Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)



  Chairman: Let us turn to the issues of wider Europe.

Lord Williams of Elvel

  1. I want to talk a little bit about the wider Europe policy. There are really two parts to it. Could you just give us an idea how significant you think it may be in having a wider Europe policy, which we are now launching in our relations with the neighbours, important countries such as the Ukraine on the one hand? Secondly, how do you think it will affect our relations with Russia? We have a quite separate structure for our relations with Russia and I am one of those who is rather optimistic about developments in Russia over the last few years. It is very, very important that we should have good relations and develop them. Do you think there may be a little bit of tension in that we have launched a policy vis-a"-vis some of our neighbours and we still have a separate system operating vis-a"-vis Russia?
  (Dr MacShane) I think the wider Europe policy is important. I was very struck two weeks ago when I gave a lecture at the Catholic University of Lublin on the south-eastern border of the European Union with the Ukraine. There I met the rector of the Polish-Ukranian University and they now have students studying in Lublin and Lvov. It is of the highest priority for the Poles that the wider Europe or new neighbour policy does take real root because that is now the external border of the European Union. It is very encouraging to meet Ukrainians. I hope to be going to Kiev shortly. They are of course setting their sights at the European Union. One sees the extraordinary magnetic pull of the European Union as a set of benchmarks which younger more modernising, reforming political business and other leaders in Ukraine and Belarus and Moldova, the Balkans, can use as benchmarks. We have to work to ensure good border protection. We also have to be conscious though that in Poland there is a lot of cross-border traffic. There are many villages and communities which were in Poland up to 1945 and there are business and trade connections, just as when I worked in Switzerland one crossed the border with France without really thinking about it. One does not want to create a new Fortress Europe suddenly at the outer edges of the EU. I am very positive on this. The relationship with Russia is of course different. Russia is a giant continental power. Vladivostok in a sense is a European city, a poor one, but it is next door to Japan, so we need a different relationship and we accept that. President Putin is working on that. There was a good outcome at the Petersburg meeting. I think the Prime Minister has met Mr Putin more possibly than any other major country leader apart from the United States, Germany and France. We will continue to work with Russia. What the exact EU/Russia relationship should be is constantly examined. The best way forward is more trade, more commerce, more business, more exchanges bilaterally and jointly between the EU and Russia so that Russia also moves towards what President Putin in the Bundestag last year defined as its European destiny.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

  2. You mentioned the St Petersburg summit and in that it is said that the EU and Russia envisage introducing visa-free travelling as a long-term policy and they are setting up a joint working group for this purpose. I think we have already taken that up through Lord Grenfell, but I should be glad to know whether that came as a surprise to you. It is quite a major step.
  (Dr MacShane) No, the Russians have been pressing for this for some time. It was much in discussion between officials and also in the press when I visited the Baltic States; they talked about it an awful lot and it is a great concern in Finland in the sense that they obviously would be the first EU Member State to feel any impact if all visa restrictions were lifted. We said to the Russians that we must be realistic on this. The key verb is "envisage" and it is right, it is there as a long-term ambition. I would be much happier if one could have visa-free travel generally around the world. I rejoice in the fact that in my lifetime there are many more countries, some not very far in flying time from here, where you now do not need visas and that is exactly the right way to go. We expect, and the Russians accept, that it is an ambition rather than something which is concretely expected to be realised in the short term.

Lord Williams of Elvel

  3. How does the wider Europe question play in various Member States? You have explained that the accession states in the east are very keen on it, but what do the Spaniards, the Italians, the French, the Germans think about it all?
  (Dr MacShane) You have to tease out a little bit the different positions of different Member States. In Germany it is absolutely indispensable. You sit in Berlin and you look east to these new markets, these new communities, it is so important for Germany that the enlarged European Union to its east becomes stable, develops economically, the people there feel that they have an economic future in their own country and are not simply seeing themselves as wanting to move into the German labour market. Thereafter of course you have Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, so for the Germans who are the largest recipient of people movement in Europe, it is a rather high priority. I would say that in Spain their focus is on the wider Europe policy's impact on the Mediterranean. North Africa and the Maghreb countries are not European countries but Spain rightly says that new Europe has to start looking south into the Mediterranean as well as east towards the Urals. Spain and Italy have that as a priority: to bring what is called the Euro-Med process back to life. It is operational but it needs new impulse. The extraordinary people movements of the last decade, asylum seekers, economic immigrants, the so-called black labour market, which is a common problem across Europe, means that we understand the need to have more stability on the borders of the EU and to encourage more economic growth and prosperity in those countries so that people on the whole want to stay there rather than move.

