I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of European Document Nos. 8029/10 and 11507/10, draft Council Decisions establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service;
European Document No. 8134/10, draft Regulation on the Financial Regulations for the European External Action Service;
and an unnumbered draft Regulation amending Staff Regulations of officials of the European Communities and the conditions of employment of other servants of those Communities;
and supports the Government's policy to agree to the Decision establishing the External Action Service at the Foreign Affairs Council in July 2010.
It was the European Scrutiny Committee which, during the last Parliament, called for a debate on the measures to establish the European External Action Service. I am pleased to have the opportunity to update the House on recent developments, and to give Members on both sides of the House a chance to debate this important issue.
The EEAS was established by the Lisbon treaty, which came into effect last year. As the House will know, my party did not support either the treaty or the creation of the EEAS, but, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House in June this year, the EEAS is now a fact. The challenge for the Government has been, and remains, to help to shape the service so that it both respects the competence of member states over foreign policy, and at the same time provides for a more cohesive and effective diplomatic voice for the European Union collectively on issues on which the EU, speaking as a whole in support of an agreed common position, carries more clout than member states acting on their own.
What will happen on the many occasions when the United Kingdom is on a completely different page from the European Union, which seems to be the case more and more frequently? Will the EEAS be making proposals with which this country vehemently disagrees?
If the high representative, Lady Ashton, and the EEAS are to represent a common EU position on an aspect of foreign policy, they can do so only on the basis of a foreign policy mandate that has been approved unanimously by all 27 member states. We have the safeguard that if the United Kingdom wishes to exercise a right of veto and prevent a common position from being reached on a particular aspect of foreign policy, that power remains with us.
I do not wish to delay the Minister unduly, but I do not understand for the life of me why he has so little faith in British ambassadors' ability to represent this country's opinions, given that presumably the diplomatic services of other countries are perfectly capable of representing those countries' views.
My hon. Friend misunderstands me if he thinks I have any lack of confidence in the capabilities of our network of ambassadors and high commissioners around the world, but it is the Government's judgment that there are areas where it makes sense for the 27 member states of the European Union to speak with one voice if they can. Later in my speech I will give some examples of where I believe United Kingdom national interests have been well served by such a common approach.
I know that my hon. Friend has adopted a position that is profoundly sceptical not only of the EEAS but of Britain's membership of the European Union and of the EU as a whole, but I must tell him that the key difference between then and now is that the treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by all 27 member states of the EU, and it is therefore now in force as a matter of both European and domestic law. As our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at the time when ratification was completed, that alters the terms of trade, and we as a party agreed while still in opposition that if we formed a Government we would work within that new basis established by the Lisbon treaty.
I too am a huge respecter of British ambassadors, but the last thing I would want them to do is design development programmes, which was at one stage the suggestion for the role of the EEAS. Negotiations shifted that position, but can the Minister give the House any further information now as to whether there is clarity yet about who will have responsibility for the programming of development spending?
Yes. In the division of duties set out in the decision we are debating this evening, the EEAS and the High Representative will have responsibility for strategic decisions about the priorities of the EU's development programme, but the Development Commissioner and his team within the Commission will remain responsible for the design and implementation of particular development programmes.
For this to work effectively, there clearly needs to be a meeting of minds between the High Representative and the Development Commissioner. Certainly when I have discussed this matter both with Baroness Ashton and with the Development Commissioner-whom I met in Brussels last week-they were both very confident that the package that has been agreed provided for a sensible division of responsibility, and also that the transfer to the EEAS of a number of staff working in the Commission on development would give the EEAS the expertise in development policy to enable it to take those strategic decisions.
I have to say to Mr Thomas, however, that this is one area where the British Government continue to have reservations about the final package. We would have preferred a slightly larger shift of people with development expertise into the EEAS to make certain that it had the required expertise, but the two people most directly responsible for implementing this policy seem to be satisfied with the measure in its current form.
My hon. Friend mentioned Baroness Ashton, which reminds me that there was a big fanfare when the positions of EU President and Foreign Minister were announced, to the point where the Labour Government at that time said that when these characters visited London they would stop the traffic. On the numerous occasions when either of them has visited London, have there been any congestion issues?
I can assure my hon. Friend that, based on the various conversations I have had with Baroness Ashton in the past few weeks, she has no wish whatever to interfere with the free flow of London traffic. It is a good sign that the High Representative, who is now assuming her office, is someone who is focused on practical action rather than on glitz, glamour, motorcades and red carpets. That is an important difference between her approach and the approach that a possible alternative candidate might have adopted. [Hon. Members: "Name him!"]
I believe that the political agreement reached between the High Representative and the European Parliament about the structure and accountability of the EEAS provides the safeguards the British Government were seeking, particularly those we sought on the competence of member states over foreign policy. That was no mean achievement, for we need to be clear about one thing. Those who argued that the ratification of Lisbon would somehow automatically bring an end to turf wars between different European institutions, or that it would satisfy the ambitions of those seeking to replace national with supra-national control over foreign policy, were plain wrong in those assumptions.
The European Parliament demanded to be given a much greater say over the running of the EEAS. In particular, it wanted the right to hold hearings on the appointment of heads of EU delegations; it wanted the appointment of political deputies to the High Representative; and it even sought to make the entire EEAS part of the Commission. The Commission sought for itself an extensive representational role. Others wanted to extend the remit of the EEAS to include the provision of consular services.
Had these proposals been accepted, they would have added up to a major encroachment by both the European Parliament and the Commission into areas of policy that are, as set out in the treaties, clearly the responsibility of member states. We, working with France and other countries that shared our view that the EEAS should be led by the member states and should not be under the thumb of the European Parliament, successfully resisted those proposals. As a result, the draft decision we are debating this evening is a framework that respects British foreign policy objectives and allows us to establish an external action service that does not replace national diplomatic action, but can complement and add value to it. As article 3.1 of the draft decision says, in terms:
"The EEAS shall support and work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States".
The EEAS does not mean a big new role for the EU in international affairs or shifts in competence; indeed, we will very carefully police any claims or action to the contrary.
