Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 388)



  Q380  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: It has lasted several years with Israel.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Not really.

  Q381  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I remember being told if I went to speak to Yasser Arafat as a Middle East minister I would simply not be welcome in Israel. That really does diminish one's ability then to negotiate, having listened to both sides of the debate.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: There was never a moment in my five years when the Israelis did not turn up to a Euro-Med summit, did not want to come and talk to the European Union about different aspects of the Barcelona Process. At the same time, Mr Sharon would say that he would not talk to any European if they had first been to see Mr Arafat. But if you allow yourself to be bullied out of what you think is right by that sort of temporary unilateralism then you do not get anywhere.

  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Fair enough. Thank you.

  Q382  Lord Lea of Crondall: We touched much earlier in the discussion on whether there is an institutional reason why Europe lacks clout and you are the world's leading expert almost on the institutional dimension of European foreign policy. We are speaking now at a time when it is clear we are moving towards having an EU foreign minister. The Prime Minister, with Gordon Brown's support, has sent a letter to Angela Merkel or something like that. Do you think any institutional change can do much to avoid the catch-22 that prime ministers and presidents, Blair, Chirac, Merkel, need to have a profile in the Middle East on any major question? They have voters to think of. At the same time, we know that it is precisely because the Americans cannot pick up the telephone, they say, and talk to somebody that there is an alibi for Europe never being able to get its act together. Obviously you know this inside, out, backwards, forwards and sideways, but could you say a little bit more about it Is it all a red herring this institutional stuff or is it quite important to Europe's clout?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I think the institutional stuff, first of all, applies in Washington as well as it does in Brussels. For most of my time in Brussels you would not have known who to phone in Washington to find out what foreign or security policy was. Was it the President who knew? Was it the Vice-President who knew? Was it Mr Libby who knew? Was it the National Security Council? Was it the Secretary of State? Was it the Pentagon? I think the Henry Kissinger question can be asked in reverse. Secondly, I have never believed—and this has put me at odds with some of my colleagues—that you always need to make institutional changes or have institutional fixes to deal with political problems. I think it is true on the whole that institutional changes can produce political impetus and political pressures, but I do not take the view today that you need a European Constitution—because there are 27 Member States of the European Union and now the place is not working properly. I do think part 1 of the late lamented constitution has a great deal to be said for it. Dealing with the institutional issues, dealing with issues which are of great importance to individual nation states, like a two-and-a-half year term for a full-time President of the Council, like double majority voting and like a double-hatted High Representative (I think the word for double-hatting—which Europe has not used yet but doubtless will before long—is bi-petasic), would not render irrelevant or impotent the Quai d'Orsay or King Charles Street or other foreign ministries. It would mean that the sort of powers I was able to summon up or the money I was able to call up as a European Commissioner would be part of the armoury of things that a High Representative of the Council was automatically able to do. There is a consequence of this which I think we have been a bit coy in dealing with and that is the role of the delegations of the European Commission around the region and around the world. If you are a representative of Europe in Cairo and you are not only responsible for relaying the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers on political issues to the Egyptian government but also have at the same time £200 million or £300 million of development assistance and access to soft loans and your own trade negotiator, then your relationships with your fellow . . . not ambassadors, because European heads of delegation are not ambassadors, but your fellow Europeans in this or that capital are obviously profoundly affected. It is why I have always believed that the European Foreign Service, if you can describe it thus, should be composed not only of Commission insiders but of representatives of the Member States; in other words that there should be much more in/outing between the foreign services of Member States and the Commission. Of course, if you are in the foreign ministry of some Member States, however brilliant and good you are, you are going to find a job working for the European Union almost anywhere in the world a lot more responsible and a lot more interesting than a job working for your own government, so I think you would get some very high quality people. I would hope that at some stage the European Commission and the Council's secretariat would see the point of establishing—they are always called a committee of wise men and women in Brussels, and sometimes they are wise—of establishing a committee to look at how you could amalgamate much more effectively Commission staff and the staff from nation states, because that is one change in the treaty which would make delivery on the ground different in quality than it is at present.