  4. Could you just say what you think will happen on this policy over the next time frame, whatever time frame you like to choose? What sort of developments can we expect in the next six months, next year.
  (Dr MacShane) In the next seven days we hope for conclusions and common European policies from the Thessaloniki European Council on 20 June.

The Committee suspended from 11.22 am to 11.31 am for a division in the House.

  5. I think you wished to go beyond seven days.
  (Dr MacShane) Yes; indeed, we did not quite finish on that. We expect the Thessaloniki Council to task the Commission with producing action plans for some of its eastern or southern neighbours, certainly Ukraine and Moldova. Those will have to be discussed with other partners and with other institutions, including the OECD and the Council of Europe, which play a very important role in this, and of course the international financial institutions. Then over the next six months to a year, we want to see the Commission taking forward its work on sample action plans with country specific benchmarks to look at the progress of domestic, economic and political reform. We want to see evidence of increasing respect for human rights and the rule of law, tackling cross border crime, illegal migration, trafficking of people and drugs and so on. We would hope the Commission would create what has been called a neighbourhood instrument and this would actually allow some funding for the bordering countries to bring all of them into one framework which will allow resources to be spent flexibly and projects to go across borders from Belarus into Ukraine for example. It is serious work. We have been through the learning process with the accession countries which are now in the EU as full members as of next May and I am very excited about it. I think it shows a positive side to the EU's work which perhaps does not get the recognition nor the appreciation about how important this is that it deserves.


  6. Let us now turn to the ESDP questions we should like to ask you. Before we begin, and the first set of questions will be with regard to the Congo situation and perhaps I could just draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that there is to be a statement following Business Questions at 12.30 pm in the Commons on this issue of the Congo. I do not know whether it is to be repeated in the House of Lords. It is. The statement will be repeated during the course of the afternoon straight after starred questions. Before we begin, I just want to say to you with regard to the Congo that we had two documents which were sifted to us in which there was a scrutiny override with regard to the Congo. I just wanted to say to you very plainly indeed that this Committee and the main European Committee in this House are becoming increasingly uneasy about the frequency of scrutiny overrides. We understand that the Foreign Office had warning of these particular ones on 19 May and we were told so late that it meant a scrutiny override; indeed I saw another one yesterday, not before this Committee but another one to Lord Grenfell, which came. There is a feeling that the Foreign Office is not being serious enough in warning our committees in good time when there are these emergency issues. I do not know whether you would like to give us any explanation but frankly we have had too many in the past and I hope that you will see to it that these unnecessary scrutiny overrides are put a stop to as soon as possible.
  (Dr MacShane) I share the frustration. I am conscious when I sign off on these things, particularly in foreign policy fields, that not a great deal of time is given. It is the nature of the new European Union activity in foreign policy; it has to respond quickly, in this case in the first instance to the UN Secretary General's call for an interim emergency multinational force for Bunia in the Ituri province in the Congo. However, to have that we need the UN Security Council resolution 1484. That was only adopted on 30 May, so in a sense our hands were tied because we did not have the legal authority to move forward until that resolution was passed. I promise you I will ask officials to be as quick as they possibly can. I know there are several in my box that I have to sign off on and sometimes I may be away for three or four days on a trip. I was in Poland for the best part of a week just at the end of May, in connection also with the Prime Minister's visit. As the signing minister things may just stack up waiting for me to get back home. The staff at the Foreign Office are scrupulous in wanting my signature on it so if anything goes wrong it is clear whose head is on the line.

