HL Deb 24 May 1977 vol 383 cc1259-72

7.19 p.m.

Lord BANKS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they reconcile the development of a common foreign policy for the European Economic Community with separate representation of the United Kingdom and the other larger members of the Community at a series of Summit Meetings of the leading industrialised nations. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have, of course, been prompted to ask this Question by the treatment meted out to Mr. Roy Jenkins at the recent Summit Meeting in London of the Heads of Government of seven leading industrialised nations, including the United Kingdom. However, the Question goes much deeper than that particular issue. There is plenty of room for argument as to how the European Economic Community will develop. There are those who want a federal Europe—a European union with a European Government; and there are those who want a Europe des patries—a close alliance of independent nations. I incline to the former and I suspect that the Government incline to the latter. But whichever of these two solutions we chose, or any solution perhaps in between the two, those who supported Britain's continuing membership of the EEC in the referendum campaign two years ago were agreed that if the nations of the EEC were to exercise any influence in the world, it would only be by standing together and acting as one. There was general support for a common foreign policy, and I understand that the Government are fully committed to the development of a common foreign policy.

In the efforts already made to that end there have been both successes and failures. So far as the successes are concerned, we think of the united stand at the Helsinki Conference, and of the fact that at the most recent General Assembly of the United Nations the nations of the EEC voted together on 80 per cent. of the occasions. But we think, too, of the failures; the failure, for example, in the case of the recognition of the NPLA Government in Angola, and the disarray over energy and over the common fund for commodities. But sincere attempts have been made at co-ordination, and that is good so far as it goes; it is good, but it is not enough. Mr. Tindemans, the Belgian Prime Minister, in his report on European union said this: European union implies that we present a united front to the outside world… The European identity will not be accepted by the outside world so long as the European States appear sometimes united, sometimes divided. I wish to repeat that last sentence because it seems to me that it is at the root of the matter: The European identity will not be accepted by the outside world so long as the European States appear sometimes united, sometimes divided.

Mr. Tindemans went on to speak of the obligation to reach a common point of view, and of the obligation on the minority to rally to the view of the majority once the decision had been taken; and he suggested that the Community ought to speak with one voice to, for example, the United States of America, through one delegate or one nation. Certainly a common foreign policy would seem to imply speaking with one voice to the rest of the world. It implies a Community view rather than a British view, or a French view, or a German view.

The question I am asking is whether the Government agree with that. Do they accept that this is the principle which we should accept, even if, to begin with, we must limit the fields or the issues where it is applied? If they do accept that principle, then I think we are justified in asking them how they reconcile such a view with the separate representation of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy at the series of Summit Meetings at Rambouillet, Puerto Rico, and London. Separate and partial representation for the EEC nations seems to contradict the idea of a common foreign policy, and it is clear that the smaller nations do not like it. They wanted Mr. Jenkins, as President of the Commission, to be present at the Summit Conference, at least to represent their interests. I know that the French Government were largely responsible for the most unsatisfactory treatment of Mr. Jenkins, whereby he was only reluctantly invited to part of the conference, and not permitted to speak at the subsequent Press conference. But I do not think that any of the major EEC powers concerned can escape a degree of responsibility.

A Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted in the Guardian on 21st May as saying: The briefing our Foreign Minister had from Dr. David Owen, as President of the EEC Council of Ministers, was inadequate. The Dutch, Danes, Irish, Luxembourgers and ourselves will also want to raise wider questions of how these Summit Meetings are to be held in the future and our demand that the European Community should be fully, not as in London partially, involved". But even if Mr. Jenkins had been present throughout the conference, this would not necessarily have produced a common foreign policy. The Community even then would still have been very much an ancillary to a meeting of independent Powers.

