Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
6 DECEMBER 2004
MP, MR DAVID
Q20 Ms Stuart: It has not been changed.
It is the Testament. It is about the European Council Chair.
Before the Draft was handed over to the IGCthere
were extensive discussions, there were quite significant Members
who wanted to create not just a President of the Commission and
a President of the Council but also allow for the possibility
of these two functions to be combined.
Mr Straw: Yes.
Q21 Ms Stuart: And there were various
Drafts going backwards and forwards. The Draft that we have in
front of us, Article 21:3 says, "The President of the European
Council may not hold a national mandate."
Mr Straw: Yes.
Q22 Ms Stuart: The wisdom for not saying
that they may not also hold another European mandate at the time
was that this was such a big job that the two could never be combined.
And in the Foreign Office's Short Guide to the European Union
Mr Straw: Its excellent
Q23 Ms Stuart: The short, Short Guidetwo-thirds
of the past and one-third of the future, but it is very short,
at page 34 it says: "The President of the European Council
would not be a President of Europe."
Mr Straw: Yes.
Q24 Ms Stuart: I am slightly concerned
because in evidence to the Dutch parliamentthe Dutch are
now holding the presidencyit is stated that the government
specifically told the parliament on 31 March that the possibility
should be kept that in future the President of the Commission
can also be the President of the European Council, and subsequently
the Dutch legal department added that Article 21:3, "The
President of the European Council may not hold a national mandate",
should be read explicitly as only excluding national mandates
and no other European mandates.
Mr Straw: Yes.
Q25 Ms Stuart: That would, on the face
of it, be quite a clear difference in interpretation between two
major players. What is the UK Government's understanding?
Mr Straw: We disagree with the
position. I remember this coming up. There are two points to make.
One is that even if this was within the Treaties, which we do
not think it is, you could not just slip this through, you would
have to get a decision of the Council to do it, on which there
would have to be a unanimous decision. So we would have a veto
on it in any event. But, secondly, we do not believe there is
a base for this because if you look at Article 125(7), with which
you will be familiar, it says, "In carrying out its responsibilities,
the Commission shall be completely independent." Without
prejudice to Article 127(2)and that was in respect of the
European Foreign Minister, and I claim some parentage for that
bit"The Members of the Commission shall neither seek
nor take instructions from any government or other institution,
body, office or agency." And "another institution or
body" is within the European Union, ie the Council. So they
shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties or
performance of their task. I did go through this at some length.
Our view is that it is outside the Treaties. I do not think I
am wrong about that, but even if I were we would have a lock on
Q26 Ms Stuart: Because if the Dutch Legal
Services thought that this was a proper interpretation of the
text, there is a theoretical possibility that the European Court
of Justice, if called upon to interpret the Constitution, would
read it as saying it was possible, and given that both of these
positions are appointed by Qualified Majority Voting, if the UK
was the only country that had that interpretation, how are we
Mr Straw: We are. There were some
suggestions around at the much earlier stage that you should roll
these two jobs into one, but that would be to recast the fundamental
institutions of the European Union because they are based on separation
of Council, Commission and Parliament. It is just there. It is
not quite the old classical division of tasks but you have the
Executive, which is the Council; you have the administrative arm,
which is the Commission; you have, as it were, the legislative
arm which is, for these purposes, Parliament, but also includes
national parliaments. Then you have the separate court. If you
had a single bod doing these jobs you are effectively seeking
to merge the Council and the Commission, and I think in the real
world that that cannot happen without a clear political decision.
I know that that QMV is required for the posts. But the other
thing is, Ms Stuart, say that we are around the room in the European
Council and somebody has a rush of blood to the head and they
say, "Right, we now have Joe Soap in as Commission President
and we would like to have Joe Soap in as Council President as
well," and let us assume there was a market for that and
there is a QMV for this, and there were none of these legal problems,
and we are clearer there, then those who were not in favour of
this, which would include the UK, would then go off to the ECJThe
ECJ is a very slow body and it would take a long time and meanwhile
there would be complete deadlock inside the European Union. So
far from being clear it is the opposite of clear in the text,
and I do not think it is going to happen.
Q27 Ms Stuart: With the greatest respect,
it is your interpretation that the absence of the political will
would not allow this to happen. Both are on QMV and if the Dutch
Legal Services, there is a theoretical possibility that the ECJ
may interpret that, would it not be wise to get a clarification
that it is not actually within the structure?
