Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-46)



  40. My successor would be opposing it no doubt. I am in favour of it.
  (Mr Ricketts) Right.

Lord Harrison

  41. Mr Ricketts, I would like to come to question six but before I do so could you clear up what the Government's view is of the title of our putative Javier Patten or Chris Solana. In a note on page five of the working group this person, as we have called him so far, is intended to be called a European External Representative because that has the advantage of not corresponding to a title used at a national level. Earlier you used the phrase "the EU minister of foreign affairs" and personally I favour something which is indeed familiar to the people of this country, something like EU foreign secretary, so what is the British Government's view on that?
  (Mr Ricketts) I think the honest answer, Lord Harrison, is the British Government has not taken a view on that yet because we do not yet know what this person is going to be, and I think the titles are used in this working group report to distinguish the different models, so the European External Representative is their way of referring to the third option, which would be someone who is a full member of the Commission. The fourth option is labelled an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs, that is someone who is largely under the Council although they may have a seat but not a vote in the Commission. So they are trying to distinguish those two models, and until we know what model we get I think it is difficult to make a final decision on the title. Although there is no formal Government position, my instinct is probably that ministers would not want to see someone called an EU foreign minister or an EU foreign secretary because then you risk confusion as to whether you are still in the area of common policies adopted together and pursued individually, or a single policy and a single foreign policy implemented by a single foreign minister.

  42. Yes, but is the material point not that if we are bringing the European Union closer to its members, its people, actually using designation or formulation which is familiar in British political life, like Foreign Secretary, will have the benefit of making clearer what the possible function is for this new putative person?
  (Mr Ricketts) I entirely see your point. I think it is a decision that our Ministers will have to take, but I take full note of it.

  43. Can I go on to question six. In particular I would like to focus on the eurozone members who are mentioned on page 10 of the working group report under paragraph 13, the third paragraph there. The proposal might be that the eurozone members of the group expressed support for a single representation of the eurozone in the international financial institutions. Two sets of questions really. First of all, if there was such a person, would it be drawn, would it be part of the function of the new hybrid person, would it be a separate person or would it affect the EMU Commissioner who exists presently or what relationship would they have with the ECB President who does represent the eurozone on certain IFIs now? The second question in that area, if that were to happen, if there were separate representation of that kind of the eurozone, which is growing in membership, especially with the adhesion of the new accession countries, what is the Government's view about the isolation of possible confusion of policies that might be expressed if you have a eurozone representative separate from an EU representative?
  (Mr Ricketts) Lord Harrison, I find this a particularly difficult area to give you authoritative answers, partly because it lies outside my area of competence in the Foreign Office and partly I think because the Treasury will take a particularly close view of these issues, so I do not want to say things which my Treasury colleagues would find difficult. But, as I understand it, first of all, there is an issue about the statute of international organisations like the IFIs as to whether that statute allows for an EU seat as opposed to seats by individual members of the IFIs, so there is a prior issue there, and partly as a result of that we are not expecting there is going to be any early movement in the direction of a single EU seat in the IFIs. Of course, we are not a member of the eurozone and therefore we are not part of the group referred to in this report, but I do not expect that we will see early moves in that direction. I think the questions that you raise in terms of overall coherence of representation, if we have one, are very relevant certainly I would not think that it would be the High Representative/European External Representative EU foreign minister figure who would take that function on, because I do not believe that whatever role that person had in the Commission it would include the sort of Financial Commissioner matters that would be covered there. So I do not think we are talking about that person doing it and I do not expect it to happen soon. I am afraid that is about the limit of my knowledge of that issue, but it seems to me to be one that the practical problems in terms of the statute of the institutions will prevent early progress in this direction.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

  44. With reference to the issue of an External Representative, the concluding recommendation in the report refers to the overseas representation bringing together Commission representatives, Council representatives and representatives of national governments, and in particular suggests that those embassies or delegations could service Member States not represented in a particular country. Would the British Government be willing to be represented in a particular country which is not otherwise represented by such an embassy? I think, for example, of some West African countries where I understand that there are current arrangements to be represented by the French. Would that be thought to be preferable to being represented by the European embassy?
  (Mr Ricketts) First of all, what we are talking about here is not representatives of national governments joining Commission representatives and Council representatives, I think it would be people seconded from national governments. So if we sent a British diplomat to join the EU delegation in a third country he would not be representative of the UK, he would be seconded to the European Union. I think you raise an interesting question about representation in a country where some Member States are not represented. I would see that as applying more to the small Member States who may have very limited external representation, including some of the new Members who will be joining in 2004 who have probably extremely limited overseas representation than the UK with our very extensive network overseas. As you say, there are already a number of cases where certainly we are co-located with other European embassies, for example, in Reykjavic where we and the Germans share an embassy, in West Africa there are examples of that as well. I would have thought that would be our first approach in countries where we ourselves are not going to maintain a separate embassy, there would be co-location with other European Union Member States. This idea I think will take several years to develop.


  45. Have you finished your answer?
  (Mr Ricketts) Yes. I would not rule anything out for the longer term. I doubt that we are going to see useful options emerging in that area, at least for some time.

  46. Did anyone have any other questions they want to ask before the alarm starts going off again? Mr Ricketts, thank you very much indeed for setting us on fire with your various thoughts. We are most grateful to you. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Ricketts) Thank you very much indeed, Chairman.

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