Examination of Witness(Questions 60-78)|
THURSDAY 23 JANUARY 2003
Lord Powell of Bayswater
60. Is there not a point going beyond Lord Morris's,
which is that if you had a European armament agency it would only
be a short step before all European countries were expected to
obtain their military requirements through this agency? That would
by implication shut out the United States supplying the European
market and in turn mean the United States not buying from Europe.
It seems to me that it would be a hugely protectionist step.
A. Which is something we very much try to avoid,
to make it protectionist. Again, it was in the evidence which
Lord Robertson gave to the group when he actually quite bluntly
said: "...If we proceed with the level of armament spending
which we have now, in a few years' time it will not be a question
of whether we wish to work with the Americans, it will be a question
of are we technically still capable..." The suggestion is
that probably the answer would be no and it is that realism which
has to enter the final Treaty. We had the debate on capabilities
in one week where you had the Franco-German Paper and two days
later the German Government cutting defences.
61. With respect, that is what worries some
of us about this debate in the Convention, it is being conducted
in a sort of airy fairy world which bears very little relation
A. This is where I am sometimes accused of being
typically British by introducing a touch of realism and just saying
what is really happening in the world here.
Lord Powell of Bayswater: More power to your elbow.
62. One of the recommendations of the working
party report deals with improving the arrangements for crisis
management (paragraph 52 I think it is). In a report which we
are likely to make, the Committee probably would recommend that
the civilian aspect of crisis management decisions needs to be
approved. Do you feel the recommendations in the working party
report go far enough in that regard, particularly on crisis management?
A. On crisis management I personally would have
liked it to go further, but it was simply how much consensus you
could get within the group. Again, what you have to be aware of
is that what will have been a paper or a pile of papers four inches
high of working group reports, Convention discussions, gets distilled
into two or three lines of Treaty text, if that. So I think that
was part of the debate. I would not expect the precise details
of this to be in a part of the Constitution Treaty which we agreed
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
63. In a week where we have seen France and
Germany again reconfirming their close relationship, do you think
that in a wider shallower EU scene, with Greece or somebody like
that coming in, even the large countries like ourselves will be
left more and more out in the cold, or do you think ESDP will
be a joint effort by all European countries?
A. It is very difficult to say. I regard what
happened yesterday as an in-depth Relate counselling for a couple
who have been married for 40 years . I shall wait to see how permanent
this newly-found love is.
64. You think there may be a divorce yet?
A. No, they are bound together geographically
and historically. That is inevitable. That is the world. What
was quite interesting in terms of the Convention was that neither
Germany nor France anticipated how badly the Convention would
react to the joint paper. It was the first time, in my memory
since Joschka Fischer has been at the Convention, that he spoke
and his speech was followed by total silence in the whole room.
The method of the Convention is one where, for the first time,
you involve parliamentarians, and not just the parliamentarians
but also the smaller countries reacted very badly to what appeared
to them an attempt by two big ones to say: "We have made
a decision and this is where we think it should go without your
consent." So that is one aspect. The other aspect is that
when we came to areas of defence the candidate countries for the
first time in the Convention started to take extremely firm positions.
The very firm position was: "You do anything to undermine
NATO and we will not agree with this." So the reality of
this will be yes, it will be shallower. There will be a strong
commitment to NATO because of the new countries who have come
insome of which have only just been invited to join NATOand
I confess it probably will be a very different NATO in a few years'
time than the one that they thought they were joining. In the
end what will happenas it did in the St Malo processis
that those who have the political will and the capability who
will drive the process forwardand in St Malo it was France
and Britainand I would not be at all surprised if the next
step ahead again would be on that basis.
Lord Watson of Richmond
65. I would like to follow up your last remark.
Firstly, I would preface it very much in support of what you have
just said because I was at a lunch at the Hungarian Embassy yesterday
with the head of their Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Committee,
and it was quite clear from the discussion that their reaction
to the Franco-German initiativeif you can call it that
- is that Europe has actually changed quite fundamentally with
enlargement and the French and the Germans would be well advised
to take that fully on board. On the second point, you say that
the next initiative in the defence area might well follow St Malo
in the sense of the same key participants. How do you judge the
awareness on the part of both the French and the Germans as to
how really quite fundamentally their defence postures differ?
A. That is a very difficult question because
the real difference is so fundamentally psychological and, because
it is so deep, it may be more apparent to an outsider than it
is to them themselves. I was trying to explain yesterday to a
German television crew the difference of the attitude to war in
Britain to that in Germany and it is that you are stating the
obvious, which just becomes very difficult to explain. So it will
continuously show itself in the practicalities, but Germany has
moved. Their deployment of troops in Afghanistan was a huge step
and I just do not know how it will proceed. I would expect France
in this area to continue taking the lead, but there is a deep
Germany unease about anything to do with the military.