Mr Straw: The clarification is
here. May I ask you, if I may, what you think is meant by 125(7),
"The Members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take
instructions from any government or other institution, body, office
or agency"? Does that not include the European Council?
Q28 Ms Stuart: I am quoting a much higher
authority, and that is the Dutch Legal Services and I would be
interested, if it is possible, to get clarification on that.
Mr Straw: With great respect to
the Dutch Legal Services I think you should regard me as higher
authority than that!
Q29 Ms Stuart: Not on QMV. I think it
may be helpful if you are pursuing this further if you could let
us know, for clarification on this? May I now move on to the Commission?
The latest round of appointments of the Commission had two rather
high profile Commission appointments: one, Mr Buttiglione, who
then did not become a Commissioner, and one in relation to the
French Commissioner where essentially we were in a position that
a previous criminal conviction was not made public, and a very
common European morality was applied, which said that as long
as it was not public it was not a problemthis eight months'
suspended sentence. Has anything been learned or any conclusion
been drawn for the next round in five years' time, whether we
need to make changes in those Commission appointments?
Mr Straw: Leaving aside the issue
about Mr Buttiglione, can I say this about Monsieur Barrot? I
did go into this in some detail and I thought that there was no
substance to the argument that what had happened to Mr Barrot
rendered him ineligible to serve in the Commission. The fact of
the matter was that there was a convictionwe can provide
you with the detailsbut were what Gary Titley, the Leader
of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, said himself on the
radio were "technical offences". There was a conviction;
it was very widely publicised at the time, and once something
is publicised it is publicisedit was on websites, it was
known. Subsequently there was an amnestynot a presidential
amnesty of the kind that happens after presidential elections
in Francean ordinary amnesty which excised these particular
convictions from the record, and under French law they have an
extension of what is our Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which
is that if someone has been pardoned of a crime it is as if the
crime has never been committed. I have to say that there are some
arguments in favour of such an approach, that if someone has been
pardoned that they should not have hung around their neck the
fact that they have also been convicted. That is their law, which
we should respect, and Monsieur Barrot's argument is that it is
unlawful to refer to thisI gather it is an offence to do
soand so that is why he did not refer to it. Moreover,
in any event, the fact of what had happened to him earlier was
known, and he had been in post for six months. People had not
become amnesiac in the intervening six months; they had known
about it, and it was on record, on the website. My personal viewI
have no direct locusbut I made my views known was
that there was no basis whatever to seek to challenge an appointment.
Q30 Mr Mackay: Foreign Secretary, I am
sure you would agree that the appointment and subsequent final
election of a Commissioner was a pretty unedifying spectacle and
we want to try to avoid a similar spectacle in the future. Just
dwelling for a second on the case of Jacques Barrot, I do not
believe that you could conceive of circumstances that somebody
could be appointed a senior minister to a British Cabinet who
within four years had received an eight months' suspended sentence,
Mr Straw: Their system works in
a different way from ours and we should not suddenly pluck something
out of their system, nor assume that because it is France that
somehow it is a system that operates as well or less effectively
than us in terms of the individuals. I can certainly conceive
of a situation where somebody has had a technical conviction and
has subsequently won an appeal in respect of it so that he was
acquitted; or there was an amnesty and he then serves in public
office. Why should he not? Moreover, it is also worth pointing
out that in Mr Barrot's case my understanding is that he was about
to exercise his right of appeal when the National Assembly promulgated
this more general amnesty. So that obviated the need for an appeal
but it also meant that he did not have the opportunity to put
his case before the Appeal Court. So without going into the exact
details, if being innocent until proven guilty means anything,
but also an acquittal means anything, or a pardon, if someone
is pardoned and does not have a conviction, you certainly should
not retry them and convict them in terms of the punishment you
impose on them by stopping them getting jobs later for which otherwise
they are qualified. I do not see the point.
Q31 Mr Mackay: Foreign Secretary, you
almost certainly would agree that on the back of the first Italian
appointment this is all unfortunate and does not tend to give
confidence in the Commission, and that all Member States have
to be very careful on who we put forward to the President of the
Commission at any given time to be our country's Commissioner.
