Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
MP AND MR
20. Have there been any discussions with the
Irish Foreign Ministry as to what they construe by giving undertakings
on neutrality? In a sense that does not mean much. Do they mean
a comparable arrangement which Denmark has for instance on EDSP?
I understand the neutrality position of the Irish Free State 1939
to 1945 but Irish Republic neutrality in this context is not too
clear. I am very keen that we should accommodate themand
it does not seem a great problembut what does it mean?
(Mr Straw) I have not, as I recall, had conversations
on this specific detail. I have had general conversations with
my opposite number in the Irish Government for sure but I have
not had detailed discussions with him here about what that means.
There have been other discussions at other levels. You will forgive
me if I cannot give details at the moment because they are not
21. You have referred to Belarus and the Ukraine
earlier and the need for strict border controls which is manifest,
and I understand that, but, equally, there is at the present time
this cross-border trade, itinerant trade mainly down the border
with Poland and mainly, but not exclusively, we are talking about
Polish ethnic folk in the West of the Ukraine, west of Belarus.
It does seem to me there is a great danger of us creating a curtain
in real terms. How are we working to find some way of maintaining
the border integrity for reasons of immigration and so on and
fighting crime but, nevertheless, I am desperately worried that
we will forget about this area of Europe.
(Mr Straw) We will not forget about it and you are
right to point to its importance. As the border of the European
Union shifts eastwards and the countries on that border become
of more critical significance to the European Union as a whole
than they have been at the moment- and that includes the Ukraine,
Moldavia and Belarus and countries further east, the Caucases
and the South Asia Republicswe have important responsibilities
to try and assist their development. I gave one example earlier
in terms of a relatively small amount of money but relatively
small amounts of money properly spent can make a difference to
particular countries. I personally regard the development of these
countries as a priority for me.
22. Mr Heathcoat-Amory was with us the other
day and although I probably have a different view to him about
the speed of European integration, nevertheless, I thought he
raised a very valid point to us about the signing up to the acquis
of applicant countries particularly, though not exclusively, the
small ones. He put forward, with some validity, the danger that
people would put on their statute books the acquis and
they would do it by one big enabling act or something like that
when, one, in some cases they might not have fully digested what
the responsibilities are and, two, there might not be the capacity
or the commitment to fulfil it to the letter. It is difficult
enough for us to keep abreast of Directives which come from Brussels
as it is and to implement them. It does seem to me that this is
an enormous task. We have a vested interest in seeing the acquis
fulfilled; it is matter of right. Has there been some exploration
of how this can be done?
(Mr Straw) The density and complexity of the tests
that amount to the corpus of EU law is a matter of concern. I
remember talking to somebody involved in this field in one of
the accession states who himself is a very distinguished lawyer
saying that he found it, even though he had worked in this field
almost all his life, extraordinarily difficult, and so it would
be all the more difficult for his government, which was one the
accession states. We recognise the problem; you are right to identify
it. So, too, do the Commission. They have allocated an additional
250 million euro to spend on institution-building in the candidate
countries this year to support so-called action plans which are
about institution building in each of the Member States. We are
also assisting them through involvement in over 100 projects as
part of the EU's twinning programme in which quite a lot of members
of this House are involved. There is this big issue of monitoring
what they are doing. It is a problem with the smaller states or
those with less developed public administrations systems.
23. In the joint letter of Tony Blair and Chancellor
Schroeder it did canvas this whole idea of the Council of Ministers
acting legislatively that it can and should be in open session.
Are you optimistic? Has this been picked up? Again, I am with
it on this but this is quite important to a lot of folk here.
(Mr Straw) This subject came up partly in the debate
yesterday. The suggestion is that there should be television cameras
in when councils are legislating. It happens less in foreign affairs
councils than it does in some of the other functional councils.
I think that is a good idea. Personally I think would be a bad
idea to have reporters and cameras in when the councils are negotiating
because all that would mean is that negotiations would have to
move outside. The trade in terms of arguments about texts and
motives and all the rest of it, which can take place in the room
at the moment, would shift to other rooms and you would end up
with less transparency, not more. That is what is in mind, but
there are other things we have to do. We look forward to ideas
from the Convention as well as from Seville about how the councils
can better operate and more efficiently operate.
24. Before I move further into the Convention
on the Future of Europe, just one or two questions on enlargement.
The normal pattern has been late-night sittings at the very end
of the final Council and at the Council which takes place prior
to the previous Presidency there is probably very little progress.
Do you in that context expect any significant movement in respect
(Mr Straw) It is not going to dominate the agenda
and the Council where it will dominate the agenda will be Copenhagen
in the autumn.
