Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 235 - 239)

FRIDAY 23 MARCH 2007

MR ROBERT COOPER AND MR CHRISTIAN JOURET

  Q235  Chairman: Perhaps we could begin formally. Could I say how grateful we are to both of you, Mr Cooper, and Mr Jouret, for having received us this morning. As I think you know, the Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the European Union and the Middle East. We have taken quite a lot of evidence in London from people from different backgrounds. We were here yesterday and saw people both in the Commission and in the Parliament and we are here in the Council this morning. I think you have seen some of the issues which we would like to raise with you and I would like to start, if I might, and ask you what is your assessment of the European Union's policy on the Middle East peace process really from the 1990s and how would you describe the current approach of the Union?

  Mr Cooper: Personally I go back to the 1980s with the Venice Declaration and it seems to me that one of the merits of the EU's approach is that it has been consistent, starting with essentially its belief that the solution lies in a two-state solution, and that dates back to the Venice Declaration. I think the Venice Declaration did not specifically mention states but it referred to self-determination and the implication of that was clear. Although policy-making in the European Union can be a bit laborious it has the merit that when you have made the policy you tend to stick to it for quite a long time, and that has been the case here. Essentially the policy is encapsulated in the phrase "two-state solution". We support people who will work for two states and that is reflected in the so-called Quartet principles, with recognition of Israel being a vital element in all of this. It is reflected also in some of the things that we try to do on the ground in the Middle East, with more or less success depending on the circumstances. A large part of the Commission's spending is aimed at capacity building, specifically the kind of capacities you need to run a state, and they will have told you more about that. We ourselves in the Council have tried to do some of this on the security side as well and you could also say that the assistance with the crossing point at Rafa is another part of the picture. States have boundaries and they have borders and they have to have entry points, so that has been the approach consistently over the years. Christian might like to add something.

  Mr Jouret: First of all, I am sorry but my English is not very good at all so just a few words in English. Of course I agree completely with what Robert has said. It has been a consistent line since the Venice Declaration and that is why today we are repeating that we stick to the vision of President Bush, but it was our vision three decades ago, and more so in the last 15 years ago. About the current approach of the EU vis-a"-vis the Middle East peace process, I do not know if we can speak today about a peace process but at least there is an evolution, there is a development and there is a new Government in the Palestinian Territories. I think that we are more pragmatic than before and when I say pragmatic I mean we have progressed towards a certain recognition of this Government, or at least we believe in the process. We still do not know if we are going to recognise fully this Government but we believe in the process, and this is something essential and this is the difference to what we thought last year, so nothing has been decided so far but we believe in the process. We strongly believe that Hamas is not going to disappear off the Palestinian landscape overnight so we need a transformation. In a way we need a sort of "corruption"—if I can use that word in English—through the political progress. Hamas has to adapt itself to the political process.

  Mr Cooper: Perhaps I could just say one word that I should have said at the beginning and that is to say the other thing to underline is the extreme interest in this and the very high political priority that has been attached to the Middle East for all the time I can remember, beginning with the Venice Declaration. If one looks at the number of ministerial hours devoted to discussion of this subject, it probably exceeds I should have thought anything else over time, although that does not necessarily bring results.

  Q236  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Could I just take up two points there. One, I was very interested by what you said about Venice because I start there too, as you do, but it has another characteristic of Venice which is it is one of the very few occasions on which the European Community took a position that was in advance of the US administration and the US administration subsequently has invented it as their position. That seems to me to have some considerable relevance for the situation we are in now. The second point is that all the time in our inquiry it seems to me we come up against one word in the conditions that are applied to dealing with the Palestinian Authority Government which gets continually misused and misunderstood and that is the word "recognition", because in the technical, diplomatic sense recognition is something that states do of other states, but the Palestinian Authority is not a state and it therefore neither has to be recognised nor does it recognise. And at the same time in the sense we are talking about, the European Union and its Member States recognise states not governments. So it seems to me that that is an element of massive confusion. Is there any way in which this can be sorted out a little bit or presented a little bit less crudely than it is at the moment?

  Mr Cooper: I think you are right that this is an area of great ambiguity and I think it is a mistake that this word has been used because I do not think that we are talking about recognition in the formal diplomatic sense. I am sure even the Israelis understand that that is what will come at the end of the process, not at the beginning of it. What we are talking about is people accepting that there is going to be a state called Israel. You can argue that this is already implicit in the Government platform at the moment.

  Chairman: Perhaps I could ask Lord Hannay if he would like to continue.

  Q237  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: The Quartet and its operations of course is not a masterpiece of transparency so outsiders like ourselves and other parliaments and so on do not get a strong feel for how the European Union operates in the political process. Has it been a successful, serious dialogue with the other three partners and, if not, is that because they have not been prepared to shift their position or listen to what the European Union has to say or is this something that is improving now and can we have confidence in the solidity of the Quartet as the basic method by which we get into a peace process?

