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A shift of emphasis?

Posted by Richard Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Two days ago, an anodyne, apparently routine written question on the "EU defence contribution" appeared in Hansard, with an apparently anodyne response from defence minister John Reid.

Asked by Labour MP Chris Bryant, there is nothing in his general cv that would indicate that the man had any special interest in defence issues and, apart from the fact that he is a rabid Europhile (as well as a former BBC executive, which amounts to the same thing) there is nothing either on his general website that indicates that he has any special interest in EU defence issues.

The question, therefore, had all the hallmarks of being "planted" – i.e., placed at the request of a minister. This is a not uncommon device by which means ministers can claim to have kept Parliament "informed", in the certain knowledge that few if any MPs will actually read the question and answer, and even fewer will understand them or appreciate their significance.

Thus, when challenged later about a "cover-up", on some issue that might in time prove contentious, the minister can always blithely claim that he (or she) informed "the House" on such and such a date, through a written answer in response to a question put down by the Hon. Member for so and so. Collapse of stout party.

If this device is being used in this case – and in any event, the question itself was innocuous to the point of being invisible. Bryant simply asked the Secretary of State for Defence: "what steps he is taking in the EU to press for a greater defence contribution from EU states". (4 Jul 2005: Column 40W [8675])

Reid's answer was also seemingly innocuous: "During the United Kingdom's EU presidency." He wrote, "we will promote a European Security and Defence Policy which is more capable, more coherent and more active. As presidency we are pressing ahead with the Headline Goal 2010 capability development process, aiming to deliver the final military Requirements Catalogue 2005." He continued: "The UK also continues to play a leading role in the EU rapid-response Battlegroups initiative, to which 22 member states have so far declared commitments."

To the uninitiated, this is so much of the usual routine jargon which infests parliamentary replies and ministerial statement, that the eyes glaze over as one quickly moves down the text for something more comprehensible. But, within the answer was an unfamiliar phrase: "…aiming to deliver the final military Requirements Catalogue 2005."

So, what is this: "final military Requirements Catalogue 2005"? Our trusted friend Google – one of the greatest enhancements to the democratic process since the invention of parliaments – provided but one link. For once, though, it was diamond quality rather than quantity. The link was Council Document 10032/05, dated 13 June 2005: the Presidency report on the ESDP - otherwise known as the European Security and Defence Policy – as approved by the Council at its meeting on 13 June 2005.

Strangely, while the document is clearly official, the site is not on the main Council server, nor on the Presidency site, but on the Danish parliament EU information site, the Folketing. Interestingly, the front page starts with the message: "Access to EU information can be a difficult task, especially if you do not know where to begin. Therefore, the Folketing has set up the EU Information Centre..." God bless the Danes.

Should the link subsequently disappear, the document has been downloaded on to this blogger's computer and, as an added precaution, stored as a hard copy – all 28 pages of it.

Turning to page 20, it is there that can be found the startling news that the EU has already finalised plans for the "future European Security and Defence College", mentioned in previous post.

The document tells far more than that, however, and effectively sets out the strategy for further European defence integration, which is galloping ahead tremendous speed. The next post from me will deal with the detail.

Before that post appears, however, I will leave you with an observation. Those familiar with EU history – particularly those who have been sensible enough to read The Great Deception - will know that the period of the mid-late 1970s were characterised in the development of the "project" as a period of "sclerosis" when the grand political ambitions of the "colleagues" appeared to have stalled.

However, that period was in fact a time a great progress in what we call "low politics", with the EU commission churning out hundred of obscure, technical harmonising directives, which form much of the power base of the contemporary Union.

Now, we seem to have a reversal. While, as one of our recent posts might indicate, the "low politics" dimension of European integration is stalling, the "high politics" dimension is storming ahead at breakneck speed – aided and abetted by a media and political process that is quite happy to feed off a diet of trivial "bent banana" stories but which has ceased to be concerned in any meaningful way with serious issues like defence.

In a sense, there is a feel of the Blizkrieg in the EU's approach, where an attack is made on multiple fronts but only one is the "main thrust". But, should that thrust be blocked, the commander shifts the weight of the attack to another front. Here, perhaps, we are seeing a shift in emphasis from one front to another – but still the tanks of integration are storming ahead.