Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)

TUESDAY 10 DECEMBER 2002

.DR DENIS MACSHANE MP, MR PETER RICKETTS AND MR SIMON FEATHERSTONE

  40. Are there any other items that you wish to add to the list you have given to the Committee already?
  (Dr MacShane) I think those are the principal ones. I need to refresh my memory considerably and in a sense all of this evolves over time. It does seem to me that always the only question is would this be in Britain's interest. Now you can have a dogmatic die in a ditch view or you can seek to take the argument forward. I think there are so many different views in Europe that Mr Prodi's speech was quite scathingly dismissed by the President of the Convention, Mr Giscard d'Estaing, according to reports I read in the French press, but each contribution is worthwhile. The French Foreign Minister made an interesting speech in Marseilles on the Convention, the French Prime Minister made an interesting speech in Orleans, the British Prime Minister made an outstandingly interesting speech in Cardiff and these contributions will go on and on as the Convention hots up in its work.

  41. Thank you very much for the helpful and substantive answer you have given. I did not ask the question to you in any way to try and trip you up.
  (Dr MacShane) No, no.

  42. I will have to say to you, Minister, that the answer you have given to my question is wholly different from the answer which was given to the same question which I put to the Foreign Secretary when he came before the Committee earlier this year[10]. I am delighted you have now given a substantive list of areas where it remains the British Government's position to preserve unanimity and I just will simply register that the Committee will rest on the answer you gave today as being the latest position of the British Government unless you advise the Committee subsequently that in any way you were mistaken in the answer you have given. Thank you.

  (Dr MacShane) Sir John, I am looking quickly through the last Committee evidence minutes to see whether I am out of line with the Foreign Secretary, a position I would not at this stage in my career ever wish to find myself in. That is my understanding of areas where on the whole we think unanimity should be maintained. If that position needs to be altered of course I will write to you but, as I said, I am always up for persuasion myself and my only question is what is the British national interest, not what is a dogmatic position that it should never be changed.

  Chairman: On the veto generally you have heard Sir John's generous offer that you can refine any answer you have made by letter if you feel that your career might otherwise be blighted.

Sir John Stanley

  43. Minister, I have asked you a very substantive question, you have given a substantive answer, the Committee will rest on that answer. You have enumerated, I think, five areas where it is the British Government's position to retain the veto and the Committee will rest on that unless we should be advised subsequently that you were in any way mistaken in the answer you have given.
  (Dr MacShane) I am grateful to you, Sir John, that is a fair point.

Mr Pope

  44. I am confident, Minister, that we could not get a cracker cheese slice between the position of the Foreign Secretary and yourself. Could I ask a brief couple of questions about France and Germany and where you perceive the UK to be in relation to the European Union at the moment. A number of people have suggested that there has been a recent rapprochement between France and Germany, particularly over defence and the CAP reform. Basically the Franco-German axis is back in the driving seat of the European Union. First of all, do you accept that and where does this leave the UK?
  (Dr MacShane) I welcome strong Franco-German co-operation and joint papers, just as I would welcome strong British-French or British-German or British-Spanish or British-Swedish ideas and papers. What I would say is that the European Union is a team of 15 and I do not know of any team of 15 that means there are just two people playing. The ideas being put forward by France and Germany are linked to the fact that next January they will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the historic Treaty of the Elysee fashioned by General de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. I think certainly there is a burst of energy on the Franco-German front. To take CAP reform specifically, it is true that they agreed a joint position that the amount of money given to CAP would not rise until 2013 and would be spread over 25 countries, not 15, but then the German Government was strongly in line with our position that, notwithstanding that, in terms of freezing the amount of money going to CAP and spreading it more thinly it actually was not a bad deal. The Germans, the British and the majority of other European Union Council Members insisted that the Mid-Term Review, the proposals put forward by Commissioner Fischler, should remain on the table and in the actual communique, the declaration from that Council meeting, there was reference to the Doha round, and of course as we know under the Doha round agricultural subsidies have to be discussed. I do not think it is much of a secret to announce that elements of the French Government would have preferred neither to have the reference to the Doha round nor to the Mid-Term Review. There the German position was a bit closer to that of the United Kingdom.

  45. Can I tempt the Minister, therefore, to be an outrider for Blairism by suggesting that we will not be at the heart of Europe as long as we remain outside the euro and that it is very much in our interests to join it as quickly as possible?
  (Dr MacShane) I have said consistently, before becoming either Minister for Europe or a Minister at all, that there is far more to Europe than the euro and to reduce the question of Europe to its currency, significant as it is, does a disservice to an important debate. We have to get the economic tests right. The Prime Minister has made very clear that for Britain there are no political or constitutional objections to entering the euro system. We want it to succeed. It is in the interests of all of Europe to succeed. As the Chancellor said, and I do not know, Mr Pope, if you were at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party last week when he outlined the five economic tests, he said, also, and I quote, "If they are passed we will go out and win a referendum". When the Chancellor says he will go out and win something then I take heart from that. It is right that we analyse this in the most rigorous dispassionate way because the economics are extremely important.

