Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 181 - 199)

THURSDAY 22 MARCH 2007

MR HUGUES MINGARELLI, MR PATRICK CHILD AND MR HANS DUYNHOUWER

  Q181  Chairman: We are extremely grateful to you for having found time to see us this afternoon. When we come and take evidence we normally take a transcript of it on the assumption that we can use it for evidence in our report to the House of Lords, but if at any stage during the discussions you felt there was some area of questioning where you might be able to speak to us more freely if we were not taking a formal record and wish to indicate that to us, the Committee would be quite ready to move into a more informal session.

  Mr Child: Welcome to the Commission and welcome to Brussels. I must firstly apologise very profoundly for the Commissioner's absence. She very much wanted to meet the Committee in person but unfortunately she has been preoccupied by the birthday celebrations of the great European project and therefore is in Vienna with the celebrations there, but she was very keen that we meet you and help the Committee with all your questions. Perhaps I could also briefly introduce the colleagues that I have brought: Hugues Mingarelli, who is the Director and Acting Deputy General in DG Relex responsible for the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and Hans Duynhouwer, who is the Head of Unit in EuropeAid who has also been working in Jerusalem heading up the TIM until quite recently and so can bring some very direct experience of that.

  Q182  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. What I would like to do, Mr Child, is to start with our questions but first do you have an initial statement that you would like to make?

  Mr Child: I could make a few introductory comments if that would help the Committee but equally if you prefer to—

  Q183  Chairman: You have seen our questions and I think they probably cover most of the issues which we would want to raise but if there was anything else, perhaps we could come back to it at the end. Given recent developments what steps you feel the European Union should now take in order to take the peace process forward?

  Mr Child: Perhaps I could answer the question in a slightly more general way. Clearly the European Union and the Commission have been working for many years in support of the peace process, both at a political level and through the economic and technical instruments and policies that we have been developing. We are a key participant in the Quartet which is the international community body which is looking after the political process. The European Union is probably the major donor historically for the Palestinians and I think that our work in this area is a good illustration of how the Community's various policy instruments can be used in an effective and operational way in support of a very challenging and often very delicate political agenda. I think it is also a good example of how the EU's various instruments and policies and institutions are able to articulate and co-ordinate with each other, notwithstanding the occasional challenges that we face in agreeing a fully consensual EU policy line on the various issues that we are dealing with. Coming more specifically to your question, I just want to mention three historical steps. Before the Hamas Government was elected I would say that the Community support for the Palestinian Authority was crucial and fundamental in keeping the Palestinian Authority alive and helping it to develop and keeping it as a potential interlocutor in the peace process, and that was an extremely important contribution Europe was able to make. Since the elections we have been working in an extremely difficult and complicated political context but I think that with the Temporary International Mechanism—about which I am sure we will want to hear more later—and indeed on which we have prepared some additional documentation which may be helpful to the Committee in your work—we have been able to bring assistance to the Palestinian people at a time when the political constraints of working with the government have been the ones with which you are clearly familiar. I think we are now at a very interesting and important moment with the formation of the National Unity Government. The visit of the Committee to Brussels now could not be timed better from that point of view. The Commissioner with Javier Solana and the Presidency participated in a discussion among the Quartet earlier in the week. You will have seen the statement of that exchange and there were further discussions at the meeting that the Troika had with Secretary Rice in Washington earlier in the week on how we move forward. We are clearly now at a point where with the National Unity Government, although we have to be cautious, the conditions are coming into place where we can advance the contacts with the non-Hamas members of the National Unity Government and therefore reengage and think about the future direction of our assistance, returning to some of the capacity-building, institution-supporting measures that we have been engaged in in the past. We cannot go into a huge amount of detail with you, I suspect, today on the precise nature of what we will be able to do as events unfold but it is a moment of considerable opportunity which we have been preparing for for a little while and which we are certainly keen to take forward.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Lord Tomlinson?

  Q184  Lord Tomlinson: I gather from that that you are making advance contingency plans and I presume that these are to cover the possibility of renewed engagement with the Palestinian Authority if the circumstances permit. Can you give us some idea of what conditions you think are likely to be attached to that engagement and how far are your contingency plans advanced?