The Seven propose to establish a secretariat, a formal structure to monitor the decisions of the London Summit. The Five excluded EEC nations are naturally exceedingly concerned about this. For them it raises this question: Is it really possible to have some members of the Community—and the biggest and most powerful at that—independently represented in a formal organisation of the Seven, and still to hope that the EEC can speak with one voice to the world? Must we not rather work towards the time when, in all the major world discussions on the great issues of the day, the European Community exploits the full potential of its influence by speaking with one voice through one delegation? I look forward to hearing the reply to these questions by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and to hearing his exposition of the Government's reaction to them.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, the House should rightly be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for raising this important and somewhat complex question this evening. I do not want to prejudge the answer to it that I would recommend by saying at the outset that in Europe we do not yet have, and will not for many years have, a common interest in all areas of foreign policy. Nor can we expect, as the Tindemans Report (from which the noble Lord freely quoted) suggested we might, to subordinate national to international interest overnight, and until that subordination takes place the time really is not ripe to make agreement on all issues of foreign policy legally mandatory upon all the Nine Members of the Community. Whether there are areas within which we can in practice do so voluntarily is another matter, to which I shall revert.

What is clear is that since one man cannot with one voice simultaneously express a multiplicity of views, we cannot as yet appoint a European Foreign Secretary. To do so, it would be necessary to proceed by majority verdict on countless issues. That may be feasible on the large and general issues upon which the framework of a policy may rest, but it is not feasible as a means of responding to all the mass of developing situations which Foreign Ministers habitually handle. Whether or not it was an acrimonious process, it would be too slow, and a common policy would therefore either go by default or proceed at the expense of the confidence of the Member countries in their common representative. To ask for a single representative to voice a common view before either the means of, or practice in, generating such a view has been attained, seems to me to be premature. The appointment of such a person would not result in the generation of such a view. It would merely serve to draw attention to its absence. The problem therefore is in part a problem of the level of responsibility and the level of decision which would be borne by the Minister when he came to be appointed.

If that alone was the import of the noble Lord's Question, I think it would deserve a rather short answer, but I appreciate that it is not; I appreciate, indeed, that it is precipitated, as he put it, by the controversy over Mr. Jenkins's presence at only part of the recent London economic summit. While his part-time attendance was not altogether satisfactory, I think it was understandable. We have to take on board that, after all, his function was to represent not the whole of the Community, but those Members of the Community not already individually represented. One can quite understand the disquiet that this has caused among those of the Community who were not represented, particularly as there is the prospect of a secretariat being established for the Seven and because this is in precisely the area of economic endeavour which is central to the operation of the Community, and also an area to which the Tindermans Report directed the best efforts of the Community to evolve a common policy.

My Lords, I do not believe that that, either, is the chief import of this Question. What it presents us with is an opportunity to look into the whole matter of the desirability and the means of developing a common policy for European foreign relations. That we can on occasion achieve it is beyond doubt. The noble Lord has alluded, in fact, to the percentage of votes which were cast in unanimity by the Members of the Common Market in the United Nations. I work it at 83 per cent.; he works it at only 80 per cent. We have only to look at the Lomé Convention; an agreement between the EEC and 49 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries—an admirable example, and one in an area which the Tindemans Report, again, recommended as ripe for mandatory agreements on policy.

The announcement of agreement preparatory to the final CIEC meeting in Paris is another example of successful co-operation in the area of the new international economic order. One cannot help wondering whether a contributory factor to this success was not the failure of our own, rather retrograde, attempt to get separate representation at the conference that is about to conclude, and whether our representative would in fact have sung the same song as the representatives of the other Community Members at Paris had one been appointed.

There is in fact a large area of consensus on foreign affairs already extant in the EEC; and at the United Nations, on 30 occasions, the country holding the Presidency of Europe spoke on behalf of all Nine Members of the Community in the period to which the noble Lord alluded, which I take it was the 1975–76 Session. None the less, opportunities are being missed. One of the strongest appeals a mediator can make is to the economic interest and political aspirations of the parties in a confrontation.

Cyprus is immediately adjacent to mainland Europe. It falls within the geographical area within which, as Mr. Tindemans rightly said, it is imperative that we concert our policies. Yet what has been the specifically European contribution to the solution of the crisis in that beautiful but riven island? It seems, so far as I can make out, to have been limited to an expression of good will towards the efforts of Mr. Clifford, the United States envoy, when he took a hand in the affair. Since then, Mr. Denktash and Archbishop Makarios have met and raised our hopes, and their deputies have differed and parted, and the island is no less riven than it was before. Yet the Community has agreements, not only with Cyprus itself but with Greece and Turkey as well, and Greece is actually proposing herself for full membership of the Community. What a waste of the political leverage with which to set the wheels of conciliation in motion, and of the economic oil with which to smooth their progress! On Palestine, too, which is not very far from there, we have maintained, as Europeans, a notable silence. There is no evidence that Ministers or their representatives meet with anything approaching sufficient frequency to bring about a harmonisation of policy in these and many other areas.