66. Could I follow up Lord Watson's questions.
I would not disagree with what you say both on the psychological
problem that Germany has in committing troops for reasons we all
understand, and equally I think what a dramatic step it was for
them to deploy troops to Kabul, which I thought was an enormous
plus. Having said that, if Germany does not come and fill its
place in the size of the capabilitybecause, to be honest,
in terms of military power and military capability they must be
an absolutely fundamental player if Europe is going to have the
capabilityif they cannot produce that capability and still
have problems, then I would argue that Europe still has major
A. I think you are right.
67. I have a couple of questions really based
on the Franco-German Partnership. I note what you said about the
reaction of the Convention and how they have acted, but is there
nevertheless not a danger that what these countries say carries
a huge amount of weight regardless of what happens in other countries
and, in a sense, what Paris and Berlin are trying to do is to
start the Intergovernmental Conference early, that is to say,
they are putting in their national equivalent of what is their
position, and whether the Convention likes it or not, that is
going to be very significant? Is there not a danger that we in
Britain are missing from the nucleus? It is the consensus view
that the British representatives have done brilliantly so far
in the Convention in adding a touch of realism to debates, but
the danger now surely is that other countries follow the lead.
Mr Papandreou is going to come on the Convention in February,
and we obviously need to take the lead, otherwise however sensible
our objects are we are going to find ourselves outflanked by these
A. I see why you asked that question, but I
think you are wrong and I will tell you why. You will be wrong
if the Convention proves its worth. It is a challenge now for
the Convention. If we, as the Convention, allow this to become
an intergovernmental conference, then only we will be responsible
for that failure. The great strength that Peter Hain has is that,
unlike Joschka Fischer and unlike de Villepin, he sits through
two days of preliminary sessions, he responds to the debates,
he intervenes regularly, he sits through his working groupshe
is now on his second working group, which is a huge chunk of his
time. Foreign Ministers arrive with their television crews. The
Convention gives them a time slot so it meets with their diaries.
If they have the time they may listen to the speech before, in
courtesy just to one speech afterwards and then they are out.
So they do not affect the kind of real opinion-forming in the
Convention itself, and both Joschka Fischer and Villepin were
severely criticised last Tuesday by a number of speakers. One
of them described it as saying, "I object to being used as
a posting box for tomorrow's newspaper articles by foreign ministers."
I think that probably the Greek foreign minister will find the
same problem, the time commitment, to influence the thinking in
the Convention. So if in the end you are right, then it will have
been our failure by allowing this to happen.
Lord Williams of Elvel
68. How do the applicant countries that you
have react to the SDP in general? Are they happy with the recommendations
about increasing the Petersburg Tasks and all that? Will they
join in, do you think?
A. Yes, I think the applicant countries would.
Quite a number of them would have liked to go further on this
area. They feel quite comfortable with military action. They may
have some problem with up-to-date capabilities, but in terms of
the political willingness, that is not a problem for them. You
have to remember that at the time this debate was held and concluded
there was also quite an unease between those in late November,
would they be likely to join NATO in Prague, and then there was
a huge relief in December that yes, they were all invited. I think
they had suceeded.
Lord Powell of Bayswater
69. My Lord Chairman, I would like to come on
to the issue of qualified majority voting, QMV. Last week we took
evidence from the Foreign Office who assured us that there could
be absolutely no question whatsoever of QMV in the defence area,
though they might consider a limited extension of it in the common
foreign policy. Yet reading this report and some of the associated
papers, one gets the impression that the French and the Germans
at least are thinking of QMV when it comes to reinforced co-operation.
Is this yet another area where you think the Working Group is
all hot air, and governments are not going to let it happen? Or
do you think the resistance, which was encapsulated in the Maastricht
Treaty, to having QMV in defence is going to hold?
A. I come back to the fact that the Working
Group was dominated by the neutrals. That is reflected in some
of the aspirations. What I regard as my task is to undo what at
the moment is in the Treaty, which separates foreign policy from
defence, try to get that back into one article which makes it
quite clear that one is dependent on the otherand that
actually is the area which has fairly strong consensusthat
this is, and will remain for quite some time, intergovernmental.
There are some aspects of foreign policy where you have no input,
you can be communitarian, willing and able, but I think that there
is a really broad consensus that this is an area which is intergovernmental.
70. I accept that there is a consensus that
it is intergovernmental, and I accept that the Working Group was
dominated by neutrals and this is actually a Franco-German proposal.
Some of us might think that Germany is getting a bit close to
getting neutral. In practice, they are talking seriously about
QMV, extending it to areas of defence and seeing what happens
in other areas of Convention business where the French and Germans
are agreed. You do not think there is a serious risk of their
attempting to introduce QMV into defence?
A. Yes, I think there is a serious risk, but
I think it would be one of the areas where there will also be
a significant group simply saying, "This is one step too
far", and I would be amongst them.
