Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-17)|
TUESDAY 21 JANUARY 2003
1. First of all, let me on behalf of the Committee
welcome you here. We congratulate Greece on having taken up the
presidency, and we are very much looking forward to having a discussion
with you on how you see your programme for the six months working
out. I understand you would like to make an opening statement.
I should tell you first that this is being televised for the parliamentary
(Mr Sandis) Thank you very much. It is
a great honour and pleasure to be with you here. I will try to
be as brief as possible in giving you a short outline of our priorities,
and I will try to answer any questions to the best of my ability.
This is the fourth time since joining the EC that Greece has assumed
the rotating presidency, and it will probably be the last time
we do so under the existing modalities. Changes are underway.
As you know, discussions are taking place. We do not know what
exactly will come out of them, but things will certainly be different.
We assume the presidency at a critical point internationally and
we face many challenges. We assume the presidency at an interesting
time for the EU as well, since the Copenhagen decision will lead
to EU enlargement by 10 new countries. Our vision is to have a
bigger EU, a better EU, an EU that is closer to the citizen, and
a stronger EU internationally. The message of the presidency is
"Our Europe belongs to all." We have set out five priorities:
enlargement; reforming the Union; the follow-up of the Lisbon
process; the big chapter of security, justice and immigration;
and the place of the EU in the world, in other words, external
relations. Enlargement is our main priority. We have to complete
all the necessary preparation for the submission of the text to
the Commission for their agreement in February, then to the European
Parliament, and finally for the signature of the 10 new countries
on 16 April in Athens. Following 16 April the 10 new countries
will become what we call "active observers." They will
participate in all the deliberations but without a right of voting.
We attach great significance to the continuation of the accession
negotiations with the two Balkan countries, Bulgaria and Romania,
we will try to close some chapters and start talks on chapters
with financial implications. Turning to Turkey, Copenhagen left
Turkey's prospects open. Greece was in favour of an even earlier
date, but we will work hard during our presidency to promote Turkey's
role towards Europe. During our presidency we must revise the
accession partnership. We are organising the first troika meeting
at a ministerial meeting in Ankara on 31 January. Minister Papandreou
will be there with Javier Solana and Commissioner Verheugen. Also,
in April we are holding an Association Council with Turkey. Moving
to our second priority, reforming the Union, first of all we must
apply some of the Nice decisions, the co-decision process, and
there is the Convention. The Convention, as you know, is a novelty.
We are having this kind of deliberation before amending the treaties
for the first time. We agreed a timetable in Copenhagen according
to which the report of the Convention will be submitted in due
time to be examined at the June European Council. We very much
hope that this timetable will be met, and then the Council will
launch the intergovernmental conference to take place under the
Italian presidency. Our position is that through the Convention,
and afterwards through the IGC, we want to achieve a Europe which
is effective, democratic, and a force for stability in the world.
The Lisbon process has gone a third of the way towards 2010. Our
aim is to maintain an equilibrium: on the one hand, sustainability
of growth rates and, on the other hand, social cohesion and employment.
There are many issues on the table. I just name a few: entrepreneurship
and small businesses, the European knowledge economy, interconnecting
Europe, more and better jobs, strengthening of social cohesion,
and safeguarding future prosperity through sustainability. The
fourth area of priorities is the area of freedom, security and
justice, including in particular immigration, both legal and illegal.
The problem of immigration will be the main issue to be discussed
at the June European Council. We think there is still a deficit
as far as the development of common policies is concerned. With
regard to legal immigration, we will work for better social and
economic inclusion of immigrants, and we will carry on talks on
the Directives on long-term residency and family reunification.
At the same time, we are in favour of a comprehensive immigration
policy. We believe that illegal immigration is a collective problem,
which needs collective answers and cooperation by everyone. We
are awaiting the report of the European Commission on the practical
implementation of joint actions regarding the external frontiers.
We are also going to work closely with the United States on fighting
terrorism. We will carry on the efforts to fight criminality.
