Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 79-99)




  79. Thank you for coming and we owe you an apology for keeping you waiting in what must be an extremely busy life at the moment. Would you be kind enough to begin by introducing your two colleagues and let me say that the Committee would very much welcome either of them chipping in at any stage where you or they feel it appropriate.

  (Sir Stephen Wall) Chairman, thank you very much. My colleagues are Joe Griffin and John Bourne who both work with me in the European Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, Joe in particular dealing with the Convention and accompanies Peter Hain to most of the meetings and John deals with defence issues insofar as we in the European Secretariat do so. As you know, there is also an overseas and defence secretariat in the Cabinet Office who have the prime responsibility for co-ordinating Government business on defence matters, but our responsibility is to co-ordinate EU policy as a whole, so we have an interest.

  80. I wonder, just in a very broad outline, how you see CFSP now following the events of the last couple of weeks. It looks a little ragged, does it not?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) It does look ragged and I think what we are seeing is a very clear demonstration of its limitations. I think, given that the issue of Iraq in particular is one that is divisive within nations, it is perhaps not surprising that it is divisive between nations as well, and I think that our approach to the evolution of common foreign and security policy (ESDP) has always recognised that there are certain limitations and that you cannot handle this issue in the way that you handle legislation on the single market, for example. I think that we have made some progress on the development of a common foreign and security policy over the last few years, but it has a very long way to go.

Lord Morris of Abervon

  81. Sir Stephen, what is the momentum for changing the CFSP? What is the drive, is it desire or institutional effectiveness or is there is broad agenda and would that not militate possibly, if not probably, against national interest?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I think there is a tension there. I think the prime motivation of most people in the European Union, and most of our partners, is a belief in having a European Union that is an effective actor on the world stage. If you think of aid relationships and the trade relationships that as a Union we have with most parts of the world, that is an effective instrument of policy that is not matched by the foreign policy side and their natural desire to make the two things coherent. At the same time there is tension between those countries who believe that their interests within the European Union are best advanced by the traditional community methods, and those like ourselves who believe that foreign policy has to be a matter for governments, involving all the institutions but in a more limited way. In addition to that, inevitably when you get a negotiation of the kind we now have in the European Convention, you get tensions between institutions. There is a certain amount of jostling for power between the European institutions: the Council on the one hand and the Commission and the European Parliament.

  82. We have just seen the draft convention Article 14, "Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to undermine it effectiveness". What is your view on that?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) Subject to correction from my right or left, who have the text in front of them, the language of that particular clause is the same as the language of the existing Treaty. What is different, this is really the burden of the argument we have been making over the last few days since those articles appeared, is that at the moment Common Foreign and Security Policy is set in one of the pillars of the Maastricht Treaty, the intergovernmental pillar, and it is very clear, even when we talk about the Union, that it is the Members States who are in control. On the language of the Treaty as put forward by the Praesidium, I believe it is not their intention to change that legal basis as regards foreign policy, in the sense that it is still the intention to carve out a foreign policy, albeit within a single Treaty structure, on a different basis from normal community law. Nonetheless there is an impression given, certainly politically, the way those articles are drafted, that somehow there is an authority which rests in the constitution and is then devolved down to the Member States, whereas our view is the opposite: the authority rests with the Member States and it is up to the Member States to determine how far they devolve that authority to the Union. We have an opportunity now to put in amendments, which we will be doing. There will be a debate in the plenary of the Convention in the next few weeks. Whatever the Convention does there will be an intergovernmental conference where decisions will be taken by governments.

  83. That is what I was asking you, although I do not think I put it to you properly, what would be the view of HMG as regarding words such as "unreservedly support", is that in accordance with what we are trying to do or is that something that is external?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I think "unreservedly support", if the policy of the Union is something which we by unanimity have agreed, once you have agreed it you should unreservedly support it. What you cannot do is have something which assumes, whether you have agreed or not, as it were, you will support it.

  84. Which is our view?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) Our view is that it is the former, ie that Member States should reach an agreement and when they reach that agreement then, yes, they should support it.

  85. If that hurdle has not been crossed this does not mean anything to us?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) That is right.

