Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. I am sorry, I think maybe I did not express myself clearly enough. What I was concerned about was whether the Slovakian Government had done sufficient within Slovakia to guarantee the human rights of their Roma citizens, so they would not feel the need to emigrate to Britain. Because I understand why we instituted a visa regime, but it is not very satisfactory if we simply keep them out and do not do anything to put some pressure on the Slovakian Government to recognise the severe abuses of their human rights, that they are effectively pushing them?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed. I understand your question. We constantly raise this matter with the Slovakian Government, because this is one of the issues that they have to look at, and I think that they are doing their best and they are seeking to address this issue.

Mr Mackinlay

  101. Just a final thing on the Roma. It seems to me that, demonstrably, Central Europe has got a particularly high proportion, relative to the rest of Europe, of Roma people, there has been a history of disadvantage, and, in some cases, persecution. It seems to me that there is not a particular kind of chapter, or it seems to me that the European Union, when talking in terms of enlargement, I am not minimising difficulties which exist, and also recognising the enormous efforts which have been made in instituting some of these applicant countries, but, nevertheless, it is an issue. And I wonder if the European Union has thought, "We need to look at this in the round," about the Roma minority, both from a moral commitment but also, rather like here in the United Kingdom, we just shift the thing on, rather than addressing it, is there not a case for a pan-European approach to the Roma community, some of which, for instance, when the velvet revolution came between the Czech and the Slovak Republic, a lot of Roma were actually in the Czech end but they were deemed to be Slovak, they had got Slovak passports? There is a major problem which it would be better for the European Union to be addressing, along with the applicants, rather than it being sort of fudged. Is there a programme, is there a part of the negotiations, to look at the Roma issue?
  (Mr Vaz) This is something that we need to look at, Mr Mackinlay is right, because it is the way in which these countries treat the Roma, and it is the result of the way in which they feel that they are being treated that we have to look at the issue of visa control. But Mr Mackinlay has given me an idea of what we can do about this, and may we take it away and see whether we can have an input to try to get these matters resolved.


  102. Minister, I want to move on to the IGC side and then on to Gibraltar, of course, which is part of our remit. Just one final point on the countries. Malta, a friendly, Commonwealth country, currently in the Helsinki Six but clearly will be a net contributor and with relatively few problems; is Malta one of those countries who is likely, as it were, to get promotion from Helsinki to Luxembourg?
  (Mr Vaz) I think it will do as well as Swansea City, Mr Chairman.

  103. Swansea City—no-one listening—is in very great difficulties at the moment?
  (Mr Vaz) Oh, well; but it is quite different. Shall I say, it is more like Leicester City then.

  Sir David Madel: It is more like Luton, in the Nationwide League.


  104. But what is the view on Malta?
  (Mr Vaz) I am very fond of Malta, and I think Malta is doing extraordinarily well. The Foreign Minister, Joe Borg, was here only yesterday, and, indeed, the President was here at the end of last year. I think they are doing well, and they have got good negotiators. It is not for me to promote between divisions and I would not like to see these as divisions; this is a regatta, and they are doing well in the regatta. They are by no means last.

Dr Godman

  105. Chapter 26, External Relations; the chapter seems to be provisionally closed with all of the applicants other than Slovenia. Might I ask if the Code of Conduct concerning the export of arms comes under this heading; and, if it does, can I assume then that all of the applicant countries have given an undertaking that they will honour this voluntary code?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Featherstone?
  (Mr Featherstone) I am afraid, I think we will need to write about that. I do not think it does come formally under that chapter.

  106. What does it come under?
  (Mr Featherstone) I think it is not part of the acquis communitaire, but I would need to clarify that, and, if we may, the Minister could write.
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, certainly.


  107. Does the Minister want to say anything to Dr Godman?
  (Mr Vaz) I am not sighted on this, Dr Godman, but it is obviously a point that concerns you, and I will ...

  Dr Godman: It is just that this Committee is represented on a Joint Committee which is examining arms exports, and this question of the European Union's Code of Conduct has been given some scrutiny, and I just wondered if we could have an answer from you. But I am perfectly satisfied with the promise of a letter to the Chairman.

  Chairman: I would like to move on to Sir John.

Sir John Stanley

  108. Minister, can we turn now to European security and defence policy. Minister, could I ask you, do you agree that if NATO is going to remain the foundation for European defence security then all military planning, including military planning for the European Defence Force, has to continue to take place within the NATO structure?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes; except in those very limited cases, and I mean very limited cases, where planning can be done at a national level, or it involves very minor matters. But, Sir John, as a distinguished former Defence Minister, as someone who has been involved in these matters when he was in Government, will know that we will need to draw on the capabilities, the resources, the planning, of NATO, that is exactly right.

  109. So you are agreeing, leaving aside the fact that each Member State obviously can make its own national defence arrangements, you are agreeing that, as far as any military planning for the new European Defence Force is concerned, that has to take place within the NATO military planning structure?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes. I would prefer to use Rapid Reaction Force, because that is what we are talking about, Sir John. We are not talking about anything other than the tasks that were agreed at Petersberg, crisis management, humanitarian peace-keeping tasks. You are absolutely right, we will need the support of NATO, we will need to draw on NATO, except in those minor cases that I have referred to.

