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Speech by Rt. Hon. The Lord Owen CH

Rt. Hon. The Lord Owen CH

On: The Foreign and Security Policy Implications of the Euro

22 November 2000 

“There were three important tests by which the European Defence Initiative, launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair at an Anglo-French Summit at St Malo in December 1998, was always going to be judged.

First and foremost, would it have the full hearted support of the US military and Congressional opinion or would it lead to a reduction in their commitment and even eventually an end to their on-the-ground military commitment to the defence of Europe through NATO?

Secondly, would its character emerge as owing more to the UK’s longstanding commitment to the primacy of NATO integrated command structure or to the longstanding French refusal to play a part in the integrated command structure of NATO?

Thirdly, was it a military driven project whose primary purpose was to strengthen NATO or a politically driven project with the objective of moving from a rapid reaction force for peacekeeping purposes into an EU Defence Force boosting the integrationists wish for a Federal State of Europe? 

I have supported the concept of a European Defence Identity ever since I was Minister for the Royal Navy in the late 1960s working on developing an Anglo-Dutch Frigate; through my time as Foreign Secretary wanting closer Anglo-French cooperation on nuclear defence; to my frustration in the former Yugoslavia as EU negotiator when there was no distinctive European defence capability to support the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy when the US did not wish to commit their troops on the ground in support of either the Vance Owen Peace Plan in May 1993 or the EU Action Plan in December 1993 (1).  At the time I saw the close working relationship between the French and British armed forces in Bosnia and I felt that this could be built on. In 1996 I watched with interest the move by John Major’s government in NATO to earmark resources for a European defence capability and I then supported the St Malo Declaration two years later under Tony Blair’s government.

Sadly, I conclude that as yet, with only two weeks to go before the Nice IGC that the European Defence Initiative has failed to meet these three tests.  Firstly, while the US Administration nominally supports the European Defence Initiative there are growing doubts amongst many of the key US military and political decision-makers.  Secondly, its character is more that of a political, than a military, driven project. Thirdly, the EU integrationists have been given a locus on military matters for the first time. The European Commission and European Parliament by having a Treaty-endorsed involvement in defence and military decisions will push to widen their position with a view to re-establishing the European Defence Community that they nearly achieved in the early 1950s.

It was clearly a complex and delicate negotiation that was going to have to be conducted.  Some people I respected felt that the pass was sold on the key question back at Maastricht which called for ‘the progressive framing of a common defence policy… which might lead to a common defence’.  This language was a bridge too far for some and a very dangerous hostage to fortune in that it implied that Europe did not already have a common defence, and thus contradicted generations of NATO Summits where Ministers had always stated that NATO provided the security and ‘common defence’ of the allies which is ‘one and indivisible’.  

As so often happens in EU negotiations it was felt at Maastricht that the UK could only dig in on two or three key drafting points and that other UK European Monetary Union demands outscored this defence question in urgency. The Amsterdam Treaty moved the common defence policy further up the political agenda.  The problem is that though the British Government, in particular, claims that the EU is only really talking about ‘crisis management’ and peacekeeping, not the Article 5 commitment of the Washington Treaty, that, however, is not the obvious meaning of the words ‘common defence’, and the Americans have always insisted that they will not support a NATO which is reduced merely to an alliance of the last resort.

The logical reconciliation of a sensible European Defence Initiative with a reformed NATO was that the EU would concentrate its political energies on making CFSP work properly and the ‘common defence policy’ element would be interpreted as seeking, within any EU defence grouping, as much prior convergence as possible on all defence agenda issues, including national initiatives and multinational initiatives, like euro corps, heavy lift capacity and common procurement issues, which would be up for normal discussion and/or decision within various NATO forums.  Where CFSP discussions in any given case lead toward a consensus that some kind of actual deployment of military force by Europeans jointly might be indicated, the EU members of NATO would look to the reformed NATO framework as the proper arena for action.  Following Berlin, NATO assets are held by SHAPE on an assured and ready basis, for release under European-only NATO planning options in any case where in the North Atlantic Council the US had, by agreement, indicated a wish not to take part.  Such Europe-only options would provide for participation ad hoc by any other member of the EU not part of NATO’s military structure if they wished.  General oversight of such an operation would remain on the NAC agenda, but with a de facto primacy for the views of troop-contributing nations.  In all of this the coordinating and leadership role of the European appointed Deputy SACEUR would be crucial. 