  Mr Mingarelli: The Quartet very clearly stated that the degree of our engagement with the new government and the modalities of this engagement will be dependent on the new Government meeting the three Quartet principles and that this new Government will be judged and assessed by its acts and results. This means that for the time being we have to watch very closely what is going on and on the basis of the first declaration and acts of the new Government, our political leaders will decide on the degree of engagement we can have with the new Government. There are several scenarios. The first scenario is we are allowed to go for full engagement with all ministers of the new Government. This is probably the most optimistic one and this could be done only if the three Quartet principles are met and the first acts by the Government indicate that the new Government is willing to help move towards the peace process. In this case we would have full engagement. This would mean that we could resume political contacts with all ministers. If we can resume political contacts with all ministers we will be in a position to resume traditional forms of assistance such as budgetary support through a single account managed by the finance minister and all forms of traditional assistance, funding of development programmes and projects. This is the first possibility. The second possibility is that we are allowed to go for selective engagement, namely to contact the ministers which belong to Fatah and those which are independent. Today this is the most likely scenario. In this case we would have to see how we could shape our delivery mechanisms as regards our assistance to make sure that all our funds are precisely targeted to those ministers we want to handle them. Under this scenario we would probably have to extend our Temporary Interim Mechanism (TIM) and we would have to look at whether we can bring some kind of technical assistance to those ministers that we are ready to handle. The last scenario would be we could not have any kind of contact with any minister because the first acts of the new Government lead us to think that that is the best way to proceed. In this case we would have to make sure that we continue to provide emergency assistance to the Palestinians so our contingency plans today are articulated around these three main scenarios.

  Q185  Lord Tomlinson: So do I summarise you correctly then that you have got flexibility in the way that you are preparing your contingency and that flexibility could visualise some selective engagement in circumstances less than the full recognition by the Unity Government of the Quartet principles?

  Mr Mingarelli: You are right, we would be in a position to deploy again some kind of assistance programme, were we allowed to go for a selective engagement, which means that we could have political contacts with non-Hamas ministers. Having said that, I am not absolutely sure that this is the best thing we could do because we would introduce a lot of distortions in the development pattern of Palestine but, once again, it may be that it is la moins pire des solutions. It is not the ideal solution.

  Q186  Chairman: Could I ask another question as to how it might not altogether be ideal. If in fact money is going primarily to Fatah ministries this also has something to do with the dynamics of Palestine politics because it looks, as before, that the European Union is biased in terms of one group of politicians within that and this may be counter-productive.

  Mr Mingarelli: Our purpose would certainly not be to strengthen any faction against any other faction. This is not the way that we approach the whole thing. Our aim is to back the democratic process and not to back "our" democrats; this is not our approach. Having said that, if we have independent or Fatah ministers in social ministries, let us say the education ministry, and we think that there is a need for us to do something to really improve the way that young Palestinians are trained and educated, it might be a pity not to use the opportunity we have to channel assistance through the ministry. The final recipient would not be the minister; the final recipient would be the young Palestinians. Assistance might be channelled through a Fatah minister but at the end of the day the final recipient for us should be the young Palestinians. Another aspect to which I would like to draw your attention is all of this is very preliminary thinking. It might be difficult to provide budgetary support to one single minister, the funds being fungible. You know perfectly well that you can provide funds to the health minister but at the end of the day this might fund activities under another minister, so it might be useful for us to reflect on other forms of assistance, for instance bringing in technical assistance where we provide experts or we transfer know-how, where we are sure about the final recipient. If you fund rural development programmes by extending seeds, fertilisers and rural credit to the farmers you know that you will not fund a minister but you will fund the farmers, so we will have to reflect on all of these things. Obviously a number of other parameters will have to be considered such as the security situation and our delivery capacity. We have many constraints around us when we are designing our assistance programmes.

  Q187  Lord Tomlinson: Having said all that you not being so doctrinally rigid in relation to the Quartet principles that you do not visualise circumstances in which aid could commence?

