Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 208-219)

Mr Alain Kundycki, Mr Frank De Wispelaere, Mr Michel Lastschenko, Mr Jan Mutton and Mr Michel Tilemans

21 MARCH 2006

  Q208Chairman: Good morning, gentlemen.

  Mr Kundycki: Good morning. It is a privilege for us to meet with you and to have the opportunity to talk about the African strategy of the European Union. For Belgium this is a very important matter. We consider it as a priority for us. We have received a list of very good questions, which we have already dealt with here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so that we can have a very effective exchange of views. To start with, I would like to introduce the members of our delegation. To my left is Mr Frank De Wispelaere. He is a Councillor and Director of Multilateral Co-operation and Co-operation of the European Union at the Directorate General of Development Co-operation. Mr Michel Lastschenko is Deputy Chief of Staff of the Minister of Development Co-operation. To my right, Ambassador Jan Mutton is Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Great Lakes Region. Mr Michel Tilemans is our European Correspondent, in charge at the Ministry of all that has to do with, among other things, EU policy and CFSP and ESDP matters at the EU. You know that I am Alain Kundycki, and I am the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. By way of a short introduction, I will give you a few ideas of how we see the European strategy towards Africa from a Belgian point of view. We think that, thanks to this strategy, we can achieve more effectiveness through a harmonised, complementary and co-ordinated approach in defining the objectives of our relationship—in particular as far as development is concerned—with Africa, as well as defining the programmes and the objectives of carrying out the programmes. It enables us to have a coherent approach toward development and helps us to streamline the individual Member States' efforts, thanks to a joint approach. Also, it allows us to have more capacity by the pooling of resources in order to tackle very large projects, in particular related to infrastructures that are beyond individual Member States' possibilities. We think that, through this African strategy of the European Union, the European Union can achieve a larger impact and influence of the EU of our ideas and views, compared to what individual Member States would be able to do—and this in relation with other major donors. Also, a joint approach by the European Union in terms of development fosters integration on the African continent, in particular encouraging the African Union integration efforts and the integrated approach by African countries in responding to the local and continental challenges that they face. The principles are those that you know. There is a definite linkage between the political, like peace, security, democracy, rule of law, human rights and governance issues, with the economic, like fair trade, opening of markets, a free social economy, and regional economic integration and development. This is nothing new. This was also the approach that was presented in September, at the Millennium Summit at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. The principles to which we totally adhere are the African ownership and partnership with the international donors, and mutual accountability. Very shortly, a couple of priorities that are particularly important for our Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am sure that Ambassador Lastschenko will also elaborate on how the Minister of Development Co-operation sees it, and there is no contradiction at all. However, for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Karel De Gucht, there is a particular emphasis that he puts on good governance and state-building. We are conducting several actions, in particular in central Africa, in order to achieve progress in these fields. So this is by way of a short introduction.

  Q209  Chairman: May I thank you and your colleagues for agreeing to see us? The inquiry that we are carrying out, as you know, is into the EU Strategy for Africa. We are looking not so much at the content of the strategy but how it will be implemented. With Belgium's experience and involvement in Africa, it is very helpful for us to have the opportunity of talking to you. If we may, our questions will be addressed towards implementation. As you know, this evidence session is on the record. We will let you have a transcript, of course, before it is actually printed. An uncorrected transcript is put on the web straightaway. We have heard some evidence which suggests that there is not as much coherence as there should be between the activities of the Council, the Commission and the Member States to make the strategy work. Speaking as a Member State, how do you see the Commission and the Council working together on this strategy?

  Mr Kundycki: I will perhaps give a very short answer and then, if you agree, give the floor to my colleagues who have been directly involved in this. To define or to get to what this European Union African strategy is now, we have already had to insist that the Commission and the Council would work together. The Commission came with a first paper and an exercise was launched in September. Our feeling was that these two exercises, although dealing with the same issues, were conducted in parallel without enough interaction between the Council and the Commission. In the last months of 2005 we insisted, and we participated through various meetings in several bodies and entities, in order to have the Council and the Commission produce a common paper on this. This was not so easy. (Speaking to Lord Hannay of Chiswick) You have been a UK representative for a long time. I guess that these bodies live their own life, as in many international organisations, and it takes some effort to have them co-ordinate and work together. However, we certainly had the impression that we needed to push for these two to come together. The Belgian delegates in these various forums have been insisting on this being done. I would say that the paper we have now is a result, we think, of the efforts to have the Council and the Commission consolidate their efforts. What we have seen is that that does not come naturally. They have their own dynamic, I would say, and at times they have different views. So there may be a role for Member States who believe in a consolidated approach to force them to work together.