My hon. Friend is making a very good case, and I speak as somebody who is not in favour of British withdrawal from the European Union and who recognises, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, that we are where we are. However, I hope that my hon. Friend is not advancing the case that because we have obtained one or two safeguards in relation to the construction of the EEAS, that invalidates the principled objection that we maintained throughout the treaty of Lisbon proceedings to both the creation of the EEAS and the position of the High Representative. We are just mitigating the damaging consequences, are we not?
I am certainly not resiling from anything that I or my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said when we were speaking from the Opposition Benches. But as my hon. Friend has acknowledged, we are in the legal and constitutional position in which we find ourselves, and in those circumstances I believe it to be the duty of the Government of the United Kingdom to fashion the best way forward we can, in alliance with like-minded member states, to provide the maximum possible safeguards for the freedom of individual European nations to act in pursuit of national interests when it comes to foreign policy.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, would it not have been an interesting situation if the High Representative had been in place and had been trying to represent the whole of the European Union at that time, because different countries were taking very different positions? I would like the Minister to spell something out. When the High Representative is going around the world putting a particular slant on a European policy that we oppose completely, how are we going to make sure that we can tell the world, and a particular country, that we have a position different from that of the European Union?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because he brings me to the next passage in my speech. The important point is that the EEAS will have two key functions, the first of which is to speak on behalf of a common position on foreign policy agreed unanimously by the Council and embodied in a mandate given by the Council to the High Representative. So in the case of Iraq, or any comparable foreign policy issue where member states were divided, that unanimity-and hence that mandate-would not exist. Therefore, the High Representative and the EEAS would not be entitled either to speak or to act in the way that my hon. Friend fears.
The second responsibility of the EEAS is to support the Commission in implementing the external aspects of policies over which the Commission already, under the treaties, has competence, such as international trade. The fact that the High Representative is now, in effect, wearing two hats, whereby she is accountable to the Council for common foreign and security policy decisions but also works as a Commissioner on those matters that are properly the responsibility of the Commission, means that we have the potential for a rather more cohesive international engagement by the EU than has previously been the case. The Government would like this new institutional arrangement to complement our own commitment to an active British foreign policy and help to deliver the diplomatic objectives of the United Kingdom.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for the first time when I have been in the Chamber. I believe that Labour went through eight Ministers for Europe, so he may have a longer tenure than some of ours; I am sure that he will do his best. Just for the record, when we sent this document for debate before the election there was, as he mentioned, a bid from the European Parliament for three deputies-I believe it calls them secretaries-general-and hearings. Could he explain to the House exactly what the final agreement was on the accountability of the EEAS to the European Parliament? I note that this has all gone through and been rubber-stamped by this Government, without this Parliament having a European Scrutiny Committee to ask them to make themselves accountable to their Parliament. So nobody knows what the Minister agreed when he went to Europe.
I regret the fact that the European Scrutiny Committee in the Commons has not yet been re-established, so there has not been the opportunity for a debate within that Committee before the House as a whole was invited to take a decision. I took responsibility for deciding that the best way forward in the circumstances was to make provision, through the usual channels, for a debate on the Floor of the House, so that all Members had the opportunity to debate this matter before the recess. Had we delayed bringing this forward for debate until the autumn, there would have been at least equal cause for complaint on the part of right hon. and hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the accountability of the EEAS to the European Parliament. It will be accountable in financial terms to the European Parliament, in the same way as other organisations within the EU are accountable for the way in which they spend European Union money. The High Representative is going to make verbal reports to the European Parliament at regular intervals, but she is not accountable to it in policy terms, nor will it have the right to vet, or hold the equivalent of confirmation hearings on, the appointment of heads of EU delegations to various capitals around the world.
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend in his place and starting to scrutinise EU legislation in a way that we have not seen before, rather than taking the tick-box approach that we saw from the Labour party. Concerns are expressed on both sides of the House about the duplication in the EU. It still has two Parliament buildings, it has a European Defence Agency that tries to mimic what NATO does, and it is still trying to build a satellite system, Galileo, which duplicates the free global positioning system operated by the United States. Will my hon. Friend ensure that he keeps the EU's ambitions in check, that there is a threshold for how far European countries can come together and work together, and that there is clarity about where that stops and sovereign power takes over?
My hon. Friend invites me to trespass on some policy areas that are properly the responsibility of other Government Departments, but I will not be tempted too far in that direction. The Government are collectively committed to seeking the greatest possible value for money from every part of the European Union organisation and to ensuring that pressure from within European Union institutions to extend competence is resisted. I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured, too, if I repeat to him now that it is the Government's intention later this year to introduce legislation, as promised in the coalition's programme for government, to require a referendum and a vote by the people of the United Kingdom before any future treaty change that transfers further powers from this House to European institutions.
In keeping with what has been called the "tick-box approach"-an approach that won the European Scrutiny Committee the inquisitor of the year award, which has never been won when a Conservative has held the position of Chair-I want to point out that the Minister has not answered the question. The bid from the European Parliament was to have three deputy secretaries-general from each of the political parties in the European Parliament who would substitute for the High Representative. What happened to that bid?
That proposal did not succeed. The position on deputising when the High Representative is absent will depend very much on the area of competence involved in that meeting. The High Representative will have three options. She will be able to appoint a senior member of her official team, once that team is in place, to speak in her place. She will be able to ask a fellow commissioner to represent her when the item being discussed is something that properly under the treaty falls to the competence of the Commission. When it comes to a matter to do with foreign or security policy, she is also free to invite the Foreign Minister of a member state to act on her behalf. I hope that I am not breaking some confidences if I say that she is already making good use of that last option. She has asked the Foreign Minister of Hungary to stand in for her at a forthcoming meeting between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. We have an example there of member states being seen to be clearly in the driving seat and of powers not simply being ceded automatically to the supranational institutions.
I am concerned about value for money. I am surprised that the European Union will be able to achieve the development the EAS on the basis of budget neutrality, unless it has already put in a massive budget. I am also concerned about the duplication that has already been mentioned. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we might even try to get a rebate if we do not need the EAS to do certain things on our behalf, including military planning, military missions and so on?