Over a longer timescale NATO might evolve naturally toward a more overtly twin pillar architecture between the two sides of the Atlantic but that would be a function of many factors, including proof that the Europeans had taken defence seriously enough to pay for better forces and equipment and were not just playing politics.

Who can tell the ifs of history.  Maybe historians will say the UK made a mistake in 1955 and 1956 in not joining the Common Market.  I myself doubt it and what is more I argued[2] against that view publicly when Foreign Secretary, saying that I did not believe Britain could have been guided to Messina by any politician. We only just managed to make the decision to join the European Community in the 1970s. Britain was not psychologically ready for such a decision in the 1950s. Even if we had gone to Messina, I doubt very much whether the European Community would have then ever developed into more than a loose alliance.  It initially needed the cohesion of the six continental Europeans.  It probably could not in its early years have withstood more than one founder member like France with a thousand years of deep-seated historical and national traditions. The actual balance, developed over all these years in the Common Market, European Community and now EU, has not worked against British, US or European interests.  Perhaps de Gaulle was right.  France had to go her own way and build up her own independence, at the expense of the federalist dream of the founders of the EEC.  Britain had to retain UK-US links and keep NATO together.  Germany and France had to come together through the EEC, and Germany had to reunify and build up close links with the US. 

In February 1966 under General de Gaulle France withdrew from the integrated military command structure of NATO and have stayed formally outside ever since, despite coming at times quite close to rejoining.  President Chirac gave the impression a few years ago that France would return if they had the NATO command in the Southern Mediterranean instead of the Americans.  Sadly, that proved too big a political price for the US to pay.

Two enlargements of the European Community from six to nine in the early 1980s and from nine to twelve in the early 1990s also altered its early integrationist character.  However in order to counter this two politicians, President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl, resolved to act to both preserve Franco-German leadership and to move the European Union towards a more integrationist stance.  Their vehicle for doing that was European Monetary Union and the introduction of the single currency, the euro. 

The question that has dominated British politics since 1989 was whether the British would challenge this new integrationist direction.  The new Labour Government, not áready to call a euro referendum in 1998, but wanting to appear more pro-EU, looked around for an initiative to redress their loss of a leadership role in the EU over the euro.  Despite their profound scepticism of any European defence identity, expressed around the Cabinet soon after taking office, they decided to come up with a defence initiative.  At the time in late 1998, through briefing from Downing Street, we were promised that any European Defence Initiative would be purely intergovernmental and that there would be no place for the European Commission or the European Parliament. 

As for the NATO implications although the phrase “the capacity for autonomous action” which appeared in the St Malo Declaration raised some worrying questions about what was exactly envisaged, particularly when accompanied by the phrase “the European Union will also need to have recourse to suitable military means outside the NATO framework”, later redefined as “our backyard”, I supported the St Malo Declaration.  I, like many people, believed that this initiative would develop into a Fourth Intergovernmental Pillar and as such could be a buttress for holding back the integrationist tide then starting to flow.  I was alerted to an alternative pattern when the Report to the European Commission of 18 October, 1999 on The Institutional Implications of Enlargement, by Jean-Luc Dehaene, David Simon and Richard von Weizsacker said in their section on Defence, “New institutional arrangements will be needed; they should fit into the single institutional framework of the Union and not lead to the creation of a fourth pillar”.  Those three would not have written this unless the integrationists in Brussels were becoming worried and were planning an alternative route of incorporating defence into the existing Treaty language devoted to CFSP. 

