THE UNITED KINGDOM AND EUROPE


Quentin Davies MP,
Conservative, for Stamford and Spalding

In his first speech as Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind stated that he believed that our foreign policy should be founded simply on an assessment of our own national interests. No Conservative would disagree with that. That principle must apply also to our membership of the European Union. Does it meet the test? What are British interests in the EU? And what kind of Union will best defend them?

The object of the European Union is to promote those interests of the citizens of Europe which cannot - or cannot so effectively - be advanced at the level of the individual Member States. Article 3 (b) of the Maastricht Treaty - enshrining the principle of subsidiarity - makes that division of responsibility explicit. And the successive European Treaties - consolidated at Maastricht into the Treaty on European Union - set out the fields in which action is indeed expected to be more effective at the Union level. These include the creation of a Single Market, which is far more than a customs union since it aims to eliminate all non-tariff barriers to trade under a single regulatory framework (Pillar I of the Union), a Common Foreign and Security Policy (Pillar II), cooperation in the fields of justice and home affairs (Pillar III), and monetary union. Does Great Britain stand to benefit from these policies, and if so what should be our contribution to their formulation and implementation?

The Single Market

The Single Market - largely a British initiative - is not controversial, at least among Conservatives. This paper, therefore, principally focuses on the other areas. But before we leave the Single Market it must be said that it has begun to work impressively. It accounts for 58% of UK visible exports (88 billion in the 12 months to November 1995, as opposed to 62 billion to the rest of the world). Our exports to the rest of the EU have also grown at an above average rate - by 6.5% in 1993, the first year of operation of the Single Market, by 11.1% in 1994, and 18% in 1995, contributing very significantly to the recovery of the economy. But it must also be said that the Single Market has yet to be completed. And the fields in which non-tariff barriers remain - telecommunications, energy, and airlines - are those in which Great Britain, with major international companies in these sectors emerging directly from the successful privatizations of the 1980s, has a very special interest. Agreement was secured at the Corfu Summit in 1994 to open up the telecommunications market by 1998. But we are still a long way from forcing open the monopolistic Continental energy distribution networks (Gaz de France, Electricite de France, Gasunie, Ruhurgas, RWE, etc), or from airline deregulation and open competition such as the US has enjoyed for a decade. It must be a British priority to secure these objectives at the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

A further British priority should be to extend the Public Procurement Directive to defence equipment, removing the protection which the Treaty (in Article 233) permits member states to extend to their defence industries. Since we have the largest and (measured in terms of defence equipment exports) most successful defence industry in the Union we would obviously stand to reap the greatest industrial gains from such a move. But every member state would benefit as greater competition reduced its own defence procurement costs. Such a move, moreover, would surely be an essential element in the greater defence cooperation to which the Maastricht Treaty looks forward.

Common Foreign and Security Policy

The European Union agreed at Maastricht on the "implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the eventual framing of a common defence policy" (Article B). This was not a position from which we sought any derogation and it remains the expression of British Government policy. But so far little or nothing has been done to put it into practice. Is that a good or a bad thing? Is this, or is this not, an area in which British interests demand that progress be made?

The recent history of European foreign policy and defence cooperation is lamentable. Until the last hours before the Anglo-American ultimatum to Iraq in July 1991, which followed the invasion of Kuwait, France (which later took a distinguished part in the military operation) was pursuing its own diplomatic initiative. Saddam Hussein can only have assumed that he could play off one EU and NATO member against another, and this can only have increased his intransigence. Once the war had started, Belgium initially refused an export licence for the Belgian armaments company F N Herstall to sell arms to the UK. In former Yugoslavia the record is - if anything - worse. The warring parties never received a clear, consistent, and coherent message from the European powers until the Americans finally took charge of the direction of both diplomatic and military activity in the summer of 1995, when the EU member states broadly agreed to support them. If the Americans had not taken the lead the war would certainly be continuing (and the danger of it spreading to Kossovo, or Macedonia, or beyond might by now be even greater than before). That the Americans were very fortunately prepared to take on this responsibility reflected both their great exasperation at European disunity, pusillanimity, and ineffectiveness, and a particular conjuncture of domestic American politics. The first will have weakened our influence with the US, and undermined our international credibility when we are confronted with future threats or crises. The second fact should warn us of the dangers of assuming that the Americans will always be there to come to our rescue if we fail on future occasions.

