|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Maude: I cannot remember the journalist's name, but his comments were all made in public. If the hon. Gentleman is so excited about the name, I undertake to find it and send it to him, but he will not be much the wiser when I have.
The Foreign Secretary knows that what has been created is a European Union military structure which is autonomous vis-a-vis NATO. It has its own separate military and planning committees. After all, the Foreign Secretary has claimed, with typical modesty, that he wrote most of the documents himself. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister continue to claim that the new arrangement is anchored within NATO, but the documents that the Foreign Secretary claims to have written belie that claim.
Mr. Maude: Everything is clearly set out. The reason why a specific military and planning staff and a military committee are set out, and a military headquarters is already being set up, is to make precisely the point that the French chief of the defence staff is amplifying: that the arrangements are designed to be separate and to be able, at any rate, to pre-empt NATO. I acquit the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister of wanting it to pre-empt NATO. What I am saying is that the way in which it has been set up allows NATO to be pre-empted.
Mr. Maude: I shall deal with that before giving way to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. What the Foreign Secretary says is not at all inconsistent with what I said. I was speaking about the Government's contention--I used their exact words--that the arrangement was "anchored within NATO" and that NATO has a "right of first refusal". Both of those things are specifically not true. The documents make it clear that the arrangement is not anchored within NATO. It is specifically set up to have autonomous, separate organisations and structures.
Mr. Donald Anderson: Is not the argument a little flimsy if the right hon. Gentleman relies on a French journalist who is so senior that he cannot remember the man's name, and on the chief of the French defence staff, as quoted yesterday in The Daily Telegraph, which has its own agenda on this issue? The quote was repudiated in the "Today" programme this morning. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to get the transcript, he will see a view that will not annoy him in quite the same way as the article in The Daily Telegraph may have done.
Mr. Maude: I am not relying for my argument on that French journalist. I merely used him as yet another illustration of that strand of thought. The Government may want to shut their eyes to the fact that there is a strain of anti-American opinion in France, but that does not mean that it does not exist. It does exist, and if we are realistic, we accept it. That does not mean, of course, that we do not work with our French partners, but we should be aware that such opinion exists.
On the right hon. Gentleman's other point, the words that I quoted from the French chief of defence staff have not, as I understand it, been repudiated. He may have said other things as well, which were not quoted. I accept that that may be the case. If the words that I quoted, including the blunt statement that
Mr. Beith: Is not the right hon. Gentleman in danger of losing the plot, so interested has he become in the European defence relationship and his misgivings about it? What is the likelihood that two countries, Britain and the United States, which have found an intelligence relationship so fruitful and so mutually beneficial over so many years, will give it up simply because there are some
Mr. Maude: My point is that we currently have arrangements which are based much less on formal structures than on an atmosphere of deep trust and close personal relationships and a cultural affinity between the institutions which has been built up over decades. That basis of co-operation can quickly be put at risk.
None of us has ever said that we should hold back from any European defence co-operation. For heaven's sake, the Conservative Government were pressing for it back in the 1980s and 1990s. Our point was that that should be done within NATO, because NATO is the umbrella under which those relationships have been nurtured and fostered. We should hesitate for a long, long time before we embark on measures which may jeopardise a relationship that is potentially very fragile. The trust can be broken in a day and may take decades to restore.
We are concerned, and we are right to be concerned, that the natural and important links between Britain and the Echelon group, based, as they are, on a long period of continuity and trust, are at risk from the lurch to a European army deliberately being set up as autonomous from NATO.
The decision to appoint as the first chairman of the military committee a commander from outside NATO was an act of extraordinary insensitivity. Outstanding though General Hagglund certainly is--and despite the great respect in which we all hold the Finnish armed forces--the signal that was sent out about how closely the European army will work with NATO was profoundly depressing. The right course was for the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who is always a European, to hold that position. That would have sent a strong and reassuring signal about the closeness with which the new arrangements and NATO would work together. That did not happen, however, because those who want Europe to become a superpower that can compete with America and challenge transatlantic links would have prevented--