As you know, there was a conference here on 25 November concerning
criminality in the western Balkans, and we are following this
up very closely. The fifth and last priority is EU and the world,
external relations. First of all, let me tell you that during
our presidency we envisage organising three summits: EU/Russia,
EU/Western Balkans and EU/Africa. We have great interest, as you
will understand, in the Balkans. We will carry on promoting the
stabilisation and association process. Minister Papandreou visited
the region a few days ago and, as I said, one of the three summits
that will take place during our presidency is with the western
Balkan countries. As far as I know, Croatia will be submitting
an application, which we welcome, and it will be judged on its
own merits and will make its way to the Commission and so on.
The Middle East: in our capacity as presidency we participate
in the Quartet, we participated in the conference organised by
the British Government a few days ago, and we will work closely
together following the Israeli elections, when the road map that
was decided last December will become public. Iraq is our main
preoccupation. This will be discussed among EU ministers next
week, on the 27th. Our position is that we fully support Resolution
1441, and we support the inspectors' work. Indeed, Dr Blix was
in Athens yesterday. We believe that whatever is decided must
be done within the framework of the Security Council of the United
Nations. We will work closely in many areas with the Americans,
but in particular, as I said, on terrorism. We envisage an EU/Russia
summit to take place in St Petersburg. There was a troika meeting
with the Russians a few days ago, when they put forward the first
ideas of what they would like to be on the agenda. I should also
mention ESDP in this context. We want to strengthen the competitiveness
of the European defence industry, and also to improve our capability.
ESDP is not antagonistic to NATO; what we are doing is in very
broad cooperation with NATO. In conclusion, I would stress that
we are aiming at a European presidency for all Europeans and certainly
not for a Greek presidency. I hope I have not taken too much of
your time, and I am at your disposal to answer any questions.
2. Thank you very much, Ambassador. That was
extremely helpful. You have covered the five points very much
to our satisfaction. I have to tell you that, unfortunately, one
or two members of the Committee, who are involved in the debate
or in the statement on Iraq, will have to leave, but I am very
happy that at least they have been here to hear what you have
had to say and they have benefited from that. If I may start the
questioning, I would like to start with reforming the Union, and
then I will come back to enlargement. We know that since the Seville
Summit it has been the practice that the two presidencies in any
one year should cooperate in drawing up a common operational programme
for the year. Based on your experience of close cooperation with
the next presidency to define the EU strategic priorities for
a year rather than just six months, do you believe the time has
come to scrap the six-monthly presidencies?
(Mr Sandis) First of all, from my experience in Brussels,
there has always been some form of cooperation between presidencies
a kind of roll-over and so on. A Europe of 25 will be different
from a Europe of 15. The debate is on. On the other hand, we should
not be too quick to condemn the existing system of a rotating
presidency. It has been in place since the beginning of the EC,
and up to now it has worked. We have had some very good presidencies
from the so-called smaller countries. Having said that, I am not
implying that we should keep it as it is, but it is one option
amongst the various options that are on the table, so we should
consider it. At the same time, a few days ago there was the Franco-German
initiative, with some interesting ideas. Some of those ideas had
already been expressed by the UK Governmentnot all of them
but some of themas far as the election of the President
of the Council for a two-and-a-half or five-year term. What we
seek is to reform, bearing in mind the balance between democracy,
efficiency and, as I said, strengthening the position of the EU
in the world. Everything is on the table. One of the options is
the rotating presidency. I do not know what the final outcome
will be. Most probably there will be changes. There is pressure
for change from some of the big countries and there is resistance
from some of the smaller countries. At some stage there will be
a compromise, as it usually happens.
3. Could I ask you a question about the Thessalonika
Council and what you are expecting of it? It seems to many of
us that, now that you are getting people in the Convention like
the Foreign Minister De Villepin, Joschka Fischer, Papandreou,
Senora Palacio of Spain and so onthe "big guns"the
question arises are we not expecting Thessalonika to hear some
real, concrete decisions? It would be hard to imagine that the
heads of government are later in the IGC going to say something
different from what their foreign ministers have agreed in the
Convention. What is left for the IGC?