  Mr Mingarelli: We are not rigid people. We try to be pragmatic and provided we are given a margin for manoeuvre by our political masters we try to be imaginative.

  Q188  Lord Chidgey: Is it time to move on to the EU's role in the general sense. Mr Child, when you opened your comments you said that it is a very good time for us to be here because so many things were happening, which also meant it is a very bad time for us to be here because you are so busy, which we do appreciate!

  Mr Child: No, the Commissioner is out of the country!

  Q189  Lord Chidgey: — And the way you have set the scene for us brings us particularly to the question I want to ask you about the EU's role. Should the EU take on a more overtly political role in bringing the parties to the conflict back to the negotiating process? Can and should the EU play the role of an honest broker? You are inferring that we are almost there on that but I will come back to you on that. Finally, could the EU now take the lead by developing a staged plan of action with a defined end goal?

  Mr Child: I think that you are right, my answer is that the EU is already very politically active in this area. No subject is more frequently discussed at the monthly meetings of foreign ministers and it is probably the topic which European ministers and the institutions spend one of their most active and energetic amounts of time on. If what you mean by taking a more political role however is should the EU try to break away from the consensus in the international community and somehow pursue a distinct and autonomous policy outside the Quartet to do something different—

  Lord Chidgey: Can I take that point, if I may.

  Q190  Chairman: Just let us take this point.

  Mr Child: I was going to say that I do not think that is the way that we should go because I think that if you look at the overall political dynamics in the Middle East, the Quartet brings together the right group of actors. I am also very encouraged by the prospect which has now been agreed by the Quartet earlier this week to hold their next meeting in the region and also with the so-called Arab Quartet of leading countries in the region, who must inevitably play a part in the solution. So I think that my answer to the question is that we are playing a very active political role as the European Union, with the Commission playing its part in supporting that of course, and I am pleased that you are seeing Javier Solana tomorrow, who I am sure will be able to give you his own insights into all that, but I would not want there to be any confusion about the role being somehow distinct from the collective effort of the international community because I think the worst thing that could happen would be that the international community starts to split apart and then the future would be a lot less certain.

  Q191  Lord Chidgey: In our evidence we have taken already in various sessions, one of the things that struck has us is how people from the region have talked very strongly in terms of the importance of the United States and Israel, and to a degree Russia, but often they see the EU's role in the Quartet as the funding agency and providing funds to the Palestinians, which clearly we have heard again this morning. I just wondered when I asked you that question about the EU's overtly political role whether you in Brussels see this as a problem, that the role of the EU in the region is not seen as a key political broker but more of a funding agency to try and keep the thing together, in comparison with the role of the US in its relationship with Israel?

  Mr Child: I do not think that is entirely fair. Clearly we have been providing the lion's share of the financial assistance to the Palestinians recently which has been an extremely important contribution to the political dynamic of the region and that of course gives us a degree of leverage and legitimacy also over the political process. I just give you one encouraging example which is, I think, illustrative of the European contribution. There was a discussion in the Council of Ministers in the summer of last year on the Quartet principles and what we would be looking to see in the programme of a possible future, reshuffled Palestinian government would be the type of language that was used such as "respect", "committed", "reflected"—there are various words used—and the Council of Ministers here came down to a wording which was then subsequently picked up in the wording of the Quartet statement that immediately followed. I think that illustrates on what was an absolutely central question at the time what European contributions can be to those discussions, and the fact that the positions that the EU representatives in the Quartet take is backed by the full solidarity of the Member States of the European Union also gives us a strength and an authority in those discussions which is very useful. I recognise I did not answer the final part of your question about did we need to have an end goal, that sort of question. There I think I come back to the importance of the Roadmap which I am sure others have talked to you about, we are absolutely behind the Roadmap as a blueprint for the solution. It has the backing of the Quartet and there are no other miracle solutions out there and we need to work single-mindedly in support of that.

