Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 151)



  Q140  Lord Crickhowell: We have covered a great deal of which instruments have made the most significant contribution. We have dealt pretty thoroughly with what the EU can usefully do to assist in the reform and capacity building of the Palestinian Administration. Unless you both want to add anything on those points it does take us back to where we started. Is the EU addressing the roots of the problem and is there not a brokerage role of the more important political kind that could be used at this particular moment. Is there any addition to the points already made fairly extensively that you would like to add or have we covered it all?

  Dr Youngs: I would only add a very short observation. It is generally recognised that although we have argued that greater focus needs to be placed on the longer term issues, the temporary international mechanism has been a success in that it did co-ordinate Member State's funding in quite a quid ad hoc way. It contravened or circumvented some of the standard intra-EU bureaucracies and delays. It is being talked about as a possible model that could be extended to other conflict situations. Of course it is a sticking plaster on the problem and again, as we move forward to a new situation now, there is a need to broaden that mechanism but, at the same time, there are familiar concerns over the dependency on aid of the occupied territories and the need gradually to move back towards a situation where most of the help is focused on trying to help self-sustaining economic regeneration and a move away from the kind of short-term service provision.

  Q141  Lord Crickhowell: There cannot be any possibility of sustaining economic activity in a totally fragmented Palestine where the border crossings are impossible, people cannot travel from A to B, and where economic life is effectively interrupted at almost every point by the activities of Israel. Is there any possibility, unless you move on to a political settlement, for any kind of effective economic activity?

  Dr Youngs: No. It comes back to the point again of why it is so important for the EU to try and use the regional frameworks it has set up and operated for over a decade to try and gain some of that leverage and understand that a sustainable peace process has to be understood within a regional framework. One issue is the neighbourhood policy. There are new instruments available both at the bilateral level to try and provide inducements and incentives for neighbourhood partners to try and co-operate on those issues situated within the overarching framework of the Barcelona process, and the combination of those two sets of instruments should, in theory, give the EU greater leverage to try and address some of those shortcomings that we have talked about.

  Dr Springborg: Could I just add a comment on the economy. It is interesting that the Palestinian economy has become U-shaped, with a large number of firms constituted by one or two individuals and then large monopoly firms. The vital middle, the small and medium enterprise sector, which in most other Arab countries is growing and growing rapidly enough to begin to think about shrinking civil services because of the labour absorption capacity of this relatively vibrant middle part of the private sector, is completely missing in Palestine. This is a very good indicator of the problems that you are alluding to. The little firms cannot grow and the big ones are merely parasitic monopolies. What should be the emerging Palestinian private sector economy in the middle, which would be the basis for a sustainable state and presumably for the moderate attitudes that would make peacemaking much more acceptable and successful, is all missing. The closures, the interruptions, all the rest of it, have a very serious negative consequence for the Palestinian economy.

    As far as the broader question of what are the roots of the problem for the EU, it seems to me that the complete separation that exists between high policy and on the ground policy is one that is unnatural and counter-productive to the interests of the organisation. I witness it from the ground where development professionals who are engaged feel that the policy makers of the EU, or of the Member States of the EU, or of the United States for that matter, simply are not attending to what the consequences of these high policies are for what is nominally policy for state building. In the absence of any sort of serious connection between the requirements of state building, on the one hand, and diplomacy, on the other, then state building always comes off second best. The voice of those engaged in state building has been cut out of the United States' decision making, it has been cut out of EU decision making and it has been cut out of British decision making. One only pleads here for the responsiveness of the various countries and their decision makers involved to listen to their own people on the ground and the consequences that high policy has for the economy, for the polity and for the society. That voice does not get through even within government itself, to say nothing of the world beyond.

  Q142  Lord Anderson of Swansea: It is obviously difficult for external donors to encourage SMEs but do you think anything is being done on the ground in that respect?

  Dr Springborg: Very little is being done to help the economy now because the broader political setting is not conducive to it. I am not familiar with any particular activities going on with them at the present time. There could be but they have escaped my attention. What has happened is the World Bank supported a region-wide economic organisation headquartered in Cairo and its particular self-assumed mission has, for several years now, been to encourage appropriate policy frameworks for the emergence of SMEs. They have engaged with Palestinians, and so on, with what consequence I cannot tell you, but it is clearly an area where more work should be done.

  Q143  Lord Anderson of Swansea: I have been looking at the fertility rates in Gaza, on the West Bank, and comparing these with the Israeli Arabs, and the figures are pretty alarming in terms of Gaza, which I think would amount to a doubling of the population in 25 years. Obviously that would have an effect not only on the economy but on education, health and so on. Is there resistance among the Palestinians to any attempt to influence population policy?

  Dr Springborg: I am not aware of any active resistance. I recall some statements by Arafat to the effect not populate or perish and encouraging Palestinian women to have children.