(Mr Sandis) First of all, as I understand, the report
of the Convention is mostly the report of the President of the
Convention. Certainly the aim is to present a report which reflects
75 or 80 per cent of the participants, but it is not a report
of the foreign ministers. Secondly, the European Council is not
an IGC. It meets in Salonika as the European Council. I do not
think even Mr Giscard D'Estaing knows what the contents of his
report will be, but depending on the contents, which we will know
some days in advance, the presidency will.prepare itself. It is
premature now to say what exactly will happen, but one thing is
for certain: if we have the report on time, as agreed in Copenhagen,
we will decide to launch the IGC. We must not forget that a specific
point in the Copenhagen conclusions was that the 10 accession
countries will participate fully in the decision-making at the
IGC, but in order to avoid legal problems, if the IGC concludes
before 1 May 2004, what was decided is that it will be signed
after 1 May 2004. It is not just the 15 countries that are involved
in the IGC but the 25 countries on an equal basis.
4. In your opening statement you referred to
support for beginning negotiations with Turkey regarding their
accession. I wonder if you could say a little bit about the possible
connection between that and the resolution of the situation in
Cyprus. How optimistic are you, and do you make a linkage between
negotiations with Turkey opening and tangible progress in Cyprus?
(Mr Sandis) First of all, as things stand, the final
decision will be taken at the end of 2004 in the light of the
Commission report, which will judge how Turkey behaves during
this period by implementing the accession partnership. I am happy
that you have asked me about the Cyprus problem. I worked in Cyprus
for 11 years, and I am still dealing with problems related to
Cyprus. We believe that there is now a unique opportunity to solve
the Cyprus problem. I am not saying we will not have such an opportunity
in the future, but if there is no solution now, it will probably
take many, many years. We have the Kofi Annan plan on the table.
It is certainly not the ideal solution, it has problems associated
with it, but it is a basis for negotiation. The Greek Cypriot
side accepted it immediately as a basis for negotiation. It took
quite some time for Mr Denktas and the Turkish Government to accept
it as a basis for negotiation, but the eventual changes to the
Annan plan talked about by Mr Denktas publicly shows that it is
not accepted as a basis for negotiation. If you want to change
the philosophy and the basic elements of the plan, it is obvious
you are not accepting it as a basis for negotiation. There are
some positive elements. One is that for the first time the Turkish
Cypriots themselves have decided to take their fate into their
own hands. We have seen demonstrations over the last few months,
in particular the one last week. If you consider that the population,
the Turkish Cypriots, not the population of the occupied part,
are less than 100,000 and the others are settlers, and you have
70,000 of them demonstrating in favour of a solution, this is
a very significant message. On the other hand, we have a new Turkish
Government, sometimes being positive, but there are contradictory
messages. If you read their public statements, one day they are
positive, another they are negative. They want change, but to
what extent we do not know. There are elections taking place in
the Republic of Cyprus, yes, but all three of the main contenders
have accepted the Annan plan as a basis for negotiation. Two of
them are the President and the Attorney General, who is his main
adviser in the talks. So this will not influence the position
of the Greek Cypriot side. Am I optimistic? I really do not know.
It all depends on the other side. On the other hand, Greece has
to negotiate directly with Turkey on one aspect: security, the
number of troops that are going to remain on the island, and the
modalities. Our position of principle was that there should be
no troops, either Greek or Turkish, but just the international
force. However, since Turkey insists on having some troops, and
the Annan plan mentions this, we have twice proposed to Turkey
that we start bilateral talks on this particular issue, but up
till now they have said they are not ready. In summing up, this
is a historic opportunity. We hope that in the end reason will
prevail. Certainly a solution to the Cyprus problem will tremendously
improve the Turkish position in its effort to join the EU, because
one of the first rules of the EU is respect for the rule of law.
