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Speech by The Rt. Hon. Peter Hain, MP

The Rt. Hon. Peter Hain, MP

Labour Minister

On: The European Reaction to Terrorism

12 December 2001

“Osama bin Laden could never have calculated that the events of 11 September would unite the whole world in horror and bring together an unprecedented international coalition against terror. New prominence has been given to the role of international bodies – not least the European Union.

Co-operation with our European partners, under the EU umbrella, is a key element in guaranteeing our security against terrorism. The EU allows us, uniquely, to combine and co-ordinate a joint response to terrorism in fields as varied as foreign affairs, law enforcement, terrorist financing and aviation security. In future, the EU will also assume a limited military role, complementary to NATO, too. 

On 11 September, all of our European partners – not just Britain – stood up to be counted and gave their immediate and unconditional support to the US. NATO invoked Article 5, its collective defence Article, for the first time in its history. And this unwavering support has been maintained ever since and throughout the campaign in Afghanistan – despite doom-mongers’ predictions to the contrary.

Many of our European partners, alongside Britain, have offered military contributions and others practical back up. Britain already has troops on the ground in Afghanistan, with another 6,000 ready to go. France, Spain, Italy and Belgium have all made substantial offers of support. And Germany is also mobilising its forces – a truly historic decision and the first deployment of German troops outside Europe since 1945.

The EU will also be contributing 320 million Euros (about £200 million) of humanitarian aid in and around Afghanistan. This will help both those in immediate need as a result of the conflict, and build a new Afghanistan once the conflict is over. 

Through its unwavering solidarity with the US since 11 September, the European Union is emerging through this crisis as a force to be reckoned with on the global diplomatic stage. It has earned the right to be taken seriously in Washington and the rest of the world.

The transatlantic alliance has thus risen to the challenge and proved itself, once again, to be a fundamental cornerstone of international security.

It is all too easy to take Europe’s freedom for granted. But that freedom would not exist today without America’s support throughout the last century. It was the US that helped defend European democracy in two World Wars. It was the US that, through the Marshall Plan, saved Europe from post-War collapse. It was the US that encouraged European reconciliation and integration. And it is successive US administrations that have given Europe unwavering support ever since.

As President Bush said in Poland in June this year, “When Europe and America are divided, history tends to tragedy. When Europe and America are partners, no trouble or tyranny can stand against us”. We showed this lesson to be true in the darkest years of the 20th century. And it remains true in the 21st. The transatlantic alliance remains strong.

We and our European allies are working to ensure that, in future, the EU can offer a greater military contribution to global security than it can at present. 

The UK, together with France, has taken the lead in developing a new EU defence capability under the European Security and Defence Policy – ESDP for short. This will allow the EU to perform crisis management operations such as peacekeeping, humanitarian and rescue missions in future, where NATO as a whole is not engaged. The headline goal is for EU Member States to be able to deploy collectively, by 2003, up to 60,000 troops within 60 days and keep them so deployed for at least a year. We are making progress already. ESDP is now able to take on some operations, as the Laeken summit will confirm this week.

ESDP is not, as some critics have claimed, a threat to NATO. It is designed only for crisis management operations. NATO will remain the basis of our collective and territorial defence, and will also retain a significant crisis management role of its own – as it is performing today in the Balkans, for example.

Nor will it divide Europe and the US. President Bush has welcomed ESDP, saying recently that it will make Europe “a stronger, more capable partner in deterring and managing crises affecting the security of the transatlantic community”.

Nor is it a European army. It will, like NATO, be made up of national contingents, and national Governments alone will decide whether to commit forces on a case-by-case basis.

A stronger European defence policy will allow Europe to pull its weight in military terms and make a greater concrete contribution to global security.

It should stimulate a significant improvement in European defence capabilities, which is urgently needed. The EU, although one-third bigger than the US in terms of population, spends less than two-thirds than America on defence. Furthermore, European defence spending could be better targeted. That is why, in Helsinki in 1999, EU leaders agreed a list of military capabilities required to meet the headline goal, where Europe currently falls short and which EU countries now plan to make up.

A stronger European defence policy should also ensure that, in future, we are better able to remove the kind of instability – either on Europe’s borders or further afield – in which terrorists can hide or thrive.

Following 11 September, the EU has acted with unprecedented speed to ensure that neither terrorists nor their funds can find any hiding place in Europe, and to ensure the safety of Europe’s airlines.

Within 10 days of the attacks in the US, EU leaders had agreed an action plan to fight terror across Europe and beyond. That plan is based on closer co-operation among the EU’s Member States themselves and closer co-operation with the US. The EU candidate countries are also keen to associate themselves with these measures too.

We have made good progress on the key measures:

•         EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers last week agreed a common definition of terrorism in each Member State’s laws, which will put an end to the days when terrorists could avoid justice through legal loopholes;

•         We are working hard to get agreement on a European Arrest Warrant, which will ensure that there is nowhere for terrorists to hide in Europe;

•         And we hope also shortly to agree arrangements for  quicker freezing of assets and seizure of evidence, through mutual recognition by each Member State of each others’ court orders. This will ensure terrorists will no longer be able to hide the funds that bankroll their campaigns, or the evidence that will convict them.

Member States have also agreed further measures to chase terrorist funds. These include, for example, increased information exchange between financial intelligence units, and a commitment to sign and ratify as a matter of urgency the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. 

The EU is also seeking to improve intelligence sharing between Member States, so that all our eyes and ears are united in tracking and pre-empting any planned terrorist action. We’ve also moved to strengthen EU-US security co-operation, notably through a new proposed intelligence-sharing agreement between Europol (the EU’s police intelligence body) and American law enforcement authorities.

