Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



  Q1  Chairman: Mr Sawers and Mr Quarrey, thank you very much indeed for coming to see the Committee this morning. As you know, we are at the beginning of an inquiry on the European Union and the Middle East and we thought it would be a good idea to have witnesses from the FCO at the beginning to get an overall view of the British Government's position. We have, as you know, a number of questions which we would like to put to you, but I do not know whether you would like to make an initial statement before we start putting questions to you.

  Mr Sawers: Thank you, my Lord Chairman. I am John Sawers, the Political Director at the Foreign Office, and I advise the Foreign Secretary on the full range of political and security issues worldwide with particular emphasis on the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and so on. On the Middle East Peace Process, of course the last few years has been pretty discouraging with the developments that we have seen. We were hopeful that the disengagement policy from Gaza would be followed by further steps by both sides to create the conditions whereby the two-State solution, which the British Government along with other members of the European Union and many members of the international community support, would be able to be brought closer, but the political developments both in Palestine and Israel have made that more difficult. However, it is not entirely a bleak outlook. There have been a number of developments recently which have brought cause for greater optimism. There have been direct contacts between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. There has been some funding of the Palestinians from tax revenues that the Israelis collect. There has been a ceasefire from Gaza which has been broadly respected, although there are occasional rocket attacks still from northern Gaza into Israel; and the outbreak of fighting between Palestinian factions last week seems to have been brought to a close and, as with the ceasefire, we will see if that holds. Of course violence continues; there was the dreadful attack in Eilat on Monday which we utterly condemned. The outlook remains uncertain, but there is more of a willingness on the side of the two principal parties to work more closely together and we are particularly encouraged that the United States Administration has made a very significant commitment to working intensively over the next two years to try to make progress in the Middle East. Secretary Rice has said that they would like to achieve a two-State solution in the next two years and that determination is very welcome; it has been encouraged by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government as a whole. Therefore, whilst 2006 was a very difficult year for the Peace Process, there have been some recent signs of progress and the political aspects are coming closer together and we will want to build on that and encourage that.

  Q2  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. In that circumstance, do you feel that the Road Map still represents the best basis for progress or should the European Union now be directing its energies to moving towards negotiations on final-status issues?

  Mr Sawers: Well, I think the Road Map is a very important document; it is agreed to by both sides, it is supported by the Quartet, who represent the international community on this, and there is no advantage in setting it to one side as it contains some very important commitments that both sides have made. The time-line that was set out in the original Road Map of course has long been overtaken, but the commitments in there are important ones; for the Palestinian side to bring an end to violence and dismantle the terrorist structures, on the Israeli side to stop settlement building and to normalise life for Palestinians, and on the side of both of them the commitment to a two-State solution. I think what we will see is that the US-led political efforts will be looking not just at a methodical working-through of the Road Map as it is set out at the moment, but I think they will want at least to establish a sort of political horizon by talking about some of the difficult final-status issues, not pre-negotiating them, but setting more of a framework for the resolution of those difficult final-status issues as they go forward on the first stage of the Road Map, which is to bring an end to violence and to normalise Palestinian life as far as possible.

  Q3  Lord Anderson of Swansea: The Road Map 2003 was in very different political circumstances and the election of Hamas a year ago clearly put a question mark over the various steps. I notice that Solana in a recent interview said as follows: "It's time to enter final-status talks. It's time to enter a discussion of the end of the conflict. A crisis management approach to the Israeli-Palestine conflict is over; we need to enter the conflict-resolution stage and try to end the occupation of 1967". Do you wholly agree with that?

  Mr Sawers: I do not want to be tied to exact wording that Mr Solana has used, but he is an important player in this, representing the European Union, and he has been very deeply committed for a good number of years and has established good relations with both sides, so he is a significant player and what he says is important and weighty.

  Q4  Lord Anderson of Swansea: But that was not the question.