Even the Turkish Foreign Minister in one outburst has said, "If
we don't solve the Cyprus problem, when Cyprus joins the European
Union, we will be occupying territory of the European Union."
I hope I have answered your question.
5. Ambassador, are you in favour of the changes
which the Commission has proposed to the Stability and Growth
(Mr Sandis) The answer to that is very simple. The
Stability Pact was agreed following difficult negotiations. You
know that we had to accept many demands from countries that were
in favour of a very rigid disciplinethey have problems
now but that is another story. No, we are not in favour of change
at this time.
6. So you are not in favour of the proposals
put forward by the Commission?
(Mr Sandis) No. They are not official proposals. They
are ideas which have been mentioned in statements and interviews
and so on.
7. I think they go a bit further than that actually,
Ambassador; they are in an official document from the Commission.
(Mr Sandis) Yes, but we are not in favour of them.
8. Therefore you will not be supporting those
ideas during your presidency?
(Mr Sandis) I do not know if the Commission wants
them to be discussed. We could not exclude that, but we are certainly
not in favour, as I say.
9. One of the areas that my own Sub-Committee
has been looking at is consumer protection, and I understand that
you place quite a big emphasis on this area. I wondered what you
could tell us about your priorities in the area of consumer protection.
(Mr Sandis) As you know, three main targets have been
set by the Commission Communication: high common standards for
protection, application of the rules of consumer protection, and
contributions from the consumer organisations. We are going to
work towards advancing those goals. We are going to work on the
follow-up of the "green bible". We are organising a
discussion at ministerial level on 7 and 8 May 2003. We are also
going to promote various proposals such as administrative cooperation
for the protection of the consumer. We are expecting a proposal
from the Commission for financing activities in favour of the
consumer and security of services. As you know, in June we are
planning a Consumer Protection Council. There is a lot on the
table. The presidency tries to set the pace, but at the end of
the day, the cooperation of all Member States is necessary to
reach concrete conclusions. But consumer protection is high on
our agenda, and I must say that the Prime Minister himself, who
many years ago worked in the Ministry of Commerce, has a particular
sensitivity about consumer issues.
Lord Woolmer of Leeds
10. Ambassador, the Commission sees 2003 as
being a year for major transport issues, including, rail safety
and network interoperability, liberalisation of freight traffic
and many other issues, and safety at sea, including the introduction
of restrictions on single-hull tankers following the break-up
of the Prestige and all the environmental damage caused by that.
Are any of these priorities for your presidency?
(Mr Sandis) Yes. Safety at sea is one of our main
priorities. I was only reading this morning that the Commission
will shortly submit concrete proposals, and they are already in
contact with us and other interested countries such as France,
Spain and so on. At the same time, we are in close cooperation
with the IMO. Secretary General O'Neil and his assistant were
in Athens a week ago. What happened to the Prestige, and before
that to the Erika, concerns Europe, but safety at sea is a matter
of global interest, so we are working in close cooperation with
the IMO. Greece, as you know, is the only EU country which has
a separate ministry for mercantile marine apart from the Ministry
of Transport. Towards the end of the month we will be having an
in-depth discussion. Apart from safety at sea, we are going to
promote what is called a second railway package, which includes
the security of the railway networks, access to the railway market,
and in those proposals we will try if possible during our presidency
to reach political agreementit may not be possible to conclude
the details, but at least political agreementamong Member
States. There are other priorities in the transport area, but
I have just mentioned the most important ones.
Chairman: I would like to move on to foreign policy,
and after that we will go to justice and home affairs. There are
some interesting questions to ask about the environment and sustainable
development but we do not have sufficient time, I am afraid, and
I do want to cover some rather important points on foreign policy
Baroness Park of Monmouth
11. Your Excellency, you mentioned that you
were going to have three summits, and I assume one of them is
the summit which President Putin has set up in St Petersburg.