Mr Straw: We are very careful
about who we put forward and I think it is very well known that
Peter Mandelson came through his hearing before the relevant parliamentary
committee in Strasburg with flying colours and was regarded, rightly,
as somebody of very great talent and experience. Could I just
say this about the Buttiglione saga? For sure, the fact that there
was deadlock and a drama was unfortunate but, on the other hand,
if you want a system of parliamentary scrutiny then it is going
to be exercised. There is plenty of demand, let me sayand
I have my reservations about thisfor more extensive parliamentary
scrutiny of various public appointments, maybe including Foreign
Q32 Andrew Mackinlay: Or appointment
of British Commissioner.
Mr Straw: If you give parliament
these powers they are going to use them.
Q33 Mr Mackay: Let me reassure you that
I, for one, would not propose that the Select Committee should
be cross-examining you before your appointment as Foreign Secretary;
I think that would be a very dangerous step. But you, Foreign
Secretary, raised Peter Mandelson's name in answer to the last
question, and since his scrutiny by the parliament there have
been very serious allegations about potential involvement in the
coup in Equatorial Guinea. I think it would be helpful today for
you to confirm to this Committee that he made no contact to you,
your Ministers or any of your civil servants in the Department
at any point during the last 18 months concerning Equatorial Guinea.
Mr Straw: I have answered, Mr
Mackay, some detailed parliamentary questions on that; they are
all on the record, and I think that it is fair to all concerned
if I refer you to those questions.
Chairman: Foreign Secretary, the historians
will probably say that the most important decision facing you
at that time will be Turkey and accession. I would like to call
Mr Pope to start on Turkey.
Q34 Mr Pope: Just on the subject of Turkey,
how far apart is the British position and the French/German position
on whether or not Turkey should become an accession state?
Mr Straw: There is agreementand
there has been for a long timeabout the principle of negotiations,
beginning with Turkey. Germany and France are in a slightly different
position on these. President Chirac and Michel Barnier have actively
supported the principle negotiations beginning with Turkey's accession.
It happens to be a matter of public record, however, that there
is widespread scepticism/opposition to this across all political
parties in France and that was illustrated by a debate in the
National Assembly in October. In Germany, again the government
is very positive. There is an internal debate in Germany and there
it is more a debate on party lines with the CDU/CSU taking a particular
view about this, and of course this playing into domestic politics
about the integration or otherwise of the very large ethnic Turkish
population within Germany. So we are going to have to go through
a process of negotiation in terms of the text, but my hope and
belief is that we will end up with a text which is satisfactory,
which does commit the Union to starting negotiations next year.
Q35 Mr Pope: I understand that there
must be some domestic difficulties for President Chirac over the
issue of Turkey, and it may be that he is just talking tough in
advance of the Summit; but he was on record as saying last week
that one option which could come out of the Summit is offering
Turkey much less than full EU membership, that it could be offered
a privileged partnership; that in any event the talks could be
pushed back until the second half of 2005, which would enable
a French referendum on the Constitution to be out of the way in
the Spring of 2005 and not allow those two issues to be confused.
It struck me that both of those things are not really compatible
with British policy. I would have thought that we want talks to
start not as far away as the back end of 2005; alsoand
correct me if I am wrongI did not think it was the British
Government's position that something much less than full EU membership
should be offered to Turkey. I am a strong supporter of Turkey
becoming an accession state and I assumed that was the Government's
position as well?
Mr Straw: On the exact timing,
what month is specified, that is a matter for negotiation next
week, before the General Affairs Council on Monday and the European
Council on Thursday/Friday. We want to start as early as possible
but, frankly, in the long march of history two or three months
either way will not make that much of a difference because in
any event once Turkey knows that formal negotiationswith
a capital "N"are going to start in this
month in 2005 they can get themselves further ahead down the track
than they otherwise had been if they had started it sooner. So
in 10 years' time, as Turkey comes inand I use 10 years
as an illustration, by the waywhen you look back I think
this difference of three or four months will be neither here nor
there. The issue, however, as to what are the negotiations for
is an issue of real substance. We are clear that these are negotiations
leading to membership. As with any other negotiations for membership
it is conceivable that something happens on the way, but I have
been profoundly impressed, and so has the European Council, by
the progress that has been made by Turkey over the last three
years, and it is my belief that they will get themselves into
a position where, over time, they will be able to accede to all
the chapters leading to accession. I should say, too, that the
Commission has confirmed that Turkey fulfils the critical criteria;
they have confirmed that and therefore the judgment is that we
should open negotiations.