Lord Watson

  86. Unanimity and momentum are two very important aspects. There was a report, which this Committee has seen, in the Financial Times on 7 of this month which is describing Giscard as saying he is against the extreme irritation of the European disunity over Iraq and then writes the following, "Underpinning the exercise for a Common Foreign Security Policy would be the extension to majority voting and the reduction in the use of national veto. France and Germany recently proposed such a move and it has been privately endorsed by Britain in spite of earlier reservations". Would you comment on that?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) The French and German proposal suggest that majority voting should be the norm, except for issues relating to security and defence. We certainly agree with what they say about security and the defence, the question is about majority voting for the rest of the foreign policy. The obvious driver for this is the feeling among many of our partners, and it is perfectly valid in a Union of 25 or 27, and ultimately more, does the vast majority want to be held back by possibly one Member State? Our feeling on this is that it comes back to the convoy argument in the sense that it is rather irritating if the convoy has to proceed at the pace of the slowest ship. On the other hand, if it does not there ain't no convoy. How effective is a foreign policy if it is not bought in by the whole of the Member States, particularly if we are talking about action as opposed to words, which is why we have been very cautious and continue to be cautious in terms of the fairly restrictive provisions on majority voting that are in the existing Treaty. I think any British Prime Minister, certainly this one, will want to continue to be in a position where ultimately he is answerable to Parliament for British foreign policy. That does mean that in terms of the extension of majority voting there is more to consider than the French and German paper. There may be scope for greater use of enhanced co-operation for which there is also provision in the Treaty. Our feeling is that that has to be limited probably in the terms in which it is limited now under the Nice Treaty.

  87. Sir Stephen, I imagine you would agree there has rarely been a moment in recent history where there would be widespread perception amongst the British public of how very different our government's position is particularly from France and Germany. My concern was in that environment if there is too great a gap between what is privately endorsed and what is publicly stated we add to public confusion and the debate deteriorates.
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I accept that. I think, although the perception may be of Britain on one hand and France and Germany on the other, in terms of Iraq in particular, that is in reality far from being the case. We all want to see a more vigorous and effective Common Foreign and Security Policy and we sometimes pay a price for unanimity in terms of our ability to act. The argument I am making is that in terms of the overall balance of interest that is a price which, with the exceptions that are already in the Treaty, we have to pay.

Lord Williams of Elvel

  88. Sir Stephen, I was surprised to see the French Government putting forward an extension of qualified majority voting, do you really believe that President Chirac has come to a decision on something that went against him?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I think the French Government probably feel, partly because of their relationship with the German Government, there would never in practice be a situation in which they would be out-voted, and in terms of an assessment of political risk that is probably a pretty fair assessment. I do not believe in our system we can base our policy on the assessment of risk, although the chances are that 9 times out of 10 on something really serious we would not be out-voted. The French and the Germans, by inserting security and defence caveats, probably exclude from majority voting a very large portion of grave issues. Nonetheless we have to be able to give clear and ultimately legally clear answers before Parliament and the public as to what might be subject to majority voting and what might not. The Franco/German formula does leave you ultimately at risk.

Lord Powell of Bayswater

  89. Pursuing this question of QMV a little further: in answering Lord Morris you said that we could probably accept the draft Article 14 if it was based on unanimity. Then in your subsequent answers you have been visualising the creeping use of QMV. I think I am right in saying QMV is already agreed to a limited extent where there is a Common Strategy. Equally you seem to suggest that it could go beyond that. In a sense we are being asked to consider Article 14 knowing that could be QMV, at least in some cases. Is that not going to make it all a little tricky?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I was not intending to suggest a creeping QMV. I was really talking about QMV in the terms in which it is laid down in Article 23 of the Treaty. What I was suggesting was that it might mean in practice greater use would be made of enhanced co-operation, but enhanced co-operation is itself hedged round by the same provisions in Article 23. I am not suggesting a change in the parameters within which we operate.

  90. When it comes to the Intergovernmental Conference, is it your impression that ministers are going to stand very firm if that foreign policy is going to have to be a matter of unanimity, if they are to be answerable to Parliament on behalf of the British nation?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) Yes.

  91. In this Committee we have tended to take the view that it is very difficult to separate foreign policy, security and defence. If limited QMV for foreign common policy begins to erode the position of unanimity on defence and security. Do you see a danger there as well?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I think there is a danger. That is one reason why, when we are were drafting the Nice Treaty, we insisted that an enhanced co-operation provision, even in a very limited form, should not apply to decisions that have military or defence implications because of the risk that if you had a group of countries who could go their own way, as it were, on something like defence implications then that could easily break the umbilical link we have established with NATO through the arrangements in the CFSP.

  92. We understood from Mrs Stuart there was quite a lot of pressure for enhanced co-operation in the area of security and defence, which would imply some Qualified Majority Voting there. Is this another area where you think ministers will be absolutely stalwart in resisting any advance?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) I think the tension here is with the desire for action on the one hand; there may well be instances where we want to take action and we find it at the very least inconvenient to be held back by one or other Member States. On the other hand, you have to accept that if you are operating within a European context that is a necessary constraint and does not necessarily stop you operating at all. You then have to operate in a coalition of the willing, which may be less desirable, but nonetheless it means that your hands are not completely tied. I think that that is one of the reasons why we believe you have to accept that there are some constraints on the way in which ESDP will develop in practice. I think in that context the convoy argument is a valid one. If you are taking action in the name of the Union it has to be action where the Union carries credibility, and it will not carry that credibility unless it has the support of all the Member States.