I was going to say more about the budget a little later in my speech. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me if I try to make some progress. I shall respond later to the points that she was making about the budget, and if she wants to intervene again I shall try to make time for her to do so.
In response to what my hon. Friend Philip Davies said, I want to give a couple of examples to illustrate that it is possible for the new institutional arrangements to complement an active British foreign policy. The first example concerns political stability in the western Balkans, which is incomplete and fragile. The Government strongly believe that it is in the United Kingdom's interests to have political stability, human rights and the rule of law entrenched in that part of our continent, but that is not a goal that the UK can secure on its own. It is not an exaggeration to say that the situation in the western Balkans is a litmus test of any EU aspiration to take on an effective diplomatic role. We hope that the EAS will make the Balkans one of its highest priorities and that the new institutional arrangements will make it possible to pursue our common objectives with greater cohesion and consistency than was possible before.
My second example is the threat to maritime trade and the safety of voyagers posed by pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. Already, the different arms of the EU are beginning to work more effectively together: security is a member state and Council responsibility, but development falls to the Commission. The new arrangements maintain the focus on poverty alleviation, but better co-ordination within the single framework of the EAS makes it possible to get development money spent on building new prisons in Kenya to incarcerate pirates, which helps us to achieve our shared security objectives. If the EAS works effectively, the bringing together of the Commission and Council arms of EU external policy under the aegis of the High Representative, instead of their remaining in separate institutions as now, ought to make it possible to achieve a more joined-up policy in tackling other challenges, such as Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The EAS is not going to be some kind of elixir to cure all diplomatic ills and we have to be realistic about what it can achieve. It will be able to act only where there is a common position, as the High Representative can advocate a foreign policy position only on the basis of a unanimous mandate from the Foreign Ministers of member states. As the example of Iraq, which my hon. Friend Neil Parish cited, illustrates, there are no institutional solutions to problems that, at root, require both political will and consistent, shared views.
The High Representative has made a very good start to her challenging role. She has an impossible job-almost three jobs, in fact: High Representative, British Commissioner in Brussels and chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. She has been criticised for not being at two different ministerial meetings that were held in two different countries at the same time, but that seems more than a little unfair. I am told that she has 400 days of appointments in the year, and she does not yet really have a proper department to help her. The Conservatives wished her well when she embarked on her task and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are already working closely with her.
My hon. Friend has touched on a number of the difficulties for the High Representative in terms of timing and her programme. Does she not have another problem in that some of her functions are based on democratic decision making, such as those in the Council, while others are based on her role in the Commission, which is an undemocratic function, and others still involve a kind of quasi-democracy? Does he acknowledge that that is likely to create a great deal of confusion and uncertainty and that it could cause considerable damage to the clarity that is needed in the very complicated and extremely dangerous world that we now inherit?
Those differences in competence exist already in the structure of European external policy that is being replaced by the EAS. I have been impressed by the High Representative's determination to address seriously the problems that my hon. Friend identifies. He is correct to warn of the risk that the creation of the EAS will be taken by some as an opportunity for competence creep and to establish a more active and ambitious role for supranational European institutions than was envisaged when the EAS was set up or than is provided for in the treaties. The assurance I give him is that the British Government are absolutely determined to ensure that the rights and competences of member states are fully respected, not just by the High Representative, but by every other institution that forms part of the European Union.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I want to make some progress, although I will try to give way again a little later.
We are content for EU delegations to take on some representational roles, when we want them to do so and have mandated them to do so. Supporting the EU in having enhanced rights in the UN General Assembly is a good example. We want the High Representative to be able to do what the rotating presidency used to do: to speak and act in support of an agreed common position. The Foreign Secretary explained that policy in more detail in a written ministerial statement earlier today. If the General Assembly agrees, the High Representative will have the rights necessary, and no more than the rights necessary, to fulfil the representational role previously carried out by the rotating presidency. That includes the right to speak after the member states have spoken, but not the right to a seat among individual UN members and certainly not the right to vote in the General Assembly. These arrangements will not give EU delegations enhanced rights in United Nations agencies or in other international organisations.
The Government will judge any further proposal for the EU to act in a representative capacity case by case and on its merits. Critically, we will take a view on whether such a move would help to achieve British interests and whether any proposal would compromise the lead role for member states over foreign policy that is explicitly provided for in the treaty.
Some bodies, including the Commission and some of the smaller member states, want EU delegations to take a greater role in representing EU positions around the world than we think is either desirable or legally consistent with the treaty. Those ambitions are not secret. For example, the Commission has made it clear that it wants EU delegations to take over responsibility to act not only on policy areas where there is clear EU competence, but on those areas where competence is shared by the EU and member states, even if competence has not been exercised at EU level previously. In our view, such a move would not be acceptable. I have written to the Chairs of the two Scrutiny Committees today to highlight that risk and to make it clear that the Government will be vigilant to defend the interests and treaty rights of not only the United Kingdom but all member states.
The initial EAS decision was taken by the Council on
I should add a word on the staff. In his speech on
On value for money, will my hon. Friend indicate the cost and resource implications of the further staffing of British diplomats in the European Union as a result of setting up the new institution?
Before I respond directly to my hon. Friend, I should add that there will be intense competition for appointments, which will quite rightly be made on merit. However, we are determined to fight for a good share of the senior positions in the EAS because we think that we have first-rate British candidates to put forward.
We are clear that we do not plan to put aside extra money for the EAS in the long term. We accept that getting the service started and bringing in national secondees to serve alongside those who will transfer to the EAS from existing posts in the external service of the Commission or the Council will involve some additional start-up costs, for which we are planning. The additional cost for the United Kingdom is about £1.1 million, but that is before any calculation of the abatement is taken into account.
I think that the Minister is citing a written answer that he gave me. May I take him away from the EU accounting procedures with which some of us are familiar? The External Action Service will have 136 embassies. It already employs 700 staff-he looks puzzled, but that comes from a written answer that he gave me-and might have thousands more. Without talking about accounting manoeuvres or additional amounts, will he tell us the cost of those 136 embassies and the hundreds, if not thousands, of staff employed by the EAS?