A further disturbing aspect of the Gulf and Bosnian crises is that when military action was ultimately launched only three EU member states took part: Britain and France in the Gulf; Britain, France, and the Netherlands in Bosnia. For if in defending the interests of world peace and of stability in our region our soldiers and airmen were risking their lives in the interests of the inhabitants of Paris and Bordeaux, of London and Glasgow, of Amsterdam and Rotterdam - as they certainly were - they were no less defending the vital interests of the citizens of Rome, Vienna, Berlin, or Stockholm. A scheme of things under which, when it comes to the military crunch, two or three countries alone send their own troops in the service of all is not satisfactory . "Free riding" cannot be the basis of the common defence of Europe.

So what is to be done? An ideal solution in some people's minds would be to turn the EU into a coordinated diplomatic and military power - a Europe of nations within, which can nevertheless effectively act as a superpower without, focusing the combined economic and diplomatic influence, and, if necessary, the combined military resources, of the Union in pursuit of its common objectives. Such a Union could indeed form the equal pillar of the Atlantic Alliance for which the Americans have long hoped - one which would share with them the burdens of common defence, and coordinate with them action across the globe. This is, however, an ambitious aspiration, controversial even if theoretically attractive, and one certainly impossible of realisation in a single leap. It would require the emergence of an effective collective decision-making procedure on foreign-policy, the pooling of diplomatic resources and - most difficult of all - the creation of a military role for the EU, or the merger of the EU with the Western European Union, itself designated by the Maastricht Treaty as 'an intergral part of the development of the Union', whose task is 'to elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications.' (Article J4).

It would be a great mistake to suppose that the only obstacle to the realisation of such a project was British recalcitrance. There are at least three other difficulties to be accommodated:
1 Four 'neutral' members of the Union (Ireland, Austria, Finland, Sweden) have not chosen to apply for full membership of the WEU;
2 The same set of states have so far at least not wished to join NATO - and it would be very dangerous for other EU members to accept the mutual defence obligations of the WEU Treaty in respect of countries who have not also bound the US to their defence by joining NATO;
3 There are three countries who are full members of the WEU, but who are not members of the EU - Iceland, Norway, and Turkey..

In short, there are some countries who could take part in a common foreign policy as foreseen in the Treaty but not a common defence policy (the neutrals), and some who might theoretically take part in the latter but not the former (the non-EU WEU member states), and some with whom it would actually be dangerous in present circumstances to enter into a mutual defence arrangement at all.

Some work has been done since the signature of the Maastricht Treaty in addressing these contradictions, for example provision for EU cooperation in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions - so called "Petersberg missions" after the Petersberg Conference. (However, what happens if, for example, the Swedes agree to participate in a joint peace-keeping role, but on the understanding that their troops will leave if any actual shooting starts?. Foreign policy and even peace-keeping cooperation in the absence of solidarity in defence presents many difficulties and dangers). The British paper on CFSP presented to our partners in March 1995 suggested back-to-back meetings of the WEU and EU Councils, thus attempting to coordinate - if not to merge - the two organizations. The Irish, Austrians, and Finns - though markedly not the Swedes - have signalled that their 'neutralism' is not immutable, and that if a genuine and effective EU common foreign and defence policy emerged they would not exclude becoming parties to it.

But meantime, the sad fact remains: no single decision has been taken within the scope of the CFSP. Since the Treaty of Maastricht created the concept, hundreds of thousands of lives have been - probably avoidably - lost in former Yugoslavia, and we remain no nearer to addressing more effectively similar or greater dangers in the future. Among the challenges currently facing the Union are sanctions against Nigeria, the right response to revived Communism and nationalism in Russia, the recognition of Chechnya, policy towards Algeria and to Islamic fundamentalism across the Maghreb, and, of course, the future of Bosnia - and who knows what tomorrow may bring. In all these cases it is evident in advance that purely national decisions have no chance whatever of influencing events. It is equally clear that the combined and focused resources of the EU could be decisive. But it is far from clear that the EU will have the collective will or the mechanisms in place to exercise constructively the potential influence at its disposal.

