HL Deb 12 October 1998 vol 593 cc693-6

2.47 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made in discussion with other European Union member governments on the appointment of a High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Salzburg on 5th and 6th September agreed that the General Affairs Council would put forward a recommendation on the appointment to the European Council. No formal nominations have yet been made, nor is there yet consensus on whether to appoint a political figure or a senior official. The conclusions of the Cardiff European Council propose that decision on the High Representative and the Deputy Secretary General of the Council should be taken at the the Vienna European Council in December.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will the noble Baroness confirm whether the British Government envisage the post as comparable with the Secretary-General of NATO or, as some Foreign Ministers in Salzburg are supposed to have believed, as a useful official who will not get in the way of Foreign Ministers? It seems to some of us an important post if we are to achieve greater coherence among European foreign policies.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the High Representative is indeed an important post. However, the High Representative is not independent. He or she will be a servant of the Council. He or she will be mandated to assist the Council on CFSP in particular through contributing to the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions. At the presidency's request, the High Representative can conduct political dialogue with parties, but only at the presidency's request, and will also have overall responsibility within the Council Secretariat for EU external activity.

I hope that that gives the noble Lord a fairly good job description, if I may so put it, of the kind of post that we expect the High Representative to have.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in view of the fact that the European Commission already has the right under the treaty to be closely associated with activities in relation to common foreign and security policy, will Her Majesty's Government consider carefully whether it would be overwhelmingly the wiser course for the post to be political rather than the head of a European bureaucracy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will recall that we discussed that issue during our debate on the Amsterdam Treaty. As I said then, it is an important new post. It is designed to give greater projection to the CFSP and to boost continuity. At the same time the treaty is clear that the High Representative will be accountable to member states and the Council and will assist the presidency and the Council. We are not talking about an extra EU Foreign Minister. The key will be to have the right personality undertaking the job.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is pleasing to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, ask for a senior political figure in the post? Will the noble Baroness also agree that a person of real weight and standing in Europe would be able to act as a catalyst and mediator in bringing about a more successful and positive European foreign policy of the kind we clearly need in the light of Kosovo and other crises?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to hear my noble friend's views on these matters. It is a pleasure to see them developing a little on occasions. Of course it is important that a senior and respected figure undertakes the job. However, as I said to your Lordships a moment ago, there is the job itself and our expectation: on the one hand there is the high profile; but on the other hand we envisage an individual who is willing to be the servant of the Council in the way that I described, and not someone who aspires to be an independent European Foreign Minister.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the job seems absolutely cut out for Mr. Paddy Ashdown, whose nomination by the British Government would also get the Prime Minister out of a certain hole?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, while I had been prepared to agree that all kinds of people were in the running for the job, I am afraid that Mr. Ashdown's name was not on that list. Of course we have to discuss the post of the CFSP High Representative with our EU partners. We have done so on a number of occasions. But as I said, there are two important unknowns: whether our partners will want a political figure; or whether they will want someone who is more akin to a senior official. We do not know what candidates other member states will wish to put forward. Therefore we have to consider our position in the light of contacts. However, I assure the noble Lord, and any other aspirants within or outside the House, that we have not ruled out any options.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind the obvious advantages of ensuring comparability between the holder of this appointment, whoever he or she may be, and the secretaries-general of the other great international organisations which cluster the face of the earth, such as the United Nations, NATO and so forth? He or she must be their equal and in some respects, perhaps, their superior.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, yes, whoever is appointed to the job will be a serious figure in the international arena. Whether it is a senior political figure or a senior official, the individual will have to be a very serious player in all fora, including the international fora.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, given that the proposed role of the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy will include the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions, what involvement will the Higher Representative have when one member state undermines the agreed European Union foreign policy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Article J.16 makes it clear that the High Representative is not independent; the High Representative will be a servant of the Council. Article J.8 makes it clear that the presidency leads on implementation and representation of CFSP. It would depend on the issue at stake. It would depend on whether it was an issue of common strategy—that is one of the overarching instruments of European foreign policy—in which case a unanimous position would be the only acceptable one, or on whether the issue at stake was one on joint action and common position. If they are covered already by a common strategy such issues are subject to qualified majority voting. If they are not covered by the overarching strategy they, too, are subject to a unanimous vote. Therefore, the position does not change and the individual will be acting in those circumstances as the adjunct, the servant, of the Council and not in an individual role.