  Q210  Chairman: When you are talking about the paper we have now, you are talking about the strategy that was published at the end of the year? The strategy of the Council?

  Mr Kundycki: Yes. We saw various versions that obviously did not meet this concern, or this desire, that we had to have a document that was really the outcome of an effort where the Council and the Commission were in agreement.

  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: It strikes me that the problem—and I would like to hear your comments on this—becomes much more acute when you get to the implementation phase. What was being done in the run-up to December was to fuse two sets of words on paper, which you can always do but which it was very necessary to do. I applaud the approach you took to it, because the setback of the Constitutional Treaty means that what you might call the organic way of achieving a united approach is blocked for the moment. You therefore have to find a way that does not make use of those mechanisms, because they are not available immediately. When you come to the implementation phase, however, it seems to me that it is far more important, and likely to be far more problematic in fact, because then you are talking about people running programmes. Are they running them in a coherent and consistent way, or are they running them in a way which competes or cuts across each other and which does not support each other? That is what we are trying to get our minds round. It is how to achieve that unity of approach at the implementation phase, which it seems to us seems far more important than at the conceptual phase—which, as you say, has been rather successfully done.

  Q211  Lord Lea of Crondall: Could I also add a point in this equation? There is not only the problem of different actors; there is the problem of whether one has too many separate compartments of policy in the matrix. If one wants to see the relationship between governance, auditing and democracy, and the role of the EU in security questions, it is an even more complex jigsaw, is it not? Not only does one have to see how the actors can gel, but also how you get ownership on the African side, and how you make sure that the matrix is not just a lot of separate boxes to tick. It is even more complicated.

  Mr Kundycki: It is a very complex issue we are dealing with, so we should not take it for granted that we just say that we are going to have an African strategy and that everyone will agree around the table. Even we, as individual states, are dealing with a co-operation which needs to be comprehensive enough as to include peace and security as well as building hospitals or having health care. It is not easy. That is the experience we have as a Member State, and I am sure that it is true for you. I know that it is, because sometimes we participate in meetings where there are British representatives and you can see that there are different angles. This is normal. It is not easy to flesh out a strategy where every piece fits perfectly in place. It is even more difficult when we have 25 around the table. My answer to that—and then I will give the floor to my colleagues—is what do we have now? Is this satisfactory? I guess that all of us who have had experience in these countries can only have a lot of sympathy for countries which have a lack of capacity to deal with their own government affairs, having to deal with 25 EU Member States, plus the international financial institutions, plus the other donors. This would be unmanageable for countries like ours and it is what we, as the international community of donors, are imposing on them. One way or another, therefore, you have to streamline this. You have to come to a coherent approach where the beneficiary country has the lead. We have to help it to do that, to define how it sees its own development. If not, with the system we have now, each of us is dealing with these difficult issues separately and we just put the burden on these countries. I think that all of us have to accept that this is not satisfactory. I will now ask Michel and other colleagues to elaborate on the questions you have posed.

