Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Common foreign and security policy

(". Her Majesty's Government shall not take any steps to participate in the decision-making arrangements for the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) applicable under Article J.13 of the Treaty on European Union (as set out in paragraph 10 of Article 1 of the Treaty signed at Amsterdam on 2nd October 1997 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts) until each House of Parliament has come to a Resolution on a motion relating to the CFSP tabled by a Minister of the Crown.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I indicated in Committee that I intended to return on Report to the issue of the new decision-making procedures applicable under Article J.13 of the Treaty on European Union, as set out in paragraph 10 of Article 1 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. We had a valuable and comprehensive debate on foreign policy in Committee in which we appreciated the Minister's detailed responses to a wide range of arduous and probing questions, which demonstrated the high level of interest and concern over matters relating to the common foreign and security policy in your Lordships' House. We were grateful that the Minister dismissed the fear that the Amsterdam Treaty could be a Trojan horse for a supranational

12 May 1998 : Column 1003

foreign policy, and for her confirmation that the Government intend to ensure that the CFSP remains intergovernmental, with overall strategy on foreign policy issues and the most important decisions of principle taken by unanimity in the European Council, as indeed they should be.

Likewise, we appreciated the explicit recognition that qualified majority voting is not appropriate for foreign policy decisions and that it is essential for us to retain our national veto in that area. A member state vetoes a common foreign policy proposal when it considers that its national interests would be damaged by such a proposal. Under majority voting, it would have to accept that damage. But if a country felt strongly enough to veto a proposal in the first place, it is likely to feel strongly enough to complain loudly about being over-ruled. The result would be a member state resentful at seeing its national interests overridden and an artificial European common foreign policy discredited before it had even begun, as the rest of the world would know that it was contested even within Europe.

However, although we have retained our national veto, the Amsterdam Treaty nevertheless makes significant changes to the CFSP decision-making process. The case for those changes was not made satisfactorily in Committee. The argument that the introduction of automatic qualified majority voting for the implementation of decisions will make the CFSP more effective has not been proved. It still remains for the Government to explain what benefit would be gained from the provisions in paragraph 2 of Article J.13; for the treaty continues the distinction between decision making on principles of policy, which will still be unanimous, and on the implementation of those decisions, which will now generally be by QMV. The fact that qualified majority voting will now automatically apply to the implementation of many decisions leaves open many questions about the feasibility of maintaining that distinction; for example, could not an implementing decision for one country touch on points of policy for others? When this happens who will determine what is implementation and what is policy? I am not convinced that the line between principle and action is sufficiently clear-cut to merit the automatic introduction of QMV.

In the Minister's opinion what is a trade sanction? Is it a principle or is it an action? I take the example of the United Nations resolutions to criticise human rights in China. The present Government, despite their ethical foreign policy--increasingly tattered and careworn though it is--and to the jaw dropping amazement of human rights campaigners the world over, took the extraordinary decision not to support a UN resolution on human rights in China, apparently solely in the interests of maintaining a common foreign policy in Europe. In the eyes of the previous government such a resolution represented a straightforward matter of implementing agreed policy in a timely way, while for other member states it appeared to be an error of judgment. How would the automatic procedures for QMV have worked in that case? I should like the

12 May 1998 : Column 1004

Minister to clarify how this change to allow automatic QMV for implementation of decisions on the basis of common strategies will,

    "allow Europe's voice in the world to be heard more clearly and will improve the effectiveness of CFSP co-operation when the line between principle and action is not always black and white so that we risk the creation of an artificial forced common foreign policy supported by most, instead of a true common foreign policy agreed by all".

Nevertheless I am grateful for the Minister's definition of a new CFSP instrument--the common strategy--which she envisaged would not be very different from existing joint actions but which somehow would give the European Union's common policies more weight on the world stage. When they are genuinely common policies agreed by all this is a worthy and desirable objective. However, I should be grateful if the Minister could provide us with a little more detail on this point. The treaty provides for common strategies in important areas of foreign policy where member states have interests in common and where they agree there will be advantage in working together. To what extent does the Minister envisage that this new instrument will be used? Can she give examples of current important areas of foreign policy where member states have interests in common to which she anticipates the common strategy would be applied? To what extent does she anticipate decisions of the Council on CFSP will be made using common strategies and therefore decided by QMV? What decisions concerning important areas of foreign policy is it likely to result in which we would then have no power to prevent? Given that the number of decisions taken by QMV in the Council of Ministers will ultimately be determined by the number of common strategies decided upon by consensus in the European Council and by the political will of a particular presidency to try the QMV procedures on decisions of a secondary nature, what vision do the Government have for the practical operation of qualified majority voting?