25. Then Kaliningrad; the Russian Federation
and the European Union have reached an impasse in respect of Kaliningrad.
Is there any way through that you can see? Is there any UK initiative
in this respect?
(Mr Straw) Mr Darroch is the man who has got everything
at his fingertips.
(Mr Darroch) The position on Kaliningrad is that,
as you say, at the EU/Russian summit a week or two back there
was a disagreement about the EU's proposal that Russians living
in Kaliningrad who want to go to mainland Russian territory should
need visas to cross Poland and Lithuania. What is going to happen
at Seville is probably (though it is not certain yet) a Presidency
paper with some ideas on ways of bridging the divide between the
Russian position and the EU position. As of now, the EU position
remains that visas would be required for Russians going between
the two. We will see if the President comes up with ideas for
new ways forward on this.
Chairman: Secretary of State, you know that
our colleague Gisela Stuart is not only a member of the Convention
(and you very happily arranged for our Committee to put forward
a member of the Committee in that respect) she is also a member
of the Presidium and chairs a key working group in respect of
relations with national governments. I am going to ask Ms Stuart
to deal with any remaining questions on enlargement and also on
matters relating to the Convention.
26. I have given evidence over the last few
sessions on how I thought the Convention was developing in front
of this Committee. I would be very interested to hear from your
point of view how the Convention is working.
(Mr Straw) The jury is out with me although I pay
tribute to the high quality of the parliamentary and governmental
representative from the United Kingdom on it. I talk to Peter
Hain a lot about the work of the Convention and I think that the
people we have got representing all three parts, both from government
and from Parliament, are people of a very high calibre and, if
I may say, I would pay tribute to Ms Stuart for her work and for
the fact that she has managed, by dint of her reputation, to gain
election to the Presidium and then to chair this committee on
national parliaments. So far, so good. As far as I know, you have
not produced any reports, have you? What I hope too, however,
and obviously I have followed what President Giscard d'Estaing
says about his views, is that when the Convention does report,
if there are genuine points of disagreement, then they are reflected
in the report. Even though we said at Laeken that there should
be options in the report, there will be a tendency to produce
a single package. Unless there is a widespread agreement for a
single package personally I think that would be a mistake. I also
believeand I made this point yesterday in the Housethat
the reinforcing and strengthening of the role of national parliaments
is an extremely important part of the agenda of the Convention
and making recommendations about that. It has always in my view
been important but at this timeto pick up a point that
you were raising Mr Andersonthere is no disagreement with
the principle of the European Union but doubt about how it is
working by many of our publics. It is extremely important that
we rebuild confidence in the European Union by rebuilding the
confidence of the component parts of that European Union, namely
nation states, who are in the best position to represent the publics.
This is not a super-federation or anything of that sort. It is
the Member States that have signed up to treaties who make it
operate. I cannot see of any other way in which it can operate
than the basic structures being subject to inter-governmental
treaty. We ought to strengthen that reality and into that comes
the role of national parliaments.
27. The Solana paper and of course the Convention
itself will look at EU architecture, and you are saying that the
process that is going on where the Council of Ministers and heads
of states are developing some of the agenda, which some would
argue should have been left to the Convention. What is your view
about whether these reform processes should continue to go on
within the current structure and be discussed at Seville for example
irrespective of what the Convention does? Secondly, there is a
suspicion amongst members of the Convention that the real deals
are being struck when Giscard d'Estaing does his rounds of visiting
heads of government. I assume as you were party to it that you
will at least know what these meetings have been about and because
members of the Presidium want to know what these discussions were,
to what extent would those suspicions be true?
(Mr Straw) I can only speak for the British Government.
I have seen no evidence of any deals being struck. I was at one
of the meetings with Giscard d'Estaing earlier in the year. I
could not be at the second because I was somewhere else around
the world, Canada or it could have been somewhere else, but this
was an iterative discussion rather than deal striking. On your
point about the Solana proposals, these are proposals, as you
will be aware, for changes in the operation of the Councils of
Ministers and the European Council which do not need Treaty changes
and therefore are within the existing competencies of the European
Council. It seems to me very sensible for us to get ahead and
make the changes that can be agreed. They will not be set in stone
because they are not in the Treaty; they are ones about streamlining
the operation of Councils. If they work, fine, that can only be
to the advantage of the more comprehensive changes that the Convention
recommend the IGC brings in. If they do not work, then we can
28. One of the things which I heard being expressed
about the current proposals of the Conventionit was expressed
by someone involved in the Amsterdam negotiationswas that
what appears to be happening is that all the deals which were
struck on behalf of UK plc are being dismantled bit by bit, including
the pillar structure, by the Convention. Is that your impression?