My hon. Friend overlooks the fact that the EAS, as he describes it, will simply be the sum of existing EU missions and activities that already form part of the external work of the Commission and the Council, which are funded from within the existing EU budget. The British Government's objective is to ensure, despite the acknowledged additional start-up costs, that we use the bringing together of disparate external functions to seek savings by eliminating duplication. The EAS budget is due for review in 2013; our objective is to ensure that by that stage we have got rid of what we intend will be a temporary spike due to start-up costs, and managed to achieve savings and better value for money. The EAS should be about the effective delivery of foreign policy, not new and expensive bureaucracy.
The Minister did not answer the question posed by Mr Clappison about overall cost. Will he give the House a guarantee that if there is to be any breach of budget neutrality, he and his Government will resist that by vetoing any increase above current expenditure?
We will certainly resist any further increase in current expenditure because we want maximum value for money from the EAS, as we do from every other arm of the European Union. I welcomed Baroness Ashton's pledge on
"to maximise cost efficiencies, avoid duplication and strengthen financial discipline."
"I want a lean and efficient Service that assures best value for money, staffed by the best and the brightest from across the European Union."
The Government worked hard to defend the national interest and did all that we could to ensure that the service continued to respect national competences and recognised the central importance of intergovernmentalism in framing the European Union's common foreign policy. Through a robust and pragmatic approach, we have secured a framework for the EAS that respects UK interests, that can strengthen and support national diplomacy, and that will not lead to additional costs in the long term. This is only the start, however, and we now need to work intensively with our European partners to make it a reality. I commend the motion to the House.
It is a great delight to follow the Minister for Europe and to be able to welcome the conversion of Aylesbury. I had not realised that Brussels was on the road from Aylesbury to Damascus, but clearly it is. There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repenteth and joineth the pro-European cause than when the 99 stay over there. It is a delight to know that he has hidden his pro-European light under such a nasty bushel for such a long time. I was obviously tempted to think of ways of uniting with his Eurosceptic Back Benchers and finding a way of voting against the motion, but as half the papers have my name all over them and were negotiated by me, it would be a bit opportunistic, even for me, so the Opposition decided against that.
The Minister has a very fine Europe team in the Foreign Office to support him, and I would like briefly to pay tribute in particular to Kim Darroch, the UK's permanent representative in Brussels, who does an extremely fine job. The Minister also has fine support in his private office among those who work with him on European matters, so I am sure that he will do a very fine job. I think he suggested that Cathy Ashton had abandoned glamour, but I would gently say to him that that is a foul calumny on a very fine woman. However, I am glad that he is very supportive of the work that she is doing.
I think that the Minister said glitz and glamour. Perhaps Cathy will defend herself.
The important point is that we have before us a slightly difficult process. I fully understand why it has been difficult for the Government to bring things before a European Scrutiny Committee, though I gently say that it would have been better to have had a European Scrutiny Committee in place by now. I gather that we will have a splendid cream-suited Chair, in the shape of Mr Cash, but it would be good if we had a full Committee and if that were able to get on with its work as fast as possible. As the Minister will know, I was taking this business through the House at a difficult time in the run-up to the general election, and I tried as far as possible to keep the two Committees in the Lords and in the Commons informed about the process of the discussions that were going on at every stage. But the fact that we have now had several months without a European Scrutiny Committee does not enable this House to do the business of scrutinising these and many other decisions better.
I would just ask the Minister briefly, on the matter of the intergovernmental conference, which was not announced to the House and which was held in the margins of another meeting and agreed to by the Prime Minister without any announcement to the House, if he could at some point provide us with the minutes of that conference. They have not yet been available anywhere, either on EUROPA or in the Library of the House.
I am interested that the Opposition will not seek to divide the House on this. Has not the shadow Minister just made a very good case of the fact that the House has not scrutinised the business properly? Would not that be a good reason to seek to divide the House?
I shall be voting on the substance of the matter, which I wholeheartedly support and, I have to say-this will come as a great disappointment to the hon. Gentleman-in words almost identical to those used by the Minister. No, I do not think it is a good reason to seek to divide the House, but if Mr Bone wishes to do so, obviously he is free so to do .
The reason we support the European External Action Service, and have for some time now, is that we believe that we are moving, as the Foreign Secretary himself said earlier this year in a speech, into a much more multilateral world, where we cannot just accept that there will be two great powers-the United States of America and China. We have to make sure that our power, both exercised independently ourselves and through the European Union, is used to its best effect. We know that in relation to the emerging economies of China, Russia, India, Mexico and Brazil, it is all the more important the Europe takes a united stance if we are to achieve effective outcomes.
We also know that the EU's previous foreign relations structure has been grossly inefficient, thus an individual country has a desk officer for the European Council and a desk officer for the European Commission, and, on top of that, two different departments within the Commission might have desk officers. That is clearly a duplication-not the one to which hon. Members referred earlier, but one that we want to see done away with; and that is why we support the EAS.
The Commission does not have any choice, because the staff will be automatically moved into the EAS. The same applies to the Council. If each country approves the measure, through their parliamentary processes, the move will happen automatically, so I have confidence in the Commission. There are many areas where I do not have confidence in the Commission shedding staff, and where the hon. Gentleman is right to say that sometimes we have to ensure that it does not encroach on the powers of member states, but this is not one of them.
When I was Europe Minister, I tried to fight for some important principles. First, it was important to make it absolutely clear that the head of each delegation had full power over the whole delegation, because otherwise, in any individual deputation in any country throughout the world, different elements might compete against each other. Although Europe might have spoken with one voice, because it had established a single mandate, the individual delegation in that country might not. I am glad that we won that argument.
I am glad, too, that we won the argument to bring the politico-military structures, the civilian planning conduct and capability element, the crisis management and planning directorate and the EU military staff inside the EAS, because it would simply have been to duplicate and make the system more complex if we had left them outside.
