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William Hague on Europe and Defence

This is the text that William Hague prepared for this afternoon's debate on the Lisbon Treaty.  Because it is the prepared text, tomorrow's Hansard may record very slightly different words.  This text doesn't include interruptions etc either.  Liam Fox's contribution can be read here.

Mr Speaker, it was our contention, when the timetable for debating this Bill was discussed three weeks ago, that the vital areas of Foreign Policy and Defence merited at the least two separate days of debate, and I suspect it will be clear, both from the uncertainty surrounding some of the issues to be debated today and the enormity of them, that far more time should have been given to them. At the outset, let us be clear that the Foreign, Security and Defence provisions of the EU Treaty provide a classic illustration of how closely the Treaty now before us mirrors the EU Constitution, usually down to the smallest detail.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of this House, a Committee of course with a Labour majority, concluded in their report, “that there is no material difference between the provisions on Foreign Policy in the Constitutional Treaty which the government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied.”

No rational person could come to any other conclusion. The title of the proposed EU Foreign Minister has been changed to “High Representative”, but everything else is there: the existence of this position and the simultaneous membership of the European Commission for the person holding it, the appointment of the High Representative by Qualified Majority Voting, the extension of Qualified Majority Voting to proposals made by the High Representative and the design of the EU Diplomatic Service, the creation of a new EU Foreign Policy fund, the requirement on Britain and France to invite the High Representative to present the case of the EU at the UN Security Council when a Common Position has been determined, the creation of a single legal personality for the EU, and, a series of Defence commitments which include a mutual Defence commitment, an objective of Common Defence and so-called structured co-operation of an inner group in Defence matters – all of these, the subject of our six hour debate today, were present in the EU Constitution and are present in the EU Treaty. Some of them were indeed among the aspects of the Treaty which in the opinion of the former Foreign Secretary and now Lord Chancellor made it a Constitutional Treaty. He told the House on 6 June 2005 that the creation of an EU Foreign Minister as well as an EU President were “points central to the European Constitutional Treaty” and he saw “no prospect of their being brought into force save through the vehicle of a Constitutional Treaty.”

So in Foreign Policy, Mr Speaker, it is as clear as in any aspect of the Treaty, that if the government were possessed of any honour or honesty in living up to their manifesto commitments, the people of this country would be permitted the referendum that they both want and deserve.

The government cannot, therefore, in this case mount any credible argument that the provisions of the Treaty are different from the Constitution, thus absolving them of their referendum commitment. They can only argue that the provisions in this area are relatively unimportant and would not merit a referendum in any case. That was the gist of the Foreign Secretary’s argument this afternoon. It is an argument however, which comes up against three major problems. The first is that it is generally agreed by observers who have set out to be impartial that in this area the Treaty makes important changes. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee noted that, “The government risks underestimating, and certainly is downplaying in public, the importance and potential of the new Foreign Policy Institutions established by the Lisbon Treaty, namely the new High Representative and the European External Action Service. We recommend that the government should publicly acknowledge the significance of the Foreign Policy aspects of the Lisbon Treaty.”

Second, it has emerged that important decisions about how exactly the Foreign and Defence provisions will be implemented are being held back until ratification in this country in particular has been completed. It has already been the stated opinion of the European Scrutiny Committee of this House that the process of agreeing this Treaty, “could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of National Parliaments and to curtail public debate,” but it appears that the marginalisation of public debate and parliamentary scrutiny continues now. Decisions, for instance, about the role of the President of the European Council in Foreign Policy, and the roll-out of the EU Diplomatic Service, along with the nature of the all important structured co-operation in Defence are only to be taken later, according to the leaked memo from the Slovenian Presidency written on 16 January, when they will no longer be subject to the scrutiny of this parliament, let alone the people of this country. These decisions are clearly of huge importance, indeed there is every prospect that the scene is being set for a serious turf war between the President of the Council and the High Representative, not a clever thing to build into any Constitution and not something that suggests their roles will be unimportant.

And the third difficulty for the government is that the changes bought in by this Treaty on Foreign Policy and Defence were important enough for the vast majority of them to have been strongly opposed by the government. The background to this is that there has been for many years instinctive agreement across this House about the relationship of the European Union to Foreign Policy. We have all been in favour of Member States of the EU working together on Foreign Policy issues on an inter-governmental and consensus basis. The need to do so in the years to come, for instance, in relation to the Balkans and in dealing with the foreign policy challenges being presented by Russia. Indeed, we wish, again I think in common with the government, that there was a more effective and forceful unity of Foreign Policy approach from EU Members in facing up to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capability and to the crimes of regimes such as those of Zimbabwe and Burma. So there is no hostility in this House to the co-operation of Member States, as Nation States, on a wide range of very important issues.