So the practical question is what can presently be done, short of the full superpower model, to achieve at least some of the advantages of a CFSP? Four suggestions - three of them already well rehearsed in recent inter-governmental discussions - are particularly worth pursuing:
1 There should be some common evaluation and planning machinery established within the EU to cover the foreign policy and defence fields. Precisely because the influence of the Union as a whole can be greater than that of the sum of its parts it is important that the Council should have available to it an evaluation of global EU interests and means of response. The proliferation of bureaucracies is inherently undesirable. Moreover, it is essential that the Union's trade and aid policies - the responsibility of the Commission - which have enormous foreign policy significance, should be fully coordinated with the CFSP. This new responsibility should therefore be given to the Commission. (There are two possible doctrinaire objections to this: first, that such an arrangement would breach the intergovernmental character of Pillar II, and second that it would be undemocratic since Commissioners are unelected.But neither objection stands up to scrutiny. The Commission need not be given the power of initiative in the CFSP area - it would simply service the Council. And any other administrative unit charged with this function would also be run by officials appointed by the Council who were thus at three removes from the electorate - exactly the position of the Commission).
2 A French suggestion - that there should be a political figure ("Monsieur PESC" or "Mr CFSP") charged with presenting and carrying out agreed policies - a conscious imitation of the American presidential representative. It would be counter-productive to create a third public face of the Union, rivalling both the current Presidency and the President of the Commission. Such a formula would be a recipe for confusion, conflict, and diffusion of influence. Moreover, it would be important that any such figure should have been selected deliberately by the Council, or by a Summit, for the task. A Vice-President of the Commission should therefore be personally designated for this role.
3 (A new suggestion). To reinforce this machinery, to ensure the greatest possible degree of coordination with domestic foreign ministries and to emphasize the essential element of intergovernmentalism in the structure, a third innovation should be introduced. The 'political directors' - the ambassadors who represent individual member states at the Union level - should be charged with forming a permanent Committee of Permanent Representatives on Foreign and Security Affairs. This would be the equivalent of the current COREPER in Pillar I, and would ensure that member states could monitor and influence the detailed formulation and implementation of policy on a continuing basis between Council meetings.
4 The success or failure of the CFSP ultimately depends, however, on the ability of the Union to take timely and effective joint decisions. The present requirement for unanimity in deciding whether or not an issue is a suitable subject for common action, and therefore for subsequent treatment under Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), is a virtual guarantee of permanent paralysis - just as the equivalent 'liberum veto' enjoyed by any member of the old Polish Sejm was the cause of that unhappy land's inability to respond to external challenges, and of the whole country's eventual disappearance in the eighteenth century. The EU found itself disbarred from taking any effective action in former Yugoslavia for many months as a result of a Greek veto. The system must be changed before we pay an even higher price for its continuance.

The great majority of our partners are now persuaded of the merits of utilising QMV on a regular basis in CSFP deliberations. Not so Great Britain. Is there a way of reconciling these two conflicting positions? The British concern, very understandably, is not to be forced into taking part in any action, diplomatic or otherwise, of which we do not ourselves approve. The principle that every member state must retain the right to veto its own forces' participation in any military operation is accepted by all our partners. But vetoing others' actions is surely a different matter. Could not the principle be established, at least for the foreseeable future, that the Union's actions should be decided by QMV but that on overriding national interest grounds a member state may opt out of itself participating in any agreed initiative? That, at least, would be a great improvement on the present situation, and a viable basis for agreement at the IGC. And it must be emphasised that such a proposal would in no way be inconsistent with the Government's present opposition to the extension of QMV to new areas of the Union's activities or competence. Some degree of utilisation of QMV in Pillar II has been envisaged and provided for from the outset.

Justice and Home Affairs

International crime respects no frontiers. It is quite clear that this is an area in which the very real threats posed to the citizens of Europe by terrorism and other forms of organized crime must be met by a common and coordinated police response. Information should be shared, there should be provision for joint police operations, no haven should given in one member state to persons wanted for offences in another, and the principle of hot pursuit should be established so that fugitives from justice do not gain an advantage by making for the nearest frontier. The latter should be a particular objective of the United Kingdom. Were hot pursuit available, the task of the RUC and the other security forces in combating terrorism in Northern Ireland would be enormously facilitated.