  Mr Sawers: Yes, I was just coming to the answer to your question. As I said to my Lord Chairman, I think all parties recognise that we are not going to be able to simply work through the Road Map stage by stage, but there is going to have to be some discussion of the difficult final-status issues, borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem, if the time-line that President Bush has set, and which we would all support, of early progress on resolving the Palestinian question is to be achieved. Now, whether that means we go straight into negotiation of the final-status issues, I think that might be a step too far at this stage. I think the conditions have to be created if those negotiations are to be successful, but certainly earlier discussion, building on some of the progress that was made in 2000 between the two sides, I think there is scope for doing that and it is something which I know the US Administration are willing to consider and engage in.

  Q5  Lord Anderson of Swansea: What are the serious prospects of making progress when the two principal leaders are weakened so politically? President Abbas is mightily weakened within the Palestinian territories and Olmert has introduced into his coalition the hard-liners, so there seems to me very little prospect of either of the two main leaders being able to make commitments which are serious and binding.

  Mr Sawers: I do not disagree with your analysis about the respective political strengths of the leaders that we are dealing with, both face domestic political difficulties and that is very apparent. But both are keen to find a way forward and see the prospect of progress towards a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question as being a way of building greater strength, if they can do it on terms acceptable to their own communities of course. I think progress in the second half of last year was held back by the political conditions that you describe, but I think, as the small steps that I have set out show, the ceasefire between Palestinians in northern Gaza and Israel and the greater co-operation between the two sides, there is a willingness of the two parties to work closely together, and the engagement of the United States on a level which frankly we have not seen for the previous six years, I think that is encouraging. It is always going to be extremely difficult to make progress on this, I do not want to raise expectations too high, but to have the political commitment of the US Administration, of the European Union and of the leaders of the two main parties is a very important starting point.

  Q6  Lord Anderson of Swansea: How do you respond to sceptics who say that the new US commitment, because, you will remember, after the Clinton experience the first years of the Bush Administration were wholly neglecting the Israel-Palestine conflict, is more to do with bringing on moderate Arab states, Jordan and Egypt, into a dialogue which might help the US elsewhere in relation to Iran and Iraq and less to do with the immediate conflict?

  Mr Sawers: No, I think the US Administration understand the centrality of the Palestinian question, I think more so as the years go by. Obviously in the last two years of a US Administration, the pressures on them change and the desire to be able to produce real, lasting change and progress is very real as well. I stick by what I said earlier, that I think that there is a prospect for making progress, although it will remain difficult, and all the factors that you describe, Lord Anderson, are indeed problems that have to be addressed.

  Q7  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: If I could follow on the line of questioning that Lord Anderson asked about the Road Map and the final-status issues, and I welcome very much what you said about the final-status issues being a part of what we are looking at now, but do you not think another reason or two reasons why that is desirable are, firstly, that it is very difficult to pursue sequential peace negotiations when there is such distrust about the final-status issues and when there is the feeling that any interim or preliminary step somehow prejudges the outcome of a final-status issue and, therefore, nobody accepts it until they know what is going to happen, and I have always thought personally that that is a drawback of the road map approach? Secondly, the road map approach is singularly vulnerable to the extremists because that is the sort of approach where it is easy for the whole thing just to grind to a halt because somebody blows somebody else up in Eilat or wherever it is, whereas surely what we need in the Middle East is what we finally got to in Northern Ireland which is a peace process which the parties to the process simply will not allow to be derailed by extremists outside the process using violence?

