The Telegraph | Have we stuck our heads in the sand over Europe?
22 June 2015
Britain can be stronger and safer by freeing itself from cumbersome EU structures
This article was originally published in The Telegraph by Geoffrey Van Orden MEP
I have an awful fear that in 3 years time I shall be sitting in the European Parliament, still in Strasbourg, and I won't feel that much has changed although we have got most of what we asked for. One area of great concern is foreign and defence policy. This seems to be ignored in all the discussion of EU reform.
The UK must not only opt out of the EU commitment to "ever closer union" but escape its consequences. Among the most dangerous of these is the EU determination to build a separate military capability and the expanding role of the EU Diplomatic Corps, the already 7000-strong European External Action Service (EEAS). Each of these can only be at a cost. The first to our national defence capabilities and the revitalisation of the NATO alliance. The second to our global standing as an influential independent nation.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office argues that engaging with the EEAS gives us more influence and at least enables us to know what the EU is up to. But it is this same Foreign Office that has got us where we are with the EU - naturally it doesn't think there is much wrong with what it has constructed. EU is in its DNA. The late Hugo Young, in "This Blessed Plot", his paean to the EU, made this very clear. Foreign Office officials were his unsung heroes over the years in the battle to integrate Britain with the European Community, in spite of the occasional interference in their work by politicians.
Don't get me wrong. We gave some excellent diplomats. But they operate in an institution with a particular mindset - managing British decline and promoting our EU engagement. But even Michael Heseltine, speaking on the Andrew Marr show on 14 June, recognised that "the only point of foreign policy is to enhance the status and opportunity of your own country".
Certainly therefore we should seek to mobilise the Europeans in support of our foreign policy objectives, but you do not need a separate EU diplomatic service to do this and definitely not an EU army, or indeed navy. After all, the EEAS aims to promote the idea of a common EU foreign policy and encourage other countries increasingly to deal with the EU rather with, for example, the UK.
It will be said that the EEAS can only act when national governments agree to do something together through the EU. That used to be said about Justice & Home Affairs.
In any given area of policy, the EU moves from 'cooperation' between Member States to 'coordination,' before it displaces or absorbs the national competence. It is already at this second stage in relation to foreign policy.
Every month, in capital cities all over the world, EU member states' ambassadors are called together for a coordination meeting chaired by the local Head of the EU Delegation. Many host countries now prefer to deal with the EU delegation rather than with national embassies; after all, it usually has more money to give away, but it is money that, in significant measure, we have provided. Similarly, like representatives of tributary States, our Foreign and Defence Ministers are regularly called to Brussels for meetings chaired by the EU 'Foreign Minister', the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
This same High Representative is also a Vice President of the European Commission, reflecting the collapse of the 'pillar' structure created at Maastricht to ensure that foreign policy and defence remained the responsibility of national government ministers and specifically not of the supra-national European Commission.
It is a fond illusion to imagine that we lead Europe in these areas as, most recently, our absence from the Minsk summits revealed. Our once dominant role in the Middle East has now been sub-contracted to the EU which represents us in the Quartet. The EU also chairs what it likes to call the E3 + 3 (the Foreign Ministers of the UK, France, and Germany + those of the US, China and Russia). This was once fondly known as the P5+ 1 (the Permanent Members of the Security Council, plus Germany). Even in defence sales, France has successfully encroached on India and the Gulf states - areas where Britain should have enormous historic advantage.
The reality is that overseas representation has been downgraded - we spend over ten times more on housing benefit than on the FCO. Many of our ambassadors no longer master their host's difficult language. Time and intellectual energy are consumed in meeting the demands of the EU, while our wider national capabilities have been gradually eroded over recent decades. The inevitable logic is that, as the EEAS grows in stature, so national embassies will close.
We therefore need to reduce our involvement in these EU structures - if necessary, assuming observer status - while enhancing our national diplomatic and intelligence services and our military capabilities. British foreign and defence policy are not minor commodities to be traded for support in other areas of EU reform. We should play to our strengths. With increased influence and presence, not only will we be more secure but friend and foe alike will take us more seriously, and more will want to do business with us.
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP is the President of New Direction - The Foundation for European Reform.
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