Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 14 DECEMBER 1999
VAZ MP, MR
40. In saying that, are you saying that the
force will not need the sort of equipment that Lord Howell was
suggesting it might need because it is carrying out a different
(Mr Vaz) It needs the capability to carry out the
tasks and what we have a problem with and what
Kosovo shows us is the fact that we are not able to do these things
and we ought to be able to do these things, and European Defence
Ministers need to focus on this. When I went to my last GAC meeting,
I was accompanied by the Minister of Defence, Geoffrey Hoon. When
I went to the WEU meeting a week later in Luxembourg, he also
was there. This is a new era and we need to co-operate, but what
we do not need to do is in any way to undermine the work that
is being done with NATO; we have to do it with NATO.
41. I do not think, with respect, Minister,
that anybody around this table was saying that here today. I think
the question from Lord Howell was whether we are not going to
need some hardware that we do not possess in the European Union
and for which we rely on the United States. What I am not quite
clear on from your reply is whether you are saying, "Well,
we won't need that because that will come through NATO, but what
we will need is a different sort of force which may not need this
(Mr Vaz) Well, we will need the capability to carry
out the tasks that have been set to us. Defining individual sorts
of military equipment is not, in my view, productive. What we
seek to do is work with NATO to achieve these capabilities and
I think that we can achieve that and I do not think it is a big
Lord Howell of Guildford
42. I was just going to say mildly in my own
defence that I did not make any of the suggestions that others
have suggested, but I just asked about the point about extra expenditure
which the Lord Chairman has reinforced. I understand from your
answer that you think we will not need extra expenditure to achieve
(Mr Vaz) No, I do not. I do not think we need extra
expenditure. What we do need is a refocusing of the expenditure
that we have and what we need to encourage our European partners
to do is to look again at what they are doing on defence so that
they also are focused on what we are trying to achieve.
43. And more specifically I asked whether this
would require Treaty changes and are they going to be included
in this round of Treaty changes or will we need yet another round
of Treaty changes?
(Mr Vaz) I do not anticipate that this is going to
result in a new Treaty.
44. Or Treaty changes?
(Mr Vaz) Not as part of this IGC.
(Mr Lyall Grant) It is possible that there will be
some Treaty changes. I think the defence debate will be taken
forward on a sort of parallel track to the IGC, and it is not
formally part of the IGC, but that track, it has already been
decided, should come to a conclusion at around the same time,
December 2000. If that track ends up recommending unanimously
that there should be some Treaty changes, then obviously one could
take advantage of the IGC and come to a conclusion at that time
to make those Treaty changes, but I think it is too early to conclude
whether they will be necessary or not.
45. Minister, on the point of the European army
or not, are we not the victims of terminology as we normally use
it? I do not think anybody is suggesting that the army would consist
of all those nations' forces, but we are talking about having
a force which is ready to take on something like Kosovo and, as
you said, it has not been a tremendous success maybe, but the
way to have it as a success is to have a force which trains together
in the type of jobs and tasks that it would take on, to have a
commander who nowadays is not only a soldier, but a diplomat,
and we have seen that, whether it has been General Rose or whether
it has been the German general present. Therefore, to all intents
and purposes, we have to have a headquarters, we have to have
command and control within a unit. This may not be a big army,
it may be a small army, and I do not necessarily see the conflict
with NATO, but I am not quite sure why everybody gets so upset
about the idea that we should have a European force that is capable
of co-operating with its different arms and so on that may be
(Mr Vaz) Because there is not going to be an army,
46. But a force is an army if it is a certain
(Mr Vaz) It is not going to be an army. I know I sound
as if I am being very pernickety about these things, but I think
you cannot describe it as an army. It is not going to be an army.
You are right, though, that it is going to need new political
and military structures and we need to look through that and that
is one of the points at paragraph 28 of the Helsinki Conclusions,
but what it is not is it is not a separate army, and I know that
you disagree with me
47. I believe it is a force.
(Mr Vaz) It is just your description of the word "army",
which it is not, but what it will be is we are going to have all
the forces working together and we need the structures of course
that will deal with this change, but it is just the word "army"
that implies a single European force and that is not what it is
going to be.