  Q192  Lord Lea of Crondall: Some of the Arab states implied to us that there is some asymmetry that needs to be corrected by a stronger role for the EU and their argument about asymmetry is that it is undoubtedly a fact that the United States has a special relationship with Israel, and indeed that is freely said. Do you think that we have now moved to, as you are implying indeed Mr Child, a degree of symmetry or 100% symmetry where no-one operates outside the framework of the Quartet, all traffic is via the Quartet, or do you think that we still need, if we are aiming at a picture of symmetry, to make sure that all the major players, and certainly the EU and the US, share in this concept of symmetry, so long as there is a balance, and it does not have to be the same modus operandi obviously, but the different modus operandi must somehow balance?

  Mr Child: Well, I am not quite sure what angle to come into this question. It is clearly something that we have been active on, as have others in the international community, including the Americans, to have very active contacts with not just the Palestinians themselves (who of course are a key partner in this) but also with the Arab states in the wider region. Mrs Ferrero-Waldner is frequently in contact with Mr Mussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, and we follow very closely the work of the Arab League in putting their suggestions forward and have been, I think, extremely supportive of the contributions that other Arab states have made to the process. The recent role that Saudi Arabia has played in bringing the parties together in the Mecca agreement and getting the National Unity Government in place is something that we also strongly welcome, including in the recent statement of the European Council, which you will have seen, and we are looking forward to the forthcoming submit of the Arab League which we hope will further provide an opportunity for the Arab states to give their political support and encouragement to the various actors in the process. I think it is too simplistic to get drawn into the dichotomy that the Americans look after Israel and the Europeans do not look after the Arabs enough. I think they are all active in all relationships and the fact that the international community is pulling in the same direction but with a lively debate with the actors within the international community—and maybe this is the answer you are looking to for your question—helps us to build the necessary consensus.

  Q193  Lord Crickhowell: Could I pick up a particular point on that. You began to touch on one point that I was going to come in with a supplementary on which is the relationship to what the Arabs are doing at this very moment. I hope that the Europeans take a very positive connect with that, but the question also deals with abiding by commitments, and we have heard several times of the financial contributions to the Palestinians but actually there have been very substantial contributions financially to Israel as well, and some views have been expressed to us that we should perhaps insist or make sure that that money is not being used on infrastructure and so on which is helping to block off the commercial and economic development in the area. Are we being as firm in ensuring that the Israelis abide by their commitments? We have talked a lot about Fatah and Hamas and so on as to how we can play that card. Is there an aspect of the relationship with Israel that ought to be considered?

  Mr Child: I think that in terms of financial assistance we really are not active in at all the same way with the Israelis and so the question of whether Community funding is being somehow misused or the conditions that we are applying to Community funding for Israel are different does not arise in the same way as with the Palestinians. I think it is important more generally—and maybe this is the more important question—that we are seen to be even-handed and clear in ensuring that the conditions that we apply to our partners in the region are being properly and even-handedly respected. However, the comparison between the conditions we are putting on the money for the Palestinians and for Israel does not really apply in that sense.

  Q194  Chairman: On the other hand, presumably the way in which we deal with issues like rules of origin and non-respect of the EU/Israel Association Agreement are ways in which our relationship with Israel could perhaps be re-examined?

  Mr Child: We have had a long-standing discussion with the Israeli authorities in the past about this whole question of rules of origin which, after much intense diplomatic effort including by Peter Mandelson as Trade Commissioner, was successful in overcoming some of the abuses as we perceived them of the agreement. The other aspect in which we are very strong and consistent in putting pressure on Israel is the problem of the blocked tax revenues which must ultimately be the only viable solution to the economic needs of the Palestinian Territories. The sort of assistance which we have been providing through the TIM, although vitally important at this difficult political time for the Palestinian population, is manifestly unsustainable over the long term. The only sustainable solution is for Israel to open up the flows of tax revenues which are legitimately due to the Palestinian people and territories for their economic activity.

  Q195  Chairman: And also presumably to open up the opportunities for people within Gaza and the West Bank to be able to export their products and to be able to trade and to build up their economy, which has been relatively restricted in recent months?

  Mr Child: Indeed.