Lord Powell of Bayswater: Again, I hope you prevail.
71. By the time the Convention is over, it looks
like there will be the will to go to war. It will be a war fought
mainly by the Americans using a bit of NATO around Turkey maybe.
I worry sometimes that the European Union is in danger of making
itself look silly by sitting in committee rooms in Brussels discussing
enhanced solidarity or enhanced co-operation in defence matters,
whilst a war rages not too far from its borders, in which it plays
only a minimal part. By the fact that we are discussing this while
war is going on, it seems to me, we run the danger of losing credibility
in Washington, at a time when that is the last thing we ought
to be trying to do. Do you think there is any danger of this?
A. Yes, I think there is a danger. For example,
when people talked about the Rapid Reaction Force and the initiative
then of the European Union to have almost a kind of duplication,
again as Lord Robertson said, we have two million people in uniform
in the European Union, but when it comes to finding soldiers who
can actually be part of that Rapid Reaction Force we have a problem
just finding those 60,000. It is now the real crunch time, as
far as I am concerned, between those who I think politically almost
wish to alienate the United States and wish for NATO not to continue,
because their vision of Europe has always been one of being an
alternative power bloc to the United States, and those who do
not wish that to happen. I think the sheer reality on the ground,
that we do not have the capability to develop, I think will begin
to sink in with those who seriously think about it. As to what
happens now in the outside world, it is never the right time,
this is where we are, and I do not pre-empt anything that will
happen in Iraq. In the meantime we will have to try to write our
Lord Watson of Richmond
72. I have two questions, if I may. First of
all, how significant do you think it will be, in how the whole
issue of European co-operation in the defence sector is seen,
if the French actually in the end do play a military part, albeit
rather small, in any action that takes place in Iraq? That is
my first question. I was at the German Embassy last night where
all the celebration was going on. It was extraordinary how careful
the French were being about committing themselvesI am sorry,
how careful the French were being not to commit themselves
and not to take any action. I thought that that was quite interestingdouble
negatives. My second point really goes back to the earlier question.
For better or worse, the French and the Germans have taken the
initiative, have laid things on the table, have a certain momentum
therefore. Whether that is part of an attempt to turn us all into
the IGC or not, we shall see. Do we not need some significant
proactive initiative from the British side? Would it not be better
if we were putting things on the table, rather than skilfully
objecting to what other people put there?
A. Yes, I think you are touching on the age-old
British problem about whether we are, or whether we are only seen
to be. Whenever we enter these European negotiating rooms we have
a list of things that we do not want to see happen: the others
have a list of things they wish to see happen.
73. Can you jump the box? Can you do it differently
A. I think we have actually been on this occasion
extremely positive and have been seen to be positive on certain
areas where, as in the area of capabilities, we really wanted
to build that up. You have to understand, in the Convention there
are very few people who really want to talk about defence; most
of them politically do not want to talk about defence. I attended
a working group by the European Socialists where we discussed
defence, and there the speaker opened his remarks by actually
saying, "We have got to get through this, because it is not
really terribly socialist to talk about defence." The political
battle of the Convention is really that the European Parliament
feels this is an area where they are completely excluded from
the decision-making process, and for them success would be if
they now have a say in defence. So that is where the real debate
will be. Again, as to what Germany and France will do, I do not
74. I, too, want to talk about the age old British
problem in respect of the European armaments agency, and you were
very clear that you would not want the right initiative to lie
with the Commission in this area if it were to happen. Like, Lord
Morris, I have a sense that there is an awful lot of duplication
going on when we are callingas we repeatedly dofor
an increase in resources. This is one way to achieve thatnot
the only way by any means, we still need an increase in expenditure,
but it is a way. I thought that the Prime Minister in his Cardiff
speech was implying that something positive has to be done in
this area. Can I invite you, again, to say how you can negotiate
this tricky area but come up with the result that we can pool
resources together much more effectively than we have done hitherto,
so that we do fulfil the ambition of providing greater resources
for our armies?
A. We already have some very good structures,
which are all in existence, whether its OCAR or LOI, and all the
systems are there. What we, as the Convention, cannot do is impose
the political will amongst the Member States to contribute to
that and I would have thought the United Kingdom, for example,
also probably would not react too well to a suggestion that the
European Union dictate to us what the percentage of GDP on defence
spending would be. So whilst this is an area where we are very
active, we would not like to give the European Union the power
to tell us. If we say we do not want the Commission to have the
right initiative, then this is a consequence we have to live with.
This is where we run up against this age-old problem of being
seen as negative. There has been the suggestion of, for example,
a military college which should be created, to which we in the
United Kingdom say: "That is fine, the concept is fine, but
we already have one in Rome in the context of NATO. Why are we
creating something new which would cost money but not increase
capacity?" At that point we are seen as negative. Actually
I do not think this is negative, if we stop people from doing
something which is expensive and highly aspirational, but does
not deliver anything on the ground.