  93. There is the convoy argument. There is also the argument wherein the past one starts out with ministers informing Parliament that they are opposed to the QMV being extended into certain areas and then that begins to erode round the edges. It may erode a little bit more in the context of this convention. When it comes to the IGC they may trade it for something else, another article we are interested in, and in you end up finding an important principle has been breached. Do you think the wall we are building against this is impregnable? Would you prefer to reserve your position on that?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) There will certainly be pressure. I do not myself believe that the Prime Minister or any British prime minister would want to be in a position where in the last analysis they cannot take the decisions they need to take in Britain's national and foreign policy interest. At the end of the day we have to have a legal framework that has that right.

Lord Powell of Bayswater Thank you, Lord Chairman. We have moved on to a subsequent question.

Chairman: Move back if you wish, by all means.

  94. I wanted to go back to this vexed question of Article 14 that Lord Morris mentioned. In your reply, Sir Stephen, you mention it used the wording of the existing treaties and indeed the paragraph in the draft about the Union's competences also repeats the existing treaties. You also said that you would be tabling amendments. The question I wanted to ask you is are the amendments designed to take us back from the previously agreed position as in the treaties or are they merely to clarify that present position?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) They are really to ensure that that draft constitutional treaty is consistent with the existing treaty provisions that are in force. We are not seeking to roll back to a position before the existing treaty.

  95. I just wondered why the amendments were necessary when the words were the same.
  (Sir Stephen Wall) We believe the amendments are necessary in order to make it clear—and we do not think the draft is clear—that the Union has powers to the extent that the Member States confer powers on it, and for whatever reason the draft that has come out implies there is a body of constitutional law which will have been decided as a result of which there will be duties beholden on the Member States rather than those duties arising out of the decisions which the Member States will themselves take. In other words, it is reversing what we think is the proper constitutional order in that sense.

  96. Are these really matters for the Part II which was referred to and which we have heard about from Lord Maclennan and have not seen, and maybe nobody has seen as yet?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) Nobody has seen them as yet. That is one of the arguments that is put to us by some of the people working on this drafting—wait for Part II. On the other hand, this is the constitutional treaty, which is designed to be read not just by "anoraks" like myself or by lawyers but by people who now cannot read the treaties and make sense of them, and therefore it seems to us the clear basis on which the Union operates has got to be there clearly stated in the first part of the Treaty.

Lord Bowness

  97. Is this question of Part II going to be approved by the Convention? The reason I ask the question is that the Convention which dealt with the Charter of Fundamental Rights produced Part II as an explanatory document but in theory it was never the Convention's document. It was produced by the Secretariat which sought to explain, and in fact very adequately explained, the Articles of the Charter itself, but if Part II of this constitution is going to have the implications which you suggest then presumably the Convention ought to actually approve it?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) Yes and that is the intention. As you know, they have got a relatively short period of time in which to do this work given that their business is supposed to be completed in June. That is the intention, that both Part I and Part II will be before the Convention and the Convention will aim to reach consensus on them.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  98. Of course we have to react to the proposals on the table, including Article 14 and whatever comes in Part II. I absolutely agree with you that it is a good principle in negotiation not to wait. It is good to react when you have to. I am 100 per cent in favour of that. I want to ask a slightly different question, which is irrespective of what we are reacting to: what changes, if any, in the foreign policy arrangements would we like to see in the Treaty? I know we are sticking with our basic principle of Pillar II, and I personally would not like to see many changes, if at all, but are we looking for some changes in the operation of Pillar II and its links with Pillar I? Is that something we want or not on the foreign policy side?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) We do want to see greater coherence between Pillar I operations of the Union and what happens in Pillar II, but that is more a matter of practice and coherence in the way policy is implemented than in treaty change. We also want to see greater coherence in the way that the Union operates in terms of arms procurement, for example, in order to increase our capacity and capability but again there are very strict limits, in our view, on how that can be done. Primarily it is a matter of better and more efficient co-operation between governments rather than applying the procurement rules from the rest of the treaty to the area of arms, not least because, in our view, it is very difficult if you go down the Community route to ring fence that and prevent it going beyond procurement into other areas.

Lord Morris of Aberavon

  99. May I return to the answers you gave to Lord Powell and myself. I assure you I am not in the process of drafting an amendment but would the thrust of your remarks amount to, if there were such an amendment: "Member States shall actively and unreservedly support, on the basis of the existing need for unanimity, the Union's common foreign . . . et cetera". . . Is that the kind of matter that would meet our general concern or the wishes, perhaps more importantly, of HMG?
  (Sir Stephen Wall) Yes, that is certainly one aspect of it. The other aspect of it is to make absolutely clear in the treaty that the Union's policy is the policy that the Member States decide it to be, not something which otherwise exists separately from the powers and decisions of the Member States.

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