Tuesday, 26 January 2010

EU External Action Service

There were a few questions and comments yesterday in the Lords regarding the progress in setting up the replacement for the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Lord Howell of Guildford asks, in a follow up question (my emphasis):
Did he hear Javier Solana's view that this is going to be "the biggest diplomatic service in the world"? Has he noticed that, since the Lisbon treaty came into force, 54 new super-delegations, previously EU embassies or delegations, have been set up around the world? To whom will this enormous force be accountable, what will it cost and how much of the impact will fall on the already squeezed Foreign Office budget?
Lord Brett replies:
My Lords, we are looking not at the creation of a major new entity but at the reorganisation of the current external representation of the European Union into a much more coherent and effective body.
It's not often that the words 'European Union' and 'coherent' are used in the same sentence. Of course the best way of making the External (non) Action Service more coherent and effective would be to abolish it. Lord Brett continues:

It is not yet possible to give a detailed breakdown of costs.
No I bet it isn't, rest assured though it ain't gonna be cheap.

Any costs would have to be held within the overall EU budget for financial perspectives, which is €49.8 billion, but we are committed, in the form of Cathy Ashton's high level committee, to producing results by April this year, which is not far away. I regret to say that I do not have them at the moment.

Notably Lord Brett avoids the part of the question regarding accountability, though I think we can all guess the answer to that one. There then follows a couple of questions on the staffing of the EAS noting a desire that appointments are based on merit, not because they are French. UKIP's Lord Pearson then asks:
Can the noble Lord give us a clear assurance that there will be any British embassies left in 10 years' time? If he can give that assurance, will he tell us where they will be? If he does not have the answer at his fingertips, would he be good enough to put a letter in the Library?
A pretty fair question given the concerns. But no, apparently not:
My Lords, I used to listen to with great interest, and enjoy, the questions of the noble Lord and the expertise and perseverance he showed on Europe. However, since he became leader of UKIP, his questions have got more esoteric and strange; I can think of no stranger one than this.
Lord Brett didn't answer that inconvenient question either, Lord Brett may have considered the question strange but that doesn't negate the fact that the answer to it could be 'none'.

It's clear that Lord Pearson is now regarded as enfant terrible in the political world; anyone with a desire to exit the EU must regarded as somewhat peculiar. Your Freedom and Ours cites another example here in a different debate, on climate change:
Nevertheless, Lord Brett, the Minister in question summoned his vituperative powers:
I am afraid that I consider that to be quite a long way from the Question on the Order Paper. The noble Lord seems to be becoming on climate change what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has become on Europe.
So there we are: you want to insult a peer you compare him or her to the Lord Pearson of Rannoch, than whom there is no one more terrible in the eyes of the Ministers.
Shocking isn't it that anyone could possibly hold a different opinion to Lord Brett.

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