7th June 2016 – Contribution by Lord Waverley
My Lords, I too congratulate the committee. The key recommendations of the report are clear, pragmatic and sensible. I have little doubt that many of our partners would prefer the UK to continue to be a foreign policy and strategy leader of the pack and not an enforced go-it-alone wolf. While respecting the will of the people in the upcoming referendum, regionalism is the long-term future of the world. It is in the UK’s national interest to be a team player. Possibly next time consideration could be given to some key issues: the Palestinian question, for example, needs urgent closure, and the Iran-Saudi relationship remains ominous and an eye needs to be kept on it.
I endorse the need for urgent reassessment of EU foreign and security priorities, taking account of the risks facing and threatening the Union, together with resource availability. It makes sense that the new EU strategy arising from this should take a comprehensive view of EU foreign policy instruments—in particular, of how the Commission’s resources and instruments can support the Union’s foreign policy objectives.
It is right to recognise that the member states are the driving force in EU foreign policy. In this, however, the European External Action Service must play a more decisive and proactive co-ordinating role in improving cross-EU co-ordination and helping align Commission instruments with member state priorities. HMG should be considering how we increase the number of UK personnel in senior EEAS positions in order to influence the changes that we would like to see—a point made by many in this afternoon’s debate. The challenges will, of course, be considerable given the existing relative weakness of EU foreign and security policy co-ordination.
I note the proposal to establish ad-hoc groups to consider and agree rapid, decisive and ambitious action by member states, which could then become the wider EU position. It is my understanding that the EU has been using working groups on different areas of foreign and security policy for many years. It would be interesting to know how these ad-hoc groups will differ from these and how they might be constituted.
I have listened carefully to remarks this afternoon regarding Russia; it is a complex question. I believe that EU member states need to be more proactive in their approach towards Russia. The Russian temperament should be usefully understood. I remember well a senior committee gentleman, answerable to the Kremlin, who told me that he would travel with me anywhere in the world on one condition—that I pay respect to his opinion.
Apart from being seemingly disengaged, there has been too little forward strategic analysis of Russian policy and future actions towards, for example, Ukraine and the Middle East. While endorsing the proposed dual-track EU member state policy towards Russia, to which I would add those in its sphere such as central Asian and certain south Caucasus states and beyond, we need deeper analysis of the longer-term impact of sanctions on Russian government revenue and the Russian economy, especially given the separate impact of potential sustained low oil prices. The unintended consequences of the oil price are leaving a heavy mark on many producers, with social programmes being cut and rises in unemployment. These consequences could become grave and affect us adversely at home.
Definitions of areas of shared interest where there might be scope for EU-Russia co-operation and dialogue need to be thought through. Productive dialogue is certainly possible, but we need to respect Russia’s culture and its past 100-year history and, importantly, let it be known that its view is sought and will be treated with respect. Only in that way can we have an impact on Russia’s thinking and actions. While we may not always agree, Russia, above all, almost demands that respect.
Given EU disunity on Turkey’s potential long-term accession, an urgent overall review of the relationship with Turkey, from fundamentals, is required. Turkey is an important partner for the EU on a range of key issues including regional security, counter-terrorism and trade. There is possible scope for a twin-track approach, focusing on the one hand on implementing and maintaining the EU-Turkey refugee action plan, and, on the other, on how to arrest the erosion of Turkish democracy.
Syria is arguably the source of the biggest threat. In promoting a more central EU role in the resolution of the regional crisis, HMG should explain more clearly what they are doing to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis and their other actions in the area. In doing so, HMG should encourage other member states to refocus on increasing their assistance to the area, and indeed to security sector reform in Tunisia and Libya.
The report rightly points out the need for the EU to prioritise its help in our southern neighbourhood, based on key security threats. The challenges in north Africa will need much greater EU effort if some of the underlying causes are to be addressed. In specialised sectors such as this, we need to focus on developing a collective, agreed EU policy programme. It is worth underlining that the UK is ideally placed, given our experience in Africa and the Middle East—especially compared with other member states, with the exception of France—and the expectations arising from it.
It is right that improving EU-NATO co-operation and co-ordination should be central to the new strategy. This should ensure greater synergy between the two bodies while ensuring that the EU has no role in territorial defence—again, as said elsewhere today. That will in turn ensure minimal duplication and more effective use of valuable resources.
The challenges are huge. Many of the report’s proposals and recommendations are medium/long term. If the upcoming referendum result is indeed for the UK to remain, I hope that HMG will take a major lead in promoting a more strategic and targeted EU foreign and security policy and give departments of state the resources to do so.
Link to full contribution: http://bit.ly/2PcP3cD