  7. Speaking from experience, it is not unknown, when a minister is away somewhere, for another minister to sign on his behalf. I am not going to pursue it.
  (Dr MacShane) It is a very fair point but also one has to be fairly reasonable in accepting that in this new area of EU operations yes, some ex post facto scrutiny will take place. Foreign policy requires at times, particularly when it concerns military deployment, very quick decisions, but they have to be ones which have legal authority and in the international sphere we may have to wait before we can actually say to the Committee that this is what we are going to do, even if beforehand there is planning and discussion in order to move to action once legal authority of a formal UN Security Council resolution has been obtained.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

  8. Your explanatory memorandum says that the Secretary of State for Defence also has an interest. In fact most of the questions we need to ask you and to which we need the answers are questions of rules of engagement, mandates, who controls the operation and from where. I think it is extremely unsatisfactory that we should have to deal with this purely because it is the result of foreign policy. I recognise that foreign policy is important but if you are going to act on defence within foreign policy, then I feel that the system does need revision. It is not satisfactory that we should have to ask, as I am going to do now, a number of questions which are essentially technical questions in many ways but which are absolutely vital to assessing the commitment which has been made.
  (Dr MacShane) I understand the frustration and the point you are making. The UN Security Council resolution was adopted on 30 May. My letter to you was dated 5 June and there will be statements in both Houses this afternoon, which will give all members of Parliament in both Houses a chance to cross-question directly. I know the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be in the House of Commons and in a sense will allow the questioning that you want. I am sincerely at a loss to see how, if the EU is going to move into ESDP work, and clearly it is, one can manage scrutiny in the old sense of scrutinising directives on fishing vessel proposals which are discussed publicly over a number of months. I share the frustration, but I should be grateful for the Committee's advice—and perhaps it will be in your report—on how, realistically, one can do this. To some extent, what we are doing this morning—and I am unsighted on the briefing that the Defence Ministers will have for their statements to Parliament later today—is duplicating that work. I hope proper questions will be put to fully briefed Defence Ministers in both Houses today.

  9. Forgive me, those questions will be put, but they will be too late. The point I am making is that I would wish to see you recommend a situation in which we get a report jointly from you on the political aspects and from the MOD on the military aspects. A great many decisions are already taken here and in fact it was on 19 May that the government knew it was probably going to happen. It could have looked at that. We have had indications, for instance, that NATO was not consulted. We should like to know the answer to that. The whole issue of rules of engagement, mandates and everything else is almost more a military matter, a MOD matter, than it is a Foreign Office matter. I feel that we are falling through the crack with this.
  (Dr MacShane) I accept that. The running order is that 19 May the Council did ask for this to be examined, in response to the UN Secretary General's call. We had the authorisation on 30 May. There are not at this stage British troops yet committed, so I am not sure I can answer on rules of engagement for our own troops, because we do not have any in the Congo as yet. We submit jointly with the Ministry of Defence and our submissions are cleared with them. Perhaps we need joint evidence sessions if that is felt appropriate. I still think it is going to be genuinely very, very hard in this new activity of EU work to assume that one can bring every decision before every committee before it is taken. Events and foreign policy and military deployment will not quite allow that.

  10. We should be very interested to know what the relationship of the Congo effort is to the EU and also to the UN. I notice from the Council's joint action that they are going to be responsible, they are going to have to report to the Secretary General in New York, ". . . expects the leadership to report regularly to the Council through the Secretary General". That is one mandate they have. They also have another mandate, to report to the EU and it seems as though there are going to be operational headquarters in Paris, a military committee involved in some rather vague way, the political and security committee calling the shots, an awful lot of cooks stirring this very small pot. That is the kind of issue to which we need to know the answers. What is the relationship of the Congo effort? We know that in 2002 the European Union appointed a special representative for the Great Lakes region and I suppose that is where it all began. We would particularly like to know what the relationship is as far as NATO is concerned and whether there is being absolutely regular close contact with NATO on every practical issue.
  (Dr MacShane) Mr Johnston may be able to help me if there are technical details, but, very simply, the Secretary General of the United Nations appealed for a military presence in the Congo and it was the EU that responded. It is being carried out under the strategic direction and political control of the EU's political security committee which gets advice from the EU military committee. There will be a committee of contributors bringing together all the participating nations, including some from outside the EU. It will be carried out under ESDP arrangements without recourse in this instance to NATO assets, but of course NATO is being kept fully informed and it is the EU's High Representative Javier Solana who is the channel of communication with the UN Secretary General. Mr Solana briefed on the EU plans at the NATO and EU Foreign Ministers' meeting in Madrid on 3 June. NATO has obviously been kept fully informed. This is an ESDP operation without recourse to NATO assets and France is designated as a framework nation, therefore France is taking the lead on providing the planning and general logistical and operational requirements of an operation like that and are supplying the operation commander and most of the troops, but the operation commander reports to the EU military committee and through him to the political security committee. That is where we are at this stage. I hope it succeeds. The Congo is very, very worrying. We hope that this first ESDP operation in Africa is a success.