(Mr Straw) You are much closer to this than I am.
I have to say I think it is extremely important for us that the
pillar structure is maintained, particularly the difference between
pillar one and pillars two and three. You could argue that pillars
two and three legally amount to, roughly speaking, the same thing
because they are about inter-governmental matters, but it is necessary
to separate the pillars for common foreign and security policy
from pillar three, which is justice and home affairs, and that
distinction is important. We are opposed to the communautisation
of defence and foreign policy because if you were to communautise
defence and foreign policy, in due course perhaps subject to QMV,
the European Union would cease to be an association or union of
nation states because, by definition, the nation state is, above
all, the unit of government which has a monopoly over the use
of force within that territory. So that would go. On criminal
law, which is basically what is left under pillar three, yes,
we should better co-operate. We should do what (I say modestly)
I proposed and then got going when I was Home Secretary in a speech
I made in Avignon the day I found out about Pinochet so it was
in late October 1998, that in place of having corpus juris,
common legal space, you had mutual recognition of legal systems,
which happens in its own modest way for example through the European
arrest warrant. That has, in my view, to be inter-governmental.
The idea that you can get to a harmonised land law in the European
Union defies the imagination and certainly defies the intellectual
capacity of the whole of the EU's lawyers.
29. I am afraid the bad news is that at the
Convention debate last week on justice and home affairs there
were numerous calls for the dismantling of the third pillar. Giscard
d'Estaing himself said he did not recognise the third pillar as
a proper pillar structure and therefore incorporation in the first
pillar would be not only perfectly acceptable but be a logical
conclusion. Given that there is an amount of debate going on which
calls for this greater involvement, when can we see a statement
of United Kingdom policy on the pillar structure?
(Mr Straw) By the sound of it, quite soon. Thank you
very much for that early information about what is going on in
the Convention. I gather many flowers are blooming and some are
wilting inside this Convention structure. I am aware of those
who think that we should have criminal law or other aspects of
domestic law placed under the Community. I only say that we have
had experience of a political Union here with a monopoly over
the use of force in the United Kingdom since 1707 but no British
Government from that day on was mad enough to try to harmonise
Scots law with English law. If the European Union want to try
and do it and then try and harmonise it with Lithuanian law, I
wish them luck.
30. Just a final point, in yesterday's debate
in the House there was a very lively exchange about the legal
status of the Charter of Human Rights. What would the UK Government's
position be if the Convention came up with full integration of
(Mr Straw) If it is taken into the bosom of the Treaty,
we are opposed to that. There was a discussion about this and
the Opposition were making a not very good point by saying that
the Charter was now legally enforceable because courts were referring
to the Charter. As Mr Anderson and I can certainly confirm and
anybody else who is a practising lawyer around this tableMs
Stuartare there any other takers?
Mr Mackinlay: Barrack room!
31. The best!
(Mr Straw) If you had been admitted to the Bar we
would have ensured that you were disbarred a long time ago, Mr
Mackinlay! Proper lawyers here will confirm that plenty of documents
and texts are argued about in court which are not necessarily
legal authorities all the time. So that was a poor point raised
by Mr Spring. The Charter of Rights was negotiated on the basis
that it would not be a legally enforceable text equivalent to
treaties or regulations and it is not in an appropriate form.
We have a problem, which we are working on inside the British
Government, which is that the approach of some other countries
and some other justice systems is to say we all know that this
is a bit of flim-flam which is included in the text so we will
not take much notice of it. That may be possible for other legal
systems but it is not possible for ours. If something is called
law then we treat it literally in terms of what it says. So there
is work that we are doing, both to look at why our systems operate
rather differently from other countries but also to better inform
other countries. Some of the very broad and rather extravagant
claims made in the Charter of Rights would cause them very significant
difficulties if they became legally enforceable.
32. One or two further questions. Secretary
of State, you said in response to Mrs Stuart that the Solana proposals
for streamlining the Council were a matter to see how they would
develop and were a matter, effectively, for them. We now know
that on Monday this week Mr Prodi suggested a streamlining of
the Commission which would have something like an inner cabinet,
with several members therefore excluded from the inner sanctum.
Is this, in your view, entirely a matter for the Commission themselves
or does our Government have a view on that proposal?
(Mr Straw) Could I also say that some Solana proposals
would require Treaty change for sure. We think that they should
be the subject of consideration after Seville, but some do not.