I shall not take up much time, because I want to ensure that there is more opportunity for other Members to participate, but I must note two areas where, to be honest, I felt that I had to handbag the High Representative. Indeed, there were sharp words at April's General Affairs and External Relations Council. First, I do not believe that the EAS should set up consular services for every country in the European Union, and I was determined to ensure that the text that came out of April's Council made that absolutely and abundantly clear. I confess that the text that we ended up with-I am sure that all hon. Members will have read it-is slightly complex. Indeed, article 5(10) states that the Union delegation shall, acting in accordance with article 35 third sub-paragraph of the TEU, and upon request of member states, support the member states in their diplomatic relations and in their role of providing consular protection to union citizens in third countries on a resource-neutral basis.
Two elements of that are vital, but they sound misguided. First, "on a resource-neutral basis", means that no additional money should go into the EAS to provide consular services on behalf of other countries. Secondly, the reference to article 35 of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, as I am sure the Minister knows, means that the circumstances in which the EAS can provide consular services are very closely constrained. The Maastricht treaty-under the provisions that John Major introduced, incidentally-makes it clear that where an individual citizen of any EU member state is in a third country and their member state has no representation, other member states can provide support. That happens fairly regularly. In countries where Britain has no representation, sometimes a British citizen will be supported by other EU members. It is also true that the services of other countries are provided to us. For instance, in Laos, where we have no representation, the Australians provide consular protection.
In our discussions leading up to April's Council meeting, I thought it very important to ensure that countries such as Estonia and Latvia, which would dearly love the EU to provide consular services and remove the power of member states to provide them throughout the world, should not see the measure as a great cash cow. While many in the room argued forcefully that we should be moving towards European consular services, I said that we would use the British veto if that proposal came forward. That is why we have the document that is now before us.
The next issue is budget neutrality. As I said, there has been considerable duplication in the system in the years thus far, whereby there are desk officers for the same country from different elements of the structure of the European Union, and that has been counter-productive. I am confident, with Cathy at the helm, that there will be a strong insistence on ensuring that those duplications do not survive, and that there is therefore no reason why the EAS should cost us more in the long term.
I note the Minister's optimism when he says that in the short term this will cost us only £1.1 million more.
I am sorry, but the Minister misheard me, because I said "million" as well. It is great to be able to be entirely of one mind.
However, my anxiety is more about the Minister's optimism than his numeracy. Pressures will inevitably come from other member states, many of which are going through the same process of retrenchment in their budgets and will find that that directly affects their foreign offices. When I was in the post that he now holds, I spoke to three of my counterparts, who talked about 50% or 60% cuts in their foreign offices. In many of those countries, there may well be a political pressure towards the European Union carrying out more of their foreign services, and he will rightly want to be very cautious about that. Throughout the whole process of the treaty going through and the setting up of the EAS, it was our clear intention that we, Britain, should be able to fight our corner, but we also wanted the whole European Union in our corner. I very much hope that that is what this measure will achieve.
My final point relates to British staff in the EAS. Like the Minister, I hope that many diplomats in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will want to work there. He said that many more suddenly want to go and work there; I do not know whether that is because they do not like working with him or because they are fearful of what is going to happen in the FCO. On a serious note, one of the complexities in trying to get British staff to work in any of the institutions of the European Union is that they often cannot see a path back. It is not only a question of whether British people speak foreign languages, but of whether they can see a career that takes them to Brussels and brings them back thereafter. I hope that at some point the Minister will be able to enlighten the House further on those matters.
I wholeheartedly support the motion in the name of the Minister and congratulate on him on his volte-face.
Like other Conservative Members, I am sceptical about the Lisbon treaty, but we are where are. We have the European External Action Service, and it is in Britain's interest that it at least works.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has taken a close interest in the EAS, and I welcome this debate. It hardly helps that the negotiations have been taking place in Brussels when we have not had a European Scrutiny Committee. However, the Foreign Affairs Committee is grateful that the Government and their predecessors have co-operated with it in providing the information that it needed and, in that spirit, I hope that they continue to do so.
We are able to consider today's documents in advance of the Council formally giving its approval only because High Representative Ashton has spent the past three months negotiating with the European Parliament. I have to confess that having had a look at the documents, I am sceptical about whether the changes secured by the European Parliament amount to any major alteration to the likely functioning of the EAS. The Parliament largely won confirmation on a number of points that were either implied or explicitly set out in the Lisbon treaty or in the Swedish presidency report on the EAS adopted by the European Council last October. I note that the explanatory memorandum to the revised draft Council decision states that it "respects the essentials" of the proposals on which the Council reached political agreement in April. Under the circumstances, I congratulate the Government on resisting a number of demands regarding the EAS that would have been very unhelpful from a British point of view.
That is my point, and I do not believe that the subsequent demands have changed things at all.
The negotiations of the past few months have highlighted the continued existence of widely diverging views about how the EU should make external policy, and the scale of the change of mindset that will be required in some quarters to focus on the generation of a more seamless external policy for the Union. Whether or not one believes that the EAS is workable or necessary in the first place, the manner in which it has been achieved hardly gives rise to optimism that there can be effective implementation of EU policy.
My hon. Friends have set out emotive views about the EU, and on behalf of the FAC I shall simply concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the system and pose a few questions to the Minister. The assessment of the deal between the Council and the European Parliament, which is now before us, may depend very much on the legal status of the additional declarations and statements that Baroness Ashton has now agreed to make. The explanatory memorandum refers to those as "accompanying" the decision and as
"forming part of the overall political agreement".
I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify the legal status of those documents and the degree to which they are relied on.
I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that the deal now before us does not give the Commission or the European Parliament any greater power over the budget for the common foreign and security policy. With the abandonment of the Western European Union by the previous Government, there is now a bit of a lacuna in that area of oversight.
Michael Connarty raised the way in which the High Representative delegates her responsibilities. The Lisbon treaty did not create a wholly new, specially fashioned position but was intended to encourage greater coherence in the EU's external policies simply by giving three different jobs to the same person. That raises the question of who is to deputise for the High Representative when she cannot be in several places at once. The Minister responded to that point, but some further clarification would be welcome. How is that done? Where is the procedure set out and what is the authority for it? Who is the Foreign Minister of Hungary speaking for? I know that he is speaking for the High Representative, but where does he get his brief and to whom does he report?