I return to some questions on the national veto mechanism or "emergency brake" and the provision for constructive abstention. In Committee I said that if past experience has taught us anything it is that constructive abstention is a tool best used in a "can't", not "won't", situation when a country agrees with a decision but for domestic reasons is not able to participate in its adoption, particularly in the light of paragraph 1 of Article J.13 which requires abstainers to accept in a spirit of mutual solidarity that the decision commits the Union as a whole and they cannot undermine or seek to thwart it subsequently. Can the Minister confirm that, given paragraph 1 of Article J.13, constructive abstention is not an adequate and appropriate mechanism to deal with real disagreements between countries over foreign policy decisions to implement common strategies--and therefore taken by QMV--and that the only recourse for a country in this position would be the emergency brake mechanism? As the House is aware, the emergency brake can be pulled by a country when it has important and stated reasons of national policy which cause it to oppose a decision, thereby preventing a vote being taken. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that it is the

12 May 1998 : Column 1005

individual member state activating the emergency brake that will determine what is an important and stated reason of its own national policy, and that no one else will arbitrate on what constitutes this.

Furthermore, if a number of other states can achieve a qualified majority on the decision, is it not the case that the adoption of the decision would be regarded as postponed, for the matter could then be referred to the European Council for a decision to be taken by unanimity which the country in question would have to veto? As the Minister pointed out to the Chamber in Committee, I am aware that referral to the European Council reflects the current reality that if Foreign Ministers cannot agree, they pass an issue to heads of government or state in the European Council to attempt to resolve the issue by unanimity. But what guarantees can the Minister give that a country in this position would not be under pressure to accede to the implementation of a forced common foreign policy decision?

I wish to ask the Minister about the operation of CFSP as a whole. To help clarify the points I wish to raise, I have focused on a case study in foreign policy; namely, recent events in Sierra Leone. How can the Government justify the changes to the CFSP decision-making procedures which bring us a step closer to an integrated foreign policy when the Foreign Secretary purports not to know the policies being undertaken by his own officials in the name of the British Government? When he finally finds out about these policies, he actively disagrees with them, professing deep concern and promising an inquiry and that appropriate action will be taken against anyone found to have transgressed. How on earth will the Foreign Secretary ensure that Britain plays a leading role in devising and co-ordinating common foreign policies in Europe when he does not even know what his own department is doing? How will he work to mould key common foreign policies in Europe in the image of British Government policy when the case of Sierra Leone has proved that he cannot be relied upon to know what British Government policy is in the first place? How will he have any credibility to ensure Britain's voice is heard when he was unaware of British Government involvement in a situation where arms were supplied in breach of a UN embargo?

This is not the first time the Foreign Secretary has been caught on the hop. Speaking on the situation in Kosovo only the week before, he was unaware that British troops were on exercise in Macedonia. Just how credible does the Foreign Secretary's promotion of an EU ethical arms code appear in the wake of the Prime Minister's extraordinary new foreign policy doctrine of the ends justifying the means, even to the extent of breaching UN arms embargoes? That is the scenario for this country, with the Foreign Secretary responsible for our input into CFSP, where ignorance is used as an excuse for negligence and where innocence of the facts is prayed in aid of incompetence. But what sort of CFSP would the Prime Minister advocate given that he is now praising the very same Foreign Office officials whom the Foreign Secretary only six days ago roundly disowned?

12 May 1998 : Column 1006

The Prime Minister would presumably support a CFSP in which the ends justified the means, in which it is permissible to condone breaches of international law and to undermine the credibility of the United Nations if it means the right results, and then to massage the terms of any awkward arms embargoes to claim that they were not breached deliberately. Does the Minister agree with the Foreign Secretary, who has said,

    "The Government have consistently supported the legitimacy of the United Nations. This Government abide by the resolutions of the Security Council and are committed to the rule of international law. We have not and we will not condone any breach of international law"?

Or does she agree with the Prime Minister, who has said it was the right thing to do, thereby somehow managing to distinguish between deliberately breaking international law, which he deems to be wrong, and inadvertently doing so, which he condones as long as it results in a democratic regime being restored to power after any illegal military coup? That is a distinction which the Foreign Secretary clearly does not make for he has said that no one, presumably including the Prime Minister, should understate the gravity of a breach of a Security Council resolution. From her statement yesterday, when the noble Baroness told this House that the Prime Minister's assessment of the arms to Africa affair as a "hoo-ha" constituted an admirable summary which we would all do well to remember, I must conclude that the Minister agrees with the Prime Minister and not the Foreign Secretary.

Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised questions about the alleged human rights violation in Sierra Leone since the restoration of President Kabbah. He asked whether,

    "contrary to the impression given by the Prime Minister ... one of the legacies of the counter coup is that they have been left with an ethnic militia known as the Kamajors which is hostile to other groups within the territory and that far from promoting reconciliation, the restored government have charged 59 people with treason and locked up 2,000 others without charge, most of whom are northeners or ethnic Krios and that this is hardly a recipe for the national reconciliation of which both Resolutions 1132 and 1162 have spoken".--[Official Report, 11/5/98; col. 823.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page