  11. If I may pursue it further, first of all we are told that the operational headquarters will be in Paris. So Paris and Brussels will presumably have to be consulted from the field, whenever any decision needs to be taken. They are also probably going to have to consult New York. Will they have a clear mandate? Will they have Article 7 that allows them to defend themselves? Have all those things been agreed? It would be helpful to know. I realise that it is much more important, interested though I am in the answer to the questions I asked, to this Committee that you should, if you would, answer the questions which I ought to have gone on to make: how many troops are we contributing, what is the timetable and what is the exit strategy. Those are major questions.
  (Dr MacShane) They are indeed. I shall ask Mr Johnston in a second to answer the question on what article of the UN Charter the troops will be operating under. I do not have an answer at the moment on the exact nature and the number of troops the UK will be contributing because that will be set out in the statement in an hour's time. I do apologise. The timetable of the mission. I set out the running order for the framework in which the decisions were taken. The EU Council decided to launch the operation on 12 June and the mandate expires on 1 September. We hope it has a limited time frame. The Security Council Resolution 1484 says that the mission's task is "to contribute to the stabilisation of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia and, if the situation requires, to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, UN personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town". The UN Security Council Resolution 1444 goes on to set out that the force is to be deployed on a strictly temporary basis to allow the Secretary General to reinforce the presence of the existing military operation in Bunia and we hope to see that reinforcement by mid-August, which, if everything goes to plan, would allow the ESDP operation to terminate by 1 September. I can ask Mr Johnston just to help us, if we have information on rules of engagement and exactly what the force can and cannot do.
  (Mr Johnston) I shall cover your points briefly and be happy to send the Committee a note with more detail, if that would be helpful. Under the ESDP arrangements we have two broad models. The first model is the Berlin+ model for operations, where it is NATO which provides an operational headquarters, and the planning where the operation is done and the operation commander. Then there is the so-called autonomous model under which it is usually an EU Member State which takes on the lead, France in this case as framework nation and it is their national headquarters which does the planning for the operation and provides the operational commander. The hierarchy of the command and control within the European Union is actually very much modelled on the arrangements which apply for NATO operations and similarly the interaction between the EU and the UN will be very similar to that which is done for NATO operations in the Balkans. You have the political control and strategic direction set by the EU's political and security committee, authorised by the Council so to do, as the Treaty provides. That is exactly the same as the North Atlantic Council does for KFOR in Kosovo and SFOR in Bosnia. The PSC receives advice on military aspects through the military committee composed of representatives of the chiefs of defence staff of all the Member States; it is very much a Member States led process. The Council's decision sets out that it will be Dr Solana as the High Representative who will be the primary point of contact between the EU and the UN, therefore presenting to the UN the collectively agreed EU view on the operation, just as Lord Robertson reports to the United Nations for NATO operations. In terms of the operational plan and the rules of engagement, those are agreed in the Council decision on the launch of the operation. The UN Security Council resolution 1484, which authorises this intermediate deployment to reinforce MONUC, is a Chapter 7 resolution, so that would provide for the use of force and national troops will be able to use force in self defence in the normal way. It was very important for us in taking part in our national capacity in the UN Security Council negotiations—and the French took exactly the same view—that there should be a robust mandate for a robust force and the rules of engagement will reflect that as well.


  12. Going back to the question about the information being given to NATO, we have heard suggestions that NATO might be being kept rather out of the loop. Can we take it now that NATO itself is entirely content with both the content and the timeliness of the communications they have received on this?
  (Dr MacShane) Javier Solana is briefing NATO Defence Ministers today and did brief them at the NATO Council in Madrid last week. So NATO has in every sense been kept fully informed of the Bunia operation.

  Chairman: Does anyone want to ask anything more on Congo? You mentioned SFOR in Bosnia and Lord Bowness would like to come in on that one.

