Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. Precisely. I have not heard anybody exploring whether or not we could be inviting accession long-term to other countries around the world.
  (Dr MacShane) I think that there is a geographical contiguity in the case of Turkey. There are countries all over the world which are part of the European Union by dint of being fully incorporated, unlike our overseas territories, in the nation states of Europe, and I welcome that. A good part of the European space effort is based on the fact that the missiles blast off from the other side of the Atlantic ocean but they are still within the European Union.

  61. The answer is it has not been thought about, has it?
  (Dr MacShane) No, it is discussed regularly. It is a question of how you define Europe: is it geography—

  62. Turkey is in Asia Minor, is it not?
  (Dr MacShane) The Treaty makes clear that only European States may apply. Turkey is, I suppose, geographically—

  63. Hawaii is not the United States, it is not on the continent of America.
  (Dr MacShane) Turkey has got a foot in both continents according to the classic geographical definitions. I want to make it personally as much orientated to Europe as is possible.

  64. What is Europe is Belarus and the Ukraine. I understand President Prodi has made it quite clear that it is not even on the radar screen contemplating as an ambition Belarus and the Ukraine coming in. Now I understand the political position in Belarus does not meet the Copenhagen criteria, nor does Turkey at this moment, I am not putting them in quite the same league table. Surely we should have ambition. Ukraine, well quasi parliamentary democracy, looking not too favourable at the moment but these things rise and wane and there are tides in these things. Until recent times things looked pretty bleak in Turkish history. Ought we not to be thinking—both as a matter of justice but also out of naked self-interest, particularly from a security point of view—in terms of trying to offer the carrot to the people of Belarus and the Ukraine about European Union accession, albeit score years down the road?
  (Dr MacShane) Mr Mackinlay, you are absolutely right, that is why at the last General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18/19 November the Council adopted what is called the New Neighbours initiative to look precisely at Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. In the margins of the OSCE Ministerial conference in Oporto last Friday morning I had a very good talk with the Foreign Minister of Moldova who was quite clear that the EU was what his country would be aiming for because they are looking at Romania now, their principal neighbour, coming towards the EU. We have not mentioned, of course, the Balkan states where there are specific road maps again for normalisation and, obviously, ultimately the entry into the European Union of a fully democratic Balkan region where respected international rule of law and other democratic norms is something we need to be looking at.


  65. You mentioned the New Neighbours, I understood there was to be a document prepared, initially it was suggested at the Brussels Council then it was suggested it should be made available for Copenhagen. Is there such a document?
  (Dr MacShane) The Commission has been asked to review its policy on the New Neighbours initiative and indeed to come up with specific ideas.

  66. What is the timetable for that?
  (Dr MacShane) That work is in progress at the moment. Right now the principal difficulty with Belarus is that the European Union has put a travel ban on Mr Lukashenko.

  67. Is there a document? If there is not a document now when will one be available?
  (Dr MacShane) I do not have an answer to that question. What I can tell you is that the focus of attention of EU energy at the moment is trying to get respect for rule of law and political democracy higher up the agenda. Can I pass to Mr Featherstone on this.
  (Mr Featherstone) A document was produced earlier in the autumn by Mr Solana and the Commission as a way of facilitating discussion. As you point out, rightly, there is the promise of a Commission document further down the track and the UK would certainly like to see—

  68. Do we know when that will appear?
  (Mr Featherstone) We would like to see that appear as soon as possible. We have not got a time frame from the Commission.

Andrew Mackinlay

  69. No doubt you note what we are saying as parliamentarians. I think we would like to see that. I realise it is not within your gift but I think HMG ought to chase them because it brings us on to Kaliningrad and, I think to the eternal credit of the Russian Federation and President Putin, I thought very generous accommodation was reached on that. It does seem to me we are going to have in our midst this island of acute deprivation, appalling health conditions, high HIV etc. If the Russian Federation want to pick it up or the oblast—I think that will be the term in Kaliningrad—do we have some programme, both again out of our naked self-interest and in the spirit of generosity, to rebuild society there—decaying fabric of the buildings, the infrastructure, poor health—and make it at least something which matches our norms which will surround it?
  (Dr MacShane) This issue is very high on the agenda of my talks in Vilnius with the Lithuanian Government because they are most directly concerned. They were pleased at the agreement of what is called a facilitated travel document which will allow the Russians in Kaliningrad to travel principally across Lithuanian through the Schengen area to arrive in Russia. There are other discussions about high speed trains, sealed trains. I was not entirely sure, given the experience of sealed trains in Russian history, that was such a good idea. Mr Mackinlay, Chairman, is absolutely right to draw attention to the lamentable state of Kaliningrad.