  Mr Sawers: I do agree, my Lord Chairman, with Lord Hannay's sentiments. I think the problem with the Road Map has been the burden of meeting the first phase before you can make progress towards a Palestinian State, and, as you rightly say, Lord Hannay, the opportunity for extremists to block it is very real. The readiness to look at the issues in the round to describe what the final outcome might be, I think, is an important movement on the political side. The engagement of the Palestinians in a process with one another, the Fatah and Hamas discussions, I think they are important, but we are not clear whether they are going to lead to a national unity government of any form in the near future and, if one is formed, we will obviously want it to accord to the Quartet principles which President Abbas himself is firmly signed up to. We do have to proceed, as you say, in a way in which every political leader and group is committed to the Peace Process and to dealing with the violence and countering terrorism. Prime Minister Rabin 12 years ago had a good expression where he talked about pursuing peace as if there were no terrorism and countering terrorism as if there were no peace negotiations, and that is the sort of approach which needs to be taken. The difficulty will come if there is a party in the Palestinian Government that has not renounced violence, if it remains committed to violence. That was the breakthrough in Northern Ireland, if I may pursue your analogy, that it was only when the leaders of the main political groups were all committed to peaceful negotiations and had all set aside violence as a tactic that we were able to make progress, and that is going to be equally important in the Middle East.

  Q8  Lord Lea of Crondall: Mr Sawers, without being too pedantic about it, we are inquiring into in effect the specific role of the EU.

  Mr Sawers: Yes.

  Q9  Lord Lea of Crondall: Constitutionally, we are bound to be within those parameters and obviously there is a question of interpretation of that, so all the way through we will be looking at the value added of the EU against the political background that you have described. Now, some people think the EU ought to do more, indeed the Jordanian Foreign Minister said in so many words recently that the EU ought to do more. In what sense can the EU, when the balance is to all the configurations which you have touched on, have its own priorities? Some people think that it should do because of the relations with the American approach, but where can European efforts have the greatest impact?

  Mr Sawers: I think a lot of progress has been made over the last several years, and my colleague Mr Quarrey may wish to add to what I say. The European Union has established a much broader relationship with Israel, for example, through the Association Agreement and through the European Neighbourhood Policy's activities, which has given more substance to that relationship, so the European Union is not only engaged in the Peace Process, it is engaged in a range of issues, thickening relations between Israel and the European Union, and I think that has been very beneficial and effected the debate on Europe's role both in Israel and in Europe. The European Union has also added value in some specific areas. We have given very substantial aid to the Palestinian side, a total of some 680 million euros was given last year, for example, a combination of European Member States and the European Commission, and that has been of central importance to addressing humanitarian issues on the Palestinian side and, in a difficult period, channelling funds to essential services in Palestine. The European Union has also engaged more in the security side, and this is quite a breakthrough in the last two years, with the two missions under the European Security and Defence Policy. The Rafah Crossing, which the European Union runs and manages, is a very difficult project and it is not 100% successful, but it is an important opportunity for Palestinians to move directly into Egypt and Egyptians to move directly into Palestine without passing through Israel, and it is policed and managed by the European Union with support on all sides. The second breakthrough on the security side is a project which is known as `EU COPPS', standing for the `Co-ordination Office for Palestinian Police Support', and that started as a British project several years ago. It has now been adopted by the European Union and expanded and this helps support the Palestinian police's own transformation plan in Palestine and it co-ordinates Member States' assistance to the Palestinian police. Therefore, in a number of areas we are making practical assistance.

  Q10  Lord Lea of Crondall: You are drawing a distinction, in other words, between the EU having a role giving practical assistance, but not having its own policy on what you might call the `border politics'?

  Mr Sawers: Well, Lord Lea, you interrupted me before I got to the last point. What I was doing was laying the basis of how the European Union has established very substantial relationships of trust and support with both the principal parties. The existence of the Quartet does give us a position whereby the European Union's voice is there alongside that of the UN, the United States and Russia, and I think also it is fair to say that the European Union represents the middle ground of the international community and that is an important issue. When there is a debate between various parties, between the Arab world, between Israel, the United States, Russia and so on, the European Union can act politically as a rallying point. We, 25 years or so ago, advocated an independent Palestinian State and that has now become international policy, which is longer than we would have liked. It was deeply controversial in 1981 when it was first announced, but it is now a commonplace and adopted by the United States as US policy. We have helped facilitate talks between the two sides, we have supported the Palestinians in their capacity to engage in these negotiations and I think all the developments that I have described have led to a greater degree of trust on the Israeli side as well as on the Palestinian side that the European Union has an important voice and has a role to play. In the personality of Javier Solana, we have an individual who has been very closely involved, has helped resolve specific obstacles and has helped set the international framework for discussion of the Palestinian question. Is the European Union role as great as that of the United States? Well, I do not think it is as great as that of the United States, I think that is some way off. The United States is an absolutely essential player in large part because of its relationship with Israel and the crucial role that Israel is going to play in determining whether there is peace or not, but I think the European Union role has grown, it could grow further, and it is now institutionalised as part of the Quartet and that is very important.