It is the introduction of Treaty changes which increase the role of the EU at the expense of Member States, and the introduction of institutions which go beyond supplementing co-operation to supplanting it with supra-national decision-making which the great majority of us in this House have always opposed.

Indeed, there is almost a British consensus that institutional change is not only irrelevant to an effective common foreign and security policy but can even be a substitute for it, as is clear from the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee on this subject.

Professor Hill of Cambridge’s Centre of International Studies told the Committee that ‘institutional change has too often been a substitute for change at the level of policy and a willingness to grasp the nettle of difficult decisions … whenever there is a problem in European Union foreign policy, the instinct is to say, “let’s invent some new procedure.”’ Professor Whitman of the University of Bath similarly said that ‘historically a lot of effort has gone into the procedure rather than the policy’ and went on to tell the Committee that he thought ‘the CFSP could carry on working quite happily without the changes that are in [the Lisbon] Treaty.’

A dazzling array of Labour foreign secretaries, past and present drove the point home to the Committee. Lord Owen’s view was that the EU spent too much time on ‘institutional development and press relations’, whereas the best way to strengthen EU foreign policy was “practical success on the ground”. The Rt Hon Member for Derby South dealt briskly with the argument that, as she put it, ‘if the European Union cannot get an agreement [on the Treaty], there will be a huge crisis and … the EU will no longer be able to function’. Not so, she said: ‘the last few months have shown that that is not actually so. The EU is functioning and has, indeed, reached some quite far-reaching decisions’. And the current foreign secretary was of the same mind. He said that the EU’s actions on climate change ‘have done more to show the relevance of the European Union than any amount of institutional tinkering’.

We on this side of the House are in full agreement with those views. We have near unanimity. So it is even less defensible that instead of standing up for their well-founded preference for practical delivery over increasing the EU’s powers with institutional change in the negotiations the Government from the Prime Minister down rolled over and agreed to the profound institutional changes and increases in the EU’s powers that we are discussing today.

That is why, when the government said they had a red-line, that there must be no intrusion on Britain’s right to an independent foreign policy, there was of course, completely agreement in Britain. That Ministers have secured a “Declaration” attached to the Treaty making our rights in Foreign Policy clear shows both the importance that they attach to it and their own view that the Treaty intrudes into this area. It is a pity to say the least that the legal advisor to the European Scrutiny Committee considers the existence of such a declaration, as opposed to a protocol, to be “meaningless” but it is instructive that Ministers felt that such a declaration had to be made.

It is an illustration of the consensus in this House over many years that almost every provision in the Treaty concerning Foreign Policy has been opposed by the government at one time or another. It is now the job of the Foreign Secretary to put a positive gloss on everything his predecessors opposed in the name of the same government. They were opposed in the first place to the EU Foreign Minister or High Representative also being a Member of the Commission, given that the Commission’s responsibilities will overlap into Foreign Policy. As the former Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon. Member for Blackburn said in November 2003, “We would have preferred to have explicit separation of those two posts….The institutional balance between the Council and the Commission is absolutely fundamental to the proper operation of the EU, and, for a variety of reasons, Member States would not accept that they would merge into one position.”

At the same time, Ministers were trenchantly opposed to the idea that proposals made by the EU Foreign Minister would be agreed by Qualified Majority Voting, the Rt Hon, Member for Blackburn stated on 1st December 2003 that “QMV on proposals made by the Union’s Minister for Foreign Affairs is simply unacceptable…We made it clear that common Foreign and Security Policy is an inter-governmental matter, and must be established unanimously.” Yet the Article he was objecting to, Article 111-300 (2) of the Constitution is now there as Article 1, paragraph 34(b)(i) of the Lisbon Treaty, stating that the Council shall act by Qualified Majority, “On a proposal which the High Representative has presented following a specific request to him or her from the European Council, made on its own initiative or that of the High Representative.”

The difficulty with this is obvious, and it is why the government opposed it. The Council could unanimously ask the Foreign Minister to present a proposal, with Britain in agreement with doing so, but if the proposal was unsatisfactory to the British Foreign Secretary he or she would then find that that unsatisfactory proposal was subject to Majority Voting. The government evidently shared our fears, but it capitulated.

