman's support for this, at least-for the European Parliament to take on responsibility for considering this matter. We believe that it is clearly laid down in the Lisbon treaty that that should not be a responsibility for the European Parliament. I look forward to debating some of those issues with him over the next few weeks, since he has already turned down five debates with me on Europe since the beginning of the year.