Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)



Lord Powell of Bayswater

  20. If this individual were created as a single individual, would we see him chairing this External Relations Council. Or would that be a step too far?
  (Mr Ricketts) It depends on his institutional positioning. If he is a full Commissioner, subject to collective responsibility in the Commission, I do not see how he could. That I think really would trespass into the principle I set out of the intergovernmental nature of CFSP. If he is effectively a servant of the Council, but with a supernumerary seat on the Commission, not subject to collective responsibility or voting, it is a new animal in the structure, but that sounds to me more like someone under the Council's authority than the Commission's authority, so from that point of view, yes, I think in that circumstance we would be in favour of him chairing the GAERC, which in principle would itself be a real gain for coherence, because he would then have, by his informal role as Chairman, a capacity to bring together the various instruments of the Commission and Council behind a single policy. So we see a lot of attraction in that, but only if he is not a full member of the Commission.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  21. There are various varieties, of course, but once you have created this person—he is referred to always as "this person", by the way, a very curious animal—I think the dominant view in the Group preferably is Vice President, so the tendency is going in that direction at the moment.
  (Mr Ricketts) That is not as I read the Franco-German proposal, Lord Williamson, which appears to say that he would be a member of the Commission with a special status. I do not know what that special status is, but if that special status were as a non-voting member, not subject to collective responsibility, then we are more in option four of the Working Group territory than option three. But I think it is for the French and German governments to explain precisely what lies behind that.

Lord Bowness

  22. Perhaps there is not an answer to this question. It was based on what I read as the firm recommendation of the Working Group, namely that this person, to use the phrase, would be a full member of the Commission, but would not have a vote in the Council. The question I was going to ask was this. Was it envisaged, when we talk about the External Representative being appointed by the Council meeting, as heads of state and approving the President of the Commission, that they would be selecting this person from the Commissioners as appointed, or that they would be appointing somebody who became an additional Commissioner, or would that person count against a Member State's allocation of Commissioners? That needs to be sorted out, otherwise it is going to be a "big nations club" is it not?
  (Mr Ricketts) The answer is that we are not proponents of the idea that this person, this European Foreign Minister, should be a full member of the Commission. If we were to go down that route, all your questions would apply, very clearly. I do not have answers to them because I do not favour the proposal. I see the individual as in addition to the regular quota of Commissioners and in a different capacity—if we get to that at all. We are also very open to the idea of preserving a High Representative reporting to the elected Chair of the European Council, an External Affairs Commissioner reporting under Commission authority, and having tight linkages between those two individuals. We do not believe that that has been a failure as a model. It can be improved, but if we are going to develop from it, then we would want clear answers to many questions, including the questions that you raise.

Lord Powell of Bayswater

  23. Could I come back to the philosophy underlying this whole series of questions? Does Mr Ricketts agree that foreign policy and defence must remain in the hands of national governments, co-operating freely?
  (Mr Ricketts) In a single-word answer, yes. That is the philosophy that lies behind our support for the elected Chair of the European Council, which will be a very strong centre of gravity on the Council side, and leads us to want someone at the next level down playing the role that Javier Solana has been able to play, also, clearly, under Council authority, and the idea that a full Commissioner could have a right of initiative, for example, in defence affairs seems to us to be not realistic or not something that we could accept.

  24. But you are prepared to consider an extension of QMV, which would actually be a constraint on national governments retaining these matters fully in their own hands.
  (Mr Ricketts) We are coming back to an earlier line of questioning. I demarcated out from any area where we would be prepared to consider an extension of QMV anything which touched on defence and security. Incidentally, I see that that is also demarcated out in the Franco-German proposal. The problem that that creates in terms of where to draw the line between that and foreign policy, if one can distinguish between them, is indeed one of the problems that is unresolved.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

