European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 4th June 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 3:37 pm, 4th June 2008

My Lords, although we spent quite some time looking at this Bill in some detail in Committee, it is inevitable that with such huge issues at stake and such a very wide coverage of our national life involved in a single piece of legislation, and indeed in a single treaty, many issues would remain to be covered more thoroughly and clarified. We now return to these at the Report stage, and may open up some new areas that were illuminated in Committee. The amendment is tabled in my name and that of noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, and deals with aspects of our foreign policy and the common foreign and security policy. On the face of the Bill for all to see is the Government's attempt to exclude the common foreign and security policy from both the treaty provisions and the extension of the Community's powers; in effect, to ring-fence foreign policy. That is the clear aim and intention of the Bill following the negotiations on the treaty itself. Perhaps I may use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, this is to keep foreign policy "intergovernmental and non-legislative".

We debated that at length in Committee and it will not surprise noble Lords, particularly those opposite, to learn that some of us were not at all convinced that this is a watertight situation. We have always fully accepted the case for intergovernmental co-operation and sometimes intimate dovetailing on a range of foreign policy issues. During Committee we were treated to a superb speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who is in his place. With his vast experience, he described what can and has been achieved by such co-operation. But we do not welcome the intrusion of majority voting and the removal of vetoes into various aspects of the conduct of our foreign policy: nor did the Government welcome them either; they strongly resisted them.

In Committee, I mentioned 10 areas in which we doubt whether the insulation procedure is working. I will not detain your Lordships with them again, aside from the self-amending provision in the treaty, which we will debate later, and the role of the European Court of Justice, under its new name the CJEU. I want to refer in particular to the European External Action Service, which is specified in paragraph 3 of 13A of the treaty and mentioned in our amendment, because in this area there seem to be many loose ends and uncertainty and we need to clear up matters.

When the idea was first put forward, the UK Government Minister responsible said firmly:

"We believe that it remains for EU member states to organise their respective bilateral Diplomatic Services at the national level".—[Hansard, Commons, 21/1/03; col. 226W.]

Now it seems that all that has gone and in the design of the new diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, which appears to be going ahead apace, although the treaty has not yet been fully ratified, the majority of votes will be shaping a number of aspects.

I must confess that although we have all tried to carry out research into a treaty that is known to be—it is labelled as—deliberately unintelligible, it is still a little mysterious. On 26 February my right honourable friend William Hague asked the Foreign Secretary what recent discussions he had had with his EU counterparts on the European External Action Service and whether any meetings on the organisation and funding of the EEAS had taken place. The Foreign Secretary in reply said that there had been no discussions at ministerial or working level on the detailed organisation funding and functioning of the EEAS. If that was true then—I am talking about late February—it is not true now. The noble Baroness spoke about the matter at col. 494 in Committee. She did not say—I am convinced that this is because she was not aware of it, otherwise she would have told us fully in her usual manner—that COREPER was about to hold two sessions at working level to decide the structure and modus operandi of the EEAS, including such matters as the setting up of embassies worldwide.

It seems that whatever was happening in February or a few weeks ago we are now in advanced discussions about the detailed organisation and functioning of the Europe-wide diplomatic service. That is the position now, and it requires our urgent attention. It is no surprise that the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place called for regular reports to be laid before Parliament on these discussions during the current year and that Parliament should be kept fully informed, which it does not seem to have been. This is all part of what has been called the hidden wiring of the treaty, which requires us to sign up in relation to issues that remain completely undecided or even unidentified. We therefore need as a start to see those COREPER discussion outcomes and for them to be published and laid in the Libraries of both Houses. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us that that is possible.

Why are we focusing on this particularly? Because, in the words of the Government and of all those who follow these things, this is all absolutely central to the way in which our foreign policy will be handled and shaped by the new diplomatic corps. How will it work? We do not know. We have not been told and we have had no opportunity to contribute to the shaping so far of what is a key instrument in the determination of our foreign and international policies.

I suppose that one would worry a bit less if EU foreign policy had all along been an unalloyed success. That would be a little reassuring, and in some areas it has worked extremely well. However, that would still leave many questions about how the new diplomatic corps works, especially if it develops a life of its own as an unanchored and independent institution. But the objective reality is that EU foreign policy has not always been a success; in fact in some areas it has run into the gravest difficulties or never really got off the ground at all. As the Financial Times argued only a few days ago, during your Lordships' recess period:

"The paucity of European strategic thinking is stunning".

It went on to argue that that was especially so when it comes to the rising power of Asia, which of course is where the centre of gravity of the whole world system is now moving. I suppose that that is not surprising when there are such numerous and different member state views of what foreign policy priorities should be. But that is the position. Therefore we need to proceed with great caution and great clarity before committing ourselves to these types of projects.

I do not want to go into the EU aid record in detail now, but there are people on all sides of your Lordships' House who recognise that it has certainly not been brilliant. I am far from convinced—I know that this is more controversial—that EU foreign policy will assist our national energy security. We need co-operation but I am not persuaded by those who make the facile jump between co-operation on interconnecters, nuclear power and so on—that is all technically correct—and saying that we therefore need a common energy policy underpinned by new regulations and legal provisions. It is a jump from hope to fantasy.

Behind these doubts lies a still bigger question: is the European Union today, in modern circumstances, still the best vehicle for carrying forward the central goals of our foreign policy? What are these goals? The Foreign Office occasionally issues magnificently glossy books, or annual reports, and this year it has abandoned the previous 10 goals and has four new ones. Mr Miliband has identified them as: counterterrorism and checking WMD proliferation—obviously, we are all in favour of that; preventing and resolving conflict worldwide—well, who could argue with that?; promoting a high-growth, low-carbon global economy—trickier I should have thought, but it sounds broadly right; and to develop as effective institutions the UN and the EU.

Those are very interesting but they are stratospherically vague ambitions. Of course the UN needs reform; there are Members of your Lordships' House who know that very well. When I heard a UN official say the other day that Robert Mugabe was in good standing at the United Nations I began to worry that something really needs attention there. As for the European Union, its foreign policy is useful to us. But it is not the only network. That is where we draw a line—with those who say that it is the only game in town and the only destiny. We have to ask: what about the Commonwealth network? What about India? What about our links with Japan? What about the new centres of power? How will we develop our foreign policy with those?

We need much more than EU partners and a common foreign and security policy to fulfil and promote our contribution and our interests worldwide. We need maximum flexibility in our EU alliances and coalitions. Frankly, the Lisbon treaty gives us neither. Our foreign policy defines us as a nation and Parliament deserves and requires a proper say in that part of our international role, which is to be shaped by the EU and its agencies. This amendment makes a very modest request. That is why I beg to move.