  Q383  Lord Crickhowell: You have touched on some of the issues in question 9, which is what is the assessment of the roles played by the EU High Representative and of the EU Special Representative to the MEPP. You have talked about the Commission's delegation to Egypt and so on. Particularly in this connection, how do you see the coordination of the relationship, shall I put it, between the Special Representative and the Commission's delegations to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza? I think we got the message when we were in Brussels that the Special Representative kept in very close touch with the European foreign ministers, having very regular, I think fortnightly meetings, and you could see how that link was taking place. But how do you see the role of the Special Representative and the relationship with the Commission?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I feel myself that if you have a double-hatted High Representative and you are attempting to bring together the work of the Council secretariat in external relations and the work which is already done by the Commission, the argument for having Special Representatives on the ground is considerably weakened and that you should regard your heads of delegations on the ground as Special Representatives. I think it is very easy to undercut the role of heads of delegations, whether in the Caucuses or Middle East or elsewhere, by, in my view, the rather incontinent appointment of Special Representatives, so I would have hoped that the bi-petasic Javier Solana would be able to work through heads of delegations rather than a number of Special Representatives. Some of the institutional tensions which exist at the moment between the High Representative and the Commission would not be eliminated, they would be changed by the sorts of proposals in part 1 of the treaty. For example you would no longer, I think, have tensions with a Commissioner; you would have tensions with the full-time President of the Council and with the President of the Commission. But whoever drafts institutional arrangements can never draft their way around the fact that whether or not people get on together depends on their personalities and their good sense rather more than the precise definitions of their jobs. Javier Solana and I regarded it as imperative that we got on well together whatever the tensions between our respective institutions. But those tensions are not very helpful. There have always been some people in the Commission who have thought the Commission should take over foreign policy—which would be completely barking. There have always been some people in the secretariat who thought the Commission budget should be something which they could raid whenever they wanted, in order to meet this or that paragraph in a communiqué. So there are problems on both sides.

  Q384  Lord Crickhowell: Parliament hates the whole business because it has no control or involvement with Solana at all. We got that message very clearly.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: They had huge involvement when I was there, I have to say, with the Commissioner for External Relations. Indeed,

  Q385  Lord Crickhowell: They do not feel they have effective involvement with Solana.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: That may or may not be the case but I used to sometimes feel that my engagement in the parliament—which of course, I much enjoyed: it was a salutary democratic experience!—underlined my belief that parliaments talk most about the things over which they have least control and influence and I endlessly found myself in debates about European policy on parts of the world where Europe is unlikely to make any impact whatsoever but it was an agreeable experience—up to a point.

  Q386  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Could I go back to the issues of relations with Israel and ask you to comment on the two aspects. You had an exchange with Baroness Symons about how we should handle it if the Israelis try to cold shoulder us when we decide who to talk to amongst the Arabs. Would you feel that the capacity of the Europeans to strong arm the Israelis is not very great?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes.

  Q387  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: And frankly will always drive the Israelis straight back into the arms of the United States, who will then respond in a rather knee-jerk way which will split the Europeans from the Americans. You may get as many plaudits as you like in Arab capitals but not advance the process very far. If you agree with that, do you not feel, as I do, that we might be doing better in concentrating on the political horizon which no one talks about, which is what Europe's relationship might be with a post-settlement Israel? How is Israel to fit into the European Union's view of the world if there were a settlement in the Middle East, given the fact that the idea that it will just become another Middle Eastern country is frankly pretty visionary, shall we say, if we are being polite. It will not become just another Middle Eastern country and it will want. That is somewhere where it seems to me Europe has something that Israel desperately wants, whether it is markets or values or an ability to get even more deeply involved in a whole range of European policies in higher education and elsewhere. Do you think that political horizon might be worth sketching out a little bit more fully as part of an overall approach to getting a Middle East settlement?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes, I do. I agree with most of what you said in your introductory remarks, though I do not think it is written on marble that Europe will not have as much influence in encouraging movement in Israel as Elliott Abrams and as in preventing movement in Israel. I think we should have a lot more influence than we do, not least through America on Israel. As I said at the outset, we should have done more to raise the political price of inaction in Israel or in America or of doing things which are plainly wrong. Clearly, Israel's position is going to be different, not only if and when there is an agreement but if and when Turkey becomes a member of the European Union as well. Indeed, I think our relations with the whole of the Middle East changed quite a good deal in those circumstances. But I would certainly see a very strong case for Israel having the same sort of customs agreement and the same sort of trading relationship with Europe that Turkey has today, perhaps even more. When you look at the trade flows and the investment flows, you see how important the European market is to Israel and the other way round. Israel has been doing economically extraordinarily well because of its very effective IT sector in the last few years. I think there are very strong reasons for stressing the economic relationship with Israel in the long term. I repeat what I said at the outset: we should never underestimate the number of Israelis, including prominent Israelis, who rather share our view of what should be happening in the region. They are sometimes inhibited from saying that because to say anything good about Europe and Israel tends to make you very unpopular.