My Lords, we are now approaching the Belgrade meeting. At that critically important conference, the nations will sit in judgment upon the workings of the Helsinki Agreement. and in consequence upon each other. In the eyes of a large part of the world, two conflicting ideologies will be weighed one against the other. Much concrete benefit, not all of it publicly acclaimed, has flowed from Helsinki. There have also been flagrant violations of the spirit, and possibly of the letter, of the agreement. The whole area of the review will be fertile ground for Soviet propagation of divisions between the members of the European Community. Many of us would like to know—and I hope the noble Lord will tell us—what steps are now being taken in preparation for this testing time to harmonise the views and integrate the approaches of the Nine to the conference. As Tindemans said in a passage immediately before the one which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, quoted: The development of a détente policy in Europe presupposes that all those with whom we negotiate recognise the European Community as an entity". We have proved unable to achieve this in the realm of defence, which is the other side of the same coin. It is all the more important that we should achieve it in relation to détente.

My Lords, another major issue which is about to come before us is the meeting, which some of us expect to be the penultimate one, of the Conference on the Law of the Sea, described aptly by The Times as "a minefield". Within two months the means of disposing of an uncounted volume of wealth of mineral resources may be complete. It is no exaggeration to say that the financial wellbeing and economic strength of the whole world system may depend upon decisions taken within the next year or 18 months in this field. One would like to be confident that the members of the Community have a common assessment of the opportunities, of the risks and of the path which they ought to follow. We shall soon see, my Lords.

There is an oddity about procedure at the moment in that the country holding the Presidency of the Community for the time being provides the administrative services for arriving at and implementing a common policy. This I believe is known as the Davignon procedure; but the Presidency changes every six months, and the administration must rotate with it. It would be better known, in my view, not as the Davignon procedure but as the Carousel procedure. There is, indeed, a real danger that peripatetics will become the fatal disease in the Market. What with the European Parliament lumbering to and fro between Luxembourg and Strasbourg, and the putative European Foreign Office flitting from capital to capital, the Community is in danger of looking more like a restless aviary than a solid political oganisation.

My Lords, I say the "putative" Foreign Office because I understand that there is no actual staff or body of files. It is merely the responsibility that rotates, and not the personnel. This would seem to me to be even more of a real obstacle to efficiency. It would seem to preclude the establishment of a supportive and expert staff or secretariat, genuinely impartial between the interests of Member countries. But such a staff is greatly to be desired. We have all too recently seen the very divisive effects which even a suspicion of partiality in a Minister or a Commissioner can have. Merely by acting as a yardstick with which Foreign Secretaries could measure their own attitudes, this secretariat would provide a very useful service to the Community. Few people fear the growth of bureaucracy with quite so much fervour as I do, but I feel that we have here scope for progress with the development of a small, permanent and effective staff.

For the rest, my Lords, it is important that we should extend the practice of developing general policy guidelines within which Member countries are free to pursue their own interests and policies. As we do this, we shall become increasingly aware of the value to us of the support of other Member countries for our initiatives, and they, reciprocally, will welcome our support for theirs in areas in which we are not principally concerned. This should become second nature to us, and will hasten the day when we can finally agree. to speak in all things with one voice. Sadly, that day is not with us yet, but the day is at hand for an intensification of co-operation and communication. On Cyprus, on the Lebanon, on Palestine, on Belgrade, on the law of the sea, on countless areas of great importance on which there is no time to dwell, such as the whole of the question of Southern Africa, Europe should have but one view and one voice. We joined Europe to give strength to our friends and ourselves, and stability to the world. We ought to go about that business now with far more vigour. The time, I said earlier, is not ripe for the appointment of one man to voice our views, but it is ripe for us to start to hasten towards that day.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has once more placed the House greatly in his debt by initiating this useful debate on an extremely important matter. It is, of course, a developing question, as I consider the noble Lord, Lord Elton, explained in an admirable passage of the excellent speech to which we have just listened. The Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, covered a number of related fields and it may be helpful if I were to say a few words about each of the individual elements before giving an answer.

