HL Deb 23 February 1998 vol 586 cc400-2

2.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consultations they are undertaking on the method of appointment, and the potential functions, of the secretary-general of the council as high representative for the common foreign and security policy, as agreed in the Treaty of Amsterdam, and on the establishment of a policy planning and early warning unit responsible to the secretary-general.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the method of appointment and functions of the secretary-general and the high representative are set out in the treaties. Under Article 151.2 of the treaty establishing the European Community, the secretary-general of the council is appointed by unanimity by the council. That has not changed in the draft Amsterdam treaty. However, Articles J.8.3 and J.16 of the Amsterdam treaty define the new functions of the secretary-general as high representative as contributing to the formulation and preparation of common foreign and security policy decisions, and assisting the council and the presidency in implementing and representing them. The broad functions of the policy planning and early warning unit are set out in a separate declaration adopted by the Amsterdam European Council. The UK presidency is actively taking forward in the political committee consultations on its implementation. The objective is to ensure that the unit is operational when the Amsterdam treaty comes into force.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can he confirm that the Government see this as a constructive step forward and that we should be thinking of someone of the same calibre and quality as the secretary-general of NATO for this appointment? Can he also confirm that the British Government do not see the policy planning unit as something which should be kept as small as possible and as long term as possible but as something which should be adequately staffed to serve its function in assisting the high representative?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I would agree with the noble Lord that this appointment is an important one for the co-ordination within the European Union of common foreign and security policy. As far as concerns the size of the unit, the key issue is its effectiveness rather than the size of its staffing. We are very keen to see an effective unit performing this function.

Lord Garel-Jones

My Lords, given that common foreign and security policy remains an intergovernmental activity, can the Minister assure the House that those who will be manning this secretariat and advising the secretary-general will, as a general principle, be diplomats on secondment from national governments for three to five years rather than full-time functionaries from the European Union?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there will no doubt be an element of such people. The key issue is to appoint the best people for the job. We intend to use our influence to ensure that happens.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will my noble friend consider the question of duplication? The Western European Union's planning cell may be unsung but it does some useful work, involving distinguished contributions from the United Kingdom. Would it not be a mistake if there were excessive duplication in this area?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. A closer relationship between the EU policy-making function and the WEU is envisaged in the Treaty of Amsterdam, and certainly duplication is to be avoided in this area. But the combination should be at its most effective in support of the member states in the council.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the Government are putting enough effort into securing a common foreign policy? I am thinking not only of Iraq but also of the summit that has just taken place between Chancellor Kohl, President Chirac and the Polish president. A similar one is scheduled with the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin. Did the UK Government seek to be present at those meetings, either as the UK or as the presidency of the EU? It seems to me that they ought to have been present.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the common foreign and security policy exists where the member states of the European Union have a consensus that they wish to pursue a particular line of policy. Bilateral arrangements by other member-states will continue to take place. It is not a matter for the UK, either as the UK Government or as the presidency, to move in on other member states' foreign policies any more than we would expect them to move in on ours. However, the whole point of these changes is to ensure that there are greater areas and better support for those areas where we can agree between the member states on a common policy.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have a splendid candidate for the job of high representative in the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, since it would enable him to learn the truth about his Europhilia in perhaps an expensive and dramatic way?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, deeply appreciative as I am of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, any words from me would hardly improve his candidature for that post.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in view of the deafening silence in some quarters of the European Union during the Iraqi crisis, which still continues, is it not a little premature to talk about a common foreign and security policy? Is the noble Lord aware that the security of Europe has depended very largely on the existence of NATO, with the support of the United States, and more particularly so far as we are concerned on Great Britain's undertaking in 1954 to underwrite the security of the whole of Europe by agreeing to commit its own forces without reference to anybody else to the defence of Europe?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not dissent at all from the contribution made by NATO over past decades to the security of Europe referred to by my noble friend. However, we are now in an era when Europe as a whole would benefit from greater co-ordination between member states of the European Union on foreign policy whether we are talking about an immediate crisis or in the longer term. That is what these changes are designed to achieve.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I agree with the question of my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones. Can the Minister say to whom the high representative of the common foreign and security policy will be accountable, and what will his role be in promoting decisions on which there have been constructive abstentions?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as regards the first point, it is clear that the high representative will continue, as the secretary-general, to be responsible to the council. It will be the member-states on the council who will decide the policy. As regards constructive abstentions, the new mechanism will apply when a member state does not wish to prevent the council as a whole moving forward, but does not itself wish to participate in that policy. In those circumstances, the high representative will remain responsible for carrying out the position adopted by the majority of the council.