Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 28th June 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour 7:00 pm, 28th June 2001

My Lords, I welcome what is said in the gracious Speech about NATO and the pledge to work to enable the European Union to act where NATO chooses not to do so and to improve the European Union's capacity and capability for humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks.

In my maiden speech in this House in November 1996, I said that it gave me no pleasure to have to say that I sometimes despaired of any European issue ever being discussed intelligently, rationally and calmly in this country. But it gives me even less pleasure to have to say, some four and a half years later, that I cannot see that things have got any better!

Nowhere is that more true than in looking at the issues raised with regard to the EU initiatives in the field of security and defence and the interface with NATO. If only the media and commentators would deal with facts rather than myths--and I put on the same level of validity as the hoary old Euromyths of square strawberries and hairnets for fishermen the new Euromyths about setting up a European army, an alternative to NATO, and thereby shattering the trans-Atlantic alliance. Let us, in the name of all that is rational, at least in this House deal with the facts.

The European Union's common foreign and security policy (CFSP) was introduced in 1993 by the Maastricht Treaty. Five fundamental principles lie behind the CFSP: to safeguard the fundamental interests and independence of the Union; to strengthen the security of the Union; to preserve peace and strengthen international security; to promote international co-operation; and to consolidate democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Since 1993, the Council of Ministers has adopted some 70 common positions on foreign policy issues, ranging from the Balkans to East Timor, from non-proliferation of nuclear weapons to counter-terrorism. During the same period, the Council agreed some 50 common actions, such as demining operations in Africa and elsewhere and sending EU special envoys to crisis areas such as the Balkans and the Middle East.

The Amsterdam Treaty of 1999 improved CFSP decision making and provided for common strategies in areas where members share important interests. It also introduced more focused policy formulation and an early warning mechanism through the creation of a policy unit working for the Council of Ministers. This has been strengthened with the addition of a political and security committee and a parallel military committee to advise governments on crisis management.

The presidency report to the recent Gothenburg European Council on European security and defence policy shows how far the EU has come in its practical development to meet its aims. It is a long and substantial document and I commend it to your Lordships, who will no doubt be relieved to hear that I do not intend to deal with the detail in it at any great length. However, there are some very pertinent points which I wish to draw specially to your attention.

In discussing the European Union's capacity to act, it states clearly that it is where NATO as a whole is not engaged that it will be involved and,

"This does not involve the establishment of a European army. The commitment of national resources by Member States to such operations will be based on their sovereign decisions".

There are detailed paragraphs on co-operation, first and foremost with NATO but also with international organisations, with the non-EU NATO members, with other countries which are candidates for EU accession, and with other potential partners such as Russia and the Ukraine. This is an outward-looking, not an exclusive, exercise.

What is said about the co-operation with NATO is specially worthy of note. It is stated that the development of a permanent and effective relationship with NATO is a critical element of the European security and defence policy. An exchange of letters between the Swedish presidency and the NATO Secretary-General confirmed permanent arrangements for consultation and co-operation between the EU and NATO and the first formal EU/NATO ministerial meeting took place in Budapest on 30th May. Other meetings at a more technical level have taken place. The EU and NATO have entered into close co-operation on issues of crisis management in the Western Balkans.

Here we should note that, whatever is speculated in the press, the actual position of President Bush on his recent visit to Europe, as reported by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is that the President welcomed the enhanced role for the European Union in providing for the security of Europe, so long as the EU role was properly integrated in NATO--something it very clearly is.

Let us deal here with a topic which arouses much emotion in this area; that is, the Rapid Reaction Force. EU member states have this as a headline goal. It is set out in detail, but it can be summed up in a kind of shorthand as establishing a capability by the year 2003 to deploy rapidly, and within 60 days, a force of up to 15 brigades, or 50,000 to 60,000 persons, which should be able to be deployed for at least one year.

We should note in parenthesis that there are also plans for rapid reaction mechanisms in the impressive EU programme for civilian crisis management, including police and other non-military deployment. While in parenthesis, I should like to say how much I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford when he spoke with approval of the EU's "Anything but Arms" project. Just to prove that Eurocrats have a sense of humour, that project is now referred to in Brussels as the "Venus de Milo" project!

As the NATO Secretary-General, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has said more than once, the logic of enhancing Europe's role as a security actor is clear. We need to demonstrate to the United States that Europe is willing and able to take a fair share of the security burden. But also Europe needs to be able to react when the US or NATO does not wish to do so. In the post-Cold War world there is simply no guarantee that the US or NATO will want to get involved in every security crisis in Europe. In a speech introducing the debate, my noble friend Lord Bach quoted the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and it bears repeating,

"There has to be another option to 'NATO or nothing'".

Reading some British commentators one would be forgiven for thinking that we were heading for a breakdown in NATO/EU relationships. However, in recent speeches, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has made it clear that the opposite is true. I should like to take this opportunity to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, in praising the superb work of the noble Lord in this regard. Relationships between the EU and NATO are improving by the day and the proof is seen where it matters--on the ground. The European Union's High Representative, Xavier Solana, and the NATO Secretary-General have co-ordinated their efforts in responding to a variety of security challenges in the Balkans, and are doing so as we speak, in order to try to avert calamity in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

I speak as a former chair of the Atlantic Council of the United Kingdom and someone who is deeply committed to NATO and its values: the defence of freedom, human rights and democracy. I am proud of NATO's history and its foundation by great statesmen like Ernest Bevin and of the outstanding service provided by British secretaries-general, such as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my old friend Lord Robertson. I am also proud of NATO's plans for its future--of enlargement and changing its role to meet the new challenges of our time.

There is no contradiction in being a passionate supporter of NATO and also welcoming enthusiastically the EU initiatives in the field of security and defence; the two go hand in hand.