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Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): What was his name?

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.

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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.

If there was any doubt about that, the French chief of defence staff confirms it. He said recently:

Yet the Government have stuck doggedly to their flimsy line that NATO has the right of first refusal.

Mr. Donald Anderson rose--

Mr. Maude: I shall finish the point, if I may, and then I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

The Foreign Secretary must have been a little dismayed to read further remarks yesterday by the French chief of defence staff, who said:

The Government continue to peddle the idea that the arrangement is anchored within NATO and that NATO has the right of first refusal, but that simply does not stack up. The documents belie it.

Mr. MacShane: It is in the treaty.

Mr. Maude: I have seen the treaty. That is not in the treaty itself, but in the presidency conclusions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. We cannot have continual interruptions from a sedentary position.

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. Robin Cook rose--

Mr. Donald Anderson rose--

Mr. Maude: I give way first to the Foreign Secretary, then to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Cook: I would not want the right hon. Gentleman unwittingly to mislead the House about what was said by the French chief of defence staff. The right hon.

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Gentleman is obviously not aware that the French Ministry of Defence has protested at the way in which the chief of defence staff's remarks have been used, and is complaining that what was not quoted was his remark that the European Union force would not duplicate NATO assets; that European ambitions were limited to the Petersberg tasks; that in a major crisis the EU would depend on NATO planning; and that the US should be involved whenever it wished. That puts an entirely different light on the matter.

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.

The French chief of defence staff has not complained about being misquoted. He stated bluntly:

That may be open to misinterpretation, but I have yet to hear it.

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

have been repudiated, I am willing to hear it, but I have not heard it yet.

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

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people in Europe who have anxieties about it, but who have their own intelligence agenda and carry out their own activities in that field? Is it not much more likely that the relationship will survive in the future, as it has already survived even the complications of limited intelligence sharing within NATO, not to mention the various other circumstances that it has had to face over the years?

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.

Right hon. and hon. Members are challenging my contention that there exists in France a willingness to jeopardise the NATO relationship, yet the Prime Minister said just the other day:

I do not know exactly who the Prime Minister was referring to--

Mr. Straw: French journalists.

Mr. Maude: I do not think that even the Prime Minister would have expected a French journalist to have charge of the European defence operation.

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--

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