  Q11  Lord Crickhowell: I would like to follow on a bit from that line of questioning. Helpfully, we have in front of us, attached to another paper we have been considering this morning, the Explanatory Memorandum on the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, which sets out rather neatly where we are. For example, in paragraph 30 of that note, it says that, "The EU's special representative has been a key player in the EU's creative response to the political situation", and it then goes on to refer to some of things you were suggesting, the aid to the Palestinians, the EUPOL initiative and so on. I understand those initiatives, but, on reading it, I thought "creative response", what is that beyond these very specific, little initiatives? When you came to talk about representing the middle ground and the difference in the role of Europe from the United States, I was saying to myself, "Clearly, there is bound to be a difference because, by the nature of the States and the way their foreign policy is devised, the United States can take a clear initiative, decide on a policy and provide leadership". I am not at all clear, beyond taking useful, little steps which are helpful, how Europe, as it is formed, forms a policy, a "creative response", that can be more than fiddling on the sides, if I can put it like that, or how we actually represent the middle ground and reach a decision on policy that really makes a difference. I think this is at the heart of what this inquiry is all about, that we welcome the small and important steps that Europe has taken, but I am left wondering how Europe, as it is constructed at the moment, can, and does, form a policy that really makes a creative difference.

  Mr Sawers: My Lord Chairman, I am in danger of roaming beyond the brief of the Middle East, but I think there are examples elsewhere, if you will permit me, where the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy has progressively taken more responsibility and has had greater effect. The Balkans is one good example where Europe's commitment to bringing about peace and stability and better governance in the Balkans and the opportunity for these countries eventually to join the European Union has meant that the European Union is now, by some way, the most significant player in issues relating to the Balkans. When we had the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, it was the European Union that took the lead and the personality of Dr Solana and various Member States, Poland, Lithuania and some others, who were most active in supporting that very important change. There has been some slipping back in the Ukraine since, but it was a very important moment when the Orange Revolution succeeded and the outcome of the elections was upheld. In Iran, you have another example where the European Union has led international opinion through the mechanism of the European Union where three Member States, Britain, France and Germany, have taken the lead and where the United States has changed its policy, seeing the importance and value of the European Union approach. There is still a long way to go with Iran, but Europe remains the lead player in shaping international opinion and international policy, in part, because the United States, Russia and also China, each very important players, find it difficult to agree to one another's policy, but they can all support the European approach. They may not think it is perfect, but they can see that it represents a good approach for the international community as a whole, and that is what I was referring to as the `middle ground'. On the Middle East Peace Process, the European Union role is not as great as it is on these other areas, the Balkans, Ukraine and Iran, that I have cited, but it has, as I have said, created a framework whereby the whole international community now accepts, with the exception of one or two outlying countries like Iran, that there should be two states in the Middle East, an Israeli State and a Palestinian State, and it is based on European policy. Through periods where the United States has not paid as much attention to the issue as we would like, we have kept the flame burning for that two-State solution and supported people on both sides, both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, who were working to that goal. We do not have the same degree of influence or leverage over, for example, the Israelis or the Palestinians that we have over countries who are closer to Europe, but we can play an important, political role and we can play it by encouraging the United States to remain engaged, by feeding in ideas, by establishing good practice on the ground in terms of supporting the Palestinian Authority and in building up a relationship with Israel where Israel's economic, cultural and commercial interests are much more tied up with Europe than they are with the United States. I think Israelis recognise that and value that and it means that they respect the European Union approach perhaps more than was the case some years ago. I would not like to claim too much credit for the European Union policy specifically on the Middle East Peace Process, but, on the wider question of the development of CFSP, I think we have seen very important progress in the last 10 years. The development of a capacity to engage in security issues through the Security and Defence Policy is another important step and there are the two examples I cited to Lord Lea earlier which show that we can bring these capabilities to bear in the Middle East as well.