  25. I would have thought that we need to know what national answer we want and then solve the problems, not allow the problems to dictate our decision. That is what it seems to me is likely to happen. Could I take you on to a much more mundane issue? Would a European Diplomatic Service provide added value or simply duplicate current Member State provision? I would like to enlarge on that a little bit. We had some papers about three months ago in which it was being proposed that there would be EU bodies, Commissions, set up in various countries where aid was a major issue, and that was going to cost a lot in terms of people and money, and also it seemed likely to complicate issues quite a lot because it would possibly cut across various bilateral relationships we were having. I remember that the reply that we had from Clare Short at the time was unequivocal, that that gave her unease. If you take that further, how could this possibly work without major conflicts of interest arising between our bilateral relations with the countries concerned and our EU duties and responsibilities? In paragraph 69 of the report they are even advocating an EU Diplomatic Academy and saying that diplomatic representatives of the main Member States should co-operate closely with EU delegations and should be encouraged to provide support and information to the person holding the function of HR. Do you think any of that is (a) feasible, or (b) desirable, and how does it square with what we have been hearing in the press about the creation of instant, movable embassies? We are being required constantly to cut staff in our existing embassies. Would you say this would further complicate that?
  (Mr Ricketts) First of all, I want to be clear on what I understand to be the proposal here. It is not that the EU should somehow take over or replace or duplicate the functions of national embassies in third countries. The fact is that already the EU has abroad an enormous number of representatives, 138 bilateral delegations and five multilateral Commissioners to multinational organisations. So there is in practice already an extensive overseas representation of the European Union, mostly Commission officials. We are in favour of more effective promotion of the common policies that we have together in the European Union, so when we have adopted a common policy, we want that put across more effectively abroad by the EU's representatives. If I understand the proposal here right, it is to bring together the representatives of the Commission, promoting Commission policies abroad, the representatives of the Council secretariat, which are much fewer in number, working with Javier Solana, and produce more effective teams representing the entire European Union common position in third countries. I think, for example, in Washington, where there is quite a large European Union delegation, it could be far more effective in promoting a range of European Union policies in the United States, where by and large the European Union is not well understood, its activities are not well presented to Congress and to wider opinion, and the resources that are there already could be used more effectively if we broke down barriers within the Commission representatives abroad and used them effectively together. That is what I understand the position to be, and in that sense I do not think it does make more difficult the job of national governments. Indeed, it should complement what we are doing in terms of our own overseas activities, because they would be there to promote policies that had already been decided are common policies of the European Union, and it does not therefore make more difficult what are certainly difficult resource pressures for us given the many demands placed on the FCO by world events; indeed, if used properly, it should help by putting across a more coherent message about the European Union.

  26. I am interested that you chose the United States. I would have thought that there would be rather serious complications in having one set of views from that body in Washington on Iraq and another from our embassy. My other point would be that good diplomats take a lot of training and a lot is invested in them, and I cannot but feel that the experience of sitting in an organisation like that, where you were constantly trying to find lowest common denominators and then go out and loyally promote them, is likely to be a serious waste of good members of the foreign service. I am a little surprised that you are relatively happy about that.
  (Mr Ricketts) I do not accept your latter point. I do not think we are going to send large numbers of Foreign Office officials to work abroad for the European Union, but we have sent a number of extremely talented Foreign Office officials, for example, to work with Javier Solana in Brussels. I can see that, by analogy with that, there may be one or two places around the world where the existing Commission or Council secretariat staff could usefully be augmented by a good diplomat from one of the Member States to help in a particular task. Of course, these people could only promote agreed policies, and in the case of Iraq, we do have a European Union policy, which is in support of the UN and the Security Council resolutions and the inspection process, and I would be entirely happy for the European Union to promote that as the European Union's view of where things should go. So provided it is kept within reasonable bounds in terms of national contributions, I think it can be a help, and I certainly think that making better use of the resources they already put into their external representation can only be a good thing.

  27. Would you take it as far as having an EU training academy?
  (Mr Ricketts) Good training for the staff the EU is going to send abroad is a good thing. I have not seen detailed proposals for an EU diplomatic academy, but if we are talking about good training for the staff that go abroad, then in principle I have no problem.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