We’ve also moved to improve aviation security and restore the confidence of the flying public. In October, EU transport Ministers initiated a package of measures to improve airline safety. These include common rules on banned weapons, improved crew training, stricter luggage checks, protected cockpit access and the introduction of ‘Sky Marshals’. These stringent measures – many of them already in place in the UK – will ensure a high level of security for passengers wherever they fly in Europe.

But the war on terror will not be won just with troops and warplanes. Nor will it be won just with enhanced extradition arrangements. Nor will it be won just with improved airline security – important though all these elements are.

No. The war on terror will be fought and won on numerous fronts, including diplomatic and military, security and judicial, political and humanitarian. And, like a game of three-dimensional chess, the challenge is to co-ordinate all these elements at once.

By allowing the EU to undertake certain operations where NATO chooses not to, ESDP will mark a further move away from a declaratory EU foreign policy and strengthen the EU’s credibility in foreign affairs.

Enlargement will, at long last, reunite Europe after the bitter divisions of World War Two and the Cold War. And it will extend stability right across Europe, cementing transatlantic solidarity all the way from Los Angeles to Latvia – and possibly even further.  

This unwavering solidarity across the Atlantic Ocean has been our chief weapon in the war on terror. Its strength has proved irresistible thus far. It is crucial that it is maintained, and Britain – a transatlantic bridge between Europe and the US – has a powerful role to play. 

Another lesson I would draw from the European response to terrorism is the importance of Britain’s constructive engagement in Europe.

I’m neither a Eurozealot nor a Eurosceptic. Rather, I describe myself as a practical European. I want Europe to deliver real things for real people. And, in the war on terror, Europe is delivering. Abroad, it is helping deliver military support and humanitarian aid. At home, it is helping deliver streets safe from terrorist attack, banks clean of terrorists’ funds, and airlines secure from hijackers.

The war on terror has brought home to me many of the other benefits in our day-to-day lives of Britain’s EU membership. Things that Britain could not achieve alone.

Many of the measures the EU has taken to crack down on terrorists, for example, will also help crack down on wider organised crime too – such as drug trafficking, people smuggling and child pornography. 

And there are many other real benefits of EU membership for ordinary Britons day-to-day. More jobs, more inward investment and more prosperity. More competition, greater choice and better prices for consumers. Freedom to travel, work and live anywhere in the EU. Cleaner rivers, beaches and skies. I could go on.

Eurosceptics, obsessed with myths about daft Directives and bent bananas, are missing that fundamental point: being in the EU brings real benefits for Britain and its people. We did not join the (then) European Economic Community a quarter of a century ago because we had to, or for wishy-washy reasons of ideology. We joined because we recognised, and the British people recognised, that it was in our national interest to do so. We made a hard-headed calculation about where our interests lay, and we pursued them. And we still approach Europe in this hard-headed way, just as all other Member States do.

Britain is, and always has been, a European country – indeed a European power. And, with 60% of our trade dependent on Europe, 3 million jobs tied up with Europe, much of our political weight engaged in Europe, it would be a fundamental denial of our true national interest to turn our backs on Europe. We can never let that happen.

There are those who say that these gains are outweighed by our supposed loss of sovereignty. But to believe that is to misunderstand the modern world we live in.

The Prime Minister made a landmark speech a few weeks ago in Birmingham, where he addressed the issue of sovereignty. It is worth reiterating his key points here now.

Like the Prime Minister, I do not see sovereignty merely as the ability of a single country to say no. I see it as something to be deployed for our national advantage. In today’s globalised world, where individual Governments count for less and less, our strength as an independent nation derives from the strength of the alliances and partnerships we make with others. By sharing some sovereignty within the EU, we gain more, not less, independence of action; more, not less, self-government; and more, not less, control over our lives.

Of course, there are key areas of sovereignty which we will continue to retain, such as over immigration, tax, defence and foreign policy. But, elsewhere, in today’s global village, power shared is power regained.

Sharing sovereignty is nothing new. In NATO, we have pooled sovereignty on military matters – a key element of sovereignty – with our European and North American partners since the 1950s. No one argued as NATO protected us throughout the Cold War, that the UK’s independence was thus undermined. Quite the opposite, NATO guaranteed our independence.

Since 1945, we have also pooled varying degrees of sovereignty in the UN, the Commonwealth, the WTO, the G8, the IMF and numerous other international organisations. In doing so, we were helping create a safer, more stable world for Britain. The EU is no different.

Have no fear; Britain is not heading for a European super state. Europe is nothing to be scared of. We are, and will remain, a proud nation, proud of our own identity and of our alliances with Europe and America. Just as the transatlantic alliance has guaranteed Europe’s freedom since 1945, Europe does not undermine Britain’s freedom, it guarantees it.


Britain does not have to choose between either Europe or America, as some would have us believe. No. The war on terror has shown how Britain can play a pivotal role in our key strategic alliances with both. It has also displayed the immense added value both of EU co-operation between the Member States and of close co-operation between the EU and the US.

There’s no question of us choosing between the EU and the US. We don’t want to, we don’t have to, and we aren’t going to. Britain can be a leading member of the EU and be proud to be a European power, while still valuing and benefiting immensely from our special relationship with America. The more influence we have in Europe, the louder our voice is in America. And the closer our relations with Washington, the louder our voice becomes in Europe. Our influence in Washington since 11 September has been greatly strengthened by our position as a strong voice in the EU. And our friendship with the US has been an asset for our European partners too.

And make no mistake. A strong united Europe that can stand on its own two feet is what American statesmen from Dean Acheson to George Bush have also wanted. As Colin Powell said recently, “A strong united Europe is good, indeed essential for the United States, for Europe and the world”. In the current war on terror, this is now more true than ever.”