  Q12  Lord Crickhowell: My next question follows from that. You pointed to one of the very initiatives that have been taken elsewhere and how useful they have been. The paper that I referred to refers to the very important role of the EU Special Representative in all this. I suppose my question is, all right, the potential is there. We have done it elsewhere. Is it actually beginning or likely to happen and, if so, are we reaching a point where there is going to be a greater clarification of EU policy that is likely to lead to the kind of contribution that we have made in the other cases? Listening to you, I get the impression that there is potential; we could do it because we have done it elsewhere, but up to now it has still not happened. Do you think it is going to happen?

  Mr Sawers: I think it is unrealistic for us to aspire to have a greater role than the United States in bringing about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I think it is fair for us to aspire and right for us to aspire to a significant role in that process in support of the United States lead. Sometimes the European Union will work in tandem with the United States, sometimes Europe will take the lead, sometimes America will take the lead. It is government policy, often stated by the Prime Minister, that these are our essential alliances and where Europe and America work together we have a better chance of achieving progress but we cannot always assume that Europe is going to be better placed to take the lead and bring about the solution. On this particular question affecting Israel's vital interests, I think the role and the leadership of the United States is frankly indispensable.

  Q13  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: If I could follow up on this, it seems to me that you have made a very strong case for the Europeans, in Lord Crickhowell's words, trying to demonstrate a better grasp and better involvement than we have done hitherto in the big policy issues in the Middle East peace process, and you yourself gave the example of Lord Carrington's policy when he was in the chair on the two-State solution, which actually was a brilliant diplomatic manoeuvre in the sense that it shifted the whole debate substantially and it never slid back again. It could well be that Europe has a role to play, not in bringing about something revolutionary but in moving the debate forward, particularly on final status issues. Would you not think that this is all the more necessary if you are, as I am, somewhat more sceptical about the US staying power in what they have just announced as their determination to give a lot of emphasis to this. It is really very difficult to see this US President sitting in Camp David in September 2008 trying to negotiate in his last months in office a Middle East peace settlement. I am sorry to say my imagination does not run that far. If that is the case the greater likelihood is that the American effort will fade as the presidential election approaches, as the lame duck syndrome takes stronger root, et cetera, and that, which I would like you to comment on, is perhaps the period during which Europe will make a genuine contribution not to settle for peace, not in competition with the United States, but to move the whole argument forward on the ground which would be perhaps subsequently part of a settlement.

