EU: External Action Service — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 25 January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the detailed organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service will be decided by the member states by unanimity on the basis of a recommendation from the high representative, the noble Baroness, Lady Cathy Ashton. The noble Baroness has set up a high level group, the Ashton group, comprising senior members of the Commission and the Council Secretariat and member states' ambassadors to work through the key issues to be addressed.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Deputy Leader of the Lords), Shadow Minister, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (Also Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I thank the Minister for that reply. Did he hear Javier Solana's view that this is going to be "the biggest diplomatic service in the world"? Has he noticed that, since the Lisbon treaty came into force, 54 new super-delegations, previously EU embassies or delegations, have been set up around the world? To whom will this enormous force be accountable, what will it cost and how much of the impact will fall on the already squeezed Foreign Office budget?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, we are looking not at the creation of a major new entity but at the reorganisation of the current external representation of the European Union into a much more coherent and effective body. We therefore do not see, as perhaps others do, a massive increase in representation or numbers.

It is not yet possible to give a detailed breakdown of costs. Any costs would have to be held within the overall EU budget for financial perspectives, which is €49.8 billion, but we are committed, in the form of Cathy Ashton's high level committee, to producing results by April this year, which is not far away. I regret to say that I do not have them at the moment.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Although the Minister is not directly responsible, does he agree that it is sad that UKIP and the Tory Party continue with their deep hostility to the EAS proposal? Is it not important for the Government to insist and reassure the House that the Foreign Office's and EAS's representational activities in future will remain totally and self-evidently separate? Will he say a word about the possible indications of UK recruitment applications for the EAS?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

I should not make any comment on the first point for fear of stealing the thunder of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who I am sure will be seeking to speak in a moment. It is clear, however, that, as has been said, there will not be an overlap between European external representation, which is about representation on those issues for which Europe has a clear, defined and unanimous policy, and the representation of Her Majesty's Government, which protects the interests of the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly staff will transfer to EAS and we hope there will be representational staff from a number of member states, not least the United Kingdom. We have excellent candidates and we will put them forward. We hope to have secondees in place to ensure that our voice is heard among others so that policy goes forward in a successful manner.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that senior appointments in the External Action Service are made on the basis of professional competence, including knowledge of languages and experience in the matters most required for the post in question, and not by Buggins's turn or by a rigid national quota system?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. It is very important indeed that appointments should be made through a transparent procedure and be based on merit, not nationality. The high representative will oversee the setting up of recruitment processes for EAS. We expect this to be unique. We will not want this to be on a traditional concours system. We do not want to see a long lead time or a long list; nor do we want to have mandatory requirements for candidates to have X number of languages. We need the right skills and experience for the job. For example, the Chinese may need to have an EU head of delegation who has a strong knowledge of the region and even speaks Mandarin if he wants to have the maximum impact. That is what we will seek to have in the appointments that we will be part of making and no doubt Cathy Ashton will seek to ensure that we have such representation.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

With so many of the global issues facing the international community only possible of solution by international co-operation, does my noble friend agree that there has never been a time when this service has been more needed and that the quality of the people within it will be crucial? It is absolutely essential that we begin to speak in harmony and establish common objectives on global warming, economic issues, security and the rest.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend. We are delighted to have Cathy Ashton giving that leadership and to have a body of people that will represent the European Union coherently on all those issues where there is unanimity. There will be a greater degree of transparency and accountability to the member states, which will strengthen Europe and the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

Can the noble Lord give us a clear assurance that there will be any British embassies left in 10 years' time? If he can give that assurance, will he tell us where they will be? If he does not have the answer at his fingertips, would he be good enough to put a letter in the Library?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I used to listen to with great interest, and enjoy, the questions of the noble Lord and the expertise and perseverance he showed on Europe. However, since he became leader of UKIP, his questions have got more esoteric and strange; I can think of no stranger one than this.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I understand that the United Kingdom is not represented directly in about 40 or 50 members of the United Nations. Can the noble Lord indicate how many of those countries the External Action Service may have resident representation in?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

The European Union has some 130 external delegations at present. There are some 200 countries and territories, as I recall, in the diplomatic world. Clearly, I cannot answer the question because it is part of the process that is being gone through by high representative Cathy Ashton and her colleagues. However, I am sure that we can expect a sensible solution.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

Can the Minister assure us that the creation of these missions will not lead the Treasury to have the brilliant idea of closing down our missions in those countries? However excellent the EU may be, it is not reasonable to expect a mixed EU representation to look after our national commercial interests and our national defence interests or indeed to handle the issue of passports and entry into this country. We shall need our own missions. I want to be assured that we shall not lose them in a splendid cost-cutting exercise by the Treasury.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My colleague, the Minister in another place, has given the assurance that there is no connection between the role that we have as a national Government, that of our embassies which represent us abroad and the new structure in the European Union. I am confident that that is the case. Judgments were made solely in relation to the merits of the case and the arguments for having embassies abroad.