  Q144  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Win by the wombs of our mothers.

  Dr Springborg: That sort of a general approach: any attempt to control us demographically is part of the conspiracy to deny us our land. The population growth rate in Gaza and elsewhere can be explained also in part by virtue of the poverty of the people living there. If we look at the other area of the Middle East that has had an extraordinarily high growth rate, Yemen, that is one of the poorest countries in the world. If the question is does one want to reduce the Palestinian birth rate, then the answer is two-fold: one, you need to have an appropriate development programme that creates the wealth that is an inducement for reduced family size; and, secondly, to divorce demography from land because it is now seen as a claim on sovereignty over territory. As long as that is the case, the Palestinians will presumably continue to populate at a high rate.

  Chairman: Can we try and keep to the European Union questions?

  Lord Anderson of Swansea: It is relevant in the sense that the European Union could have, if it were acceptable, some form of assistance on fertility rates and population growth.

  Q145  Chairman: We have begun to cover the questions in 10 and 11 on the impact of the occupation and on the TIM. Could we go on to a question on the EU's operational missions, the EU BAM Rafah and we have some reference to the COPPS. Would you like to say anything about the border resistance mission?

  Dr Youngs: The basic problem is one similar to the problem that has undermined the efficiency of the COPPS mission, namely that these kind of self-standing security missions are left rather vulnerable if they are not backed up by political engagement, if they are not linked into the kinds of carrots and sticks of the EU broader policies, like the Euro-Mediterranean partnership or the neighbourhood policy. The border mission, like COPPS, has been suspended; it is not operational. The co-ordination of Member States to nations was done rather quickly in an ad hoc way rather successfully but the mission never got to Rafah. When the crossing point was closed when the Israeli soldier was kidnapped, the EU could not do anything to prevent that even though its own security advisers were arguing that they could guarantee security. This practical on the ground presence and the potential of that on the ground presence ends up looking very divorced from the EU's overarching role.

  Q146  Chairman: We have had some references already to the problems and the lack of impact of the Euro-Med partnership recently but the European neighbourhood policy is being developed. I wonder whether in particular ways you can see it fulfilling a useful function in terms of the problems we have been discussing.

  Dr Youngs: Yes, I can. The neighbourhood policy offers real potential because it focuses on the bilateral level relations individually with the occupied territories and with the Israelis. Diplomats feel it can be used in a more agile way. It enables the EU to modulate responses, rewards, inducements in a more precise way. That is the case and that bilateral link through the neighbourhood action plans is something very positive and should be encouraged. Of course, at the same time that should not be developed to the detriment of the regional philosophy underlying the Barcelona process that again was one of the strong points of the EU's understanding that a peace process had to be embedded within a regional framework. In two ways the neighbourhood action plans could be important. I would think that if we do move forward to a situation where the EU can re-engage with a new unity government, putting on the table the prospect of a full implementation of the action plan with the Palestinian Authority that could provide real incentive and inducement both to Fatah and Hamas within that unity government. Second, more broadly, is the question of whether a neighbourhood action plan could provide the EU with the means of greater leverage over Israel. Since the action plan was signed in 2004 with Israel actually a lot has been going on in terms of technical preparations to bring Israel into a very large number of EU programmes on the environment, transport, energy, culture, research, education, a whole range of ideas for deepening co-operation with Israel. I think that ought to be intensified as a way of gaining leverage over the final settlement issues. Officials insist this does represent a step change in relations with Israel. They insist that because of the inducements on offer through the action plan Israel has begun to engage more positively again, for example addressing some human rights issues through a new informal EU Israeli human rights dialogue, but of course one still has some doubts over whether this neighbourhood action plan does really have the carrot to exert influence over Israel. Israel is not eligible for large amounts of EU funding under the new European neighbourhood partnership instrument; it only gets a very small amount of aid for regionally linked projects because of its high per capita GDP. There the EU's carrots pale in comparison to the direct military assistance provided by the United States. Also a crucial question is that so far there has not been much talk about specifically linking all these ways of bringing Israel into existing EU programmes to conditions relating to comprehensive peace negotiations. I think that is perhaps where the EU could develop its incipient neighbourhood policy. There are advances there. Some have advocated a more creative use of the principle of variable geometry, for example talking about offering the prospect of Israel aligning itself to CFSP positions. Of course, in the current circumstance that might be rather too ambitious but it opens the prospect of using the neighbourhood policy to gain some leverage over broader political issues.

  Q147  Lord Crickhowell: The role of the Commission in the Palestinian election Dr Springborg has already spoken of the failure to follow-up with the transition but is there any other comment you would like to make about the European Commission in the observation in the election in relation to the transition?

