Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 234)



  Q220  Lord Lea of Crondall: That is very interesting, thank you very much.

  Dr HybáŠková: I would rather go on if I may on EU/Israeli bilateral relations because this will shed a little light—

  Chairman: Would you mind if we just put two more questions on the political role and then we will certainly move on to EU/Israel relations. We certainly would like to continue discussing them.

  Q221  Lord Crickhowell: Before I ask the question on the paper I was struck by your view that the structural relationship was wrong and you would like it to be more organisational and technical and less political, yet one of the criticisms which has been made is that basically the EU has concentrated on giving money and support and supervising elections but has not played a major political role and that it should be able to play a more important political role. The Middle East situation is nothing if not political. How can Europe really play a significant role if it is not political?

  Dr HybáŠková: I might be challenging that. If it is political in the way I see then it is okay. Otherwise being a Middle East expert—and I graduated from Cairo University and I spent part of my life there—I really would rather see less politics and more effectiveness based on real knowledge of the region and better-tailored politics.

  Q222  Lord Crickhowell: I was going to ask if Europe had a balanced role and can it play the role of an honest broker but you have already suggested that it has not got balance, so should the EU take a stronger stance on some issues and, if so, what should they be? What would you like them to do?

  Dr HybáŠková: What I would like Europe to do is—in a way, you are right and again this would be answered in EU/Israel because this is a specific example where we can see how technical things can be and how structured they can be. Speaking about the broader MEPP (and that means the Arab/Israeli conflict) and here I know that I step on a very hot—

  Lord Lea of Crondall: Potato?

  Lord Crickhowell: Coal?

  Q223  Chairman: Sensitive topic?

  Dr HybáŠková:—And this is a complicated construct but we from new Europe have the experience that viable and sustainable peace can be reached only when it is supported by democratic decisions. Only democratic states are able to come to having peaceful relations with their neighbours. This is my reading of the situation. You can have an autocratic regime which for certain reasons decides to have peaceful relations for 20 years with some entity because it gives certain advantage but genuine peaceful cohabitation and co-existence should be based on democratic support and capacities of populations. Therefore even though it is not fashionable nowadays—and I went through Iraq and I was in Basra and I think I have evidence to say what I say—I still think that democratisation is a prerequisite of sustainable, peaceful stability in the Middle East. Because we have—and I share the responsibility—mis-managed the situation in Iraq it does not allow us to say that it is better to have an autocratic 10 or 15-year settlement rather than going for democratisation because we cannot handle democratisation right now and therefore let us forget about it. What we would achieve is Mubarak's Egypt which would live in peaceful co-existence with Israel, and call it peace for the next 10 or 15 years. Maybe it is better than going for the democratisation of Egypt right now because this could really create a mess in the region, but I do not think that this is a matter of democratisation; this is more a matter of our inability to really support democratisation. This is really the question for me. So I think that where Europe can play a much better role is in first of all supporting educational systems, striving for presence in public space in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, going much more clearly to media space and teaching democracy and encouraging a slow democratisation process based on education of the civil population than on military activity. This is where I think we should play a much more vivid and clear role, and we do not do it. I disagree with the fact that two weeks ago we disbursed €628 million to Egypt as support for an action plan with Egypt because if you look at democratisation, human rights and soft security issues, it does not support European interests, so it was a gesture: "We need stability with you, we need to talk with you, so we will pay you more than half a billion euros," and I disagree. I disagree as well as the head of the Israeli delegation because if there is a key player now in the whole process it is Egypt and Egypt simply does not want anything related to Hamas to come because of obvious Muslim brotherhood relationships. According to all the information, I have Mr Solana is not playing his role in one way, he is playing a very dubious role, and Egypt is playing a very dubious role in what is called the Palestinian game, and this is really not what we should support. That is point one. Point two: promising the Golan Heights to Mr Bashar al-Assad is something which I cannot even comment on. Please, if you see Solana's people tomorrow give them our best regards from the European Parliament but we really were astonished. We organised here two months ago a public hearing on Syria, having gathered more than 100 people from all around on this particular issue. Syria is a very important piece of the cake, and we have to talk to the Syrians, we have to engage the Syrians, but in a very intelligent way. This is what I want to say: the way Solana engages Syria is only political and political in a way which is not based on any analytical thinking in my opinion. The same goes for Saudi Arabia now because Saudi Arabia due to the fact we have put Egypt on a shelf is becoming a very important player in the game and Europe is absolutely unable to do anything with Saudi Arabia in its role. I would even criticise the working and technical structure because I know that the EU mission in Riyadh only has four diplomats currently and in Nairobi we have about 100 staff members in the EU embassy and the EU mission. In Riyadh we have only four diplomats as the European Union, which is crazy. There is a set-up of different things which we can have in the region instead of flying in and making political visits and having photo opportunities with the leaders. I call for reality based on real assessment. Sorry!

