Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 216 - 219)



  Q216  Chairman: Ms HybáŠková, we are very grateful that you have come to meet this Committee. We are a Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee of the House of Lords and our Committee is charged with looking at the work of the European Union in the areas of CFSP, ESDP and development aid. As well as looking at the regular instruments we also carry out a certain number of special examinations of a particular problem and we decided that we would like to look at the question of the European Union and the Middle East, so we have been taking evidence in London from ambassadors from the countries concerned as well as from academics and we will be taking evidence from Lord Patten and also from the British minister with responsibility, and interestingly enough next week we are very fortunate because the Ambassador of Israel to the European Union, Dr Oded Eran, is coming to London to give evidence to our Committee. While we are in Brussels we have been seeing people in Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner's office—Patrick Child and Hugues Mingarelli—and then we will be seeing people in the Council Secretariat and Dr Solana tomorrow, so we are seeing quite a range of people. What we would like to do today is discuss with you how you see the political role of the European Union in the Middle East and then go on to ask you some questions on how you see specific aspects of European Union and Israel relations and then perhaps also something on how effective you feel the European Union's instruments have been in dealing with the particular problem in the West Bank and in Gaza. I wonder whether you would like to begin with your assessment of how you see the European Union's policy on the Middle East peace process really since the early 1990s and how you would describe the current approach of the European Union.

  Dr HybáŠková: First of all, allow me to start with a question since this is the first time I have had the honour and pleasure to be giving evidence to the House of Lords. Would you be so kind as to tell me exactly what is the position concerning the officiality of my name? Would my name officially be part of any of your report?

  Q217  Chairman: There are two bases on which we can proceed. We thought that as you were the Chairman of the Delegation for Relations with Israel in the European Parliament that it would be appropriate for us to ask to see you and we had hoped to see also your colleague who is Chairman of the Delegation for Relations with the Palestine Authority in the European Parliament. Unfortunately, it has not been possible for him to be with us today. We are taking note of what is being said at this meeting. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of that note and you can correct it if any mistakes have been made. Alternatively, if at any stage in our discussion you would prefer us to proceed informally so that a note was not being taken and you would prefer to move into that mode, we would be very happy to do it like that, whichever you are happiest with.

  Dr HybáŠková: Thank you very much. I am sorry for the need for clarification but I am not an experienced politician. I do not know how familiar you are with my CV but I only became a politician when I became a member of this house. I was a diplomat who served 15 years in the Czechoslovakian and then Czech Foreign Service. I represent a very tiny political party which is not a member of the Czech Parliament and I would like to stress that I do not represent any position of my country. I am also here as a member of the EPP, the People's Party but the sole member from the EPP, and so I would rather proceed as the Head of the Israeli Delegation to the European Parliament rather than necessarily representing any political views of my country or my political family here in this house. As a little addendum—I am from a new country and we are sharing new things with Europe and my knowledge of European structures and European systems is as it is since we are new members to Europe since 2004 so I kindly ask you for your understanding of my situation. What is my assessment of the EU role in the Middle East peace process? I think actually it has changed since the beginning of this new century. In the 1990s the Middle East was still kept as a little bit of a remnant of the Cold War with a quite gradual participation of the United States in the MEPP. I think the situation has changed dramatically first of all because of the change in the post Cold War process and then specifically due to US engagement in Iraq. There was kind of a vacuum which occurred in the MEPP which was filled by Europe, but I feel it is more like Europe is drawn to participate rather than it being European activity as such, so it is more that we follow certain tendencies rather than actively manage them. This is my first understanding. I think that actually the same holds true for Israel since the Israelis are discovering the fact that their relations with the United States, due to Iraq and other concerns in the region, are not what they used to be 10 years ago and they are more and more seeing Europe as a necessary partner for the future stability and prosperity of their country. I think that this means change. The role which Europe has to fill in the Middle East peace process is more open than it used to be, which does not necessarily mean that Europe is filling it fully. I think that there is room for better-structured, more effective and better-tailored EU policy towards the MEPP than we have now. I still think that we react rather than act. I still think that we have a more short-term than long-term understanding of the situation. I still do not think that the European Union—and I mean the Union as a set of institutions, and of course the Council and the Member States are part of it—has a good architectural understanding of all the interplay which happens these days in the Middle East, concerning Russia, concerning China, concerning the US, concerning the real possibilities for Europe, and concerning the region itself. I would call for first of all a better analytical understanding of the situation of the region and better-tailored architecture of our involvement, which means more experts on the Middle East than politicians. I would prefer to see it freer from political influences and better suited to the needs of both partners—the EU and the region. From my point of view it is still over-politicised and it lacks the architectural design and understanding and therefore it is still at a low level of effectiveness. Point two—and this is very much my personal judgment coming to the European Parliament—the MEPP is not just part of the Middle East or the Greater Middle East but the EuroMed or the Barcelona Process. I think that this is different from the US's "Greater" Middle East conception and I think the European conception is still very much Mediterranean-based. Here I think it historically comes back to very much a Socialist predominance and the very important role of the countries of the southern flank—Greece, Italy, Spain and France. I would rather see it more balanced with the newcomers', with southern countries' and with the northern countries' involvement and I do not think this is respected. From my point of view it has too much of a Socialist heritage in it and too much of a southern heritage in it. I am working on changing these politics, let us put it that way. Concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (which does not necessarily mean Israel/Arab conflict) I would say that it is not yet balanced and that we are much more on the side of the Palestinians than on the side of the Israelis. Here I speak not only as the head of the Israeli delegation but as somebody coming from a new part of Europe. We still feel that Israel is the occupying force and that is the main source of lack of stability and that is the main source of all the atrocities happening and if we suppressed Israeli intentions we would get more positive things from the Palestinians. That is not my reading of the EU position and I am critical of that. I personally would seek more balance and I do not think it is balanced at the moment. That does not mean that I am not for a viable Palestinian state. On the contrary, I took part in quite a lot of the negotiations around this and we definitely need to strengthen the Palestinians. I think that this is where the Israelis themselves make a mistake because they think that building the wall and having the rest behind the wall and throwing the keys across the wall is the solution, which it definitely is not. Europe has to work more with the Israelis and tell them that they should care more for the Palestinians and that does not necessarily mean only talking to the Palestinians and telling the Israelis "you do your own job". So this is the political framework. We have a problem here very clearly with Mr Solana because he is neither transparent nor accountable to the house. The current set-up of the EU CFSP is bizarre, having a Council which is the centre of Member States' decisions and having a Commission doing its everyday work and having us putting forward grand political ideas and then having Solana running here and there and doing things that are absolutely not representing new European countries nor the position of my political family in this house, so I am very critical here. Concerning our effectiveness, given the fact that we do not speak with a unified and united voice in the region, if we were less political we would be more able to come to the EU and say what is the professional access to the region and we would have more effective action there. Nevertheless as of yesterday, 20 March 2007, there was the last statement of the Quartet which I appreciate and I think it is quite a good thing that the statement is as it is. We welcome and we follow with deep interest the work of the Palestinian Unity Government. Nevertheless, we have be very clear and unified and tell the world about the recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist, which does not necessarily mean recognition of its current borders; non-violence, which means more than hudna, and respect. It is not only respect (because this is where we have concerns concerning the PLO) because for "respect" there is a word ihtiram in Arabic which exists in the Mecca proclamation but we needed the word iltizam which means "to be bound by", and this is a word we do not have yet, and according to my reading if Europe stands unified right now and speaks with one clear voice this will be of much more help to the Palestinians than if we say, "We would like you to have the National Unity Government because this will solve all the problems." It will not solve all the problems in my reading.