But there is an important issue within this policy area - or 'pillar' - which does cause difficulty for the British Government. The Maastricht Treaty commits its signatories to create 'an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital is ensured.' (Article 7a). Some member states have already implemented the free movement of persons principle by the Schengen Agreement, and abolished frontier controls between themselves. The British Government has decided not to do so, and secured a general declaration at the Maastricht Conference to the effect that 'nothing in these provisions shall affect the right of member states to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of controlling immigration from third countries.' The interpretation of that declaration in relation to the Treaty is controversial and likely to become the subject of a judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It will be necessary for the British Government to be seen to be acting in good faith, and not blocking freedom of movement beyond the extent, if any, really required to control immigration from third countries, if such a case is to be won.

No civilized or sensible person would advocate the maintenance of frontier controls for their own sake. It was the Labour Foreign Secretary in the 1945 Government, Ernest Bevin, who said that he looked forward to the day when it would be possible to go to Victoria Station, buy a ticket, and travel to anywhere in Europe without a passport. Before 1914 that right extended across Europe as far as the borders of the Russian Empire. In establishing freedom of movement perhaps early in the 21st century, we would be doing no more than retrieving a right which our ancestors took for granted as an intrinsic aspect of European civilization in the 19th.

On the other hand, there would be near-universal agreement that it would be quite unthinkable to abandon controls on immigration from third countries. Most people would be willing to give up their own 'freedom of movement' if that was a necessary price to pay for effective immigration controls. But is it? It is often argued that the cursory glance which EU passports currently receive at immigration controls in EU countries is little more than a waste of time. It is not difficult to produce a document with a passing resemblance to a EU passport - all that those checks require. Nor is it possible given the volume of travellers to subject everyone to the more searching examination given to visitors from outside the Union. Really effective immigration controls would therefore need to be enforced internally through employers, through social security offices, or by instituting a universal identity card system. At all events there must be thorough identity and visa verification at the external EU frontier. If this is ineffective, arguably the present system of subsidiary and very cursory checks at internal frontiers is also useless. If, however, the Union's external controls were made really effective then clearly great economies of scale could be achieved by abolishing the current secondary internal controls, and in addition, genuine freedom of movement could be enjoyed by all EU citizens without any price being paid in terms of illegal immigration.

Is the common external frontier at present sufficiently effectively monitored and controlled? There is little doubt that it is not. Because of weaknesses in others' current frontier controls and immigration enforcement, France has to date refused to implement its own Schengen commitments. In present circumstances there can be no question therefore of the UK relaxing its own individual controls (though we may well delude ourselves on their effectiveness). We should therefore adopt in any suit before the ECJ the practical argument that we are entirely favourable to free movement in principle, but cannot be expected to implement it until we are satisfied by the quality of controls on the Union's external frontier.

Of course, some would wish to argue that the issue ought not to be one of pragmatism but of principle, and that we should never depend on any foreign official to determine who may be in a position subsequently to enter the UK. But, sadly or otherwise, it is not easily open to us to adopt such a position. For we have accepted just such a reliance for over 70 years. Ever since 1922 we have relied on the judgement of Irish officials as to who should be allowed to enter our own zone of freedom of movement (which could accurately be described as the Anglo-Irish Schengen). Despite the recurrent problem of terrorism - which arguably would have made this frontier the most obvious one to control - we have never over that period established passport or immigration controls between the UK and the Irish Republic. Anyone allowed to enter the Republic can thereafter without hindrance travel to any part of the UK.

There is a further - ultimate - irony here. If the Irish Republic itself decided to accede to Schengen, or to implement the freedom of movement clauses in the Treaty by abolishing its own frontier controls with other member states of the Union, we should face an invidious choice - either to institute for the first time passport controls between the UK and the Republic, or to accept our incorporation de facto into a wider area of freedom of movement in the EU, but at a time of the Irish Government's, and not of our own, choosing.

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