Lord Williams of Elvel
48. Could I just ask the Minister, following
on from what Lord Brookeborough has said, assuming that this proposed
European forcelet's not call it an armyis to remain
within the NATO context, that we are not trying to set up something
different from NATO, presumably it needs not only hardware, but
it needs also software because all the NATO control and command
systems work from the Pentagon, so is the Minister saying, "No,
we are going to develop a whole new series of command and control
systems"? If not, then why is it not part of NATO in the
(Mr Vaz) Well, we are going to be working with NATO
throughout all the discussions and all the activities that we
have. There is no question that we are doing things on our own.
Whenever we have discussed in the European Union defence and foreign
policy issues, we subsequently have had a discussion with our
non-EU NATO partners and we have then had a discussion with the
applicant countries so that everybody is informed. We do not believe
that the way forward is to duplicate what is already there.
49. So it is all NATO commands, NATO codes,
(Mr Vaz) Well, there is bound to be an overlap and
there is bound to be that consultation, but what we want to be
able to do is for those purposes that I have outlined, the Petersberg
tasks, we need to be in a position, in Madeline Albright's words,
to be able to look after our own back yard. The Americans have
no problem with that and NATO will co-operate with us because
we are going to be in constant communication and contact every
day throughout this whole process with NATO, and there is no question
of us being separated from them; we have to be because they are
the cornerstone of our defence policy and that will always remain
Lord Williams of Elvel: I think you have answered
our questions pretty well, Minister.
Chairman: I think, Minister, that this is a
subject that will come again with our new Sub-Committee which
is looking at such matters, so I think that you and others will
be getting an extension to these questions from Lord Williams
and Lord Howell in the future. Can we move now to the Charter
of Fundamental Rights.
Lord Hope of Craighead
50. Minister, at the end of last week you very
kindly wrote a letter to the Chairman in which you gave some background
information on the steps which are being taken to go ahead with
the drafting of the proposed Charter of Fundamental Rights. There
are just one or two points that I would like to ask you about
this, bearing in mind that the Sub-Committee, of which I am the
Chairman, will be looking at this issue, I think, early in the
new year and it is quite important that we understand where the
Government stands on the issue. In the letter, you say, first,
that the Government welcomes the Charter initiative and you then
go on to say that you "would not support a Charter which
acted as a platform for an extension of EU competencies",
and in the third to last paragraph, the impression is given that
what you are looking for is something which is in the nature of
a political statement of existing rights "without legally
binding effect, and not incorporated into the Treaties...without
prejudicing legal certainty". Now, the point that troubles
me, having listened to a number of contributions at the COSAC
meeting early this autumn, is that there is a very big difference
between the attitude which you describe there and the view taken,
as I could understand it, of some other Member States and also
the position of the Parliament. The Parliament, for example, is
supporting the view that from the outset it should be made clear
that the Charter would have a mandatory character and provide
the citizens with access to the Courtthat is, the Court
of Justiceso if that is to be the regime, it is totally
different from the idea of a political statement with no binding
effect which you have described. The question really is this:
is it likely to be possible for you, as these discussions develop,
to hang on to the approach which you have described, bearing in
mind the expectation of citizens within the Union which are likely
to be raised as this issue comes into greater prominence?
(Mr Vaz) Well, the Charter is a very important document
and we welcome the fact that Cologne agreed to have a Charter
of Fundamental Rights, and we have chosen as our representative
from the Prime Minister one of our most distinguished lawyers,
a Member of the Upper House, Lord Goldsmith, and from the Upper
House also Lord Bowness is going to be the parliamentary representative,
as is Wyn Griffiths from the House of Commons, so we have a good
team, but the team is not there to agree to create a binding document.
I think I prefer my view to the view of the Members of the European
Parliament, which is that what this will be is a showcase of existing
rights, rights that have been conferred by either the Treaties
or legislation. It is not a seed for a constitution, but it is
there to do exactly as I have just described and we will resist
any attempts to make it binding. Certainly in the conversations
I have had with colleagues, there is no particular desire to make
it binding and turn it into a Treaty because, frankly, nobody
regards it as being necessary. Of course in the European Parliament,
there are going to be different views because Europe is a place
of some 370 million people, so of course people are going to have
different views with so many countries and the Parliament representing
individual constituencies et cetera, et cetera, but Cologne decided
on certain things and there is no reason to change those decisions.