Also, your Foreign Minister and your Prime Minister have both
referred, as indeed you did too, to the idea that you wish to
build more bridges right through to the Caucasus and also, of
course, you mentioned Eastern Dimension policy. Would you be taking
that policy before the meeting in May, and has the Russian agenda
in any way coincided with your hopes? You mentioned that you now
feel they have an agenda. Do you not think that those three summits
may be an immense task for six months? I say nothing of Africa,
which is another enormous problem.
(Mr Sandis) I will not mention anything about the
Africa summit. It is a very important meeting, but there are well-known
problems, and we are trying, in close cooperation wit the UK Government,
to find ways of solving them. What we know from the Russians is
that the topic of the summit is "Common European History
and Culture" and we must discuss among the 15 to reach a
common position. What they have in mind is, if possible, to establish
closer ties between Russia and the EU. I do not think any of the
Member States would object to that, but we have to determine the
modalities. They fear that there might be economic repercussions
from enlargement, as when Finland joined, and we are going to
discuss this as well. Another interesting issue is that they want
cooperation in fighting drugs from Afghanistan. I do not think
anyone would object to such an idea. We had a first preliminary
meeting of the troika with Russia, two days ago. They will come
up with concrete proposals; they have just given a first idea.
The significant thing is not always to reach concrete decisions
but to give a political signal. I think the summit has great politicial
significance since the European Union, following expansion, will
for the first time include countries that used to belong to the
Warsaw Pact but some were part of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless,
we want to have close ties with Russia, and I think this is also
one of the priorities, and rightly so, to which Prime Minister
Blair attaches great importance. You also asked me about the other
countries, Ukraine, Moldova and so on, which will be our direct
neighbours from 1 May next year. Let me remind you that the European
Council in Copenhagen referred to a long-term approach, promoting
both democratic and economic reforms, and certainly these countries
do need this kind of reform. This is not something just for the
Greek presidency; it will carry on to the next presidency. We
are going to work, along with the Commission, in starting to discuss
ideas and perhaps proposals to help and influence those democratic
and economic reforms as agreed by the Copenhagen European Council.
12. Do you think it will be necessary to agree
on the new common position and strategy on Russia internally before
you go to St Petersburg in May?
(Mr Sandis) As I understand it, we must start discussing
the partnership that we have with Russia during our presidency.
Yes, I can confirm that the revision process of the common strategy
for Russia must be completed during our presidency. So we are
certainly going to work on that.
Lord Scott of Foscote
13. There is a four-part package which has been
under discussion for a long time now within the European Union
to try to get a common policy for dealing with asylum seekers.
Many people think the most important element of the package is
the proposed directive for identifying the status that ought to
be accorded to refugees, not only under the Geneva Convention
but also under some other international instruments. This is the
so-called Refugee Qualifications Directive. What progress do you
expect to be made in bringing the negotiations about that to completion
during the Greek presidency?
(Mr Sandis) This examination began during the Danish
presidency, under which the definition and conditions were widely
accepted. According to Seville, it should be adopted by June 2003.
During our presidency we will focus discussion on the remaining
open issues, with a determined view that we respect the timetable
set by Seville, and conclude before the end of the presidency.
We welcome, if that is the right word, lots of asylum seekers.
Some move to other countries, others stay in Greece. Some are
genuine asylum seekers; others are illegal economic immigrants.
We attach great importance to this issue, so we will do our utmost
to continue the quite significant work done by the Danish presidency,
and we hope to conclude it in due time.
14. Does "due time" mean by June?
(Mr Sandis) By June, yes. As I told you, in the European
Council of June there will be a re-assessment of the whole situation
of immigration, asylum seeking, etc. The more open issues we close,
the better, so that we can devote the discussion to the remaining
Baroness Harris of Richmond
15. Your Excellency, in your introductory remarks
you said one of your main priorities was immigration, and that
would touch on terrorism. My question is about integrated management
of the EU external borders, and how you plan to take forward the
implementation of the Commission's communication there. Can I
link with that the way of paying for it, which is the financial
burden-sharing, and finally whether you would be in favour of
the gradual establishment of a European border guard?