The first part of the noble Lord's Question refers to the development of a common foreign policy for the European Economic Community". The development of a common foreign policy affects both economic and political issues. In so far as the latter are concerned, the views of the Nine on various international issues of a political nature are co-ordinated in the political cooperation machinery. This deliberate and structural harmonisation of the foreign policies of the Nine Member States of the European Community falls, however, outside the scope of the Treaties. It is, therefore, not a matter for the EEC, as such, although, where appropriate, representatives of the Commission attend such meetings. Thus it is the Nine, and not the Community, who discuss, for example, current political problems in Africa. And it is the Nine who coordinate their votes at the UN General Assembly and make common statements of policy there.

So far as economic issues are concerned, broadly speaking some fall within the exclusive competence of the Community, and some do not but are, nevertheless, of concern or interest to the Community. The agenda at the Downing Street Summit covered items falling under all these headings. The major difference between the Downing Street Summit and previous Summits was that, for the first time, Presidents of the Council and Commission were invited to represent the Community and to participate in discussions of matters falling within the competence of the Community. This followed agreement by the Heads of Government at the European Council in Rome in March which referred to the North/South dialogue and negotiations about multilateral trade as two examples of matters falling within the Community's competence, for the discussion of which the Presidents of the Council and Commission should be present.

Thus, at the Downing Street Summit it could be said that the participants were exactly matched to the agenda. The ordering of the agenda also reflected this. On the first day matters of wide concern falling generally outside the Treaties were discussed; while, on the second day, matters of close concern to the Community and those falling within its competence were discussed with the participation of the President of the Commission, Mr. Jenkins, and the Prime Minister in the dual role of the United Kingdom representative and as representing the President in Office of the Council.

I should like to turn now to the noble Lord's Question on how Her Majesty's Government might reconcile the development of a common foreign policy for the EEC with separate representation of the United Kingdom and the other larger Members of the Community at the three Summit Meetings which have so far taken place. The achievement of a common foreign policy which was referred to in the report on European Union by the Prime Minister of Belgium in 1975 is something which in its fullest sense will take a considerable time to achieve. It would require unanimity of view both on matters falling under the Treaties and on those matters of a more purely political or strategic nature which fall outside them. This clearly is a long-term process.

So far as the Downing Street Summit was concerned, a step forward was taken by the attendance, for the first time, of representatives of the Council and Commission. The United Kingdom warmly welcomed this. We also, in our capacity as President in Office of the Council, ensured that those matters in which the Community has a close interest were discussed within the Community beforehand so that the Member States who participated at the Summit were able to do so in the full knowledge of the views of their colleagues who did not. The non-participants were also aware that it was not the intention that specific decisions should be taken at the Summit. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary personally gave his Community colleagues a full briefing on the morning after the Summit. I understand they greatly appreciated the briefing he so personally gave them.

To sum up, therefore, I would suggest that the process of achieving a common foreign policy, which is a long-term one, has not been set back by the attendance of Member States at these meetings. Indeed, for the first time at these Summit Meetings, the Community has been present—not for all the meetings but for a substantial part of the discussions: and very effectively so, I might add. Their attendance as Member States reflects current realities within the Community. I would suggest that the attendance of the Commission and of the Presidency represented by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at the last meeting, was, indeed, a step forward, which indicates the progress to which the noble Lord refers—and it does represent progress rather than the reverse—towards a common foreign policy which is the agreed objective of all Nine Members of the Community including the United Kingdom. I would regard the way in which the Community was represented at this Summit as a further instance of the Community's voice being heard at the highest level on the most important economic issues of the day. This accords with the long-held United Kingdom view that the Community should be an outward-looking organisation playing a full and distinguished part on the international stage.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, put a specific question to me: what is being done to harmonise the policies of the Nine with regard to the Belgrade meeting? During the British Presidency consultations on preparations for Belgrade in the Nine have intensified. They have expanded with regular meetings being held within the framework of the political co-operation machinery. The CSE Working Group has been meeting at intervals of every three weeks under the direction of the political directors. The Government attach considerable importance to these consultations and will continue to co-ordinate their policy closely with the Nine in the run-up to Belgrade. I have no doubt that there will be a similar close co-operation, and, indeed, co-ordination, among them when the review meeting, in fact, begins to hold its regular sessions from September onwards.