51. I think the problem is that everybody can
say they welcome the initiative, but when one finds they are talking
about quite different things, it is very important to be clear
where the Government stands on the issue and that the Government
would be prepared to defend its position, as you have described
it, if it gets into a really detailed argument.
(Mr Vaz) I can assure you that I will certainly be
defending our position vigorously. My position has not changed
since I signed that letter. The European Parliament of course
is entitled to make its own views known, but our representatives
are well aware of the purpose of the Charter of Fundamental Rights,
what it seeks to achieve, and how we can take matters further
in the discussion. We welcome it and we believe it is an important
document, but it is not going to be binding in a legal, contractual
52. So why have it?
(Mr Vaz) Why have it? Because it is very important
that people realise what their rights and responsibilities are.
One of the criticisms that most people have about the European
Union is that they hear a lot about butter mountains and wine
lakes, but people said to me on this roadshow, "But what
does it do for me? I like it, but what does it do for me? Does
it get my roof mended? Does it do something about my blocked drains?"
"No, it does not, but what it does do is it provides you
with a list of rights which you would not have had had you not
been part of the European Union". People do want to know
Lord Lamont of Lerwick
53. But surely the issuing of a document does
not mean that rights are granted by an organisation.
(Mr Vaz) No, but, my Lord, the rights are there.
54. Yes, but they do not stem from the European
Union, do they?
(Mr Vaz) Well, they do stem from the legislation and
the Treaties that we have entered into as a result of being part
of the European Union. That is why it is a European Union Charter
55. Is there not a danger that the Charter is
going to lead simply to confusion with the European Convention
on Human Rights just at the time when we are incorporating that
into our own domestic law? There is already a great deal of confusion
in the ordinary public mind between the European Court of Justice
in Luxembourg and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg,
so is that not going to make this problem worse?
(Mr Vaz) I would hate to disagree with someone as
eminent as Lord Goodhart on these matters, but I do not think
people will be confused. Of course there will be an overlap with
the Convention in some circumstances, but, as Lord Goodhart says,
that is going be incorporated whereas the Charter is not and there
are going to be lots of rights that have been conferred by Treaty
or legislation because of our membership of the European Union
which are not contained in the European Convention and we believe
that this is an important document to have. Presentationally it
is important and I think that it really ought to be well publicised
and it ought to be produced in simple language so that people
understand what is being suggested. The Council of Europe is also
going to be sending observers to the drafting body and they make
no objection to the fact that there is going to be a Charter.
56. But is it just a plain man's guide to the
rights which already exist? First of all, it is not a Charter
at all, but it is just a Commission hand-out, and, secondly, it
certainly does not need a large negotiating body to tabulate the
rights that already exist. It cannot possibly on this description
be the important document that you describe it as, can it?
(Mr Vaz) It is an important document, and I can assure
you that it is not going to be a Commission hand-out, but it is
going to be a sensibleor perhaps I should rephrase that
57. I was not suggesting that it was not going
to be sensible.
(Mr Vaz) It is going to be clear, concise, presentable,
exciting and all these things that we would expect for a Charter
for the new millennium.
58. But it is not a Charter if it is merely
a list of what exists, is it?
(Mr Vaz) It is a Charter.
59. The Magna Carta was not a list of what already
existed, was it?
(Mr Vaz) The Magna Carta was a binding contract between
the sovereign and the people. This is not a Magna Carta, I can
assure you of that. It is going to be a Charter that sets out
clearly and precisely for the first time in the history of the
European Union what European Union citizens gain, benefit from
as a result of being part of the European Union.
Chairman: So the question one asks is why is
this great concatenation of people being brought together, if
that is the right word, 16 representatives of the European Parliament,
two representatives of this Parliament, although how any two people
can be representative of this Parliament is totally beyond my
comprehension, but there we are, and they are all going to sit
around solemnly and produce a document which could be produced
by officials in Brussels with no more trouble?