Q36 Mr Pope: Some observers have suggested
that some other obstacles could be put in the path of Turkey's
progress. One of the things we know is that Turkey is going to
enter into a Customs Union with all EU Member States and some
people have suggested that that would amount to a de facto
recognition by Turkey of Cyprus, and I think most people would
welcome that. Others have suggested that Turkey will have to recognise
Cyprus at some point. I certainly assumed that that would be at
some point during the accession talks, between now and perhaps
the 10 years to which you referred. Other people have suggested
that Turkey will have to recognise Cyprus before the talks can
be opened at all, and that seems to me quite a dangerous path
down which to go.
Mr Straw: The start of the negotiations
depends on the Copenhagen Criteria; they have met those negotiations.
The specific obligations for Turkey as regards Cyprus were set
out in the accession partnership with Turkey of 19 May 2003, and
that said that, "Turkey must strongly support efforts to
find a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, through
the continuation of the United Nation's Secretary-General's mission
of good offices and of negotiations on the basis of his proposals."
Turkey did that. That again is confirmed by the Commission report.
There were other reasons why those proposals were not successful,
but they were not to do with the role played by Turkey. Furthermore,
the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 26 April
welcomed the contribution made by Turkeyand I was at that
meetingto the settlement negotiations. So formal recognition
by Turkey of the Republic of Cyprus is not a pre-condition of
starting negotiations. It is a plain as a pikestaff that as accession
negotiations progress relations between the two countries would
have to undergo a gradual process of normalisation. You could
not have two countries in membership of the European Union who
did not bilaterally recognise each other, and that is obvious.
But in terms of the stages, Turkey has done what it was asked
Q37 Mr Pope: That is really helpful.
I just wanted to ask a final question about Cyprus, because the
Committee visited Cyprus a few weeks ago and one of the things
we talked about was the closed ports in northern Cyprus. Obviously
we accept that the acquis of EU membership is suspended
in the North of the island, but it seemed that at the heart of
the European project is the free movement of people and goods
that has been denied to the people of northern Cyprus despite
the fact that they voted, for example, for the peace settlement
and the Annan Plan
Andrew Mackinlay: Allegedly.
Mr Pope: I do not think it is alleged,
I think they did vote.
Andrew Mackinlay: I will not argue with
Chairman: Mr Mackinlay, please.
Q38 Mr Pope: I have not heard that view,
and my understanding is that 65% of the population of northern
Cyprus voted for the Annan Plan, but I stand to be corrected.
In any event, could you tell us about what proposals there may
be to open ports to EU trade in the North of Cyprus? It seems
to me that it is in the interests of the people of northern Cyprus
and it is in the interests of the rest of the European Union to
be able to trade freely and to move people and goods. Will that
be on the agenda?
Mr Straw: It will not be on the
agenda for this Summit. When we had the discussion in the Foreign
Affairs Committee, the General Affairs Council, on 26 April, we
asked the Commission to produce two draft regulations to deliver
on a commitment to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots: one,
enabling preferential direct trade between the North and EU Member
States on a tariff quota system; the other dispersing 259 million
Euros of aid to the North. These regulations have yet to be agreed,
and, as I have just indicated, they are likely to be discussed
at the European Council. Our position is that we recognise the
importance of direct trade but that there are differences over
the appropriate legal base. Part of the difficulty is over the
legal basis, one requiring unanimity or QMV, and we are looking
forward to these problems being resolved in the New Year. In the
background here there is an issue of, if the EU goes down this
path would it end up by de facto recognising the so-called
Q39 Chairman: Turkish Republic of Northern
Mr Straw: The answer to that is
no. I have made our position absolutely clear, and so has every
other Member State, that they are not going down that road. But
meanwhile we should not penalise the people of northern Cyprus
who, as I recall, Mr Chairman, voted by a margin of about 65%
to 35% in favour of the Annan Plan.
Andrew Mackinlay: Flawed franchise, just
for the record, as you were looking at me.
Chairman: Mr Mackinlay, please. Mr Hamilton.
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