Chairman

  46. Back to President Prodi. Clearly the reform of the Council is on the agenda and with the additional countries there is a danger that Europe will be less able to act decisively, hence the Prime Minister has put forward his favoured option of an elected President of the Council, elected by the Heads of State and Government. What sort of response have we had to that? Has it been totally negative from the smaller countries?
  (Dr MacShane) Chairman, if I may I will just correct you, what the Prime Minister called for in his speech in Cardiff was not a President—

  47. A president.
  (Dr MacShane)—which in English at any rate implies a very dominant figure, but a chair or a Chairman. The thinking is one needs a Chairman of the European Council who can be there for a given mandate—I have seen figures of two and a half years or five years—and carry the work of the Council forward from Council to Council.

  48. So there is a continuity.
  (Dr MacShane) To maintain continuity and a historic sense of where the Councils have got to, to act as an explainer of what the European Union is doing, particularly what the Council is doing, to all of European citizens, to participate in some of the bilateral discussions we have internationally now with Russia and China but to do so in partnership with a strong President of the Commission.

  49. What has been the response?
  (Dr MacShane) The response is positive from a number of countries. I think there has been a very distorted, I would almost be tempted to say propagandistic, presentation of this idea that somehow it is a gang-up by big countries against small countries. My own view, and it is a personal view, is it would be quite acceptable to imagine that this elected Chairman would be a former Prime Minister or former senior leader of a smaller country, one perhaps that was used to consensus building, a lady or gentleman who spoke two or three languages and knew how to knit Europe together and to be an effective spokesperson for Europe.

  50. Are any of the smaller countries supporting this proposal?
  (Dr MacShane) Certainly Sweden is in favour and in my discussions, because frankly amongst the applicant countries remember they are all Members of the Convention and they want to have their word in the Convention process even if they are not full Members of the EU, they have been focusing strongly on the accession negotiations—quite rightly so—they have not had a chance to turn their mind to the other ideas on the table. We are not in a tick-off stage yet of saying "Here is an idea, hands up those who are in favour of it". I believe, certainly, very strongly, the more I have been thinking about this since taking up this post, the idea we can have a single Mr Europe is a nonsense. We need a strong Commission President, we need somebody representing the European Parliament, we need a Council Chair and, of course, we could have the Presidents and Prime Ministers of all the European countries who would be the men or women that other world leaders phone up as and when. We should not seek this idea of a unified, what has sometimes been called, European family. Europe is going to continue evolving and I think the Chairman proposal is a very good one, as I think the team presidency proposal is a good one. They have had a lot of support for that because otherwise countries are going to have to wait 12Ö years before they ever get a chance, as it were, to exercise rule in Europe.

  51. We believe the Chairman of the Council for continuity and other reasons is a proper course. Are we trying actively to sell it to other countries?
  (Dr MacShane) Yes. The agenda is there. The Prime Minister's speech which our embassies have translated and which has been circulated to all governments, I am circulating it also to many Hon. Members, to opinion formers in other countries, not just in the English but in a translation with a covering letter, and puts forward very clearly this idea that we want an effective Chair of the European Council as well as a strong Commission under a dynamic President to add to the coherence of the European Union, in particular since the Council represents the national governments and through them the votes in the national parliaments of all the citizens of Europe. We feel very strongly that the Council is not working as it should and the idea of a Council of 25 without some reform I think everybody agrees would be unworkable. I can tell the Committee I believe strongly in this idea. I think it has support from a number of countries. I do not think it has been well enough explained up to now and I will continue to advance it in my work as Europe Minister.

  Chairman: Mr Mackinlay, you have a number of other areas to cover.