By the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, the four pillar idea had been dropped and the new defence arrangements were now to fall within the Common Foreign and Security Policy, as part of the Second Pillar of the Union.  I had become very concerned by this development and in reply to my letter the Prime Minister Tony Blair argued in defence of this arrangement that “For the sake of coherent activity across all Pillars of the Union, it is helpful for the Commission to be present when responses to crises, including responses over which the Commission has a role (such as economic or trade sanctions), are being considered”.

I then argued to Tony Blair that amendments were now vital to Title V of the Treaty on European Union in order to limit the role of the Commission in relation to defence and military matters. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who  shared my concerns, and I made public our views on 9 February, 2000 and argued that there needed to be a clear distinction made between the role of High Representative of CFSP in relation to defence and that of the External Commissioner or President of the Commission neither of whom we believed should have any responsibilities, either direct or indirect, for defence matters.  Since then we have had President Prodi arguing that the High Representative appointed only by the Heads of Government should be “double hatted” and held by the person who is appointed External Commissioner.  You cannot have a more integrationist step than this and yet we will hear more of this in the next few years. 

Title V fortunately does make clear in Article 23 that Qualified Majority Voting in the Council “should not apply to decisions having military or defence implications”.  Malcolm Rifkind and I believed that an amended Title V should make it clear in future that neither the European Commission, nor the European Parliament should have any formal role in decisions having military or defence implications and in order for this to be done  we believed that it was necessary to make clear under Article 18 that the Commission would not be associated in tasks with military or defence implications and they would not be associated with any Troika arrangement with military or defence implications.  We also believed that that might need to be made clear in Article 27 also.

In Article 21, we believed it should be made clear that the European Parliament would not have the right to be kept regularly informed by the Commission in the development of policy with military or defence implications and that there was a case for making it clear that in this sensitive aspect of policy that the Presidency would only keep the Parliament informed as and when it seemed appropriate.  In regard to membership of all military committees and, in particular, in the area of intelligence, we believed the Commission should not be represented.

We were concerned that unless these vitally important matters of detail were established very clearly from the outset a situation would develop in later years where defence and military matters could be edged into the orbit of the Commission and the Parliament.  Experience indicated to us that it was not enough to rely on vague wording in the Treaties and a general belief that decisions would remain intergovernmental but rather the UK government had to insist on delineating very clearly those areas which were to be reserved for intergovernmental involvement and decision.  Already we have seen the Parliament challenging the Council’s decision to classify military documents and thereby jeopardise the all important intelligence link between NATO and the EU.  They can now claim that they have a status and that this is not just an intergovernmental Ministerial decision.  This is just a start of the process of bringing military and intelligence issues into the European Parliament and soon, despite the ban on the European Court of Justice involving themselves in Title V, the Parliament will try and involve the Court.

On 17 December, 1999, after the announcement of the Helsinki defence arrangements, Javier Solana, the EU’s Foreign Policy Representative, gave a speech in Berlin entitled “The Development of a Common European Security and Defence Policy – The Integration Project of the Next Decade”.  He said, “If the current momentum is sustained, we shall need much less than a decade before we begin to see real results”.  Next day on 18 December, he also called for the EU to be given a seat on the UN Security Council.  He is a man I have considerable respect for but those statements make clear that he will need to be checked politically if the intergovernmental nature of defence is to be retained and we are not to see defence as part of another step towards a European federalist state.

The same goes for the EU President.  On 4 February, 2000 in an interview with The Independent Romano Prodi declared his plans for a European army and said, “When I was talking about the European Army, I was not joking.  If you don’t want to call it a European army, don’t call it a European army.  You can call it “Margaret”, you can call it “Mary-Ann”, you can find any name, but it is a joint effort for peacekeeping missions – the first time you have a joint, not bilateral, effort at European level.”  The President of the Commission should not be involved in this area if it is truly intergovernmental.  In the General Affairs/Defence Military Capabilities Commitment Declaration issued in Brussels on 20 November it states, “This process, without unnecessary duplication, does not involve the establishment of a European army” and while that is welcome it will not be long before the integrationists return to that design. 