  Q224  Lord Tomlinson: Before I ask the question I was going to you, can I pick up one question; you mentioned the round table on Syria. If you have produced a report on that round table, it might be very helpful if your secretariat could let ours have a copy of it. The last question on the broad political role—and I understand your impatience to get onto EU/Israel relations- you have emphasised the Quartet conditions for recognition and as a consequence of this there is the continuation of bypassing the Palestinian Unity Government and using the Temporary International Mechanism. Do you think that that will further weaken the Palestinian administration? Are we possibly moving towards a failed state situation in Palestine and, if so, what should we be doing to reverse that situation?

  Dr HybáŠková: Yesterday we had a hearing with representatives of the World Bank on how exactly the financial structure is shaped in Palestine and it was formidable because they have a kind of a structure which according to political need shifts finance from the ministry of finance to the presidential office and back to the ministry of finance and back to the presidential office. This is what you call bypassing because sometimes it goes to Mohammed Abbas's office and now it will go to Salam Fayyad's office but the rest has not changed.

  Q225  Lord Tomlinson: But it is actually bypassing the Palestinian Unity Government as such?

  Dr HybáŠková: My reading is that all that we have with Palestine is a PLO agreement and what we need, due to the particularity of the Oslo Process, is to strengthen the structure which is signed under our treaties, which is with the PLO. This is where I think Europe does not play any important role and a couple of us knowing the situation have tried to talk to Fatah people to ask them to give one more seat to Hamas. Hamas has the full right to be the leader in the PLO. It is not true that Hamas does not want to go to the steering committee or to the central committee of the PLO, they want to, but they want one more seat than they have been given and this is where the situation is complicated. So I think we should be more strict with them and say, "Guys, the old days are over and you have to open up the PLO to Hamas representation or better representation of the political parties of justice and reform." Once this is done then we can have this being bound by the agreements with the PLO and we can maybe get somewhere on stage two of the Roadmap, if this is the reading. So I do not think we are bypassing it because we are not obliged to support this entity. We support them on clear humanitarian need but the way it is said that we have to and we did something where we are not fulfilling our duties, I strongly disagree here. Speaking about the TIM and about administration and about a failed state, failed states is a phenomenon in the Middle East which I am very much afraid we have to learn how to deal with. We Europeans are very progressive in our thinking and for centuries we have seen history as development and therefore destructuring of states is something that is a totally grey area for us in our thinking. The Arab identity is gone and what we have is an Islamic identity and with Islamic identity we are really coming to the fact that law is only what allows Muslims to be good Muslims. That is out of this frame and it is irrelevant. It is not hostile but it is irrelevant. In a way, an independent state which is not a state of caliphate is simply irrelevant to the concept that law is what allows ummah to live like ummah. I think we have the same sort of situation in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia and in Palestine. I am very much afraid about how we can deal with this situation because we do not have the capacity building. We can talk about nation-building in Afghanistan, we can talk about nation-building in Somalia, but we do not know how to do it. This is one of the things where if you had the research capacity and made the effort to think about how to deal with failed Islamic entities where no-one wants to create the state and what our role in these extremely unfamiliar situations is, it would be really beneficial to all of us. This is where I see a role where we can support education or health care but it is not a structuralistic approach; what we do is crisis management, it is not a nation-building process, and this is the problem.

