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European Defence Union

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 9th June 2003.

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Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench 2:52 pm, 9th June 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they support the proposal for a European defence union now being floated by France and other member countries of the European Union.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful for that unequivocal Answer. Will the Minister confirm that the idea involves a proposal to set up a planning centre in Brussels by 2004? Does she agree that that planning centre would duplicate or be in direct competition with SHAPE and NATO? When the idea is put forward at the ministerial Council meeting in Greece, will Her Majesty's Government make it clear that they will have absolutely nothing to do with it?

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)

My Lords, I hope that my Answer was clear and unequivocal because that is exactly what it was designed to be. As I understand it, there are some suggestions about a planning centre. However, Her Majesty's Government remain committed to the inclusive, the intergovernmental, the NATO-friendly approach to the ESDP which the EU and NATO have agreed. We will therefore not support the development of a small, inner core within the European Union, particularly one involving a mutual defence commitment. So the noble Lord can rest assured that we shall be opposing it.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, is the Minister aware that her clear and short answer to this particular project is extremely welcome? But has she noticed that her colleague, the Secretary of State for Defence, has recently spoken about the overall decline in EU military spending generally? What is the point of developing either this initiative or any others outside NATO when budgets are shrinking and when the funds will not be available for a proper European Union united defence?

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)

My Lords, the Answer was designed to be clear and short, particularly after what the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said about the Government's love of complexity and complication. I hope that on this issue he will agree with me that the Government have been admirably uncomplicated and clear.

Her Majesty's Government have increased military expenditure. However, we believe that it is important to use the European mechanisms not only to try to encourage our colleagues in the EU to spend more on defence—and I notice that the noble Lord raises his eyebrows but we shall continue to press where we believe that is necessary—but to avoid duplication of effort in the EU in order that available resources are not duplicated between member states.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness for what she kindly said. Does she understand that I have always regarded her as a shining example of simplicity and plainness—plain speaking? If she would be kind enough to give just a bit of a lesson to the neighbour on her left, I have no doubt that the noble Lord will benefit from it.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the new operation in the Congo being organised on a European basis? If so, what framework does that joint peace enforcement exercise come under?

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)

Yes, my Lords, the United Nations Secretary-General requested that a short-term international force be deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a specific remit, including to secure Bunia airport and other vital installations in Bunia, as well as protecting the civilian population. The mandate for such a force was decided in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1484. The EU had decided to conduct an ESDP operation to fulfil the mandate. We are discussing numbers of troops to be sent from the United Kingdom and I hope that that will be decided within the next 48 hours or so.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, the Minister has been good enough to say that the Government will not support this new defence initiative. Will she be so good as to enhance the clarity with which she addressed the Question by informing your Lordships whether the Government will be prepared to veto it?

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)

My Lords, as regards enhancing the clarity of the Answer, "No, we do not", it is a rather unequivocal view. Let me be clear. We welcome the proposals on defence to develop a capabilities agency. The EU has to spend more—and certainly more effectively—and to look at the tools available for ESDP. We support updating the Petersberg tasks and creating a solidarity clause to reflect the desire of member states to support each other when dealing with disasters or terrorist attacks.

What we do not and cannot support is the introduction of a common defence either at 25 or through enhanced co-operation. We believe that that would be divisive and would undermine NATO—indeed, it would be a duplication of NATO. Therefore, we do not support the creation of any standing inner groups or inner core—call it what you will—for ESDP.

Photo of Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that NATO and not the EU is providing planning and mission control for the Polish contribution in Iraq?

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)

My Lords, as I understand it, the ESDP has come into operation only in relation to the Congo—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—in relation to some civilian operations in Bosnia; and now in relation to Operation Concordia in Macedonia. That will be another military operation. Those are the three theatres where I understand that at the moment ESDP is operating.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, the Minister was clear in her Answer to the Question. Is she able to be equally clear about which other countries in the EU are likely to be on the same side of this argument as Her Majesty's Government?

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)

Not entirely, my Lords, no. What I can say is that the four countries which got together on this basis were Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. The positions of others of our colleagues in the EU may be similar to ours. I understand, for example, that many of the accession countries take a similar view on the matter to Her Majesty's Government. However, at this moment I cannot give the noble and gallant Lord a full readout of who supports what over this.