The new EU delegations to third countries and international organisations are to be upgraded from the existing European Commission delegations. The increased role of those delegations seems to me potentially one of the most significant changes resulting from the Lisbon treaty, both for the EU and for national foreign ministries. Does the Foreign Office see any need to issue specific guidance to UK posts about how they should work with the new EU delegations, particularly as regards the sharing of information and intelligence?
Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Ušackas, the new EU representative in Afghanistan? He passed through London and is now in Kabul, but his remit and how it sits with United Nations directives and those of the international security assistance force is unclear. We have signed up to the ISAF mission, but we are also part of the EU and are therefore expected to form part of the ambassador's mission. There is a dichotomy in interests.
I met the ambassador. For the past month, I have formed a Committee of one on foreign affairs, and I ended up inviting Members to meet him. He was fairly clear about his brief, but my hon. Friend makes a strong point.
It has been suggested in some quarters that the Foreign Office may close some embassies where the EU has a stronger presence post-Lisbon. The previous permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Peter Ricketts, suggested to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee in the previous Parliament that, if anything, the arrival of the EU delegations might help the FCO's efforts to sustain and perhaps even expand its overseas network. Sir Peter also said that the Foreign Office might be able to sustain or open small overseas posts by locating them in EU delegation buildings when suitable office space might otherwise be difficult to find. I should be grateful if the Minister clarified that.
On staffing, the previous Government told the FAC that there would be 25 secondees to the EAS when it was up and running. However, in a reply to a recent parliamentary question, the figure was abandoned, and the response was slightly ambiguous. I should be grateful to the Minister for guidance on that. Have we retained the secondments that we have? Are vacancies that arise open to national civil servants? Does the UK have any potential secondees in those competitions?
In short, we are where are and we hope that the EAS contributes significantly to making the EU a more effective vehicle in the world today. The documents before us suggest that the Government have succeeded in securing some key points, but many questions remain to be answered.
I welcome the Minister to his position. It is the first time that I have spoken in a debate that he has led as Minister for Europe. Of course, I remember him fondly from his days as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The experience gained there will doubtless stand him in good stead for the intricacies and delicacies of European diplomacy. We wish him well.
However, the debate is about something that the British people neither want nor need. If the broad mass of the public looked in on the debate, they would ask, "What on earth is this all about?" At a time of massive constraint in the public expenditure system, with public services under threat, Departments told that they might face cuts of between 25% and 40%, and our diplomatic corps told that it, too, might face huge cutbacks, we are holding a debate that is based on a treaty that nobody wanted and on which we were denied a referendum.
Richard Ottaway and the Minister used the expression, "We are where we are." That is true, but we do not need to be where we are. I have great sympathy for the Minister because, while the shadow Minister teased him about a volte-face, the road to Damascus and so on, he was clearly uncomfortable about some of the things that he had to say. He said that the motion was about mitigating the damage, and I was worried when he seemed to get carried away with some enthusiasm for the new service. However, if he and his party had stuck to their pledge to offer the people of the United Kingdom a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it would not have come into force and we would not be discussing this motion.
I do not want to rehearse the argument over the referendum on the Lisbon treaty except to say that the excellent private Member's Bill on it unfortunately did not make progress. The fact is that it would have been possible for the House to grant the British people a referendum even after ratification. At the end of the day, the House is sovereign, and the British people ultimately ought to have the right to decide whether we should have all those institutions created out of Lisbon.
The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this House for a number of years, and he is aware that the Lisbon treaty has been signed. Having a referendum now would be a bit like asking patients in a new hospital what colour they want the foundation stone to be. It is too late, hence the phrase, "We are where we are." We must mend what has been put together.
I have heard that theory, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman heard some of his hon. Friends debunk it at the time. Of course it is possible for the United Kingdom to decide that it no longer wishes to be part of the consequences of the ratification of the Lisbon treaty-that option is open to the House, Parliament and the British people. If what he says means that for ever and a day we have given up the right to decide matters such as membership of the European Union, what treaties we are signed up to and what institutions we belong to, it is a sad day for democracy in the House. The British people who supported the Conservative leader when he offered a cast-iron guarantee on a referendum did not expect that that promise and pledge would be ditched so quickly and so comprehensively.
I venture to say that that is one reason why there is a disconnect between the British public at large and their Parliament. The people do not trust politicians-such trust is essential-because the promises that they hear politicians make are cast aside when it suits the politicians, not when it suits them. People expect promises to be honoured. They overwhelmingly believe that we should not have signed up to the Lisbon treaty and that a European diplomatic corps should not be created, and they expect their views to be heard. Unfortunately, there is a cosy consensus between the Front Benchers of both major parties, and indeed the Liberal Democrats, so people will be denied their say and a referendum.
I hate to leap to the defence of the Conservative Government, but it would surely not affect the rest of the European Union if Britain voted against the Lisbon treaty in a referendum, because the EU would continue to operate under the treaty. In all honesty, the only referendum one could now have is on whether to leave or stay in the EU.
No doubt some hon. Members think that that is a pretty good idea. The hon. Gentleman speaks of referendums, but he knows full well that he and the previous Government pledged a referendum on the European constitution to the British people. There is talk of the Minister making a volte-face, but the decision not to grant that referendum was the biggest volte-face in recent history. Of course, a distinction between the Lisbon treaty and the original proposal for a European constitution was made, but much of it was spurious.
The fact that we are today debating the creation of the European diplomatic service, with all that that entails, proves the point that many of us made about the Lisbon treaty, which is that the treaty is yet another significant development in the creation of a European superstate-the Minister alluded to that and to the reasons why he and his colleagues opposed the measure at the time. He may argue that the High Representative is unable to advance a position in the absence of a common position adopted by the Council of Ministers, but that means that on many critical issues around the world the High Representative and that vast diplomatic superstructure will be sitting on their hands.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the irony of today's proceedings? Earlier we were invited to support reductions in the police grant because there is supposedly not enough public money to go around, but we are now invited to indulge the largesse of the European Union. Does he agree that if we are all in this together and if we are living in the age of austerity, we should make that abundantly clear to the EU?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am just coming on to the budget, which is critically important. He is right to ask how people in the Community will feel about this debate and the amount of expenditure attached to it, at a time when we are debating the police grant and other matters.