  Mr Tilemans: First and foremost this is the approach that we have adopted. That is important, in the sense that the approach of Belgium and the other Member States has been and will continue to be an approach common to the Commission, the Council, but also to the Member States. There are instruments that we have to use and we have to use them to the fullest extent possible. One of the basic things is this. You know that COREPER is the organ in the EU which is charged with an overall and horizontal view. We have requested a tool to enable COREPER to have this horizontal view and we have received it to a large extent, from the different actors within the European Union the Commission and the Council, through the preparation of this matrix that you are talking about. Yes, it is a complicated exercise, but it is a basic analytical tool that we have to use. Starting with this tool, we can then go to the next step, which for us is very important: a schedule. That is to say, first and foremost to know exactly who is doing what in the European Union in terms of the implementation of the strategy, and when the work of the different bodies and institutions will be delivered; then to have a complete overview of what the different working groups, institutions and entities have produced; submit it to COREPER; and then to have this agreed at a high level, at the level of Ministers. You also know that, during the negotiations and discussions regarding the strategy, one Member State in particular obtained that we would review the strategy only every two years. That was a bit of a disappointment for us, because we believe that the strategy should be reviewed every year. An evaluation of the strategy and its implementation should be done every 12 months. That said, to compensate for the lack of evaluation on a yearly basis, we believe that we can implement it systematically with the schedule and a time line. That is on the bureaucratic side. Globally speaking, first and foremost the strategy, as it was produced by the Council, the Secretariat and the Presidency—the UK Presidency at the time—is basically an action plan. Already it saves a little time in knowing exactly how it will be implemented because, when you read the strategy, it is a form of action plan in itself. We commit to do a number of things per chapter and per pillar of activities of the European Union. Simply put, it comes down to seeing that action is put behind the words. Our understanding is that, with a strategy that is also an action plan, we can achieve that. The other point I want to make is that we are talking a lot about the Commission and the Secretariat of the Council. There is a very important issue, however, which is the political will of Member States individually—of all Member States individually—to play the game, and to implement the strategy by putting political weight to it. This is far less evident than it seems. It is not because the strategy has been adopted that one will discover in the coming months that everybody is fully on board. What we would like to see is that not only the Commission, not only the Council Secretariat, but also the Member States collectivise their efforts: be it in CFSP matters, development matters, contributions, or the general approach that they take in order to get a coherent answer. Experience tells us that in the European Union the political will of Member States is sometimes a key for advancing programmes and strategies of the European Union.

  Mr Lastschenko: When we discussed those papers that led to the strategy—as you know, there were several papers and very difficult negotiations between Member States and the Commission—although at the end of the day we came to a common paper, one could see that there were countries which were not at all sympathetic with the Commission having a leading role, or for the EU to appear as one body with one strategy. Some countries, for their own reasons, decided that either the strategy should be a kind of implementation paper of their own policy, or they were very reluctant to give to the Commission any new role. For instance, we have just raised the issue of democracy and good governance, which are of course crucial elements of any policy in the world. They want to limit the Commission to infrastructure, building roads, and suchlike; that was the role of the Commission, and not the more "sexy" items such as democracy, and so on. As Michel Tilemans has said, the difficulties we faced in drafting that paper were the difficulties of a different approach to the EU as such in general, and the political will to come to a paper which was implementable in a certain way. Now that we are in the implementation phase, or at the beginning, I think that we will again have the same difficulties, probably with the same Member States, on the very idea that we could do things together. Some countries believe that they do it better alone and sometimes that is true, but I think that this is the real issue.

  Q212  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: By "countries" you mean Britain and France?

  Mr Lastschenko: Not necessarily. Certainly Britain and France have and always have had an African policy; but on the general issue of the Commission having a special role in development policy, for instance, you see that the Scandinavian countries or the Netherlands do not want to surrender a part of their responsibility to something which would be more collective.

  Q213  Lord Lea of Crondall: We have read that countries such as you have mentioned—Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK—are concerned about the Commission having ownership of a common response strategy over development. Is this the same debate as the one on how to make progress on commitments in negotiations with the African Union on the matrix, or is that a different debate?

  Mr Lastschenko: I think that it is perhaps a different debate. The debate was more an institutional debate, disguised under the issue of development.

  Q214  Lord Lea of Crondall: Presumably there is a debate about how the European Council of Ministers can work. We know that on the defence side the French minister said that perhaps Paris, London and Brussels should have a dotted-line relationship in leading the EU. I do not know whether "Brussels" means the EU, Belgium, or both, but that is what she said. That clearly has some merit, in the sense that there are some countries which will see it as a big concession to put their African responsibilities and history into a European pot to some extent; but that is different from some of the other countries of Europe. Is that not realism?

  Mr Lastschenko: Yes, maybe.