  70. Is there a master plan in co-operation to deal with that?
  (Dr MacShane) I think it would be going too far to say there is a master plan yet[11]. Kaliningrad is part of Russia. President Putin originally wanted more than what the final agreement came up with. He wanted complete visa free movement between those two parts of Russia. I think again, as the European Union borders advance eastwards or north and east to the Baltic regions, particularly to Lithuania, that will put a different kind of spotlight on Kaliningrad. I think it is of deep concern to our Nordic neighbours, to Finland and Sweden principally, and whether there needs to be a Commission master plan or just all the neighbouring countries bearing down and trying to remove the sources for instability, poverty, crime and health risks in Kaliningrad, I think that is a better way forward than asking the Commission yet again to produce another master plan.

Andrew Mackinlay

  71. Yes but—and I do not mean this facetiously at all—listening carefully to your crafted words there—I do not mean this sarcastically—it does seem to me, particularly in response to the Chairman, there is not a plan, there is not a document which you could take off the shelf tonight and supply to this Committee saying either that the United Kingdom bilaterally or the European Union have got a document of what they are going to make available, offer to people of Kaliningrad/Russian Federation and there does not seem to me to be any promise it is going to be on a particular date. Now I would have thought—this Committee has got to discuss this—that this is something which will concern and exercise us when we bring our report. If I am wrong, do you think you could drop us a note, as it were, saying what the position is? Amongst my colleagues I want to pursue this. I think it is in our UK interest that we should avoid this. Listening to you, and as I say I do not mean it critically, it does not seem to me there is anything.
  (Dr MacShane) Chairman, I do not think this is entirely fair. Kaliningrad is part of Russia. It is not a separate country, it is not a separate state. We have a partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia which sets out certain ways of moving forward the EU relationship with Russia. Clearly that covers Kaliningrad and it would be quite wrong, I think, for the EU to tell Mr Putin that a completely separate programme is needed.


  72. It is not a question of telling. What I think Mr Mackinlay is saying is this. Here we have a great Hanse port, the old Ko­nigsberg. It has the historic anomaly that at the end of the war it is left there, as Mr Mackinlay has properly described, decaying, disease ridden and not fulfilling its potential. It is not a question of imposing on the Russian Federation but it is in both our interests to try to improve the quality of life and the ability of that area which has been described, rather ambitiously, as a potential Hong Kong, to improve it by mutual co-operation. Have there been any such discussions?
  (Dr MacShane) Yes. Under the partnership and co-operation agreement and in the meetings that the EU holds with Russia on a joint EU/Russia Common Strategy. It was at that meeting, if you recall, where the agreement was reached on the facilitated travel documents, clearly Kaliningrad featured. I am happy to assure the Committee that I will keep that under review. It has to be in the interests of Lithuania and Russia, the other Baltic states, that Kaliningrad—forgive me, Chairman, if I am a bit nervous about reverting to its historic name of Ko­nigsberg, I prefer Gdansk to be Gdansk and not Danzig and "beef" not to be "le boeuf". I think in the region the world is very much seized of the Kaliningrad problem, perhaps more so than we are in the UK and that does seem to me to be appropriate. I do not think, if I can be very personal, that you can keep turning to Brussels saying "produce an action plan on this and a master plan on that". What we can do is work regionally. The UK may have a specific contribution to make to upgrade the quite deplorable conditions of existence for the citizens and infrastructure of Kaliningrad.