We heard the Minister talk about the extra expenditure amounting to some £1.1 million in start-up costs, which he confirmed in answer to a question from Mr Clappison, but the cost of the EEAS is expected to reach some €900 million when fully operational. Some reports in the European Parliament suggest that it will cost up to £5 billion a year to run when fully up and running. A leading German MEP, a member of Chancellor Merkel's party and who sits on the budget committee, was quoted in The Sunday Times on
"You can only believe the claims that the service will be budget neutral if you believe in Santa Claus."
A senior official in Baroness Ashton's service said that nobody took seriously the claim that the service would remain budget neutral and went on:
"That's simply not realistic, not even in the mid-term, but the notion has to be maintained for reasons of political acceptability."
The irony will not be lost on UK taxpayers that this Government, who are asking Departments to demonstrate where cuts of up to 40% can be made, now endorse a service that will cost millions of pounds and that we neither want nor need. Those of us who opposed Lisbon and the creation of the EEAS back in 2008 still oppose it, and I hope that we will be given the opportunity to do so in the Lobby tonight.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe on his appointment. I am sure that we will be having many useful discussions, dialogues and even cross-examinations as time goes on.
I regard this whole decision as a triumph of European aspirations and European parliamentary ambitions over reality. I am deeply worried about the manner in which this game of multidimensional chess will play out, and I have already indicated to my hon. Friend the Minister my concern about the overlapping functions and the contradictions that will emerge between the necessity of maintaining our bilateral relations with other countries and the extremely ambitious proposals in this decision on global reach. It is phenomenal to imagine an external action service on this scale that would in any way be regarded as not interfering with our domestic diplomatic service.
I sense that my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary know this. We debated the Lisbon treaty together, we were united and we had a remarkable rapprochement during those debates-contrary to the debates over the Maastricht treaty, when I stood in this very spot and had much to say about what I thought would happen. Many people might think that some of the things I suggested would happen have done so, and this is one of them.
I treat the whole issue of the external action service with great concern for the reasons that I have given. It will induce a recipe for confusion-
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman replies to that witty intervention, I will remind him of what I am sure he already knows-that the Minister has a right of reply and will need to be called at 6.52 pm. It is conceivable that other Members might also wish to contribute.
Having spoken for only two minutes, I can guarantee that I will not speak for more than five at most. As for intervention of a few moments ago, I think the Court of Auditors might have something to say about the matters that Mr Skinner raised. After all, it has not signed off its accounts for the last 15 years.
I am deeply concerned about this whole operation. I add that in the report mentioned in the documents before us, the European Scrutiny Committee said that this important proposal is
"likely to be the most significant change in the conduct of British foreign policy for many years", which is why a debate on the Floor of the House was, exceptionally, recommended. That is the truth and the reality. I am deeply concerned that in being asked to consider the functions of the Foreign Office under this decision, there is a huge issue to do with the impact this new global diplomatic service will have on Britain's ability to promote her own bilateral interests.
This is not a small matter. The question is how we are going to be able to maintain our own bilateral interests if we are suffocated by the decisions that are taken. Anybody who reads these documents in detail-I do not have time to go into that detail today-will appreciate that there is a very severe danger to the continuation of our bilateral interests, however hard my hon. Friend the Minister and the Foreign Secretary will work, as I know they will. Given the depth, the range and the landscape of this monumental creation of a new foreign service on a European scale, it is difficult to see how our bilateral interests can be preserved.
In conclusion, there is also the declaration on political accountability. I would be grateful if the Minister told us some of his thoughts on that. He said in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee last week that he hoped the decision would
"end up providing a more coherent and effective platform for the delivery of the EU's engagement with the outside world."
For my part, I hope that our own foreign policy will be conducted in a manner that will properly reflect the interests of this country. I am happy to co-operate with other countries throughout Europe-and, indeed, anywhere else in the world-because we have a responsibility to do so, but I am deeply worried at the way this entire legal framework is liable to subsume our own ability to ensure our own national interests.
I regard this as a mosaic, as it were, within a labyrinth, and I fear that there will be a confusion of control and command in military matters, in relation to Kosovo and our relations with Iran, for example. We need to be extremely cautious about giving this more than a very tepid welcome.
I am sensitive about intruding on private grief, but I am witnessing the acting out of a scenario in which a Minister who takes a very positive approach to issues relating to the European Union is surrounded by a large number of Eurosceptic Members of Parliament who had previously imagined that they were serving under a Eurosceptic Government. The words "a cosy consensus" have been used, but I am not sure that what is happening. I see it more as the sweet breeze of EU realism blowing through the Conservative Government.
The fact is that the Lisbon treaty is in force, and will not be overturned. In a speech that I made on the issue, I described the treaty as a "tipping point" in the balance of power between Brussels and the national Parliaments. I hope that there will be a rearrangement of power, and that a triangulation of forces will eventually return to us more power than the Commission, and indeed the European Parliament, want us to have.
"Given the importance of this proposal, which-the Minister's assurances on consular protection notwithstanding"- the then Minister, my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, is sitting in front of me now-
"is nonetheless likely to be the most significant change in the conduct of British foreign policy for many years, we consider that this debate should be on the Floor of the House."
I still believe that that is the case.
We have encountered the question of accountability. While an election was taking place in this country, the European Parliament was using its powers under the Lisbon treaty to advance a case relating to the question of the three deputy secretaries who would substitute for the High Representative. That case was rejected, but in fact the European Parliament achieved a great deal more. There was a second Council decision following the one on the matter that was eventually referred to the Council on
The European Parliament saw an opportunity to make a bold opening gambit in relation to those who would be substitutes and guardians, or protectors, of the High Representative. It used the fact that staffing regulations, finance regulations and the EEAS budget would be subject to the European Parliament's powers of co-decision to advance a strong argument that it should be consulted on matters such as the common foreign and security policy. That, of course, will be subject to unanimous agreement in the Council, but the Parliament has inserted itself into the process to great effect. The Lisbon treaty gave it the opportunity to enhance its ability to influence the politics and policy of a major institution.