  Mr Kundycki: These countries, and Belgium also, have had some experience and expertise in Africa. We are certainly willing to put that experience and expertise on the table; not to try to direct everyone, to steer it by ourselves, but to share it with others. We realise that, if we want to be effective, we need to do it with other Member States, with other donors—not just Europeans.

  Q215  Chairman: This brings us on to implementation of the strategy itself. In a sense we have been talking about the strategy, how we got there, and some of the difficulties. We now know that the Austrian Presidency is preparing a road map, as it has been described, which as we understand it will set out some of the steps to be taken in implementation for a number of years. I think that this effectively brings us to the question of the African Union: what you can tell us about the African Union, its involvement in that; how you see the capacity of the African Union to cope and to deliver. Indeed, in terms of the EU preparing these steps for implementation, together with the AU—if that is in fact what is going on—how much are they drawing on the expertise of Member States such as yours and ours in that preparation?

  Mr Kundycki: I think that, although through this strategy we would like to consolidate the integration of the African continent, we have to be very aware that it would be a mistake to think that the African Union is something which is comparable in all aspects to the European Union. Certainly there is an imbalance there. We hope through the strategy to help the African Union become a more capable and stronger organisation than it is now. So it is certainly something we have to take into account and not think that we have two partners that are equally developed.

  Lord Lea of Crondall: The Austrian Presidency told us something which we did not know, namely that, in building up a matrix, the African Union has made inputs, not only in response to what happened in December but had already been putting things on the table. It is not just transferring ownership to Africa of a European strategy; it has elements of an African strategy which is also two-way. Would you comment on that: that it is not just us exporting a European strategy?

  Q216  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Before we go on to that, it seems to me that this is a very tricky area where a certain amount of caution—which I welcome your expressing too—is needed. Of course the people in Addis and the African Union have an interest in using the strategy as an integrational instrument for themselves, just as the institutions of the European Union have often used external relations in the same sense. That is perfectly legitimate. We jut have to recognise it. A question that always comes to us is to what extent is the African Union actually able to deliver commitments that it writes down on paper, in a dialogue with the Commission and the Council for example. Is delivery feasible for them? This becomes very acute because, in the end, our policies will be delivered in 55 African countries, individual countries with different situations, different governance arrangements and different pluses and minuses to them. It seems to me that we cannot simply opt out totally of approaching Africa as 55 individual countries. We cannot give ourselves over to, "We're only going to deal with one entity, the African Union, and it's up to them to deliver the 55". Somehow or other we have to find a balance between those two policies, and it is very difficult to do. The EU institutions are likely to pull us towards a stronger involvement with the African Union than is probably quite realistic in the present state of its development. I do not know what you think about that.

  Mr Mutton: Perhaps I may come back shortly to the previous discussion. First of all, in terms of sharing bilateral policies and Community policy, I think that we are one of the foremost countries which has brought our bilateral policy in Africa to the European forefront. In our priority area in Africa, where we put on most of our programmes, central Africa, I think that we have been very prominent in bringing that into the EU fold. When you ask our opinion on this, therefore, we do not see any problem there in approaching Africa and its needs as much as possible in the European context. Secondly, as far as coherence in implementation is concerned, we must also understand that this is the beginning of a new strategy. The fact that we have the strategy is extremely important, and we are now at the beginning of this implementation. We have a number of instruments. We have COREPER; we have an Africa Working Group. In these first months of strategy, it is also finding what kind of co-operation is best. In the first couple of months we shall have to find the best way to materialise this coherence. From our point of view, for example, we are very active in the Africa Working Group. We feel that, through the Africa Working Group, we can have a regular discussion on implementation, coherence, and so on. We are discussing with the Austrian Presidency having the strategy planned and programmed on every agenda of the Africa Working Group, so that every month we know that the strategy will be on the agenda consistently and that every month, as the Africa Working Group, we can follow up on implementation. We can do the planning, the looking forward, and so on. Then, because the Africa Working Group under COPS and COREPER—COREPER is the overviewing body—from a Belgian point of view we intend to put all of our effort in there, to make this coherence work. However, in the first months of this strategy it will be a matter of working together to make it work, and to use the structure at our disposal. This is our initiative there: to have it officially as a regular topic on every agenda of the Africa Working Group. We shall comment on this at the next meeting, which is on 29 March. I requested the Austrian President to be able to take the lead on it, to introduce the subject. Then, in a co-ordinated manner with the Council, for members of the Commission present in the Group to work out how as Member States we can work to go forward in the coherence and implementation. Turning to the third point and the African Union, there also we shall have to see how we continue to implement on a country-by-country basis. There are also the regional organisations, which change from time to time. For example, I see that Rwanda and Burundi is joining, as of today or tomorrow, the East African Community. We also feel that, to find peace and stability in the Great Lakes Region in central Africa, there should be another body of regional co-operation. So the different partners will also change and develop on the ground. The African Union as such will therefore need capacity-building. We may have to see, as the implementation moves on, how that capacity has to be adjusted and, looking at the different levels in the African Union, where the African Union co-ordinates, where the regional organisations come in, and where the national programmes have to be developed. This will also have to be looked at in these first few months. We may reflect upon this, but it is probably a little premature now to have fairly firm views on exactly how it will work. It is a landmark strategy. It is still at the beginning for everyone, and we must make it work.