  Q196  Chairman: Could I just go back before we go on to something you said about the Roadmap because although obviously the Roadmap has been at the centre of what a lot of people have been looking at, we did hear the American Secretary of State talk about some sort of new political horizons, and we have had people looking at the Arab initiative of 2002, and I wonder how those all come together and whether the Roadmap necessarily has quite such a centrality as it did at some time in the past?

  Mr Child: The Roadmap remains an extremely important element. The difficulty that we have had is that the concept of parallel movement by both sides on the tracks in the Roadmap never really got beyond first base and so the question, I suppose, today is in the search for a new political horizon are there new ideas, new ways of encouraging the parties to take the first steps on the road in the Roadmap towards what we all agree as being the goal of a two-state solution, a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

  Q197  Lord Crickhowell: The argument that has been put to us is that the trouble with the Roadmap is that if you have do not have this really very firm end view every time there is a minor episode along the way it is taken as an excuse for stopping and you cannot go any further. Somehow if you have got a very clear vision of what is coming at the end, you put on one side perhaps the episode, however unpleasant it may appear at the time, and try and come back to having got towards the real objective further down the road.

  Mr Child: But I think this is very much in the minds of the members of the Quartet. This is one of the central questions that we now need to begin to address, and certainly the scenario that you describe is very familiar and the setbacks that can arise have cluttered our way many times in the past, so it is something which we are encouraging reflection about. There are also the meetings that are taking place, we hope with ever greater frequency, between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas which may contribute even more than the ideas coming from the outside from the international community.

  Q198  Chairman: I wonder if we could move on to some of the institutional issues and indeed the issues of relations between different institutions within the Union but also relations between the Union and its Member States. One is concerned as to how far the Union does speak with one voice and in particular as a Committee we have looked previously in a report we did on Europe and the world last year at methods of trying to improve coherence and co-ordination of European Union policies and instruments. I think we would be very glad to hear about the mechanisms which are in place to ensure the co-ordination of the variety of European Union presences on the ground and in particular through things like the Governance Strategy Group and other ways the opportunities to bring together the work of the Union but also of its Member States who sometimes, we feel, may not be as well co-ordinated as they might be. I wonder if you could tell us something about this.

  Mr Mingarelli: Well, it is no secret that there is some difficulty for our Member States in coming to a common position on the most contentious issue in this area. This is a major handicap to the EU being a major actor, to come back to one of your earlier questions. Nevertheless, we have tried to develop and put in place a number of instruments in order to try to draw our Member States to a common position as often as possible. First of all, as you know, our foreign ministers discuss this issue every month and this is a way to really bring their views and opinions closer and closer. Then the EU appointed some years ago the EU Special Representative Marc Otte. This was an important role in helping the EU to speak with one voice. In addition to that, we have our delegations in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv who organise frequent co-ordination meetings with all our Member States to make sure that on the ground there is strong co-ordination. In addition to that there is the so-called EuroMed process where we have a number of meetings in different formats in various sectors where we meet and make sure that we exchange views and papers between Member States on most issues that we have to handle in the region. There are a lot of entities under which we try to co-ordinate our views at a technical level and at an expert level in order to narrow the differences at the political level, but it is true that there is still a long way to go in order to get a strong and firm and united EU position on the most contentious issues.

  Q199  Chairman: But even if there was agreement on the issues, when we are come to the provision of aid and capacity building and development of this sort, how far do we have satisfactory co-ordination between Member States' policies because the Member States spend a good deal of the money which comes from the European Union directly as distinct from money which is transferred.

  Mr Mingarelli: We have a number of co-ordination mechanisms. We have first of all the TIM, which has been a way to channel funds not only from the Community budget but from bilateral assistance as well. There is another liaison committee in Jerusalem which has been used as well to try to have an in-depth discussion on policies and strategies. Our delegation plays a role in co-ordinating the main donors. We have meetings organised under World Bank auspices in order to co-ordinate, so I do not think that the main problem as regards co-ordination comes when we speak about assistance; the main difficulties of co-ordination are political co-ordination, not assistance.


 
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