  Chairman: Can we move on to EU/Israel relations and I am going to ask Lord Chidgey to come in.

  Q226  Lord Chidgey: You have already given us some marvellous insights into the way the EU could be addressing this.

  Dr HybáŠková: Very much my own views.

  Q227  Lord Chidgey: Of course, that is understood and taken as read. I do not know where to start really but I want to pick up firstly in a formal way and ask you a little more about your views on the EU's short-termism and over-political role because we want you to summarise your view on how one would characterise the EU's dialogue and relations with Israel concerning the Middle East peace process. You have already mentioned that you feel there is a lack of balance but do you expect the European Neighbourhood policy to provide a basis for the EU to engage more intensively with Israel on the MEPP? I will ask a supplementary after that, if I may.

  Dr HybáŠková: Not directly but indirectly. This is something that I have tried to do from the very beginning when I came here. Direct political talks are I cannot say 100% blocked but they are blocked and dealings between Madame Waldner and Madame Livni—it is not really a successful story. It is also due to the situation in Israel and due to Olmert and Livni—and I am not blaming one side or the other side—and given previous set-ups between Israel and the EU, I think that it was quite a good thing to concentrate on the action plan because the action plan is a cookbook from A to Z, but you can pick up the moments when you really can go on and the Israeli decision to go to internal markets and the Israeli decision to slowly but surely go for harmonisation with acquis simply bring Israel closer to Europe. This is an enormously positive thing which can happen and happens with no politicians mentioning it really, so it is good that they do not mention it! For instance, the Israeli interest in having the same public procurement system as Europe, the fact that Israel wants more co-operation now in climate change, the environment and IT, and an Israeli presence in the Seventh Framework Programme, as well as a presence in the security priorities of the Seventh Framework Programme, which is an extremely important thing. These things can be done and are done. Israel made a mistake only recently at the last EU Association Council because they wanted to set up a reflection group on how far they can go politically in relations with Europe and this was not wise because they are better going from DG to DG and doing specific steps here and here and here and here, not preparing for full convergence with Europe but preparing their stock exchange for dealing with Europe. All these things can be done and there is enormous pressure from the Israeli business community on these matters and this is very, very, very useful thing and we have to use this pressure. There is enormous pressure from Israeli academics to have better relations with Europe because they all complain that the educational system is falling down to the European level. I am sorry to say that! With due respect to your country, it was more speaking about our systems in central Europe rather than your educational system! They are interested in all kinds of IT collaboration and co-operation, so I see a lot of fields where we can enhance and advance relations and the opportunity is here. The only block which I fear is that the EU now because of this preamble with Turkey is extremely sensitive to any enhancing of institutional co-operation and collaboration with anyone and therefore all the DGs which are being approached by the Israelis are saying, "Wait a moment, then the Turks and the Ukrainians and the Moroccans will come to us and we do not want them to come." I am involved in how to find a way where Israelis can get past this mental block of "My God, we are not having Morocco and the Ukraine in the same boat," and this is the problem.

  Q228  Lord Chidgey: This comes back to a point that you very interestingly made about democracy and the need for democracy before you can have peace in stable societies. Israel will say, "We are the only democracy in the region." You make a very interesting comparison with Turkey which of course is a secular Muslim democracy. You also made a very interesting analysis of the problem with democracy under an Islamist political regime, and that brings us back to North Africa and Algeria where they voted in favour of the Islamic Party which said the first thing we are going to do is abolish elections. Interesting! Can I just say this: must we accept that whilst democracy is per se the great goal to strive for in peace and stability in the world it is not relevant in the short to medium term in trying to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and Palestine?

