Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  40. Yes, and national interest, surely.
  (Dr MacShane) Even the German paper refers to national interest. I am genuinely nervous of giving a commitment to the Committee before further discussions have taken place at the notion that the whole of the development of Europe's presence around the world could be blocked by one country—and I do not want to single out whether it is a small country or a big country—which has a unique national perspective on that particular problem saying, "No Europe cannot move forward at all." I think that would be very dangerous. It is very dangerous for us, very dangerous for British interests.

  Chairman: Procedurally there is a huge difference between unanimity and national interest in the procedures of voting in Council.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  41. Mine is a very brief point. Perhaps it is difficult but the British Government have distinguished between foreign policy in general and security and defence on the other hand. The risk of the Franco-German paper is that it does not seem to make such a clear distinction. It is, therefore, at least conceivable, if not recommended, that at the level of the European Council decisions could be taken by qualified majority on a security issue. I was under the impression myself, that Britain was quite clearly against that.
  (Dr MacShane) But as the Franco-German paper says, defence and national interests demand unanimity. So our position is quite clear, anything that involves military decisions does require unanimity. I think that position has to be clear.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

  42. Forgive me, Minister. The reason we are concerned is that they do, indeed, make that statement in the first sentence but by the last sentence they have found that if, after lots of consultation and pressure, a country that is standing out cannot be persuaded, they will then moved to make a decision by qualified majority voting. That is what concerns the Committee.
  (Dr MacShane) Those concerns are shared by the Government and will be reflected in the discussions. You will find after Iraq that there is a very serious re-evaluation of some of the ideas put forward in that paper not just by the British Government, by other governments as well.

  Chairman: It has taken us some time to get there, but you have now said what we were keen to hear. Lord Inge, did you want to come in?

Lord Inge

  43. You talked about a lot of it being done by coalitions of the willing, Minister, going back a bit when we were talking. Does it worry you that when you look among the European nations, even when you see an enlarged European Union, that the number of nations actually that provide credible military forces you do not even need all the fingers of one hand to count?
  (Dr MacShane) No, I agree.

  44. Does it not worry you, therefore, that if we are not careful we will always be part of a coalition of the willing even when we may not want to be there? So you do not really have a credible actual military capability?
  (Dr MacShane) Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you. I am going to move on. Lady Hilton?

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

  45. Yes. I gather from what you have been saying in your reference to China that you do not think that the Common Foreign and Security Policy has been limited both here and abroad? Is that because you think it has world-wide possibilities perhaps?
  (Dr MacShane) Europe has got relations with China, with ASEAN countries. I attended the EU Latin American Summit last summer with the Prime Minister so the European Union, as such, has relations with all parts of the world.

  46. Do you think we can develop common foreign policies in relation to them? Obviously, individual European countries have all sorts of links we can do ourselves. What do you think of the suggestion that CFSP should apply throughout the world?
  (Dr MacShane) We want to see a European presence stronger throughout the world and, obviously, it is much better if Europe speaks with one voice in relationship, say, to China or to Russia, than it speaks with 15 separate voices. Certainly, I know from my work in Latin America the demand was very pressing from Latin American governments that there could be a stronger presence of Europe as a whole to lead them in the direction, as they see it, of more open borders, more open trade, the promotion of democracy and prosperity. They look very much to the European Union as a model which has helped resolve the great conflicts between the European nation states in the first half of the last century, and quite an interesting model that Latin American governments of all hues would like to pursue. I would, as I say, welcome a much stronger European Union presence in Latin America and, again, a common foreign policy to support the democratic governments faced with the great problems of narco-terrorism, organised international crime and endemic poverty.