75. We rightly cower against the duplication
of institutions, but we apparently do not cower against the duplication
of resources. When you say what is required is the political will,
I want us to move on to the front step and to have those kinds
of initiatives which make a reality of the ambitions we have.
A. We probably are already on the front step
in the sense that whenever it comes to any of these demands, we
are one of the very few who can actually deliver them. When it
comes to any kind of joint action, who has the expertise, who
is providing the staff and who is providing the soldiers. So we
are on the front step because we are amongst the very few countries
who are actually able to deliver. What I hope will happen is that
we have a kind of recognition that the headline goals are starting
to be met, we do not just have paper commitment; if we look at
both the candidate countries, the kind of expertise they have,
that that gets better co-ordinated. I come back to what I keep
saying time and time again during all this work which is that
paper commitments are worthless, it is capability building and
it is real capability. The figure of two million soldiers in uniform
is meaningless unless you can go deeper and say how many of them
could you actually send into action. Probably the most significant
thing, which happened over the last couple of months was the final
agreement by Turkey and the finally moving ahead of Berlin Plus.
76. Perhaps I could direct you to the point
you madeit is a slightly woolly questionabout people
not really being interested in defence. They have to go through
the motions, but they are not really interested in defence. Is
that because they actually do not really believe it is necessary?
In other words, do they not recognise the challenge is out there,
or do they think that if we need defence it is probably only peacekeeping,
peacemaking, right down the lower end of the spectrum, so you
do not have to worry about that; that if there is something really
big and nasty, America will do it anyhow?
A. If I turn the answer almost on its head,
we had some very interesting discussions about whether the word
"peace" should be included in the objectives of the
European Union Treaty. I then queried a wording which was put
forwardwhich sounded extremely worthy and wonderful and
highly aspirationaland I said that that wording you are
suggesting would actually mean that should, God forbid, the United
Kingdom, only with the United States, take action against Iraq,
we would be in fundamental breach of the European Union Treaty
and could probably trigger off the Article 7 procedure to have
us expelled from the Union, which to me was an argument I thought
would defeat it, it was so fundamental. There were some people
who looked at this quite seriously and thought this would be a
very good idea that we bind ourselves into being terribly peaceful.
There is a whole generation out there who think it is our duty
to get to a position where we would not need defence and they
see it as a kind of political failure that we still need the military.
They look at Britain and they have said this to me: "You
are the only country which regards military action as a means
of achieving glory." This shows you a very fundamentally
different attitude. I just say: "We are more realistic."
It is not that we do not share the aspiration of a peaceful world,
but if you have not got it you have to have the means to do something
77. When evil crosses the borders the Balkans
and Europe does absolutely nothing?
Lord Williamson of Horton
78. This is perhaps more a comment than a question.
You did comment on the reaction in the Convention to the arrival
of the two bruisers, the Franco-German bruisers, who rather messed
up the tea party temporarily. I do understand, however, that it
is most important for us to understand the effect on the Convention.
My comment is that from the British point of view there is quite
a lot to be said for action which smoothes the passage from the
end of the Convention to the IGC and perhaps this may help a bit
in that direction. The reason why is that I would not like to
see a big break between the Convention and the IGC. The British
public would immediately get rattled and say: "We did not
get it, it was going to be good and now it is not good" and
so on. It is quite important to show that it is one continuum
if we can do that. Do you wish to comment on that?
A. No, you are absolutely right. At the early
stage of the Convention some people criticised Giscard D'Estaing
for doing a continuous round of capitals. I have always defended
him for doing that, I think he was absolutely right and proper
to do so. As you say, the Convention can only be a success if
at the end, broadly speaking, the governments accept this. The
point I was trying to make earlier is that the Convention is also
a process by which all of us learn and all of us at some stage
change our minds on positions which we came in because we become
aware of different dynamics. and that is why I think if you have
the bruisers doing short appearances, not only do they deprive
themselves of this opportunity to really learn but it also means
that they are not influencing the floor of the convention, they
are not changing minds and hearts, and that is where I think Britain
has actually been really strong because all of us have been there,
have taken part, and have always engaged in the debate. That has
changed people's minds about our attitude. We are no longer seen
as the wreckers but in many areas they do understand why we have
particular views. We have huge support, particularly in Scandinavian
countries, where they view the world in very similar ways.
Chairman: I think that brings our session to an end.
I think I speak for the entire Committee by saying we have had
a fascinating period with you. Thank you very, very much for coming.
You have been admirably concise and thoughtful and interesting.
Speaking as a former government chief whip, I do not know what
on earth you are doing here and why you are not running a department
halfway up Whitehall as a minister of the Crown! We appreciate
A. Thank you.