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, specifically referred to the role of Mr. Roy Jenkins at the Downing Street Summit. I have made my own views known at this Box about that. We were very pleased indeed that he was enabled to attend for the sessions which he attended. Had it been possible, we should have liked him to have been present at more meetings than that. However, while the United Kingdom's view was perfectly clear, it was not at this stage shared by every Member of the Nine.

The first day, as I said, was devoted to a wide-ranging discussion of the international scene, including the world economic situation. Mr. Jenkins was not present. The second day included coverage of trade, North/South dialogue and energy, excluding non-proliferation. Since these were matters falling within the competence of the Community, or very close to its competence, Mr. Jenkins was invited to attend as representing the Presidency of the Commission. Our own Prime Minister represented the President in Office of the Council. Similarly, Mr. Jenkins attended a number of social functions which were of importance in his capacity as head of the Commission.

I hope that the noble Lord, whose informed enthusiasm for the cause of European progress is so well known, will not regard the Downing Street Summit as anything but a step forward towards the full attainment of the kind of co-ordination and co-operation that he and the rest of us seek. The fact is that the European Community as such were not represented at all at previous Summits at Rambouillet and Peurto Rico; but on this occasion a compromise was reached at the European Council in March whereby the Presidents of both the Council and the Commission should represent the Community in the discussion of those items which fall within the Community's competence. That is a step forward.

Admittedly, it does not take us as far or as fast as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and others, should like. However, here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We must build on the realities. Speaking personally—and I think I speak generally for the Government also—the progress in co-ordinating policies, certainly on the political side (that is, more prescriptively on the foreign policy level) has been greater than I anticipated it might be, say, three years ago.

When one looks over the past three years, one sees that the strikingly encouraging feature of the Community is the considerable amount of co-ordination that has been achieved, not on everything and not always, but it is most encouraging. I have said before from this Box that those who have reservations about certain aspects of the economic arrangements of the Community should take heart on the undoubted progress already made in the political direction by Members of the Nine acting as a Community.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down (which I am happy to see he has not!) may I ask him to amplify a little of what he said about the preparations for Belgrade. He used a technical phrase and it was not clear whether he was talking about meetings every three weeks of staff only. This is a highly political matter. There is likely to be a highly political attack upon our own position from those of a different persuasion, and there should be political preparation for this as well as the research and diplomatic preparation that obviously will have to be undertaken by staff members. Am I right in assuming that this also is or will shortly be taking place? It would be very reassuring to he told that.


My Lords, I can give the assurance about the frequency of the meetings of the CSE Working Group of the Community, which is one of a large number of Working Groups usually defined as Territorial Working Groups. The CSE Working Group is an important addition to that list. It has been meeting at intervals of every three weeks under the direction of the political directors. We attach considerable importance to these consultations and will continue to co-ordinate our policy closely with the others of the Nine in the run-up to Belgrade. I have no doubt at all that those three-weekly meetings will continue; I would not be surprised if they were not increased in regularity and number between now and June when the preparatory consultations begin in Belgrade, and up to September when the plenary sessions begin. I hope I have clarified that point.

As to the importance of this matter, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. We propose to go to Belgrade with our friends and partners in a spirit not of recrimination but of constructive assessment of what has been achieved so far. and what conceivably can be achieved in the future in the interests of co-operation and security in Europe. For this purpose, we are very closely consulting among ourselves in the Nine through a special working group which I have just described. My Lords, the machinery within the Community for co-ordinated thinking and effort relative to CSE is a good example of how far politically the Community has moved in the past few years.