Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 115 - 119)



  Chairman: Professor Springborg and Dr Youngs, we are very pleased to see you both this morning. As you know, the Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the Middle East Peace Process and the role of the European Union, and we have a number of questions which we would like to put to you this morning.

  Q115  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: We want to know really what the objectives are of the EU's policy with regard to the Middle East Peace Process and how they are different from those of the United States.

  Dr Youngs: First of all, I think the EU can claim much credit for having influenced international debate by setting out very clearly its support for a two-state solution as far back as the Venice Declaration, and then in the Berlin Declaration, I think one can argue, in the sense that the EU position was one of the factors that influenced or pushed the US towards an acceptance of the two-state solution. Also key to the EU philosophy and EU objectives and something for which it can also claim credit was an understanding that a formal peace agreement at the political level would not be sufficient, but this needed to be underpinned by co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians at the civil society level, at the economic level and that the Peace Agreement needed to be embedded in the kind of regional, co-operative security framework of the type that had worked so well within Europe itself, so I think that was where the nuanced difference with United States policy came in. Supposedly, EU policy was not about direct security assistance or backing one leader over another, but it was about making sure that the Peace Agreement was embedded firmly within a regional framework of co-operation.

  Dr Springborg: Let me state at the outset that I see my presence as someone who has worked in Palestine on the ground and, to some extent, in Israel, having sort of viewed things from the bottom-up, whereas my colleague Richard Youngs is a top-down strategist, so I will carefully choose which questions I respond to or you would quickly discover I do not know as much as I claim to know, so I will keep off that question.

  Q116  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: That is slightly historical as to the influence that the EU has had in the past. How do they digress now or do they not, the American and EU policies?

  Dr Youngs: In terms of large principles, perhaps there is not so much digression. I think the difference is one more of nuance in terms of where the EU has put its emphasis. I think the EU's strong point has been to try and build up an on-the-ground presence, to try and build links between the Israelis and the Palestinians, to work on social, cultural and economic co-operation, and the basic philosophy that underlay the creation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership was that the EU in that way could provide a kind of secondary back-up to the high-level politics of Middle East diplomacy. I think that model has not worked well. I do not think that it was in itself a badly designed model, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the association agreements, but I do think the lesson of the last decade has been that that kind of focus on low politics, a kind of technocratic back-up to high-level diplomacy, can only work if it is conceived as part of a broader, political engagement which does at least enable some of the final settlement issues to be broached.

  Q117  Lord Crickhowell: I noticed that one of the papers that you produced is entitled, "Europe's Uncertain Pursuit of Middle East Reform" back in 2004. We have heard a lot of evidence about the unhappy state of the road map which has been described with various strong adjectives. The suggestion has been made very strongly by a number of witnesses that Europe is in a position, because of its massive trading relationship with Israel and elsewhere, because of economic factors and because it is seen as less perhaps biased and more neutral in its approach to the various parties, of being able to take a much more active and perhaps stronger role in trying to influence the political policies that you referred to. Do you think that is so and would you feel that Europe could, or should, take a really much more active political role in trying to get the whole process moving further on?

  Dr Youngs: I think there is no doubt that one of the shortcomings of EU policy has been that the EU has failed to use its economic leverage and its on-the-ground presence it has built up through various aid initiatives as a leverage to try and nudge progress on the bigger final settlement issues. I think we have to be realistic in terms of our expectations of what the EU can achieve at that political level on its own, but I do think it should be using its on-the-ground presence to have a more positive impact at the political level. It is often pointed out that the road map itself was essentially a European creation, a mixture of Danish and German ideas, and that, when that road map was being drawn up, the UK itself was trying to use its influence to encourage a more proactive and balanced engagement from the Bush Administration. Therefore, there has been some political-level engagement, but I think in general the EU has been too willing to accept that its role is to build up this incremental, on-the-ground presence as a support for progress at the political level and has not really made the link between its low politics presence and progress at the political level. Obviously the EU cannot seek to play a high political role in opposition to the main diplomatic players in the conflict, but I do think that it could at least begin to put forward some ideas of how one can build on the valuable aspects of the road map to try and complement the incremental or sequential approach of the road map with a situation where one can broach, and talk about, final settlement issues. I do think the area where the EU perhaps has the most credibility, the most leverage, has been on the issue of Palestinian institutional reform. I think this is where the EU had begun to make some headway and had begun to play a relatively lead role and exerts an influence over issues which are of day-to-day relevance to Palestinian citizens. I think one of the big disappointments of events over the last year is that it is precisely this institutional reform agenda that has suffered most from the boycott imposed last year and I think the EU has thrown away a lot of the leverage that it had begun to build up, so, if we are now about to enter into a new situation with the formation of the Unity Government, I would argue that this is one of the priority areas where the EU should look for ways to try and re-engage with the new Government.

  Q118  Lord Tomlinson: If I can move on to the second question, but pick up one or two of the points you have just raised, if the EU are going to engage with the new Unity Government, are you suggesting that that should be done unconditionally or are there any criticisms you would make of the conditions that the EU currently lay down for such participation? Going on to the main thrust of that second question, in terms of a coherent strategy for the European Union in relation to the Middle East Peace Process, I suppose it is quite frequently characterised that the EU are quite competent to pick up the bills and sign the cheques for the flanking measures, but what are the specific areas of political engagement that you think we are failing to make and could usefully make which would not engage us in a major falling-out of strategic policy with the United States itself?

  Dr Youngs: I would try to put the stress on the conditions that would help sustain peace over the longer term, and I think that is where you can add value politically to the plethora of initiatives afforded by other international actors.

  Q119  Lord Tomlinson: Yes, but that is in the long run. In the long run, we are all short. We have to get to peace before we can have all the measures to support the Peace Process, so are there political initiatives that we, as a result of our economic muscle in terms of the flanking measures, ought to be taking and are they in contradiction to any of the American initiatives?

  Dr Youngs: I am not sure they are necessarily in contradiction, but I think where the EU can add value is precisely through this institutional reform agenda. It is where it does have some history of success and I think the issue with the three conditions which were imposed on Hamas is not that they were unreasonable conditions in themselves, but the danger is that that chokes off the possibility of dialogue and co-operation on these longer-term reform issues in a way that actually militates against the prospects for peace over the longer term. The risk is that, through putting all the emphasis on these three other conditions, the focus is taken off concerns over issues of governance standards and accountability within the Occupied Territories that probably are of greater day-to-day concern to citizens. They are issues that, even in the short term, do feed into people's concerns, do generate instability and that feeds in in a negative way to the Peace Process, so I think it is important to retain the conditions, but to try to press for their fulfilment in a way that does not choke off the prospect of co-operating on this longer-term institutional reform agenda. In fact, I think that the desirability of moving back towards an engagement on those kinds of issues is recognised. There are many EU voices expressing the desirability of beginning work again on these reform issues and there is lots of talk about broadening out the Temporary International Mechanism, about reactivating security sector reform work through the TIM, of trying to use initiatives like twinning, like co-operation on regulatory issues, the kinds of issues and instruments that the EU has used with success in other parts of the world, in the Occupied Territories on the back of the Unity Government, and I think that is the kind of area where the EU should begin to work much more proactively.

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