  Dr Springborg: It was an important role. The European Union brought a stamp of certification to those elections which was very important. Had the outcome of those elections been in serious doubt it would have had still more negative consequences than the actual ones of the Hamas victory itself. The European Union, with others, did a professional job in its observation. I think it was very important for opening up at least the possibility of a transition. The failure to support the transition is another matter, but the role of election monitoring, especially in this very sensitive case of those 2006 elections, was an important one and was done well.

  Dr Youngs: I would agree with that. The EU provided very valuable support to the Central Electoral Commission and that played a very influential role. The EU had already begun to play an influential role in electoral observation in the presidential elections at the beginning of 2005 where the EU Commission did make some quite pointed criticisms about Fatah manipulation of those elections. That helped set in train a process where the transition was possible. Of course the political decisions based on those criticisms over the conditions of the elections were not actually commensurate with those criticisms. While this might seem water under the bridge now, I think the lesson is that the EU's ambivalence over elections from the mid-1990s in the occupied territories was designed to keep the rise of Hamas at bay but, in fact, simply compounded the conditions for its ascendancy.

  Q148  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Clearly there are major constraints on people-to-people contact between Israelis and Palestinians. Occasionally we have visits of mothers from both sides who have lost children. There were some cultural and sporting developments. How significant are these? Are they worth supporting at EU level people to people?

  Dr Springborg: It is important to keep hope alive. I do not think the broader context at the present time is terribly conducive to significant gains from them, but our Institute as well supports such activities. We do so because we think it is important to keep threads of contact there, especially among young people. To expect those to translate into breakthroughs, either at the diplomatic level or at on-the-ground institutional level, would be expecting too much.

  Q149  Chairman: I wonder if, in conclusion, I could ask you a question which you have not been sent in advance but which does come out of our discussions. What do you think should be the key priorities for the European Union in its policy towards the Middle East peace process following the formation of the Government of National Unity?

  Dr Youngs: I come back to the point that I think it should try to re-engage with the broader institutional reform agenda. That is the area where the EU can add value, where it has considerable expertise from other regions and where it does have the instruments at least in place that it had begun to develop over the last decade under the rubric of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The one other area we have not talked about where the EU can add value is the broader regional framework, particularly in terms of relations with Iran where the EU has offered to oversee or sponsor a regional security framework. That is the right kind of idea. Obviously there are challenges there in relations with Iran at the moment as well and the need to pursue the nuclear file without depriving oxygen from the Iranian reformers who are just beginning to reappear. That broader regional framework also needs to be brought into the picture. In particular the EU needs to work on its relations with the GCC that are being pursued very, very slowly: 17 years of negotiations for a free trade area that still has not been agreed to some degree because of the EU protectionism that again undercuts its strategic influence. There as well the broader context needs to be understood.

  Dr Springborg: To reinforce what Richard said, the opportunity of the formation of a National Unity Government provides a rare occasion in which the two things that we have talked about, high and low policy, can be brought together. Both the acceptance of that government and then a certain amount of conditionality imposed on the basis of the expenditure of EU funds for the improvements of governance and state building, naturally go together in my mind. Sending the high level signal that we are willing to work with you and here is how we are going to do it to enhance the quality of government on the ground in Palestine is an opportunity that should not be lost.

  Q150  Lord Anderson of Swansea: It is probably fair to say that the Mecca agreement was a Saudi initiative rather than any wider organisational one. Obviously the EU would have little, if any, leverage over the OIC but on the other regional groupings, the Arab League and the GCC, do you see these having a sufficient relationship with the EU where the EU can encourage them to engage constructively and positively in the peace process?

  Dr Springborg: I do not think these multilateral organisations in the Middle East and beyond amount to terribly much. The Arabs themselves have allowed, and indeed encouraged, the Saudis to take the lead in this and they have done so. It would be counter-productive for the European Union, or any other external actor, to try to deflect the will, as it were, of the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours into trying to find other organisations that would be more suitable venues for diplomacy. If this is their choice for diplomacy, I would say good luck to them and we would be happy to fall in behind. After all, the EU and the US have excellent relations with Saudi Arabia so it is fortuitous that they are willing to take the lead in this area.

  Q151  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Your impression is that the countries in the region have given the leadership to the Saudis, and the other organisations, be it the GCC or the Arab League, are unlikely to play much of a role.

  Dr Springborg: Yes, very much so.

  Chairman: Dr Springborg and Dr Youngs, on behalf of the Committee can I say how very much we have appreciated your evidence this morning. You have provided us with a great deal of very useful information in advance of our visit to Brussels in two weeks time. Our questions in Brussels will be a great deal better as a result of what we have heard from you this morning. We are particularly grateful to Dr Youngs, who spends most of his time in Spain, for coming to our meeting today. We are also grateful to you, Professor Springborg, and thank you very much again on behalf of the Committee.

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