  28. I think it is fair to say that the report of the Working Group is based upon the same premise which seems to inspire the British approach to the conduct of external relations, that the impulse, the strategic direction, must come from the Council and that the major problem is delivery. With that in mind, why is it that there is this tentativeness of approach to the proposal about giving the officer to whom the Foreign Office attaches such importance, the High Representative, a position within the Commission, which is charged constitutionally with delivery and which has the resources to deliver, and which is not disposed to be an adversarial body, locked in some kind of continuing battle with the Council about foreign policy? Secondly, and related to that, you have indicated, Mr Ricketts, that the Government is waiting for the answers to certain questions before it decides what its view about this is. On whom is it waiting? The French and Germans may not have answered in detail all the questions that you have raised, but they have given a broad statement of principle, and indeed, a powerful initiative, in support of the thrust of this report, and we are told that the Government is waiting for answers to questions. When are these going to happen? The Convention is going to be faced with the task of drafting a constitutional treaty in two months on these issues. When can we, this Committee, look to have the answers which enable us to know what the British Government would like to see in that treaty on these points?
  (Mr Ricketts) Lord Maclennan, we are in the middle of a negotiation which will, first of all, take us through to the Convention process and will then take us into the intergovernmental conference of Member States, so we are probably a year away from final conclusion on these very difficult and sensitive issues, and I think therefore it is not unreasonable that the Government should be contributing actively, as we have been doing, participating, but also judging proposals coming forward from other parties, and deciding which of them suit our overall interests and which do not. I believe we do have a very clear set of national objectives and priorities, and in many cases we can see the debate is moving in the direction that our Government has set out. For example, on the issue of an elected chairman of the European Union Council, the proposal that our Prime Minister put forward with President Chirac and Mr Aznar. We now see that that is adopted in the Franco-German proposal. That is an enormous step forward, I think, for the approach that this Government has advocated. The proposal that others have been promoting of a fused President of the Commission and President of the European Council I think is now falling away; it has been abandoned, so I think there is a real gain there, and I think the idea that we should strengthen the High Representative and that his attachment to the Council as the deliverer of decisions adopted in the Council is gaining ground as well. Where we have questions is because the debate is still developing and because we want to influence it effectively in the direction that we want to go, but we have to recognise we also need to rally support, and we need to gather as many as we can around our approach. From the evidence I have seen I see more trace of our own influence in much of what is being said now, for example, in the Franco-German paper than might have been the case a few weeks ago. So I think there is a direction, but you cannot, I think, expect that the Government should now have an absolutely cut and dried position at a time halfway through a very long and complex negotiation.

  29. I understand that the decisions will not be taken finally until the IGC has looked at the proposals that emerge from the Convention, but what it appears you are saying—because you have not answered my question about the probability of the constitutional draft treaty being drawn up by the Convention in two months—is what you would like to see in that treaty. It is almost as though the British Government is abdicating on that point, that you are holding your fire until the intergovernmental conference rather than seek to influence in Britain's interest the shape of the constitutional treaty on this particular matter because you have not got final answers from I do not know whom.
  (Mr Ricketts) I do not agree, Lord Maclennan. I believe that Peter Hain has actually been one of the most active and influential members of the Working Group on External Affairs, and the Working Group report is full of contributions that have come from Peter Hain and have shaped the way it is developing. On the issue of the double-hatting of the High Representative and the External Affairs Commissioner, the Working Group report itself shows that there has been a very wide range of view in the Committee, and that is not surprising because this is an absolutely critical issue for the shape of institutional arrangements. We have had our views, we continue to feed our views in, others have as well, and the position continues to evolve, but I think it is no surprise that there is no single, clear outcome at this stage, because we are in the middle of the construction of this new edifice.

  30. Lord Williamson has pointed to the clear thrust of this report, and you have, I think it is fair to say, enunciated a position of no certainty in response to that clear thrust. As I say, it is perfectly understandable that you should be keeping your powder dry, but I think we need to be quite clear that that is what you are doing. I say you. I do not mean Peter Hain. I mean the British Government posture on these core constitutional and institutional relationships. In place of a proposal which we might conceivably seek to incorporate in the draft treaty, you have proposed a series of questions. Those of us who have some responsibility for trying to shape the document will deploy these questions, but we have to have an answer on what you would like to see in the document.
  (Mr Ricketts) I say again, I do not believe that the model set out as option three in the Working Group report is actually the one which is garnering the greatest support, although that is what it says in the document here, because I do not think it is where this latest Franco-German vote has come down. I think the debate is genuinely open. We started this debate advocating strengthening of links between the High Representative and the External Affairs Commissioner, which is option one. In the report we think there is still a lot of merit in that but we have not closed our minds to a solution involving a single individual provided a set of clear conditions are met. I think at this stage in the negotiations that is a reasonable position for us to adopt since we are going to have to come to a conclusion that reflects the views of all the Member States through this very long and complex process.

Chairman: Lord Inge, I think, with what we think is a much easier question.

Lord Inge

  31. I was just going to say this is a doddle compared with the other one.
  (Mr Ricketts) Thank you, Lord Inge.

  32. The working group recommended that there should be an increase in the budget of the CFSP. Firstly, do we support it, secondly, what sort of size are we talking about and, thirdly, what do you see it being used for, which is what I cannot quite get my mind around?
  (Mr Ricketts) Thank you very much, Lord Inge. The CFSP budget has already been increasing. It went up 50 per cent last year largely to make way for the new EU police mission in Bosnia, which is funded from the CFSP budget. Certainly we supported that and we would like to see some further increase as well. Even with that increase of 50 per cent of the budget it is still around 1 per cent of the total external affairs budget of the European Union so it is extremely small and we believe it could be increased further. Why, because in an active CFSP in the world Solana and his team will need resources sometimes, limited resources but resources which they can control and which they can deploy quickly. For example in crisis management, in preventing conflict, he needs sometimes to be able to get people on the ground, to get them active faster than can be achieved by having to go and seek extra money from the budget authority in the European Union. Now that we are moving into a phase of ESDP, active European Union work in conflict prevention of the kind that Solana did effectively in Macedonia over the last 12 months, there will be cases where he needs to deploy people and undertake activities which require money, not significant amounts of money but more than is available in his budget at the moment. So we would favour some modest further increase.