  Dr HybáŠková: To be very candid here, I supported strongly the Iraqi operation and I did it not because of WMDs, even though I said that no-one could seriously exclude them the day before operations started, but because of my belief in the necessity for the democratisation of Iraq. I participated in what was called the Nasiriyah Conference and Baghdad Conference, which was the first gathering of Iraqis. There used to be an Iraqi National Council and there should have been a conference of the Iraqi National Council and for certain reasons it did not go as we thought and then the first pan-Iraqi conference happened in Nasiriyah in March/April 2003. All Iraqis gathered there and more than half of them were obviously of religious origin and the Westerners, including your people, our people and US people when they saw that half of them were imams or mosque guys they got scared and this is where the difficulties started. I am not sure but my feeling now is inclining to come to the point that for so many years we did not act in the public space. The only public space we have kept in the Middle East is that which is occupied by mosques and the only natural leaders will be imams because for 20 years they were the only ones who had the ability to command.

  Q229  Lord Chidgey: That brings me to my final question.

  Dr HybáŠková: I think that for a certain intermediate period we have two possibilities, either to keep autocratic regimes and work on their internal restructuring or to go through a certain way of opening up and bringing in Islamists and I am not sure myself which of these two ways is better and I do not think that anyone can give you the answer these days.

  Q230  Lord Chidgey: Do you believe that you can foster Palestinian democracy in the absence of a state?

  Dr HybáŠková: Yes I do because we still cannot have a state because of one obvious reason: even if we speak about the borders of 1967 this is a very bad message to the Palestinians because this will mean having the West Bank and Gaza split. Europe is not very wise in sending this message because this means that we would keep these two entities split. When we speak about a viable state we need to change the situation there. Therefore I think to get to a state it is a really long, long way and we have such institutions like Panorama—this is one of the democratic groupings in Palestine for instance—where I think we have to support them and work with them and try to enhance them as much as we can.

  Q231  Lord Tomlinson: If I can just ask you a question—and I do apologise because I am going to have to leave a little bit before the meeting finishes—in the process of EU relations with Israel what influence has been exerted by the EU to encourage Israel to respect the commitments that it has under the Association Agreements? There I am thinking particularly human rights, co-operation with the Palestinians and rules of origin. What prospects, if any, do you think exist for progress on the EU human rights dialogue, and perhaps in that context you might also just touch on your EPP delegation with the Israeli Knesset and how you believe the pressures you might bring there contribute to the peace process in the region.

  Dr HybáŠková: I will start answering the third point of the first part of your question which is the rules of origin. I think that there was quite substantive work done by the Commission. Mr Alan Seater really has done marvellous work in this respect trying to bring the EU/Israel/Palestine triangle part of the national action plans together and to work in this direction. This is exactly where I see the Commission being very helpful and useful and I think that progress was made there. Concerning human rights and the other commitments of Israel, human rights is an issue which is very, very largely and deeply held by the European Parliament. There are many groups and many personalities who have a lot of contacts to Israelis and Palestinians and all these Geneva groupings. There is not a week in this house without hearing us about this particular issue, the rights of Palestinian citizens or Arab citizens of Palestinian origin in Israel. As chair of the delegation I try to be as professional as I can and balance it but on the one hand we have Marco Pannella and Pierre Schapira and on the other we have Marine le Pen and we have the Poles and we have people from all around and to accommodate all their interests is not always very easy. Nevertheless we have a visit by four or five members of the Knesset at the end of April to Strasbourg and I think it was the request of Madame Mastenbroek, and she is not particularly for opening the issue of the rights of Arab Israeli citizens, so we will have quite some time debating this issue. Certainly when we visited Israel we met a lot of NGOs and we went to East Jerusalem and we even had some press conferences around these issues, so we tried to influence. We met the minister for Palestinian prisoners when we were with Borrell in Gaza and we engaged in some debates there. So I think that more members of my delegation are experts on human rights rather than being technical experts on harmonisation of the acquis and the internal mechanisms. I know these things because I was part of the Czech negotiating team so, funnily enough, we know the technicalities of the EU better than maybe some old Members who have never needed to learn about the process of harmonisation, but since I went through the harmonisation of acquis in my own country I know it better. So I can at least talk about sanitary and veterinary staff and about accumulation of origin and free trade and these things better than some others do here. So they do the political work and we as a delegation get involved as well in the issue of kidnapped Israeli soldiers which is not that easy. We have signed and sent a letter to Haniya asking him to provide us with information about the well-being of Gilad Shalit. I see the core issue not in the wall because I think the defence of a wall according to different geographical areas might be psychologically difficult for both sides. I think security wise it works but where I see the core of the problem are settlements. This is the core of the issue and when we speak about the 1967 borders, it is more or less acceptable, and I do not speak about settlements in the top hills in outposts in the West Bank; I speak about the Ramallah and Rasen and this is where I see the real core issues related to water, related to transportation, related to demography and this is where we must have some system for telling the Israelis that this is insecure for their own future and this is where they will get into trouble trying to get security for their settlements.