  110. I am talking and focusing on where the key, military planning function is discharged; and, on that, Minister, you will be aware of what President Bush said, following his recent meeting with the Prime Minister. And, as reported in the Sunday Times of February 25, President Bush, following that meeting, said this, and I quote: "He" that is Mr Blair, "assured me that the planning would take place within NATO." Simultaneously, following that comment, the French Defence Ministry said this, and I quote: "The position remains the same, there must be autonomous planning." In other words, a diametrically opposed view. Would you not agree, Minister, that there is still a serious and substantive, unresolved issue, in this absolutely critical area, between Britain, the United States and probably other European NATO countries, who accept that the military planning role has to be conducted within NATO, including for the Rapid Reaction Force, and a French view, which is diametrically opposed to that, which is that there should be an autonomous planning capability for the European Rapid Reaction Force? Are those not the facts of the case?
  (Mr Vaz) No; and I would not want to base my defence policy on what I read in the Sunday Times. I base my defence policy on the joint communiqué issued by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister at Camp David on 23 February, where there was an enormous amount of agreement, there was not a paper that you could put between them on European defence and security policy. The problem is that people quote defence attachés, who, subsequently, as Sir John will find out, I do not have his letter with me, as he will find out, this matter was raised in the House last week, when Mr Fabricant, the Member for Lincoln, said that he was quoting the French defence attaché, who was quoted as saying what Sir John has just said. Well, that attaché has now written to Mr Fabricant, pointing out that he did not say that. Of course, NATO is the corner-stone of our policy, he knows that, he is a former Defence Minister; there will be no EU operational planning or command and control structure that does not draw on NATO. I have made it clear, and Lord Robertson has made it clear, on the Today programme, not in the Sunday Times, that there are going to be tasks where NATO does not wish to be involved, but, of course, you have to go to NATO first. So I prefer President Bush's view.

  111. You dismiss reports in the Sunday Times, but can I refer you also to the detailed text of the relevant annexes, the military annexes, from the Nice Treaty; and is it not the case that there is wording, in a whole series of places, there, which is certainly open to the construction and open to the use of autonomous planning, outside the NATO context, for the European Rapid Reaction Force?
  (Mr Vaz) Only in those circumstances that I have described. I have made it quite clear. And, Sir John, you will know, because nobody on this Committee will know more about these defence issues than yourself, how much we depend on NATO, how important it is for our defence policy, it is the corner-stone of our defence policy, and we will need NATO to do any of this, we will need their capabilities, we will need their assets, we will need their operational planning, we will need all of this, and we cannot do it without them.

  112. Can we have your assurance, Minister, that if, as some fear, there is still a material policy divide in this area between the French and other members of NATO, and if it does appear that the French are continuing to try to pursue a path of establishing an independent planning cell, independent planning structure, for the operation of the Rapid Reaction Force, the British Government is going to be unswerving in preventing that happening?
  (Mr Vaz) The British Government will stand by the statements that it has made in the past; you do not need my assurance, you have the assurance of the Prime Minister in the Camp David communiqué of 23 February. It is not the case that we need to blame the French, or watch the French, the French are allies, they worked with us from St Malo. And this matter goes back to Petersberg, when Sir Malcolm Rifkind was the Defence Minister, it has been signed up to by the last Government, it is signed up to by this Government, and I do not think that we should raise the spectre of any particular country to try to take us off that course.

Mr Maples

  113. Minister, my concern is that this is not what the Nice Treaty says. The Prime Minister said, at Camp David, and said right after the Nice summit, that a European defence would operate only when NATO chooses not to be engaged, and he said the same at Camp David. Can you tell me where in the annex to the Nice Treaty it says that?
  (Mr Vaz) The Treaty itself does not mention defence, these issues, it is the annex that does.[4]

  114. Well, the annex, yes.
  (Mr Vaz) No, I cannot point to a particular sentence.

  115. It does not say it, does it?
  (Mr Vaz) If you have got a sentence, Mr Maples, I suggest you put it forward.

  116. No, no; you negotiated this Treaty. I am asking you where, in the relevant annex,—
  (Mr Vaz) It is not in the Treaty, Mr Maples.

  117. So there is no—
  (Mr Vaz) Let me just tell you, Mr Maples; the first time that defence has been mentioned in any framework, as far as the European Union was concerned, was during the progress of the Maastricht Treaty, this is what the last Government decided to do, when they signed up to Maastricht. So it is not a question of everything suddenly coming out of Nice, this was something that your Government, Mr Maples, did, when your party was in power.

  118. But I am interested in what the Prime Minister is now saying; as a matter of fact, that all was wrapped up with the 1996 Berlin/NATO summit, which created the European pillar of NATO. And the concern that I have, and I think people who share my view, is not the beefing-up of European defence capabilities, it is whether or not we are creating a parallel, and therefore competitive, organisation.
  (Mr Vaz) We are not.

  119. That is what I want to ask you some questions about. But I am just saying to you, I would have no problems at all if I were happy that this were locked into NATO; but, I ask you again, where in the annex to the Nice Treaty does it say that NATO has the first choice?
  (Mr Vaz) You are using certain definitions of words.

4   Note by witness: The Treaty of Nice itself was concerned only to a limited extent with ESDP. The detailed agreements reached at Nice on ESDP are in the Presidency Report and its annexes. Back

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