  Mr Tilemans: The fact is that, once again, the Commission has all the instruments it needs to implement the strategy with the Member States and the Secretariat of the Council. It would be a mistake to ignore the depth and richness of the instruments that are at the disposal of the European Union. Answering the question you have asked, the point is a very simple one. There is a dialogue and a connection between the European Union and the African Union. That is directly between Addis Ababa and Brussels. There are different ways and forms in which to carry on this dialogue. However, there is also the agreement of Cotonou, which allows the Commission and the Member States—because this is a mixed treaty—to have an individual targeting of each and every beneficiary country in Africa. You have multiple approaches possible, therefore, and that is where it is important to keep the coherence. In our view, however, the Commission is probably the best placed to survey that this coherence will be kept—because it is basically the main partner in these negotiations. I repeat: on the one hand, dialogue with the African Union and, on the other, implementation of the Cotonou Agreement on these different articles, enable Member States and the European Union institution to keep track of the commitments made on both sides.

  Mr Kundycki: To summarise, I think that these instruments allow us to have a consolidated approach. We have to encourage our African friends to do the same. We in Belgium, in three countries of central Africa, have been encouraging the revival of the CEPGL—Communauté Economique des Pays des Grands Lacs—which was born in the 1970s and worked well for three years. There are various very important topics of economic integration. We think that it is very important for Rwanda and Burundi, which are landlocked countries with no natural resources, that they can have a close economic relationship with Congo, which is a vast country with a lot of resources, a lot of land. We think that there is a complementary aspect possible. We also encourage them to look for other arrangements with other economic groupings. I think that we all have to do that, maybe with countries or regions where we have a particular privileged tie, to encourage them to work with their neighbours. Also in the strategy we have the economic partnership arrangements. Is that the correct wording in English?

  Q217  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: NEPAD?

  Mr Kundycki: No, the EPA, which encourages the African countries to integrate regional arrangements. Then special agreements—maybe it is economic partnership agreements—between these regional entities and the European Union; some special arrangements will be made in terms of trade and economic affairs. I think that we have to encourage the Africans to make the effort that we are making ourselves, knowing that they do not have the same history, the same expertise and experience. We will also, through the strategy, give them the capabilities to conduct this very complex exercise that we are now trying to do in Europe, knowing that it may be a little further behind.

  Q218  Lord Lea of Crondall: On Lord Hannay's point about the bridge not being able to carry the weight of the traffic that some people now think can go across the bridge, could you comment a little further about that? About the credibility of the African Union.

  Mr Kundycki: I am sorry, I am not sure that I understood the question.

