HL Deb 04 March 1997 vol 578 cc1702-4

2.55 p.m.

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

What recommendations reflecting government policy they will make to the European Union to ensure that the Community has a planned, coherent approach in its foreign relations and whether they envisage that the common foreign and security policy developed in the Treaty on European Union will be updated at the next Inter-Governmental Conference.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we proposed a range of practical measures in the Inter-Governmental Conference, including better planning and representation for the common foreign and security policy. If adopted, these would foster a better co-ordinated EU external policy.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the progress made on developing a common, coherent approach to foreign affairs, particularly bearing in mind the great problems, for example, of trans-Atlantic relations upon which the Western world will so depend with regard to our relations with Eastern Europe? Is it not necessary for the arrangements entered into at Maastricht to be updated at the next international conference?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, achieving coherence in Community policy requires a great deal of attention. I spent the whole of Saturday morning discussing coherence in development policy with my 14 colleagues from the other member states. Even in that small area it requires greater attention than it has had in the past. The interesting thing in the whole of the work on a common foreign and security policy is that it must be a policy which is agreed by consensus. That view will remain. It is right, too, that we should seek to work at that common foreign and security policy in the political committee which is now working very well. We have a great deal more work to do. I do not believe that that coherent approach requires any change to the Maastricht Treaty, because Article C of that treaty already makes the Council and the Commission responsible for ensuring consistency on EU external activities.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the Minister aware that she should not be surprised that achieving co-operation and co-ordination takes time? That is inevitable when dealing with a number of different countries. However, does she agree that the basis of increasing co-ordination and co-operation in foreign policy is an increased appreciation of just how many interests those countries have in common? Therefore it is terribly important, since we have so many interests in common, that those interests should be fostered, and that our view should be put across in the most coherent and pointed way. Does she agree that the best way to do that is to do it in common rather than individually, when indeed one can be picked off one by one?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the one reason why we felt it to be important to have a common foreign and security policy was the many shared interests in a number of different fields of European co-operation. We have had shared interests for a very long time. They have now been brought together, and the political committee seeks to help that happen with greater ease and frequency; but it will not just be the political committee, there are the other committees. In my field there is the Africa Working Group which seeks to ensure that we have a proper co-ordinated approach to major problems such as the Great Lakes. It is because we have shared interests and a common wish for peace and stability in those countries that we should be working together, but it should remain a second pillar and not as part of the Commission.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the Minister confirm the accuracy or otherwise of a report in The Times a few days ago which revealed that Greece was threatening to veto the entry into the EU of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and so on, if EU representatives consulted the Turkish Cypriots? If that is true, does it not constitute disgraceful blackmail and demonstrate the dangers of a common foreign and security policy which could well suck us into a conflict between Greece and Turkey?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I, for one do not believe everything I read in the newspapers, and certainly not everything I read in The Times these days. We are used to Turkey on some occasions, Greece on other occasions, and other countries on further occasions, making bellicose statements. The discussion that takes place on a common foreign and security policy is a discussion which can result in action by consensus only, and that is how it should remain.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while common interests no doubt exist among the 15 countries of the European Union, they each have their own particular aims, objectives and, indeed, appreciation of what is going on in the rest of the world? Is it not flying in the face of reason to imagine that those differences will disappear suddenly because people utter warm words about European unity?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is absolutely right, natural, and will continue to be so, that each nation state will have its own appreciation but on occasions we find that as regards a great deal of the analysis, there is more that unites us than divides us. It may be that some nation states have a greater capacity to analyse certain problems in certain parts of the world. It is sensible that that should be shared. It is sensible also that we should try to proceed together wherever we can, because there is no doubt that in that way we have been able to make beneficial changes in overall approaches to some of the world's worst problems which often take the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are serious differences of interpretation among the member states concerning the European Union guidelines on arms sales? Does she not consider that it is necessary for the European Union, in addition to developing those agreements, to consider also methods of monitoring and implementation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord's question is rather wide of the main Question. But I should say that the European Union is not a defence organisation. It is an organisation of the three pillars. We are well aware that common foreign and security policy is part of the second pillar which is agreed by the member states of the European Union and not by the Commission. Whether in relation to arms or any other aspect of defence policy, I do not believe that it would be right to go beyond that. I certainly believe that we have no need for further treaty language on those matters.