It did so again on the creation of the European Diplomatic Service, or External Action Service. When this was proposed, the then Minister for Europe, the Rt Hon Member for Rotherham, said, in a written answer on 17th June 2002, “We believe that it remains for EU Member States to organise their respective bilateral diplomatic services at the national level.” Yet the government have now agreed to the creation of such a service, to its rules on diplomatic and consular protection being determined by Qualified Majority Voting, and have even done so in the light of a Commission Green Paper which said that, “EU Consulates could take over functions now controlled by Member States, including issuing visas.”

The opposition of the government to this had been deep and longstanding. As recently as last June, only days before the Treaty was signed, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor, the Rt Hon Lady, the Member for Derby South, fought a spectacularly unsuccessful last minute rearguard action against the creation of the External Action Service. She reportedly said that the creation of such a service could be seen as “State-building” and that Britain was opposed to it. How can it be that the creation of this service is sufficiently alarming to the Foreign Office for the Foreign Secretary of our country to make every effort to stop it even at the final hour but that when the government caved in and agreed to it, it became something which was no threat at all and which parliament did not need to worry itself about?

And is it not the case that at the same dinner in Brussels, at the Foreign Affairs Council which preceded the Lisbon summit, the former Foreign Secretary also made a last ditch effort to prevent the Foreign Minister or High Representative becoming the permanent Chairman of the meetings of Foreign Ministers? Again, Mr Speaker, if this is something of no account, why did the government go to such lengths to try to prevent it? Is it the Foreign Secretary’s position that she was wrong to try to prevent these things? Because if it is his view that she was right then it is view diametrically opposed to the one he has presented today.

Then there is the matter of representation at the UN Security Council. Once again the Treaty carries the exact language of the Constitution, saying that, “When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the UN Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position.” The approach of the government to this was unambiguous, when the Rt. Hon Member for Neath put forward the government’s views to the European Convention drafting the Constitution he argued that this entire paragraph be struck out altogether, saying that, “The UK cannot accept any language which implies that it would not retain the right to speak in a national capacity on the UN Security Council.” Having got nowhere with this argument, the government instead proposed another amendment suggesting that the EU Foreign Minister could only make a request to speak on behalf of the Union. Overruled on this as well, they simply gave in completely.

To be fair, the Foreign Affairs Committee said that this provision for the High Representative to speak at the UN Security Council would make little difference to current practice, and the government have of course stated their agreement with that. But if the government were confident that it made no difference to current practice, why was their initial hostility to the idea so emphatic and repeated? Presumably it is because they saw this as the thin end of a wedge, and it has subsequently turned out of course that while the government has been resisting that wedge, the Prime Minister has appointed to the Foreign Office a Minister who is the wedge in himself. He said on 2nd October 2006 that the European Commission would eventually represent the EU in the United Nations as the voice of all the Member States, adding, “I think it will go in stages…it is not going to happen with a flash and a bang”, but, “it will happen as quickly as possible.” This is not the policy of the Government, but it is the policy of one of its Members, and since he sees his role, in his own words, as “the older figure, the wise eminence behind the young Foreign Secretary”, and since the Prime Minister saw fit to make him the Minister for UN reform, who knows where this might lead us in the future?

That brings me to Article 48 (3) of the Treaty which allows the Council to move to Qualified Majority Voting in any of the remaining areas covered by unanimity, including Foreign Policy. This means that the extension of Qualified Majority Voting into Foreign Policy embodied in the Treaty could be taken much further without any further Treaty having to be negotiated or ratified. It has become almost needless to say that this provision was also opposed by the government, with the Rt. Hon Member for Rotherham saying on 20th October 2003 that, “We think that a self-amending Constitutional Treaty does not make a lot of sense,” and that, “there is no enthusiasm for the clause within the European Union.” Well, it turned out there was enough enthusiasm for the government to find it advisable once again to capitulate and now to recommend to parliament the very thing they had strongly opposed.  They have said that any such extension of Qualified Majority Voting will be submitted to parliament for approval but the Foreign Affairs Committee drew attention to the inadequacy of this and said, “We further recommend that all amendments to the Treaty including extensions of Qualified Majority Voting should be done by primary legislation and not simply by a vote of the House.” That must be right, Mr Speaker, the only restraint on governments of either parties in the agreement of European Treaties has been the need to pass primary legislation – that must apply to the amendment of those Treaties unless the rights of this House are to be reduced yet again, in this case by reducing debate on changes in the governance of Britain to a matter of a few hours instead of the passage of legislation through all its stages.