  Q218  Lord Lea of Crondall: Can I just pick up a point.

  Dr HybáŠková: I think I have covered the first few questions.

  Q219  Lord Lea of Crondall: If you glance at the questions which you are very heroically addressing without having seen them before, I think you have dealt with some of the questions in 1) and 2) but one part of the second question is relating to the role of the Quartet. I was particularly interested in your remark about the fact that you thought that many people—and please correct me if I misheard you—in Israel who had thought that they had a pretty good relationship which was sufficient for them, namely a relationship with the United States, that in this century for a number of reasons it has started to change. I would be interested if you can elaborate on that because it does relate to, as it were, the interface and the recognition that the EU has a role to play. We have had evidence from one or two Israelis along the lines that many people in Israel do not really want a strong role for the EU because it cuts against the role of the exclusive relationship between Israel and the United States.

  Dr HybáŠková: Thank you very much. This is my second opportunity today to answer the same question. I try to draw a distinction between the EU and Europe—Europe as a continent of citizens and states and the EU as a set of institutions, the Council, the EP and the Commission. I think that we have to be very careful. I cannot speak about Israeli public opinion even though I follow quite closely developments there, but I am very well aware that (and this is not what I was speaking about) EU/Israeli bilateral relations are coming so maybe Israeli bilateral relations will be part of the answer because it is one thing to have the hidden (or non-hidden fear) from the people like Solana, Ferrero-Waldner, Borrell or Pöttering and the symbols of the institutions participating politically in MEPP and another thing to have the broader Israeli public, commercial, technological, cultural and educational interests in Europe, and these are two different poles. Concerning the first one I think it goes hand in hand with what I said previously about my description of Mr Solana's work and let us say the political symbolism of the old-fashioned Socialist approach to the Mediterranean and Israel. This is of course where the Israeli public still perceive Europe as doing this kind of job and it is not very keen on the further involvement of Europe, but if you talk to security experts, if you talk even to people from Israeli NSC they are well aware of the need to collaborate and they want to collaborate with Europe. As an interlocutor there is one kind of co-operation which is part of a sub-committee to the political committee and that is the EU/Israel action plan and there is already a working group on what we call counter-terrorism. Four or five years ago no-one would have thought that we could have a common EU/Israeli counter-terrorism working group or committee or sub-committee. We have it now and it works perfectly. We were able to get rid of all political misunderstandings on what the basis for terrorism is and there is a debate on biometrics, there is a lot of technical debate, and a passenger data debate. It is extremely important that this goes ahead so that the security communities can talk to each other and can collaborate and can deliver. There is still a problem of understanding by the Israeli public and this is something where you can help us on and we all have to work on the Israeli media and on Israeli opinion makers to push them to understand better that the change has happened, and it really has happened.

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