Lord Bowness

  13. Could you tell the Committee what the developments of the Bosnia SFOR? When you are replying, perhaps you could tell us in your opinion whether the United States are actively opposed to the EU taking over this mission or whether in fact they just want it deferred?
  (Dr MacShane) I cannot speculate what American views would be. We support the aspiration agreed in Copenhagen for ESDP to take over from SFOR in Bosnia. The way in which that happens, the way in which NATO disengages is important. We need proper planning to ensure a robust and credible mission. Lord Ashdown, the High Representative there is supportive of this. It needs to be based on Berlin+ arrangements. There is good understanding between NATO and the EU on the advantages of converting SFOR into a EU operation. We have got to get this right and we just have to keep working to ensure that the handover is agreeable to all parties, including of course our ally and partner in NATO the United States.

  14. You have no direct indications from your colleagues in the United States as to how they are feeling about it at the present moment.
  (Dr MacShane) They have said that they support ESDP and they say—and I know from my own work as Minister responsible for the Balkans in the last two years—that Europe should take over increasingly in the Balkans. I am on the record as saying that I appreciate President Bush's remarks made in Kosovo, talking generally about the Balkans, "We came in together. We go out together". So I am not looking to see the Stars and Stripes disappear from the Balkans, if anything the contrary. If the EU in a sense with the shoulder flashes of the blue background with yellow stars takes over completely in Bosnia, there has to be consensus in NATO on that. There are issues to be resolved. We are having discussions in NATO on this. I do not think we should artificially create a timetable. What is important is that the Security in Bosnia is assured. I visited and stayed overnight in the SFOR British contingent's camp and the SFOR operation is a very good one and I am sure in due course it can be one which can perhaps relieve our American friends of some of the contribution they make there.

Lord Williams of Elvel

  15. What does the United Kingdom Government feel about this rather odd initiative made by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg?
  (Dr MacShane) Are you talking about the summit meeting on 29 April?

  16. They got together and they seemed to suggest that there would be a separate planning operation.
  (Dr MacShane) The Prime Minister has said that we will not accept, neither will the rest of Europe, anything which either undermines NATO or conflicts with the basic principles of European defence we have set out. I heard him make that remark in a speech in Warsaw. I think that we have been reassured, and I have in person in talks with opposite numbers from different European countries, including Germany and France, that there is no intention to actually threaten either NATO or the ESDP arrangements. I have said again on the record that I cannot see the value of creating a new headquarters, which was one of the outcomes suggested from the 29 April meeting. Other things which were in the seven-point declaration we could happily live with. I repeat what I told the committee, that it is boots on the ground, it is capabilities that we want to see reinforced rather than more committees of generals from Belgium and Luxembourg or other countries meeting in Brussels.

  17. It is rather difficult to understand quite what these countries were aiming at.
  (Dr MacShane) Britain was not invited to participate. The Commission did not participate. The Council did not participate. We had a very good discussion on this in the European GAERC, the General Affairs and External Relations Council, to give it its full title. I very robustly pointed out that I did not quite understand the need for this meeting, but if other European partners want to have a meeting and discuss things, who are we to say nay. I also added that the entry card for participation as a serious European defence player should be about two per cent of GDP and I would have no objection if Luxembourg and Belgium decided to pay that entry price. I am repeating what I said on the record in European newspapers, so, please, this is not any new statement from a British government minister.


  18. I asked you in a different context a few minutes ago whether you felt there were some countries in Europe who opposed for the sake of opposition. This is a good case of that, is it not?
  (Dr MacShane) It was a sense of wanting to give some expression to European foreign policy with a defence profile shortly ahead of the Belgian elections where this was one of the themes that was in play. It is difficult perhaps sometimes if one country asks another country to come to a meeting always to say no. I cannot read the minds of the French, German, Belgian, Luxembourg governments and I would not wish to. My overall impression is that the meeting took place, the declaration after it came out and we have certainly had assurances from most of those countries—all those countries—that nothing was intended to undermine NATO. We have the NATO way for European defence, we have the ESDP way for European defence, I do not think we need a third way for European defence.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  19. This is a very simple question. For planning purposes, when do you think we should assume that the intergovernmental conference will start? We are going to have a conclusion of the convention now; it is quite clear we know where we are; all the texts are pretty well finalised. When do you think the IGC is likely to start?
  (Dr MacShane) My best guess would be October. I think there will be a Council meeting which will formally launch the IGC process.

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