Sunday, March 06, 2005

White man speak with forked tongue

Responding to Booker's article on 20 February headed The rule of Brussels controls our arms, Nick Witney, CEO of the Brussels-based European Defence Agency, comes back today in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph.

With Booker having argued that the FDA has been set up to "co-ordinate the building of an autonomous EU defence identity, quite separate from both the US and Nato," Witney claims that nothing he has said in any of his speeches "could bear that construction".

The European Defence Agency, he writes, "has been created to help EU states develop their defence capabilities for crisis management operations. It will develop relevant proposals and national defence ministers will then decide whether to take them up. This is hardly the 'rule' of Brussels."

Thus speaks the Eurocrat, full of honeyed words and bland reassurances, clearly designed to put minds at rest. The only problem is that the man is lying in that clever, crafted way that looks of so plausible. And, as always, it is not so much what he does say, as what he does not.

In fact, Witney has said quite a lot – and left out quite a lot - not least to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union (Sub-Committee C), giving oral evidence to it on 17 January 2005.

What is fascinating here is that he tells the Committee that the EDA is not "not some supranational body which will attempt to hand out fiats to the 24 participating member States. It is very much there as a handmaiden, an auxiliary brain I hope, of the Member States…".

Later, though, in respect of the defence market, he tells the Committee that there is widespread consultation going and he "guesses" that the conclusion will be: "we should not be against the idea the Commission has offered, a move towards greater regulation in this market. There is much to be said for a level playing field that is legally enforceable if you can get there, but it will be a long slog to get there.” He adds: “It will take an awful long time, years, many years probably…".

As to working within Nato, he is questioned many times on this and simply evades the questions. For instance, asked by Lord Tomlinson as to why the EDA functions cannot be fulfilled within Nato, Witney replies:

Indeed, and I do not think there is anything that we do which we would regard as bread snatched from the jaws of NATO. I absolutely do not see the future activity of this Agency as a zero sum game with NATO. I think to an extent there are two separate organisations…
Apart from not answering the specific question, however, Witney does actually confirm that the EDA's activities are outwith Nato, something he denies in his Sunday Telegraph letter.

Lord Morris of Aberavon picks up the point and asks how the EDA relates to Nato, a question which Witney dismisses with the reply: "I will answer that question at the end of the year."

Morris follows through though, asking if the "very existence" of the EDA is "the result of a failure of existing bodies". Witney responds: "It is an acknowledgement that there is scope for even more to be done than what has been done by some existing bodies so far." His view is that the EDA is "a very complementary body."

Morris persists on the Nato question, asking why Nato could not do some of the things the EDA is setting itself up to do, whence Witney is at his evasive best: "Why could they not do that in NATO? I wish I were more of an expert on where NATO goes on things like that… I ought to know more and I do not."

Towards the end of the questioning, Lord Maclennan of Rogart refers back to Witney’s emphasis on the overall aim of "supporting" member states. This could be "quite a divisive activity if different Member States had different views", says Maclennan. "Are you going only to be able to operate where you can find consensus?"

Here, there is a hint of the steel – the true agenda: "The internal decision making of the Agency will be by QMV," answers Witney, "so it will not be possible for one member state to say, 'We are not happy with this. Whatever this axis of effort is, it does not seem to be optimised to suit our national interests, so we are going to block it'". So much for support: agree to it or we will outvote you,is the message.

The Lords’ Committee aside, there was also a long interview Witney gave to Euractiv.com on 21 January 2005. For a man who claims that the EDA has been created "to help EU states develop their defence capabilities", even the title is somewhat at odds with the sentiment, proclaiming as it does: "Witney - On a mission to stop defence 'business as usual'". This sounds more like a man preparing to command rather than assist.

The preamble to the interview asks:

How far down the road of competition will Europe dare to let its defence industry go? Is EU-regulation the way ahead? Does it make sense to keep on comparing European defence spending with that of the US? Does the EU get fair access to US defence markets? European Defence Agency chief Nick Witney address the main issues in an exclusive interview with EurActiv.
After much yardage of "feel-good" waffle, EurActive gets down to brass tacks on regulatory issues, telling us that Witney, "…does not believe a change of the overall situation for European defence procurement can be achieved with 'dirigiste' measures from Brussels that members states are not comfortable with."

Note the careful phrasing, from a careful civil servant. He does not actually argue that "a change of overall situation for European defence procurement" cannot be achieved "with 'dirigiste' measures from Brussels", merely that it cannot be achieved "with measures… that members states are not comfortable with." And who is to define what member states are "comfortable with?" Witney elaborates on this:

Past Commission initiatives have not taken sufficient account of how far member states were prepared to go. It looked at it rather simplistically saying the defence sector should be treated as white goods or motor cars – and it is not like that. But the Commission’s recent Green Paper is a much more intelligent and better judged approach as to what sort of regulatory regime member states would be prepared and ready to move towards in due course.
There, in measured words, with reference to the Green Paper – which proposes extending EU procurement law to defence procurement – is the longer-term agenda, the development of a "…regulatory regime member states would be prepared and ready to move towards in due course."

Asked whether he is being "quite cautious" – which indeed he is, given the sensitivities of the subject – Witney responds:

It will not be at all quick or easy to arrive at a position where new regulation of defence procurement is adopted. A potential role for the EDA is to try to find ways to move ahead of the speed at which an EU regulation could be delivered…
This is selective quoting, but the reader can look at the whole passage, which goes on to talk about an intergovernmental approach, but from this it is very clear that the EU commission, and Witney, is looking at a "regulatory regime". And what is that if not the "rule" of Brussels?

Later on in the year, on 28 April 2005, the egregious Witney spoke at a "press dinner" in Brussels hosted by New Defence Agenda, following which he was asked specifically by the editor of Nato’s Nations, Frederick Bonnart, whether the EDA would have the power to bring member states together.

Witney is recorded as being "adamant" that he could not "foresee common compulsory procurement policies in the foreseeable future, certainly not in the next five-year timeframe".

Note, once again, the careful answer from the careful civil servant. He does not rule out compulsion – he just does not see it happening within the next five years which, as we all know, is but a mere blinking of the eye in EU terms. Put another way, he confirms that regulation is on the agenda – and what is that if not "rule" by Brussels?

From what Witney himself says, therefore, the agenda is very clear – that the Agency, with the EU commission, is working towards a regulatory structure and it is working outside the framework of Nato and, therefore, America. That is the only "construction" one can put on his statements.

Furthermore, from Witney’s own admission to the House of Lords Committee that the whole purpose of the EDA is to "sustain the European Security and Defence Policy", the objective of which is to develop a "European defence identity".

Thus, there can be only one conclusion to be drawn from Witney's letter to the Sunday Telegraph – expressed in that lovely phrase drawn from Regan-era Hollywood cowboy movies: "White man speak with forked tongue."

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