European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 4:30 pm, 6th May 2008

We come to a whole group of amendments which covers the positioning of common foreign security policy and the foreign policy of this country within the pattern set by the proposed treaty of Lisbon. In essence, the amendments would secure something which the Government once wanted very badly out of this and the previous constitutional treaty but which they have failed to get. Perhaps that was too ambitious and we can now help them, because the Government's aim, and the clear aim of the Bill, is to try to ring-fence foreign policy and keep it firmly under national control. That is entirely creditable and makes sense in this world where, on some issues, we need tight and intimate coalitions with certain of our neighbours, allies and friends, but where the pattern changes from time to time and, on other occasions, we need either to pursue matters ourselves or seek a new alliance or coalition. The underlying aim of the Government was creditable, but they have failed and this Bill embodies their failure.

It is highly instructive to look back to the original convention, which drafted the constitution treaty where the words were born, and which we now have before us because they are identical. The essence of the matter was described well by Ministers then: it was to ensure that the European Union acts in all foreign policy issues on behalf of member states, and not the reverse. That is a very important qualification. They failed because they tried to delete the injunction that member states should,

"actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy".

That did not work. They tried to ensure that common foreign security policy would in no way fall, by any back door or side channel, under ECJ jurisdiction, and that with decisions under EU foreign policy there would not be grounds for appeal. They failed with that. They tried to define more clearly what common foreign security was, and what the boundaries were, with regard to which issues would be reserved for national decision and which should be within the competence of the Union, the Council of Ministers and the Foreign Affairs Council. They failed in that, too. Indeed, the noble Baroness, who circulated a very helpful letter giving her views on the role and work of the ECJ as a body, mentioned that the ECJ will,

"police the frontiers between CFSP and non-CFSP matters".

A gap was opened, through which all kinds of qualifications could creep.

Ministers tried to prevent Union delegations, as opposed to Commission delegations, always representing the Union in third countries or in international institutions or conferences. They failed in that, too. Above all, they struggled to prevent the birth of a big new European Union diplomatic corps, the so-called European External Action Service, which would be ambiguously outside national or intergovernmental control. That happened too, as we know; it is in the treaty and now being planned. According to the widely reported comments of Finland's Foreign Minister, Mr Stubb, it will make the EU,

"one of the world's great actors", and that,

"all over the world there will be EU embassies".

I do not think that was the intention; we will see whether that happens. Certainly, the treaty makes clear that the European Parliament, which we have discussed, should have hearings in appointing this army of ambassadors.

All this makes one query whether the Government have had the success that they claim—and as the Bill tries to ensure—in keeping foreign policy in national hands. It looks to me as though they have failed. Indeed, if one looks through the history of that ill-fated negotiation during the convention, which gave birth to the words we are dealing with now, it turns out to have been a rather dismal and futile negotiation. It was certainly an incompetent one, conducted by this Government, where they walked, again and again, into various traps from which they have not yet succeeded in escaping. Reading again the transcript of those negotiations and their outcome, which is in the treaty before us now, they sound as though they were being handled by a defeated nation, and as though we had to say yes to everything—as though we had no locus and leverage at all. It was a sad episode. Chances were missed completely at the Hampton Court summit of the European Council afterwards. All the opportunities were there to restore the situation; none of them was taken.

As for the general proposition that this has kept the CSFP out of the supranational zone, we know that in fact there are 11 areas relating to foreign policy—there are many other areas as well—in which the veto has been removed. They are the proposals from the EU Foreign Minister; the design of the EU diplomatic service; the setting up of an inner core in defence; arrangements for terrorism and mutual defence provisions; urgent financial aid provisions; humanitarian aid provisions; the election of the EU Foreign Minister; civil protection; terrorist financial controls; the new EU foreign policy fund, which we will debate a little later; and consular issues. There are 11, for a start. So please could we examine much more carefully the assertion, which the Bill tries and fails to underpin?

The truth is that Mr Stubb highlights our fundamental concerns on this matter very well. He wants a Europe with a lead role on the world stage—a place in the sun, as it were—and a single voice about foreign policy. That is his conviction and, from his point of view, he is perfectly entitled to hold it; but from our point of view the thinking is flawed. The wide range of overseas issues are such that the interests of member states vary—and properly so; it would be very odd if it was otherwise. On some they come together and member states operate beside each other and, on others, they differ. It depends entirely. The idea that we can rely on our European partners always to promote our interests and maximise our contribution to world peace and stability—which is potentially a very great one—has been shown to be totally unsound.

On the humanitarian side—and we shall debate later overseas development aid and support—once we had transferred a large part of our aid and development budget to the European institutions, the is much more toward the Francophonie. As we know, the interests of the Commonwealth, which is the potentially most powerful network in the modern world, with the rise of Asia, and one in which we have a centre, have been largely neglected in European development negotiations, while those of other countries with ex-colonial links, such as Spain, Portugal and France, seem to be in a much stronger position to develop theirs.

The treaty calls for an,

"ever-increasing degree of convergence of Member States' actions", in foreign policy. Those are the words out of the constitutional treaty—in other words, out of this treaty. Our foreign policy belongs in a networked world and, with the rise of Asia, has new needs and requires new platforms. We must have the flexibility to meet these entirely new conditions, which is why Amendment No. 15A is particularly important and one to which we should at least give some support, to give us the room to manoeuvre in this new world. The idea that we should have to consult the European Union Council on virtually every move before we take it, even when our direct security interests are affected in a new and original way, is unacceptable. We will no doubt come to that in more detail during the debate.

This is why the amendment needs to be moved. The amendments raise fundamental issues about how Europe can benefit its member states—and we are part of Europe—and how we can see the European region as something with which we want to be intimately concerned, as well as how, at the same time, we can have the freedom to operate in the networked world of foreign policy, which is different to the one in which the EU or the European Community before it was originally conceived. We need to raise our game, lift up our eyes to a different and modern world and develop foreign policy instruments that suit the world to come and not the world of yesterday. I beg to move.