  33. It is really an increase in what I would call running costs rather than increasing capability?
  (Mr Ricketts) Yes, I think it is principally that. If we are talking about serious programme spending then that needs to come from the other external budgets of the Community. I think as important as increasing the CFSP budget itself will be better coherence between policy set in the Council and delivery—to use Lord Maclennan's words—by the Commission in terms of their external budget, that is where the real money is. Better ways of harnessing that to the Council's priorities I think would help as much as a little bit more running costs and administration money for Solana.

  34. Although the running costs are clearly an important part of that and available more readily, and I understand that, in the end one of the problems is the lack of European capability.
  (Mr Ricketts) If you are talking about, for example, defence capability, that is absolutely right. A large part of our purpose in the ESDP and the continued work and political effort we are putting into ESDP is to begin to build up that level of European capability. In the civilian area, the shortfall is less bad, I think, than in the defence area. I think that the way the European Union has been able to take on the police mission and bring different talents, different instruments to bear because of the civilian crisis management side, that is one of the benefits of the EU taking in a crisis management role.

  35. I think the report suggested also that the High Representative or the European External Representative—whatever he is called—should have the ability to deploy money or finance initially without any real reference to anybody, some of the civilian aspects of CFSP, is that right?
  (Mr Ricketts) The report proposes, I think, some delegation of authority to spend money in an urgent situation but it has to be subject still to the normal accountancy requirements, and that must be right.

  36. I understand that.
  (Mr Ricketts) A capacity to spend more quickly where there is a need, yes, I think that is important.

  37. If I look at a lot of the situations they might be involved in, there is a military/civilian tie up, the linkage between the two I think is very clear. That came from a previous study we did in this Committee. We are not giving the same authority then to the military bit, it is purely the civilian aspect, is that right?
  (Mr Ricketts) Perhaps I could ask Mr Barrow who is closer to this to answer.
  (Mr Barrow) In the present instance, that is right. It is on the civilian side that it is envisaged that this person would have delegated to them some initial capacity within the budgetary ceiling and with political and accountancy procedure being met as a norm. I think one important thing to remember about the CFSP budget itself is that for the EUPM's mission in Bosnia we are talking about it covering the common cost of the EUPM and that where we have seen in some way additional resources for many of the objectives of the CFSP budget—these include conflict resolution and conflict prevention—is through the cost line where the procedures fall on both civilian and military missions and operations. The Member States are offering assets and bearing the costs of those as they contribute to objectives which are the sort of objectives which the quite limited CFSP budget is there for. The CFSP budget is a small aspect of what we do in pursuit of those broad objectives.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  38. If you look at the total cost for the CFSP, part of it comes from Member States, we do not need to argue about that, that is clear enough, but in reality some of it comes—it may not be so labelled—from the Community budget because there are associated elements which are important for the Common Foreign Policy. Can I be clear that the idea is that the High Representative or his successor would have a bigger degree of autonomy in drawing on the Community budget? I have to say I am in favour of that myself because I can envisage situations in which it could be a bit difficult because of the European Parliament or for other reasons. Is that what is envisaged, that it would be easier for him to draw something from the Community budget within obvious limits?
  (Mr Ricketts) I think what is proposed here, Lord Williamson, is a small addition to the pot of money in the CFSP budget that the High Representative can deploy in urgent situations. I think tapping the Community budget, the proposal is not here that he should be given delegated authority to tap into the Community budget, that I think is achieved more by the sort of issues we were discussing earlier, his chairing the GAERC, for example, or his having some double hatted function involving sitting in the Commission. That is where I think we would try to get at access to the Community funding. This proposal is simply to give him his own resources under his own control at a slightly higher level.

  39. In reality, I think, drawing on the Community budget, not on his own line but what I call the traditional Community lines, would probably be a lot more important if you look ahead five or ten years. It is quite an important point that he should have better access to that.
  (Mr Ricketts) I can absolutely see that. I can see the level of resistance which would probably be encountered from the Commission as well.

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