(Mr Sandis) As you know very well, we are in the receiving
line because of our geographical proximity to many of these countries,
and also because of the geography of our country, with all the
islands. So we attach great importance to this. As a country,
we hope to concentrate efforts up to June 2003 on formalising
a comprehensive proposal in this field, achieving a common integrated
risk assessment mechanism, creating a core curriculum for border
guard training and consolidate uniform EU provisions concerning
external borders management, promoting common visa dataand
this is a very important aspectand considering the feasibility
study by the Commission concerning the burden sharing between
Member States and the Union for the management of external borders.
We would follow up the feasibility study on illegal immigration
by sea, which will be presented by the Commission early this year.
Lastly, we will work to establish an effective ILO network against
illegal immigration in third countries. Over and above that, we
attribute special priority to the issue of shared and equitable
financing by all Member States of the required activities in the
fight against illegal immigration. In this context we would make
specific proposals for the conclusion of a legislative initiative
and operational actions to be adopted by the June European Council.
There is a lot on the table. We are, as I told you, directly interested
in that, and we will do our utmost. You are at the end of the
line, and we see the consequences, but believe me, we suffer as
well. Many of them do stay in Greece, and we have acute social
and security problems and so on. That is why I said in my introductory
remarks that this is a common problem and it needs, if possible,
a common solution with the cooperation of us all, because the
aim is the same. On the other hand, certainly, we have to take
care of the legal immigrants. A lot of work must be done pending
the directives, which we hope we will conclude, or at least take
them to a much more detailed stage, during the six months of our
16. Ambassador, Minister Papandreou has said
that he would like to see a more balanced debate about the problems
of illegal immigration but also the benefits of legal immigration,
which I think certainly our Sub-Committee would find very welcome.
Can you tell me what the Greek presidency will do to promote this
more balanced debate throughout the EU?
(Mr Sandis) First of all, we intend to launch some
brainstorming initiatives, and the first debate, which is the
Athens Immigration Workshop, takes place in Athens at the end
of this month, 31 January and 1 February, to give an opportunity
to air and debate the latest thinking on how Europe can best manage
immigration. This initiative will introduce the political dialogue
which will be followed by the EU ministerial European conference,
which has as its motto "Managing Immigration for the benefit
of Europe" which will take place in the middle of May in
Thessalonika. This is the general approach, but since you are
talking about immigration, and I mentioned legal immigration,
there is a proposal on family reunification the table. We think
there was considerable progress during the Danish presidency,
and we will seek at working party level and then at higher levels
to prioritise that, to narrow as much as possible the outstanding
issues, with the hope that the Council in its February meeting
will reach a political agreement. On the other hand, the draft
directive on the status of third country nationals has a much
longer way to go. The Danish presidency dealt with the first two
chapters, but we will try to deal with the rest of the outstanding
chapters and the outstanding issues, with the aim of reaching
political agreement before the end of June. I do not think it
will be possible to conclude it, but at least if we reach political
agreement, that would enable the Italian presidency to conclude
17. Ambassador, thank you very much indeed for
answering our questions so fully. This has been very informative
and extremely helpful to the Committee. On behalf of the Committee,
I wish you well. You have set out a very ambitious programme,
and we admire the way in which you are anxious to get ahead and
get some real results out of this. I am fully conscious of the
fact that the next few months are going to be very difficult ones.
There are large events looming which may distract all of us, but
we do wish you well and hope that you will achieve as much as
possible of what you have set out to do. We shall follow with
great interest the Greek presidency through the next six months.
Thank you again for coming. We will send you a transcript of these
proceedings for you to look at and send back with any comments.
(Mr Sandis) Thank you very much, and thank you for
giving me this opportunity to outline our priorities in the limited
time that we had at our disposal. Let me add the obvious: if any
of you need any information or clarification, myself and my colleagues
are at your disposal.
Chairman: Thank you. I am sure we will take you up