Andrew Mackinlay

  73. I have really exhausted everything. The only thing is interpretation. A machinery point but actually in the great cost of things it is enormous. I think at Copenhagen one is going to be discussing languages. What is the UK's position on this? It does seem to me we do need a two tier system, obviously translation where necessary but really we do need to come down to about four languages, do we not? In fairness, the Irish Republic, a longstanding Member, does not exercise their right to have Irish used, other than in a very minimal way.
  (Dr MacShane) There is a lot of discussion on this. I am a bit reluctant to be the Solomon who decides which language is thrown away. I am proud of Europe's diversity and I think it is worth making an effort and yes it does cost a bit of money for interpreters and translators to keep the right of different people to have their languages. Certainly I would not like to take part in the voting on I think Mr Mackinlay mentioned four languages.

  74. Well—
  (Dr MacShane) Well, you know, five or six or three, somebody has to throw a few out of the window and I expect, if I may say so to Mr Mackinlay, who is a well known friend of Poland in this House, our Polish colleagues might be less happy.

  75. Slovak language.
  (Dr MacShane) English, French, German, Spanish and Polish. Now, Mr Prodi, I presume, would like to talk in his own language now and then so that is a sixth, you see the direction we are going in. There are some proposals called request and pay. There are some ideas of having a limited standard interpreting regime. I think we are going to have to work at this but I think it is one of the glories of Europe that we are a diverse linguistic regime.

  Chairman: Not today anyway.

Sir John Stanley

  76. Minister, just in the closing minutes, could I just come back to two items which have been raised which are very important and neither of which appear to have made it to the agenda for the Copenhagen Council as far as the British Government and indeed other governments are concerned. The first is one raised by Mr Mackinlay which is this issue of corruption in relation to the existing EU Member States. As we are all aware we get the annual report of auditors each year. Every year they report that billions of euros have been misappropriated, mismanaged, gone missing, the figure does not seem to go down, it goes on year after year. Despite the efforts the British Government and perhaps others have made so far we do not seem to be getting any improvement. Since we last took evidence from the Foreign Secretary on the EU issue we have had what I call the dismal case of Ms Marta Andreasson, a senior EU Commission official in the budget and accounting area who had the temerity and indeed I think, frankly, the public responsibility to expose the fact that the EU Commission's basic accounting standards were way below those of any other international organisation, let alone private commercial practice. It is handling huge sums of money with basically wholly inadequate budgeting and accounting systems. Can I return to you on this. Is this an issue which the British Government is just going to continue to shrug its shoulders on or is the British Government going to make a further determined effort to try to get rid of what is obviously a serious blight on the perception of the EU amongst taxpayers right across the length and breadth of the EU? Is the British Government with other governments going to really start talking tough to the Commission and say "You either sort this out or otherwise we are going to have to take some serious measures against the Commission"?
  (Dr MacShane) I think, Sir John, there is widespread concern on that and I think it reflects also the distorting impact of the Common Agricultural Policy absorbing 48% of the total EU budget. Very often it is at the end of where sheep get sold across borders, where pigs are double counted, where tobacco and wheat and wine disappears into the wonderful world of agricultural accounting that an awful lot of this fraud takes place. Indeed there are a number of cases against British citizens in respect of EU fraud, I think principally because we have got a much more rigorous and tougher approach generally in terms of public auditing in the UK. Yes, I share your concern. I think it does immense damage to the EU's good name. Certainly it is something I want to look at as a Minister, finding the exact mechanism to clear this up is not easy. I do not doubt the good intent of the commissioners who have been looking at it in recent years, any more than I doubted the good intent of commissioners who looked at it ten or 20 years ago. As far as I can remember this accusation has been laid at the EU's door, particularly the Commission's door and Brussels' door since we entered the Commission. Again, it is quite hard in the time of Enron and Arthur Andersen to assume that private companies are immune to corruption and fiddles. As I say, we have an enormous National Audit Office, I do not know what its total employment is but it may well be as many if not more than all of the full-time functionaries employed by the Commission in Brussels just to try and bear down on fraud in our own country. Every month I hear its distinguished Chairman, Mr Leigh, on the Today programme announcing some immense boondoggle they have uncovered involving corruption and fraud within this really remarkably honest and rigorously policed, in accountancy terms, public sector in the United Kingdom.