  Mr Sawers: I have three comments there. First, the precedents from previous US administrations show that the authority of the United States President remains powerful through to the end of the term and President Clinton actually came rather close to making a very important breakthrough on this issue in his last months as President. The present US administration, may not follow Clinton's lead necessarily, but equally they may make a greater commitment in their last two years on this issue than they have done in previous years. Secondly, I would say that even if they cannot actually achieve the goal of a two-State solution, the act of making a political effort is in itself important. The commitment to resolving this issue and direct regular engagement of senior members of the administration, like Secretary Rice, itself helps create an atmosphere in the Middle East where western interests collectively can be better managed, respecting the centrality of the Palestinian question to the interests of the people who live in the region, particularly in the Arab world. Thirdly, on whether the European Union can make a step forward, I can see, Lord Hannay, the direction which you are suggesting we take, that the European Union might somehow define or give more detail to where the final status issues might be resolved and make it easier for the parties to come to that. I do not exclude that. I think the disengagement of Gaza, for example, has helped give shape to some of the final status issues. For example, in Gaza the 1967 border was recognised. The settlements that were inside that border were withdrawn and the settlers were relocated. I do not think on the West Bank the 1967 border will be followed identically as there are three large settlement blocks which will almost certainly stay as part of Israel. It is possible that the European Union could take forward our expectation as to where the outcome of those final status issues should be, for example, once a border is agreed between Palestinian and Israeli leaders then the future for settlements which are inside that border should, one possibility would be, follow the Gaza model, and I think that is quite likely myself, speaking personally. Another question is the right of return of refugees. It is not realistic to think that the 1948 refugees are going to be able to return fully to the state of Israel. We could speculate about where that comes out. Maybe it would be useful for the European Union to elaborate that more clearly, but the two most difficult of the final status issues, the question of the borders and the question of Jerusalem, are matters where there needs to be further exploration by the United States and by the parties themselves as to where the solutions lie. On the borders there will have to be some compensation between the two sides if land which was Palestinian before 1967 is incorporated into the state of Israel. On the question of Jerusalem, President Clinton came up with an expression for dealing with the final status of Jerusalem: that which is Arab is Palestinian and that which is Jewish is Israeli. The situation around Jerusalem is extremely difficult. I do not think the European Union can easily wade in and define where the borders of Jerusalem should be. I think that would be a rather dangerous game to play, but there is the possibility for the European Union to engage itself on these final status issues and try and shape the debate, a bit like we did in 1981 as Lord Hannay describes.

  Q14  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Dealing with Hamas, some tried to draw an analogy between the need to deal with Hamas and dealing with the IRA, yet they have not been particularly helpful, I notice, and even the much acclaimed statement of Khaled Mish'al given from Damascus still said in effect, "But I will not deal with Israel in terms of recognising or admitting it", and following the latest atrocity in Eilat the Hamas leadership said it was "legitimate". Do you think that the three principles which have been the road block to dealing with Hamas, the recognition of Israel, the acceptance of previous commitments and the renunciation of violence, need to be modified in any way?

  Mr Sawers: No, I do not think they do need to be modified. I think the Quartet principles are very important and represent our values as well as our policy. I deplore what the leader of Hamas said about the bombing in Eilat and also his continued refusal to recognise the reality of the state of Israel. There have been continuing efforts to create a national unity government between the various parties in Palestine, but I do not think they are close to a conclusion. Fatah and President Abbas are clearly committed to the Quartet principles themselves and they know that the international community is not going to be able to co-operate and work with a Palestinian government that is not committed to renouncing violence, recognising Israel and upholding previous commitments, including the road map commitments. I am not sure, my Lord Chairman, quite what Lord Anderson is suggesting but we are not on the point of changing our policy on Hamas at this stage.

  Q15  Lord Anderson of Swansea: I can sum up that argument on the basis of the dealings with the IRA, a terrorist organisation, that progress can only be made if one somehow sets aside the Quartet principles and has negotiations, direct or indirect, to bring Hamas into the dialogue.

  Mr Quarrey: I wonder if I might add something, my Lord Chairman. It is our information that President Abbas has worked very hard and has come very close at least three times to forming a national unity government based on the Quartet's three principles and the Prime Minister was careful in signalling, when he was in the region in September, that the UK would engage with a government which was based on the Quartet's three principles. Every time President Abbas has been able to bring Hamas close to a deal in negotiation they have frustrated those negotiations, for example, by inserting a clause about only accepting agreements deemed to be in the Palestinian national interest, which would render meaningless the acceptance of the Quartet principles. We have been careful not to be absolutist about this but to try to assess the direction in which Hamas may be moving and I think President Abbas has made some genuine, and frankly heroic, efforts to move Hamas in that direction.

  Q16  Lord Anderson of Swansea: And the response to Eilat was totally unhelpful.

  Mr Quarrey: Exactly that.

  Q17  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Can I just ask one point about the three criteria? Two of them always seemed to me to be absolutely rock solid but the one about recognition seems to me to float in a rather dangerously vague area because recognition can either mean a technical international law recognition in which you recognise a state within certain borders or it can mean recognising that you are dealing with a reality. The second of those I suspect is what we are all trying to say Hamas have got to do, but, of course, by using the word "recognition" we imply that they are also being asked to do the first and that is what has given me some concern. I do not know whether this concern is at all shared. I am not suggesting you can change it because it is all written in stone.