  Q232  Lord Lea of Crondall: Has anybody suggested a joint Israel/Palestinian commission on some of these questions?

  Dr HybáŠková: We met once as the Palestinian and Israeli Commission together. This was a great success. It was the first time in the history of this house that these two delegations met.

  Q233  Lord Lea of Crondall: No, I mean the Israelis and the Palestinians. Has this got to wait for the success of the Middle East peace propose or could it not be a building block for us to build on some joint work between the Israelis and Palestinians on some of these civic questions more than we do?

  Dr HybáŠková: This is just my ad hoc assumption. With the Kadima Party there was a certain period of time when I think they were ready to go and talk to the Palestinians on working groups. I think they were keen to do it but then with all that followed and their quite naive assumptions on what will happen one day with withdrawal from Gaza, and then what happened in Gaza and all these things, they now have a block and Israelis are more and more blocked and not be able to talk to the Palestinians, and again I think that it is very much our role to try to tell them that even though it is extremely difficult and complicated they have to talk to the Palestinians, and we try to tell them as much as we can.

  Q234  Chairman: We asked to have a chance to talk to you for an hour. You have very generously given your hour but before we go, is there anything which we should have asked you and we have not asked you that you would like to say to us in closing? There is no obligation, you have told us so much, but is there anything that we have left out? If you think of something afterwards and you perhaps send a written note to us, we would be very glad to incorporate it with our evidence. Could I on behalf of our Committee say that we have never had a witness before us previously who has not had sight of the questions before we started asking them and I do not think many of us have met many of the members of this Parliament who come from the new Member States, and I think we would all of us want to say that we are extraordinarily impressed by the way in which you have been able to help us today in thinking through what are some very difficult questions, and I think we appreciate the quality of the analysis which you have brought, and I am sure that the Parliament needs to have people with your skills. I hope they are all like you! Thank you again very much and we hope we may have a chance perhaps to see you some time in London. If you were ever in London we would be very pleased to have a chance to see you there as well.

  Dr HybáŠková: Thank you very much. I would like to make some small point. At different times in my life I have had the extraordinary chance to work with your FCO people, for example at the very beginning in the year 1990 when we knew nothing. I became Director of the Middle East Department when I was 26 years old and there were a number of diplomats who really helped us tremendously in those days before anyone else came to us. I think that your people and the US people were amongst the first if not the very first who helped us to structure things in the very beginning in 1991-1992. You helped us tremendously and guided us through many things. Czech co-operation with you in Yugoslavia was something all our nation is well aware of and for me recently collaboration with the European Ambassador and your people in Kuwait was an extraordinary help—extraordinary help—because we had to collaborate with Central Command, which for us tiny Czechs was an extremely daunting experience, and without your people, be it military or be it FCO, it would have been an enormously difficult situation for me to go through. Then when we were deciding how to approach Iraq, we decided on very clear analysis that it would be better for us to be posted to the UK sector than the US sector simply because of the communication and collaboration. I have had the opportunity to work with your people in Basra and to see the enormous heroism of your young people in the medical service for instance—girls of 20 or 21 serving there—so I really appreciate the work of your nation in the region. Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

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