Andrew Mackinlay

  52. Yes. The Barnier Working Group on defence, what is your position on that? The way I understand it is that it fully recognised the rights, sovereignty of the national governments. It expressly minimises the involvement of the European Union Parliament, which I would have thought would have been welcomed here. I wonder if you could just give us your reaction to those proposals on the European Union collective defence doctrine?
  (Dr MacShane) They are being discussed and examined and that is one set of ideas that has emerged in a snapshot way at the moment. The key players on defence to some extent—here one might as well be honest—are those that can really put effective amounts of men and material in the field, notably France and the United Kingdom with other countries contributing as well. If I may, Mr Mackinlay, I would like to call in Mr Ricketts on this. He is Political Director. I know, again prior even to taking up the Europe Minister's slot, the very hard detailed work that he has done, the to-ing and fro-ing and discussions on European defence. He could probably give a fuller answer at this stage than I can.
  (Mr Ricketts) Thank you, Minister. As you say, the Barnier Working Group has produced a second revised draft of its report now. It is an evolving document and will continue evolving through the Convention. It incorporates already a large number of UK ideas from the contributions that the UK has made and particularly I draw attention to the idea that ESDP should develop now beyond where it was in the initial St Malo blueprint. We should take into account the evolution of challenges that the European Union faces. We should build in some aspects of stabilisation of what we call defence outreach, of using the European Union to help development and progress in the doctrine of armed forces of other countries in the neighbourhood. It looks at the issue of what ESDP and other aspects of the European Union can do to help in, for example, a terrorist attack against a Member State, aid to the civilian power in an emergency. It puts further pressure for capability improvements and floats the idea of convergence criteria to encourage countries to spend more on capabilities and it sets out thinking for incorporation on armaments in the second pillar, the inter-governmental pillar, of the European Union, again with a view to the most effective use of defence funds that Member States have available. There are many good ideas in the paper which originate in UK thinking and we will continue to participate reactively as that develops.

  53. From the United Kingdom's point of view, what we understand to be the thrust of the Barnier Working Group is very helpful?
  (Mr Ricketts) There is a lot of helpful material in it. Not every sentence in it I am sure the UK Government would agree with but there is a lot of helpful stuff in it.

  54. So we are winning. I am not sure this is under the Barnier Working Group, this concept that there should be the equivalent of an Article 5 NATO doctrine, an attack on one is an attack on the whole, should come into the European Union. Personally I have never seen a problem with that because it seems to me implicit that you could not tolerate it, an external invasion of one might be deemed to be an attack on the whole. Where are we on that? Is there a problem on that? Do we have a problem on that? It seems to me a self-evident truth.
  (Dr MacShane) I think that is contained in NATO. I think it is contained also in the WEU.

  55. Yes, but in relation to the EU.
  (Dr MacShane) Obviously the EU takes us into the area of neutral states. You may not be completely comfortable with that. Where I think the thinking is is a common approach to EU security, for example in the sense of a terrorist attack or a major disaster, in which the military would have to play a role in putting things right. There is not a lot of stomach out there for duplicating the principal role of common defence that is there in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Again I defer to Mr Ricketts as a real specialist in that field.
  (Mr Ricketts) Minister, I agree entirely with what you have said.
  (Dr MacShane) Good.
  (Mr Ricketts) I always agree with the Minister. We have always said that ESDP should not undermine or duplicate NATO. We do see a real risk that if we start having collective defence guarantees in the European Union Treaty that would cut across what NATO's core purpose is for. To answer your question, it does indeed cover that issue but it makes clear that there are different views amongst different Member States on it and our position has been that it is best to keep collective defence guarantees with the integrated military structure to deal with them, which is NATO.

  56. Okay. It seems barmy but anyway. Turkey. The British Government fully signed up to this repeated declaration that we would like Turkey to be in the European Union. There is some implied or inferred criticism of the comments of others who are more reticent. I have to say, and I want to bounce this off you, we do not even know the true population of Turkey. It bounds numerous states, I think it is something like six, including Iran and Iraq. Are we teasing the Turkish people by holding out even this medium-term prospect of them coming into the European Union? The capacity to digest Turkey bears no comparison with any of the other Laeken 10. What say you on that?
  (Dr MacShane) Chairman, Mr Mackinlay, I disagree profoundly. It is a huge challenge. It is a huge challenge for the Turks themselves in accepting the road map to Europe to ensure that they fulfil all the Copenhagen criteria: rule of law, human rights and so forth.

  57. Sure.
  (Dr MacShane) That can make the most profound difference internally. In a sense the opposite position, which is of Turkey looking eastwards, away from Europe, away from modernity, away from democratic reforms, away from respect of human rights, for me would be far more alarming. There are two groups in Turkey. They are not necessarily formally right or left but there are those who support Europeanisation, modernisation and those who do not. General de Gaulle called for a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.

  58. That is right.
  (Dr MacShane) The last time I checked, Ankara and Istanbul lie to the west of the Urals. It is a challenge, an enormous challenge, but I think a very exciting one and one I am very glad this Prime Minister has picked up and taken the lead in arguing for.

  59. One of the things which is made quite clear—in case there is any misunderstanding I fully subscribe to this—is Turkey should not of itself be excluded because a lot of it is in Asia Minor and because it is predominantly Islamic that should not be a consideration at all, and we are agreed wholeheartedly on that. If we are agreed upon that, the word "Europe" is not magic, has there been any contemplation in the remotest corners of the Foreign Office thinking that the Union could be extended to even include the Caribbean countries of some states.
  (Dr MacShane) It does already, Mr Mackinlay. All the French Caribbean countries are part of the European Union.


10   Foreign Affairs Committee, The Barcelona European Council, HC698-i, Session 2001-02, Qq 12-22. Back


 
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