  47. Could we turn to—sorry, to edge you past the Nu­rnberg—the Middle East and what the quartet have been developing by way of road plans, maps and whatever they have recorded for the way ahead which, theoretically, the United States is signed up to. It does seem to me that the current administration in the United States really has very little interest in developing a Palestinian State. President Bush occasionally refers to it when he is pressed by our Prime Minister, otherwise I do not believe there is any belief or commitment to an independent Palestine. Do you really see this as an area in which Europe will be able to maintain good relationships with the United States where, on the whole, all of us in Europe have indeed a rather different view of that part of the world?
  (Dr MacShane) I am not sure that is the case. When the President of the United States announces formally at the UN and in other statements his commitment to a Palestinian State, we have to take it very seriously. I do not think the President of the United States makes speeches lightly. It is the result of a great deal of very hard work and thought by American policy makers. Obviously, there is a debate on the nature of the Palestinian State and there there might be some differences and we will have to keep arguing that there is no viable solution in the Middle East without the recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state. I welcome the fact that that is now clearly on record as US policy and we will have to keep discussing with our American partners the need for that to be put into effect and to keep making the point that it is firmly our view, the British view, that there will be no resolution to the continuing conflicts in the region without peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.

Lord Harrison

  48. Minister, I would like to pass on to the question of where and how future discussions on CFSP take place. You talked earlier about the incubus of public opinion stalking the corridors of the Foreign Office—you categorised it as a gorilla rather than a hedgehog—and often public opinion is mediated through the press and so on. Sometimes the press and the media can give a somewhat distorted view of these important discussions. How do you see the Government's relationship there with the press and the media and the need to respond, but also to national parliaments like our own and to the European Parliament? What more might be done to promote a sensible and rational discussion of these matters in the acknowledged parliaments, but also in that recognising public opinion through the newspapers and the TV and so on and so forth?
  (Dr MacShane) It is a constant disappointment to me that when I come before this Committee there are not hundreds of TV cameras and journalists straining to catch every word that falls from my and your lips, my Lord. I have noticed since I have become Minister for Europe, after my previous job, that I am appearing with very great regularity in both Houses of Parliament for debates, questions, different committees and all of these, of course, are on the public record, and it is right to do that through Parliament. I am not quite sure how you get the press generally to take a measured and serious interest in foreign affairs. What I am seeking to do with members of the other House is to encourage them, all of them, with the support of the main opposition parties, to travel more regularly to European capitals as well as to Brussels and Strasbourg, so that we can develop a greater store of knowledge about how the whole of Europe works, particularly on foreign policy issues. I hope—again, all of this has been slightly put on hold because of the Iraq crisis—to be publishing an article in the House Magazine that will announce this, as I say, with the support of the main opposition parties. I have asked ambassadors in all the European capitals to try and encourage political and parliamentary contact between London and other parliamentarians in Europe. Certainly, I am very happy to appear in front of this and other committees, I am very happy to try and write articles that explain our points of view. If you have any influence, my Lord, with the editors of the press to get them published, I would be most grateful for your help and support.

  49. I know you do it in French and in German as well?
  (Dr MacShane) Some things you have to keep secret.

Lord Inge

  50. Minister, I wonder if you would just say something about what you think the effect of the consequences are of the problems in NATO, Article 5 interpreted in particular, and what knock-on consequences that has for the ESDP?
  (Dr MacShane) There has not been a fundamental disagreement between members of the EU and NATO over Article 5, simply because NATO is responsible for the collective defence of its members. We are very clear—and we have the support of major partners in Europe—that the EU and the ESDP is not going to become a collective security arrangement and the EU does not have any role in collective defence. Again, if I may repeat the views of the ten incoming Member States: they told the Heads of Government, including the President of France, very clearly last Friday that their membership of the EU did not for them mean they were joining in any way an anti-transatlantic alliance club, and that they see NATO membership, on a par with EU membership, as absolutely central to their future policy. Yes, there has been a little row at NATO, as we know, that has now been resolved and I do not see a direct read across from the Iraq crisis into the relationship between NATO, which is vital and important to Europe, and the development of ESDP and CFSP within the European Union context.

  51. So the attitude in Turkey and, indeed, the attitude more recently over Iraq and the Americans, you think that has no consequences for Europe at all?
  (Dr MacShane) We will have to see how events unfold. I would have wished Turkey to have been more positive to some of the requests made to her. Turkey has just gone through a fairly bruising political change in the election of the AKP Government, a lot of new Members of Parliament, who perhaps are not yet as fully involved and reflective on Turkey's important security needs. Turkey remains a key NATO partner and remains, certainly for the British Government and other governments, a country we want to see orientating itself towards Europe.