  Mr Sawers: The word "recognition" does carry that ambiguity but Palestine is not yet a state and therefore it is not in a position to recognise other states. What we want is for Hamas to recognise the reality of the state of Israel and to remove from its lexicon its commitment to the destruction of the state of Israel, and that strikes me as a reasonable thing to ask of a negotiating partner.

  Mr Quarrey: Also, the fact of recognising and accepting agreements that the PLO had previously signed up to would de facto mean a recognition of Israel without Hamas perhaps having to say it publicly in terms. For example, if they were able to go that far we would have recognised that that showed that the direction of travel was the right one but we have not even got that far at this stage.

  Q18  Lord Boyce: I want to ask you something about what your experience is of the EU participating in the Quartet, and I think you have answered some of that in the question before last, but just on a practical level what is the working relationship between the officials of the Member States, the Solana/Rohan camp, and the Quartet? Is it listened to, or is the EU listened to? Does the EU, for example, get consulted or talked to before, say, the United States launches some initiative, or does it just go ahead and do it and the EU just has to catch up afterwards? I was interested that you said that we aspire to taking a significant or a leading role. Do you really see that aspiration being realised while the US has such a strong part?

  Mr Sawers: I hope I did not say we aspire to a lead role. I said we aspire to a significant role. I think the EU role in the Quartet is important because it builds the European Union into a structure of consultation within the international community. It is not just the meeting of Quartet Principals, such as the one that is taking place tomorrow where Secretary Rice and the UN Secretary-General and Minister Lavrov will be meeting, including with the European Union team of Solana and the Presidency. That is a very important step forward. Second is the infrastructure below that. The European Union has a Special Representative, Marc Otte, who works very closely on a daily basis with his counterparts in other members of the Quartet and in working on the ground. Thirdly, at the moment we have as EU Presidency the Germans who have more standing on this issue than most other Member States, and in many ways German policy towards the Middle East is extremely close to British policy, so we have an opportunity in the period ahead for particular influence from the European Union on US thinking, and I think the meeting between Chancellor Merkel and President Bush recently, where Chancellor Merkel talked at great length with President Bush and after which President Bush reiterated his commitment to the Quartet as the vehicle for taking forward international policy. These are signs of where the European Union can have traction. It is not always the same with every Presidency, of course not, but I think the combination of the German Presidency, the established role of Javier Solana and Marc Otte, the standing they have acquired with the parties and the Americans does give us influence. I go back to my earlier point to Lord Crickhowell. The European Union is not going to supplant or overtake the United States in playing the leading role on this but I think we are having increasing importance in shaping the debate. For example, in advance of Secretary Rice's recent visit to the region she was in regular contact with Javier Solana, in regular contact with the German Presidency, and she also talked to other foreign ministers—the British Foreign Minister, the French Foreign Minister and so on, about the approach she was going to take. I believe we have influence both at the level of US commitment and the detailed policies that they are pursuing and that would not have been the case without the European Union's role and our position in the Quartet.

  Q19  Lord Boyce: Your answer slightly worries me because it rather implies that while the Germans have the Presidency the EU will have traction. As soon as it is somebody else it may not necessarily have traction and therefore it washes away again, so this is really a bilateral Germany and the US rather than the EU and I suspect, from what you have just said, rather the former, and it depends who has the Presidency.

  Mr Sawers: Members of the Committee, my Lord Chairman, will know this better than I: who holds the position of the Presidency does have a role, but the European institutions, the Council Secretariat under Solana, the Commission, which has given very generous sums of money, institutionally have a role here which survives and continues whoever is in the Presidency. We have a particular opportunity now because of the renewed US commitment and because we have a very strong Presidency committed to policies which are frankly very close to our own national policies and which have been the basis for the EU policy over recent years. I think there is an opportunity there.

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