  Lord Lea of Crondall: It is Lord Hannay's point, which I did not hear an answer to, which is very important for our report. It is all very well having all these ambitious matrices on paper but the African Union partner—with all the ambitions which in the next 20 or 50 years we may think are very reasonable and necessary—in the short term that vehicle cannot sensibly be expected to deliver enormously challenging and ambitious—

  Q219  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: In practical terms you can perhaps identify two different areas, one of which, dealing with the African Union as a unit, is almost certainly necessary and probably very effective. That is, the whole area of security and building up the African Union's capabilities, through their security council, to conduct peace operations, and so on. It would be useful for you to comment a bit on how you see the best way in which Europe can do that. However, there it does seem to me quite evident that they have already identified ways in which they can and do work together—in the Sudan or wherever it may be—and that we should encourage them to do more of that; and that their will to go on to do more of it is very strong. When you turn to the issue of governance, human rights and conditionality, it is quite different. Their will to do something exists largely on paper. In the case of, say, somewhere like Zimbabwe they have done absolutely nothing. A realistic assessment would probably be that they are not going to do anything very much either, unless things get even worse, which they could well do. There is no evidence really, apart from a very few straws in the wind like in Togo, that they have the will to get to grips with this. Therefore, if we try to run our policy on governance through the African Union, we may be very badly disappointed I would have thought. We may find that they say a lot of nice things and nothing actually happens. The same human rights abuses continue and the same leaders continue to get away with it. I give that as a rather crude contrast between two different major areas of the strategy which will present different problems of implementation, in terms of whom you use to implement.

  Mr Kundycki: First of all, I think that we are talking about ownership. We generally believe that there has to be some ownership. The ownership means that it is their programme; it is their development. In a way, they have to be convinced that this is the way they should go about it and not leave it to some pseudo-democratically elected leaders to decide how this is done. We want to see some democracy in these countries. Then I think that automatically we will see that they will also have to be accountable to their own public opinion. Certainly in the exercise we are all conducting in Congo that is what we are doing. We hold the leaders of the transition accountable to the agreements that they have signed in Sun City with the help and the accompaniment of the international community. I think that can be taken as an example. They have agreed on these principles. We have to make sure that they implement them, not for us but because their own public opinion, their constituencies, expect them to do so. For good governance, NEPAD is now an African instrument that we support. I do not think that we are particularly satisfied with the way it is working. We believe that certainly some improvement can be made, especially in terms of implementation. The statements and declarations have been made, but maybe not enough result in something new. We have to look at this as a process, where you start from a given point that is not satisfactory and you want to go somewhere. You have to start doing it. You cannot expect that the conditions are already met at the beginning; we have to work on this. In the last 24 months, again thinking of Congo, when we first talked about good governance our minister in particular did it in a very blunt way. Some people said, "How is it possible? This is not diplomatic language: talking of good governance and saying, `You have to abide by good governance rules'." We have been insisting on this, not to be offensive towards the leaders but saying, "It is good. You have agreed to it; you have acknowledged it. Now let's put words into practice". CIAT (Comité International pour l'Accompagnement de la Transition) was very close to having an agreement in Congo, but a lack of enough co-ordination among the European Union members made the process derail. We were about to have a mechanism in Congo to be able to monitor good governance in various very important fields. I take this just as an example, good and bad; of good intentions where we were not able as an international community, in the European Union in this case, to implement. However, I think that could serve as an example of the kind of approach we have. We will also work with NEPAD. You cited the example of Togo. I think that Togo is a good example. I do not think that it would have happened 15 or 20 years ago. It would probably have been considered by the African leaders as being Togo's business and no one would have liked to comment on it. They did and they put on a lot of pressure. We have also seen it with Rwanda. At the end of 2004, after the Dar es Salaam conference, Kagamé signed the Declaration and the ink was not dry on the document stating that there would be no aggression towards neighbours when, a few days later, he sent in troops to the DRC, going after the ex-FAR and Interahamwe. There was also some international pressure among the Africans to say, "You cannot be seated as a very important person at the table and sign with us and then, a few days later, send your troops into Zaire, contradicting what you and all of us have agreed to". I think that Obasanjo intervened; at least, we spoke to him. We think that there is progress, therefore. We are not where we want to be, but we look at it as progress. Learning from experience, we will continue to help them be convinced that these are the principles and that they have to agree them; and not only agree to the principles but also agree to implement them, and that together we will look at how this is done.

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