European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 17th January 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:00 pm, 17th January 2002

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was quite right to quote me from Committee stage when I said that there was a great deal of confusion about defence in the Nice treaty and indeed we have seen that demonstrated again here today.

Let me start from his point about a rapid reaction force. That is not a standing force. It is a capability rather than a standing force. It is a capability which can be called upon. As the noble Lord almost implied in his remarks—and I hope he will forgive me if I put the point to him—there is no question of there being a group of service people—Army, Navy or Air Force—waiting somewhere to be called upon. It is a capability which can be produced from the member countries when it is decided that it is needed. The noble Lord said that it was not ready and waiting, but I would remind him that some 104 out of the 144 capabilities which were specified in the headline goal have now reached the point where they might be called upon.

The noble Lord of course was quite right to remind us that the arrangements for the European security and defence policy are not in the Treaty of Nice, and again he was right that a declaration attached to the treaty makes clear that the treaty does not need to come into force for the defence arrangements agreed by the EU member states to become operational. That is, I hope, common ground between us. I hope what is also common ground between us is the removal of references to the WEU in the treaty because they no longer reflect reality.

The other new element in the treaty is the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred, which is the reference to a new political and security committee which is already up and running and to which the Council will now be able to delegate the running of a crisis management operation. The committee is referred to in Article 25 and it is one of the lynchpins of the CFSP and the ESDP. It is a permanent committee of national officials based in Brussels. It is chaired by a representative of the Presidency and its role is to monitor issues that come within CFSP and then to make recommendations to the Council on action. It is also being charged with monitoring the implementation of policies already agreed and overseeing the work of the military committee, the committee for civilian aspects of civilian crisis management and various other working groups. I hope that that answers the points that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, raised.

From some of the points raised, not only by your Lordships but by others, it is hard to imagine that somewhere in the treaty there really is not an article which sets up a permanent euro army under the control of all sorts of people, including some foreign nationals, which either forces our Armed Forces into campaigns which we do not want to be in or refuses to allow us to participate in campaigns that we do want to be in.

The European security and defence policy is really about improving the military capabilities of European nations to conduct certain EU-led military operations. Let me reiterate, those operations are humanitarian; they are peacekeeping; they are crisis management; and they are operations in which NATO as a whole—that is, all NATO acting together—decides that it does not want to be engaged.

The ESDP is making a real difference by obliging member states to consider their own capacity for action. That must be good for everybody who believes in strong defence. When I had the honour of being the Minister for Defence Procurement, on numerous occasions I received many complaints about the inability of our European partners to put their money where their mouth was over some military capability. This focuses them on precisely building up that capability. Of course member states have committed to overcoming the important shortfalls that have been identified—shortfalls that are discussed regularly in your Lordships' House—such as the shortfall in strategic airlift. The capabilities improvement conference in November was a further and critical step in that process.

One of the most common objections to ESDP is that there is somehow a confusion or a conflict in the command and control structures that we are setting up. There really are no rival military structures to NATO. We have said that, and to avoid any doubt that anything has changed, I repeat it to your Lordships. Where NATO is not engaged, the EU may decide to lead an operation. The EU will clearly exercise political control, as the committee which I have just referred to would indicate, over any operations that it leads but it will use NATO's military operational tools or it will use national tools. Again, we have discussed the role of DSACEUR, the role of SHAPE, or the role of a national capability such as our own PJHQ. There is no stand-off here between NATO and the European Union. There is no rival operational structure.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked me again for some reassurance on what he quoted to us from European politicians and asked whether I could really give him that assurance. Perhaps I may I quote what the European Council agreed at Nice. It is not in the treaty. It is in the report on the European security and defence policy. That report was approved by all heads of state and government at Nice. The noble Lord said, "Here is what a European politician is saying", but I ask him to look at what the heads of government, the heads of state said, what they wrote down and what they all agreed to. They said:

"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. As regards the Member States concerned, NATO remains the basis of the collective defence of its members".

We have emphasised that point over and over again. The agreement went on:

"The development of the ESDP will contribute to the vitality of a renewed transatlantic link."

This again acknowledges the transatlantic link which is so vitally important to us. It continued:

"This development will also lead to a genuine strategic partnership between the EU and NATO in the management of crises, with due regard for the two organisations' decision-making autonomy."

It is explicit in giving the very assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, sought of me. He asked me; I assured him. But somehow in the back of my mind I have a doubt that however explicit I am and whatever I can produce that is explicit from the leaders of the governments involved, nothing will convince the noble Lord on this point.