On President Prodi's proposals, they were principally for the
better internal management of the Commission. Of course, Member
States have an interest in those for sure, but our basic starting
point is that the President, along with the Commission College,
is responsible for management of the Commission, and so we are
willing to look at any proposals on their merits. For sure, the
current system does not work all that well, there is overlap,
and it would work still less well with an expanded Union. Another
reason why it is important that we get Nice in place.
33. You think they are essentially a matter
of internal reorganisation?
(Mr Straw) I need to ask Mr Darroch as to whether
or not they would require the approval of the Council. For sure,
they need to be discussed with Member States but they are more
to do with the internal running of the Commission, they do not
affect the Commission's powers.
(Mr Darroch) President Prodi's proposals, as I understand
them, are that the Commission should have a designated number
of Vice Presidents who would be responsible for broad areas of
policy and then a layer of Commissioners below that who would
be responsible for selective areas of policy under these Vice
Presidencies. He would have meetings once a fortnight of the full
Commission and more regular weekly meetings of him and the Vice
Presidents, so it is essentially a two- layered structure. We
have not had these formally out yet. I am not sure that they require
approval by the Council or that they would require Treaty change.
It may be, as the Foreign Secretary suggests, a matter for the
Commissioner. Perhaps we should write to you to set out exactly
what the legal position is.
34. The problem might be for those countries
who might feel they would become second class, excluded from the
cabinet of decision and it is for them really to kick against
this if they so wish.
(Mr Straw) One of the things that I think President
Prodi has made clear is that this would not be a matter of all
the Vice Presidents coming from big Member States and the more
junior Commissioners from the small ones. There is a principle
of equality of treatment.
35. I would like to turn to the European security
and defence policy. Let me then start on this. I think when you
came before us towards the end of last year there was the Turkish
problem that Turkey was prepared to prevent any progress on that
policy as a NATO member in terms of the sharing of NATO assets
unless its own aspirations were met. In large part as a result
of skilful diplomacy by both by the United States and particularly
by the United Kingdom, Turkish agreement was reached, I think,
in December of last year. Then a further problem arose in respect
of the unhappiness of Greece with the deal which had been reached.
The first question that therefore follows is is there any serious
expectation that there will be progress at Seville in or before
1 July or in any other forum on responding positively and satisfying
the Greek objections?
(Mr Straw) Discussions continue is the answer. They
were continuing in the margin of the GAC on Monday in Luxembourg.
I do not want to go into detail about them but they relate to
this matter. There have been two particular clauses in the so-called
Ankara text which have caused difficulty respectively to Greece
and Turkey at paragraphs 2 and 12. So there is a lot of imagination
going into whether it is possible to accommodate the concerns
of the two countries in one and then the other. I cannot be certain
what the outcome will be but we very much hope that there will
be a positive outcome.
36. As I understand it, there are particular
problems because Denmark is not a member of the structure and
Greece has the next following Presidency and take over as President
of the ESDP element for one year effectively from 1 July.
(Mr Straw) That is not problem, it is a complication.
Denmark is outwith that structure so Greece assumes the chair.
37. Unless agreement is reached the ESDP will
not be able to take over the expected role on Macedonia.
(Mr Straw) It may be possible to reach some ad
hoc arrangement, but yes is the answer.
38. But your judgment is that there is a serious
prospect of the Greek objection being met and satisfied before
the end of this month?
(Mr Straw) You will forgive me for not wishing to
give odds on this. It has been a very complex negotiation which
tries to take account of the sensitivities of both the Turkish
Government and the Greek Government. I am grateful to you for
what you have had to say about th negotiators from the British
Foreign Office who worked many hours and worked extremely hard
with the US Government and the individual governments concerned
to secure an agreement. So too has Javier Solana and I may say
the Spanish Presidency is very committed and creative in trying
to secure an accommodation here. The negotiations go on.
Sir John Stanley
39. Can you update us as to where the British
Government and the Council of Ministers are on the issue of having
meetings with the Council of Ministers, particularly when legislation
is under discussion, in public.
(Mr Straw) With great respect, I did answer that question
a moment ago. Were you out? I can repeat it if you want. The answer
is that we are committed to having cameras and reporters in when
we are legislating. As it happens, as far as foreign affairs is
concerned there are not that many occasions when we are legislating
because that happens only when you achieve a common position.
The most recent case would have been sanctions on Zimbabwe. I
am not in favour of having cameras and reporters in when we are
negotiating for reasons that everybody understands. There was
slightly less comprehension in the Chamber in that case. I would
have thought it was blindingly obvious that all that would happen
is that they would negotiate outside the room.
Chairman: Secretary of State, we have kept you
in the field for a long time. We have covered Gibraltar and we
have covered Seville. On behalf of the Committee I would like
to thank you very much indeed.