  52. Given that we have had some difficulty in developing a relationship in ESDP with Turkey, how do you see that has been affected?
  (Dr MacShane) That was resolved last December. There were differences, which are well-known, between Turkey and Greece and that has been something that NATO has had to live with and European partners have had to live with for a large number of years. The Berlin-plus arrangements are now in place and we are seeing the first military deployment of ESDP in Macedonia, the policing operations already in operation in Bosnia and I think our American partners welcome this.

  53. Just so I am absolutely clear, are you saying that although Lord Robertson solved the problem of Turkey in the end, by using a different approach for a different agreement, you do not think there is any long-term damage done by this?
  (Dr MacShane) Turkey remains a sensitive issue in terms of its aspirations to join the European Union. The Turkish Government and the Turkish parliamentarians need to be very aware of the consequences of decisions they take, or pronouncements they make, on the impact of the reputation of Turkey inside both the European Union and the wider transatlantic community. The question over provision of defence help for Turkey seemed to be dragged into the Iraq divisions I thought rather unnecessarily but, as you rightly say, it was well handled by Lord Robertson and agreement was finally reached. NATO has had to live with those little disagreements all along.

  54. So you say it was only a little disagreement, do you?
  (Dr MacShane) It was an important disagreement at the time. As I understand it, and I am not an expert, it would have been quite possible for patriot missiles to have been sent bilaterally by the United States to Turkey without going through NATO. It was because a decision was taken to take it through NATO that allowed countries that were not in agreement with the overall Iraq policy of the United States and Great Britain then to raise objections around the decision table.

  55. Does that not, in itself, say quite a lot?
  (Dr MacShane) Yes and no. My working assumption is, and I am not a NATO expert, that any alliance that involves a good number of members at times is not going instantly to agree unanimously on what policy to adopt.

  56. It was a fundamental issue.
  (Dr MacShane) No. What I am not quite sure—and really you are taking me quite far away from my brief—is why it was not decided that the United States bilaterally just sent the missiles to Turkey and why this was taken through NATO.

  57. I will not flog this to death. If you thought it was going to be done bilaterally, it must say something about NATO or a country in NATO was not prepared to support it?
  (Dr MacShane) The point you make is perfectly valid and perhaps if M. de Villepin was available he should be up here at the Committee to answer some questions.

Lord Bowness

  58. Thank you, my Lord Chairman. Just very quickly, Minister. A great deal has been made in the press and you have mentioned just now what I might call the pro-transatlantic credentials of the impending new members of NATO. Can I just ask you how long do you think that will last after they have joined?
  (Dr MacShane) It will last because Europe, in my experience, west and east, north and south, does see that its Atlantic destiny is as important as its Continental land mass destiny, so I have no doubts that will continue and last. Also, I hope that the United States will accept that a positive relationship with the European Union with Europe is vital to American interests. I refer to President Bush's excellent speech to the Bundestag on June 14 last when he said, and I am quoting from memory: "As Europe grows in unity, that is good for the United States. As Europe adopts a single currency, that is something the United States welcomes. We want to see a strong, effective united Europe." That has been the consistent strategic American policy all my lifetime, from Kennedy through to President Bush the first and President Bush the second, and I have no reason to think that will change.

  59. If I may comment on my Lord Chairman's speech to the House the other day: "The attitude of many people we met in the United States appeared to have changed that quite considerably."
  (Dr MacShane) Yes. I understand that people now talk in the United States about freedom fries and freedom letters and all that stuff rather than mention the word France or French, but I wonder where that will be in a year or two's time. One has to draw a big distinction between the positions taken by Germany and France in the matter of Iraq, and one has to draw a distinction between the positions taken by a large number of European governments and the positions taken by one or two of them. I am fundamentally of the opinion that anti-Americanism is as foolish and dead end politics as anti-Europeanism.

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