The second decision, as the Minister said, was that the High Representative would
"seek the views of the European Parliament on the main aspects and basic choices of policy".
The Council decided that the European Parliament would have to be consulted on policies such as the common security and defence policy, and on questions relating to the basic organisation of the EEAS central administration and political accountability. It is clear that we have not only had an election, but failed to establish any scrutiny arrangements in this Parliament.
The European Parliament clearly views that agreement as meaning that it will have a significantly greater influence on EU foreign policy in the future. That is where we have arrived after the stages through which we have gone. The Parliament has gained considerable ground. It may not have made all the gains that it demanded, but I do not think that it wanted them anyway. It wanted to make the service accountable to it.
We now need assurances from the Government that they will defend not just the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy, but the right of this Parliament to scrutinise what they do and hold them to account when they go to the Council. That might serve as some small protection against a European Parliament that might otherwise take complete control of this policy and this service in the future.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate. It is important to understand what we are creating. My hon. Friend Philip Davies-who I see has gained some new recruits to support him on the Back Benches-obviously takes a different view from others on how we should approach the Lisbon treaty.
The phrase "We are where we are" has been used a number of times in the debate. If we had a blank sheet of paper, I am sure that we would not create the Lisbon treaty in its current form, but I was not in favour of the dome, either- I thought it was unpopular and a wrong concept-but it was built, and then we decided to change it and make it actually work. If we choose to opt out of the EU, as some colleagues on both the Government and Opposition Benches might wish, we will certainly change our relationship with the EU and Europe from one perspective, but we will also alienate many countries, and we will then be unable to influence their approach to the EU.
The issue, however, is that many of us have a problem with the creation of this external service. We have not got into a discussion about whether we should be a member state of the EU. The fact is that many of us have grave concerns about this measure, and that is what we have been talking about today.
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. The point I am stressing, however, is that, as has been said, we could be in a stronger position if we were to move British personnel into the organisation and change it into something actually worth having-and that is what I would like.
I do, however, have some grave concerns about EU spending at present. A great example of that is the Galileo satellite system. It has cost about £4 billion so far, and the Foreign Office budget is, I understand, about £2 billion, so there would be some huge savings straight away if we were to get rid of that system. I also mentioned in an intervention the concerns we have in respect of NATO and the European Defence Agency. They have not been answered today, and I would be grateful for the opportunity to speak to my hon. Friend the Minister about the clear overlap that there is in respect of those two organisations. When I was serving in the armed forces in Bosnia, the EU was trying to create something of a European army, and that is wrong. The cornerstone of our defence in Europe is NATO, and we should not try to duplicate it.
I intervened on my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, about Ambassador Ušackas who has now been sent to Afghanistan to represent the European Union. I have a question: if the EU starts sending diktats or directives on how Afghanistan should be approached, that might overlap with the direction we are receiving as a member of the international security assistance force, and-
I thank all Members who have taken part in the debate. My hon. Friend Mr Clappison pressed me about the overall cost of the European External Action Service. The problem with putting a precise figure on that is that we are talking about an organisation to be created by bringing together activities that are funded by a number of budget heads within the existing EU set-up, and in some cases parts of expenditure under one budget head are transferring to the EEAS and others are not. The best estimate that we have at present is that about £400 million of expenditure will be required to fund the activities transferred from the Council and the Commission into the new EEAS. The much higher figure cited by Mr Dodds can come about only if we assume that the whole of development expenditure is transferred, and that is not going to happen. I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere once we have more detailed estimates as the budgetary process continues in Brussels.
My hon. Friend Richard Ottaway asked a number of specific questions. Declarations are not legally binding. They are statements that provide a political context for a Council decision and how it will operate as it is taken forward. In response to his question about deputies, where a deputy-a Foreign Minister or anybody else-speaks on a matter covered by common foreign and security policy, that deputy must speak in support of a common position which has been agreed unanimously by all member states.
My hon. Friend also asked about the role of the EU special representative in Afghanistan. He is twin-hatted already, as both the special representative and the head of the European Commission offices in Afghanistan. He will, of course, work closely with other international organisations and representatives and will seek to complement, not duplicate, the work of, for example, ISAF. My hon. Friend further asked about whether we were committed to sending 25 British secondees to the EEAS. That was an initial figure and we are keeping it under review. However, we have a number of British candidates for the first wave of EEAS posts, and many more are interested in future vacancies.
My hon. Friend asked about the instructions and advice that the FCO might send to our own British posts abroad. We will be sending them instructions and advice, and those instructions will be that they should co-operate with European Union missions to secure British foreign policy objectives and to influence the work of those EU delegations, in order to give priority to matters on which there is a common position-for example, the need for sanctions against the Iranian nuclear programme-that will secure both European and United Kingdom interests at the same time. We are also asking our posts to be extremely vigilant about any evidence of competence creep at the behest of the Commission or of other institutions or member states, and to report back swiftly to the Foreign Office if there is evidence of that happening. I can tell my hon. Friend that I have already come across examples of such reports to us, and we do take appropriate action and make representations to protect the interest of member states.
I say to my hon. Friend Mr Cash that we are not in the business of trying to supplant or in any way to weaken the ability of British diplomats and Ministers to stand up strongly for the national interests of the United Kingdom. However, we are also acknowledging that there are on occasion opportunities to promote and enhance British interests in a way that also suits the common interests of the 27 member states-
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Speaker put the Question (
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Document Nos. 8029/10 and 11507/10, draft Council Decisions establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service; European Document No. 8134/10, draft Regulation on the Financial Regulations for the European External Action Service; and an unnumbered draft Regulation amending Staff Regulations of officials of the European Communities and the conditions of employment of other servants of those Communities; and supports the Government's policy to agree to the Decision establishing the External Action Service at the Foreign Affairs Council in July 2010.