  Mr Cooper: I think my answer to the last question would be yes, with a bit of hesitation because things are not foreseeable. It is partly my experience in the Balkans that has led me to believe that it is extremely difficult to get two parties to a quarrel to solve it on their own and you need to bring together as much as you can in the way of international pressure and support. You could say that what is missing from the Quartet are the neighbours. In some respects the UN has been a kind of place-holder for the neighbours in the Quartet, but at the next meeting of the Quartet planned in Cairo there will be a meeting with some of the important neighbours as well. I think that solving these long-standing problems requires the biggest international coalition that you can put together. Like many of these things the Quartet's birth was partly accidental and it has carried on that way but, yes, I think this is now the principal forum for the international community in some senses expressing itself. Perhaps I could just make one comment on Lord Hannay's earlier remark about the Venice Declaration being in advance of the US position and the US finally having caught up. That sort of thing still happens today but it happens in a rather less visible way. One sees it for example some of the language that the Quartet has used regarding the so-called Quartet principles. You will find that the EU has used language instead of talking about conditionality we have talked about "reflecting" the Quartet principles, which has become a little bit more subtle, and that has eventually been adopted by the Quartet. There are still, as always within any group like this, divergences and we pull each other in different directions, but that involves the European Union sometimes pulling the USA into a position that we would consider to be more flexible and more realistic.

  Q238  Lord Lea of Crondall: I think one of the inferences drawn from your exchange there with Lord Hannay is that the EU can in principle somehow be in advance of the United States but this is often presented as "what happens if the EU disagrees with the United States?" The architecture of the Quartet has the United States and the EU in some senses equal partners but it is widely put to us that the special relationship between Israel and the United States means that there is an asymmetry both in terms of perceived attitudes toward Palestine and Israel but also, more important almost, the EU is not a state, it does not have a military capability, et cetera, and therefore how can we be equal, symmetrical partners in the Quartet? Could you comment on that?

  Mr Cooper: That is a question that goes beyond this. No, we are not equal partners with the United States. Nobody is equal to the United States at the moment.

  Mr Jouret: The United Nations is not a state either.

  Mr Cooper: I would only say that we come closer to being equal to the United States when we manage to get our act together and work together in Europe than we do if individual Member States do it.

  Mr Jouret: The Quartet has a cousin now, the Arab Quartet, and now we have to find a way to make them play together, and this is our objective. It is unlikely that a meeting of the two Quartets will take place in the near future but this is one of our requests; we want to deal with Arab partners, and they are more organised today than they were in the past. The second thing on the Quartet, as Robert said, we are not equal partners within the Quartet. I must say I was there when the Quartet was created in 2002. My personal feeling, because there is no birth certificate of the Quartet—it was endorsed by Kofi Annan 2002—is that the Quartet was borne out of 9/11, it is a direct product of 9/11. I have a little story but I do not know if this is the place to tell you that story. At that point I participated many times in Quartet meetings and I find a huge difference between the first meetings of the Quartet and now. During the first meetings of the Quartet—I mean 2002, 2003 and 2004—there was always a sort of permanent disagreement between the Europeans and the Americans within the Quartet. The Russians at that time were a completely silent partner and the United Nations was always trying to find a common position to build a bridge between the European position and the American position. Today this is no longer the situation. We are with the Americans, we are closer than we used to be in the past, we have more common positions and it is easier to work. The transatlantic relationship is better today within the Quartet than it used to be in the past.

  Q239  Lord Chidgey: I just want to pick up a point that you made, Robert, in answer to Lord Hannay how quite often it is the case that the EU is ahead of the US in its thinking and the US is eventually in due course brought on board. I think I have put it rather crudely but basically I mean leading the intellectual process in a way. I just wanted to comment because in the course of our inquiry we have taken evidence from a lot of witnesses—experts, academics, diplomats—and the message we keep getting, which obviously needs to be challenged, is that in their eyes almost the only game in town is the US when it comes to controlling the aspirations and development of relations with Israel within the peace process and it is only when we come to Brussels that we see another side of the coin, which is actually quite gratifying and encouraging. My question is: why is it that we do not have in the Maghreb or on the Arab street or on any other street an understanding of the importance of the role that the EU is playing, because let us face it, you have to influence the populations of these regions to get to the solution, not just diplomacy behind closed doors, so where is it disconnecting?

  Mr Cooper: I not sure I am well able to answer that. Maybe Christian will have something to say. Just to continue what I am saying, the Quartet is a machinery for mutual influence. Somewhere over the last period the European Union concluded, perhaps after the period that Christian described, that there was no solution without the USA, and that is certainly right—


 
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