Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 235-239)

Mr Elmar Brok

21 MARCH 2006

  Q235Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for taking time to see us. As you know, we are part of the House of Lords' European Union Select Committee, the sub-committee that deals with foreign affairs, defence and development. We are doing an inquiry into the European Union's Strategy for Africa. I should say that is the title of the report, but we are looking at the implementation of that strategy: how it will be implemented and who will be involved, rather than questioning the strategy itself. I know that my colleagues have a number of questions, but can I ask you one thing which has come to our attention in the day and a half that we have been here? That is, the difficulty in getting co-ordination between the various institutions, in particular the Council and the Commission—perhaps not the institution but the Member States—for implementing that. How do you see it? What is the Parliament's and your Committee's involvement in all this?

  Mr Brok: I think that this is one of the main problems. It is also the question for Parliament of what parliamentary scrutiny means. Even within the Commission you do not have a clear definition of responsibilities, and then you have the problem between Commission and Council, because it is partly Community matters and partly intergovernmental. Being human beings, if you have different people or different agencies responsible, after a time you find that there is more of a fight between yourselves as to who is the most beautiful than there is a good output. I think that you have that at every level, and here we see the real proof of that. Therefore the question of the Constitutional Treaty, with the double-hatted Foreign Minister, is so important, because he can bring both agencies together, has legitimacy from the Commission and also the Parliament, but also, via the Council, has the support and confidence of the Member States. He can lead it to one, streamlined policy. For example—and this relates to foreign policy as a whole but also towards Africa—if the Foreign Minister, as a member of the Commission, can use the Commission fully and everything to do with Third Country issues, has all the potential of the manpower and the money that is there, and at the same time has the confidence of the Member States as the higher representative, is also leading the Foreign Affairs Committee where he has the right to set the agenda, then he has a chance to develop positions from a common point of view and one which is not the lowest common denominator. Then the Member States and the Council, where it is an intergovernmental situation, can decide as they do now, but they have another type of proposal on the table. So the chance of coming to a one-voice policy is higher. It will not happen every time but it is higher, because the starting point for the discussion is a different one. That is the main concern, I think.

  Q236  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: We are probably all of a similar mind to you on that, namely that it would be a great deal better if the Constitutional Treaty were in force. This would have brought a number of very helpful synergies to bear. However, it is not. So what we are faced with is how to make recommendations relating to a strategy which the European Union adopted last December and which will be implemented for quite a considerable amount of time without the help of the Constitutional Treaty. However much we may agree with you, and we do I think—I personally do anyway—it does not much help in so far as offering recommendations for the here and now. Moreover, there is an element beyond the one you mention. You are quite right, of course: there is the purely Pillar 1 activity, which is the Commission European Development Fund and so on, and there is the intergovernmental, which is CFSP. Of course, in the case we are talking about—the strategy for Africa—there is an enormously important third element. It is the Member States' own bilateral programmes, whether they be of military assistance or of developmental assistance, and so on, which are not actually in either of the other two. I think that our initial feeling is that it is the lack of coherence between the Member State programmes and the other two bits rather than the lack of coherence between the first two bits which is the real problem.

  Mr Brok: Already the first problem is too much for me, but you have mentioned another one. I think that you must be much more open between the Member States—because what they conduct there is between them, under the auspices of the Council—to come to a really good division of labour. However, we cannot do that in an institutional sense, because we cannot take over Member States' rights in that respect; but I think that we could save a lot of money and have synergy effects if this co-ordination was done in a better way. Most of the questions when it comes to Africa are Pillar 1 questions. Here there must be closer co-operation between the Council and the development ministers, et cetera. That would meet the Lisbon Process: the benchmarking that everyone puts their proposals on the table and discusses it with the others. I know how difficult it is for national agencies to accept that!

  Q237  Chairman: Can you tell us a little about what role you see for the European Parliament in the implementation of this? I know you say it is only partly within your remit, but on its funding and what you can do, not just in the implementation but as a Parliament in terms of the dialogue between African—

  Mr Brok: If we come to the money question, we are in the middle of negotiations about a foreign policy development instrument—stability, pre-accession, and neighbourhood, I think. Here we fight for the rights of the Parliament. In development, until now we have co-decision rights. Because of the centralisation of the programmes, if the proposals are decided as they are proposed by the Commission, the Parliament will lose influence and therefore it is not acceptable to us. On the other hand, I believe that it is not up to the Parliament that we have influence on the details. This is a question for the administrative side. How can we find a balance, so that the Parliament has the budget decision and in principle decides the regulations, and has the possibility of control with clawback? Here we have major negotiations, not just with this instrument or especially with this instrument, the Parliament gets a clawback right. If in our scrutiny work we believe that in these programmes the Commission is going in the wrong direction in the use of this money, we must have the right to call the regulation back and change the regulation, and force the executive branch to do it in the way Parliament wishes. So the right weight of overall control decision, but not doing the administrative work. That balance has not yet been found here, because of decades of development in Member States between Parliament and the governments.

  Q238  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: What you are speaking about presumably does not apply to EDF money, does it?

  Mr Brok: No, there are the four instruments. There is the development instrument—

  Q239  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Yes. In so far as European Union money is concerned, it is pretty well all EDF money. It is money therefore for the 55 African countries, and also the Caribbean and the Pacific—but they are outside this.

  Mr Brok: Not only this. There is the development instrument that it is used for development countries, but not only that. To have a certain flexibility included—10 or 20 per cent of that might also be used for other, poorer countries which are not development countries, where something happens such as an earthquake or whatever. They have the possibility to act in a proper way. At lunchtime I had a conversation with Michel Magnier. He is preparing a report for President Barroso and President Schüssel for May about civil crisis management, from military involvement to catastrophes, and how to make it more effective. I think that could be quite a decisive report. Perhaps you should talk to him too.

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