European Council, Helsinki, 10th-11th December

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:10 pm on 13th December 1999.

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Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 4:10 pm, 13th December 1999

My Lords, at the time of the Kosovo crisis, we spoke on several occasions in your Lordships' House about the potential threat described by the noble Lord. I remember discussions being labelled along the lines of the so-called "domino theory"--an expression much used when the same sort of potentially difficult situation existed in South-East Asia 20 to 25 years ago. The noble Lord should perhaps be reassured by the fact that the stability pact is now taking root in the western Balkans and that organisations of that kind will, I hope, reduce the potential for conflagration, which he identified as a possibility as the boundaries of Europe spread, although I do not believe that that would necessarily create such a situation.

I turn now to the question of the European rapid reaction force. I hope that we may call it by that name because I am trying to avoid any suggestion that it is a European army, as several noble Lords have tried to suggest. As I have made clear before, that idea is explicitly refuted in the conclusions of the summit. The noble Lord is not right to raise the spectre of that being a possible way of dealing with the situation. As I said when replying to an earlier question from a noble Lord, the situation is such that if, for example, there was a humanitarian crisis and NATO was not fully engaged, there might be a possibility of that happening. However, as the noble Lord will know, the organisation of, and the mandate for, that kind of force is in its early days. Although it is theoretically possible that some type of internal humanitarian crisis might prompt that kind of action, it is difficult to respond to a hypothetical situation.