  77. Can I come back to the other major item which has not made it to the agenda, which is Zimbabwe. If I can just put this to you, Minister. As Sir Patrick, who led off on this, indicated in that country, with which the EU has a clear foreign policy position and therefore has assumed a measure of responsibility, we have gross abuses of human rights that have been carried out in Matabeleland, we have imprisonment without trial, we have basically state authorised violence against individuals, we have access to food, therefore starvation, being used as a political weapon. We have huge numbers of Zimbabwean black farm workers who have been dispossessed of their livelihood, dispossessed of their property, dispossessed of their possessions as a result of the government's policy of expropriating the white farmlands. Can you assure the Committee that although sadly, deeply regrettably, I would say frankly deplorably, it has not made it to the agenda for this Council that before we get to the Greek Council, the end of the Greek Presidency, the British Government is really going to make determined efforts to get this up the agenda as far as our EU partners are concerned?
  (Dr MacShane) Of course, Sir John. I repeat the assurance and statement I made earlier that to my knowledge no Foreign Secretary has spent more time raising the issue of Zimbabwe with his European colleagues than the present one. I do not say that out of loyalty, I say that out of sitting every morning at the meeting when all ministers gather when they are in London at nine o'clock in his office and Zimbabwe and the contacts and discussions he has had with his European colleagues is there again and again, as are the reports by Baroness Amos. I think even this week the Foreign Secretary was planning to discuss this because there is talk of an EU-Africa summit next year in Lisbon and the question then is of Zimbabwean participation and if the Zimbabweans are barred from entering does that mean that the other African Union countries will refuse to come. These are big issues. Britain is in the lead but, my goodness, how much easier it would be if this was a pan-European issue and if our own papers could just give up the trivial rubbish they have been filling their pages with in the last few days and concentrate on this and other pressing world issues.


  78. Minister, I would like to end by building on the question which Mr Mackinlay raised with you about the New Neighbours and, to use the term which you have used several times, the road map for Europe. We know that in May 2004 the ten Laeken countries should become members of the Union. We know that if all goes well Romania and Bulgaria will become members in 2007-08. You have spoken yourself of the real possibility that perhaps after ten or 12 years Turkey itself will be a member. I would like to know where you think along that road map other countries, and I think particularly the Balkan countries, are likely to fit in. No-one can doubt, for example, that Croatia in terms of its culture, its values, increasingly its economy, will be a fit and proper member of the Union within a reasonable period of time, so there is Croatia. The Balkan countries are concerned that by some form of failure to differentiate some will be held back, perhaps Croatia, because other countries, be it Macedonia, be it Serbia, be it Albania, will not fulfil the criteria. Are you prepared to speculate as to where along that road map between 2004 and Turkey some other countries, which are clearly within Europe, are likely to be inserted into your road map?
  (Dr MacShane) I think it depends very much on them, Chairman. At the Faro European Council it was concluded Albania and four countries of the former Yugoslavia—Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Yugoslavia—were all potential candidates. We have worked and I have worked as the Minister responsible for the Balkans in supporting those aspirations and helping to bring technical expertise to upgrade the European Union aspirations of all those nations. Certainly there is an exceptionally good European Integration Office run as part of the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the same time I am faced with the dilemma that that country, as with Serbia, refuses to comply fully with the international tribunal in The Hague, in transferring indicted alleged war criminals for investigation. They are protected, either formally or informally, by the government or by the military machines within those nations. Again and again I have said to them that the road map for their European aspirations lies in part through The Hague. I completely agree with you that it is in their hands. I think we need some differentiation as well because going a bit further east, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, all have different levels of both political and economic development. They will look now at the ten countries coming in this week, those will be the models to emulate Bulgaria and Romania a bit further down the track and Turkey we hope starting hard negotiations soon and upgrading its political and economic ability to be a full European Union Member. This is how Europe should work, in an osmotic effect, a benchmarking effect, an effect of models for others to adapt to.

  79. Minister, we began by saying that we regretted, because he was held up in Brussels, the Foreign Secretary was not here. We are delighted that you are here in your own right, the first time as Minister for Europe, and we are very pleased that you have been able to assist the Committee so well. Very many thanks.
  (Dr MacShane) Thank you very much, Chairman.

11   See Ev 18-22. Back

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