It will be apparent from what I have said that the impact on Foreign Policy making of this Treaty is more substantial than the government have conceded, and its potential future impact dramatically so. A final illustration of that is the creation of the new EU Foreign Policy fund under Article 1, paragraph 47 of the Lisbon Treaty. The government demanded that decisions about this fund should be taken by unanimity but, believe it or not, they capitulated and such decisions are now to be made by Qualified Majority Voting, including the amounts to be contributed by the Member States. This is a matter which links Foreign Policy with Defence, since the new fund is seen by some as the first step towards a Common Defence Budget for the EU. My Hon Friend, the Member for Woodspring, will of course wish to refer to the Defence provisions when he winds up the debate, but let me make clear now our gave concern about the extent, nature and implications of those provisions.

Article 1, paragraph 49 of the Lisbon Treaty says that the Common Security and Defence Policy shall include the progressive framing of the Common Union Defence Policy, leading to a Common Defence and it goes on to establish a new, mutual defence commitment quite separate from that of the NATO alliance. You may not be surprised to hear by now, Mr Speaker, that the government opposed all these provisions, with the Rt. Hon Member for Neath arguing that, “Common Defence, including as a form of enhanced co-operation, is divisive, and a duplication of the guarantees that 19 out of the 25 Member States will enjoy through NATO.”

It is serious enough to sign a Treaty on Common Defence and a mutual Defence commitment in an organisation which does not have the means to fulfil such a commitment, but it is more serious still to sign a Treaty which could change the nature of the Western alliance without any preceding sufficient national debate or forethought.

The French Defence Minister has been perfectly frank about this, saying on 19th July that the new Treaty, “Will permit re-enforced co-operation, notably in the area of Defence, since Defence in Europe will move forward by using a hard core of countries which want to take on their own security. The reinforced co-operation to which he refers is the, “permanent structured co-operation” referred to by the Treaty, designed to allow an inner core of EU Members interested in taking forward military integration to do so without the rest. Yet again, the government initially opposed structured co-operation, saying that it could not accept the proposal and that it would undermine the inclusive, flexible model of the European Security and Defence policy. Their reasons for being against it were good ones, since permanent structured co-operation would leave those European countries not included in it with even less incentive to improve their military capabilities and by creating what some would see as a European pillar of NATO, it could change the nature of the NATO alliance in a way which in the longer term would weaken its essential transatlantic character.

Added to that, is the creation of Qualified Majority Voting on the statute, seat and operational rules of the European Defence Agency, an institution already established but on a shaky legal basis. Article 2 of the relevant protocol requires participating Member States to co-operate to, “bring their defence apparatus into line with each other” and to achieve “approved objectives concerning the level of investment expenditure on equipment” among other things. But it is surely part of our role as a nation to make our own decisions regarding our security needs and defence equipment, and to work in co-operation with European allies or with the United States or others as we see fit. That such decisions should begin to be circumscribed by the introduction of QMV into the affairs of the European Defence Agency, headed as it will be by the EU High Representative who is also a member of the European Commission, may one day have important consequences, including once again for transatlantic co-operation.

The eventual consequences of such changes will not become apparent until after this Treaty has been ratified. Indeed, the government appear to be saying as little as possible about British participation in structured defence co-operation until after the Treaty has been passed. The Government have done nothing to inform the nation of the consequences of these changes or its future intentions.

But these are no small matters. If there is a case to approach something as vital as the defence of the nation in a different way, that case should be made openly and honestly. The former French Foreign Minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said that, “the Constitution lays the legal basis for a future European Army.” Romano Prodi has said a similar thing, yet no such frank assessment has come from the Government on this or any other aspect of the Treaty.

The French Government have said that European defence will be one of their forthcoming presidency’s priorities. So will the Foreign Secretary come clean: is it this Government’s policy to participate in permanent structured co-operation on European defence?

The provisions of the Lisbon Treaty on Foreign, Security and Defence policy are therefore not difficult to characterise. They are, by common agreement across the House, more substantial that the government have acknowledged. While described as limited in their implications, even a short analysis suggests that there future implications could be far-reaching. For that reason, they have been, almost without exception, opposed by Ministers during the negotiations of this Treaty, and for the same reasons they are opposed by the Opposition to this day.

Yet this Government have at every opportunity tried to keep Parliament and the public in the dark about this Treaty in general and its provisions on foreign policy and defence in particular. They negotiated in secret. They have tried to cover up their importance. And now they are delaying the crucial decisions about how they will work in practice until it is too late for MPs and voters to have any say on the matter at all.

If this Treaty is ratified, only the passage of months and years will inform us as to whether the assurances of the Foreign Secretary today were to be relied upon. But I suspect, Mr Speaker, that the judgement of time, on Ministers whose complacent advocacy of these proposals has replaced their virulent opposition to them in the recent past, will be very harsh indeed.


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