It is, however, still not too late for the UK government to table amendments to the Treaties and propose wording for the communique at Nice which will make George Robertson’s role as NATO Secretary General much easier.  He, unlike almost all the other Labour Cabinet Ministers, never played around with unilateralism or compromised his support for NATO.  He has said that “The EU plans are, in my view, no danger to NATO’s future”(3).  I hope profoundly he is right and I am wrong. At Nice the British government should propose in Title V Provisions on a Common Foreign and Security Policy Article 17, Section 3, last paragraph, the following words:

“Decisions having defence and military implications dealt with under this paragraph shall be taken without prejudice to the policies and obligations referred to in paragraph 1, third subparagraph and the President, assisted by the Secretary General of the Council, High Representative for the Common and Security Foreign Policy shall be solely responsible for submitting to the Council proposals with defence and military implications, and, when they consider appropriate, for keeping the European Parliament informed on developments with defence and military implications.”

In Article 43 which deals with closer cooperation, it is being proposed at Nice to add the words “at promoting its integration”.  Also, and more importantly, the deletion of the words “and interests” after the word “obligations”.  This omission of “interests” is one of the most far reaching of all the proposals. In effect, by accepting this, the British Government would be depriving itself of the right to make a political judgement about the damage to national interests in an area like defence that a particular form of closer co-operation might involve.  It might be impossible also without “interests” to protect NATO or a specific British foreign policy commitment.  This must not be dismissed by the Prime Minister as a minor issue.  He needs to oppose any such change.

As to specifically protecting NATO interests, at Nice a communiqué will be issued on defence and here the key question will relate to Deputy SACEUR who is the European military figure who should play the key role in resolving how forces can be allocated between NATO and the EU.  The forces of the member states are finite in number and come out of the same NATO pool.  At present the language under discussion talks only of a liaison role for the Deputy SACEUR whereas the bare minimum is that he should have a specific coordinating function and leadership role.  Again it is not too late for second thoughts.  The German and Dutch governments will support the UK if we are prepared to take the lead.  The French may not like it but they want this defence initiative and cannot resist those three countries acting together. 

We hear much about leadership from the British government.  To date they have shown all too little attention to these crucial questions of detail and time is running out.  A new Administration in the US may not be as accommodating as President Clinton. 

NATO is too precious to even risk putting it in jeopardy.  As Lord Carrington, Lord Healey, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and myself have warned.  We need “the utmost caution in proceeding with this openly political project” (4). “


At Nice the Treaty on European Union, as amended in 1997, will make three explicit references to the European Commission’s specific role in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and which will thereafter apply to defence and military matters.

  • Title V, Article 14: “The Council may request the Commission to submit to it any appropriate proposals relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy to ensure the implementation of a joint action”.
  • Title V, Article 18: “The Presidency shall represent the Union in matters coming within the common foreign and security policy.” (Paragraph 1)  “The Presidency shall be responsible for the implementation of decisions taken under this Title; in that capacity it shall in principle express the position of the Union in international organisations and international conferences.” (Paragraph 2).  “The Commission shall be fully associated in the tasks referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2.”
  • Title V, Article 27: “The Commission shall be fully associated with the work carried out in the common foreign and security policy field.”

 The suggested amendments to Article 17, with additions in bold type, would counter Article 14 and Article18 (detailing the EU Presidency’s involvement in CSFP), also Article 27 (detailing the European Commission’s involvement).  

1, Balkan Odyssey by David Owen, published by Victor Gollancz 1995 p.367

2, Britain and the United States by David Owen  Heinnemann Educational Books 1979  ISBN 0-435-32522-2

3, Daily Telegraph Letters column 21 November 2000

4, Daily Telegraph Letters column 20 November, 2000