  Q388  Lord Boyce: You have given us a flavour of how important you think the European Union is in general. I wonder if you would like to say something about the effectiveness of some of the European Union instruments. You touched on the Euro-Med dialogue, but what about the Neighbourhood Policy. Perhaps you would say something about that. And what about some of the operational missions, such as the election monitors? If you think it is not all it should be, how could it be improved?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I think our election observation mission is one of the most important and useful things that we do. I think it has been extremely important not to undermine the credibility of those operations by allowing observation missions to take a role where we do not actually think the situation on the ground is conducive to a fair election in the first place. For example, I remember declining to send an election observation mission to look at the referendum campaign in Venezuela. It was perfectly plain that the arrangements on the ground were crook from the beginning. If you sent an observation mission in and they told you that everybody on the day had been able to vote in the right way and ballot papers had been collected properly, you were overlooking the fact that the whole system was distorted. I think the credibility of the election observation missions is very important and that they have undoubtedly done a better job in a number of parts of the world, Zimbabwe, for example, than the communiqués and Council conclusions that we drafted with infinite patience and not much effect. The Neighbourhood Policy—though I am, I suppose, largely responsible for it or partly responsible—falls down on two grounds. First of all, our reluctance to accept that enlargement has not yet finished. The Neighbourhood Policy was really designed in retrospect as a way of answering the question that Ukraine posed about how we would be prepared to recognise their "European vocation". I am a strong believer myself, provided you do not dilute the criteria, of Ukraine and Maldon becoming members of the European Union, of Turkey in due course and the rest of the Balkans becoming members. And I do not think that makes it impossible to run the club if you do all that. I of course accept that you cannot go on enlarging the European Union until you get to North Korea. There are limits and those border areas, like the Caucuses, like the Central Asian republics in due course, should encourage the use of different and more preferential economic arrangements. That raises the second question about the Neighbourhood Policy. I think sometimes it does not offer people quite enough in return for the political obligations and other things that we ask of them, whether in terms of access for their products or financial support. I repeat what I said: the Neighbourhood Policy is to some extent an attempt to avoid the enlargement question. We tried something similar before, when Austria and Sweden and Finland wanted to become members of the European Union. I think I am right in saying—and Lord Hannay will correct me if I am wrong—that Monsieur Delore suggested they should have something that was not quite membership of the European Union but was a warmer relationship than they had then. It is like telling people that they can join the club provided they do not play golf at the weekend. It is simply not acceptable to most of them. That is an instrument which I think reflects a political hesitation or indecision in the European Union, though it is well intentioned. The Euro-Med process was a visionary process. When America decided it supported democracy in the Middle East and put $50 million on the table for doing so, we had years of experience of spending hundreds, billions of euros directly in grant and spending, I would guess, 3.5 billion in soft loans through the EIB, whose activities in the Mediterranean area now should not be underestimated, so I think we have instruments which should be perhaps delivering more than they have. Perhaps I could add one personal thought on that which relates to the question of human rights and political values. We at present apply negative conditionality in our development assistance. If a country infringes too radically our view of how well they should be behaving and how well they should be protecting civil liberties, then we say we will take money away from them. We hardly ever do because there is nearly always some Member State which has a particularly strong relationship with the country and is against penalising in that way. I have always been in favour—and I think we have started to shift in this direction in the Euro-Med partnership—of positive conditionality; that is trying to reach agreements with countries on what they are proposing to do and then rewarding them with the payment of additional grant for doing it. When I left the European Commission, about 10% of the Euro-Med budget was intended to be used in that way. I am not sure whether it has been or not and I would myself like to see a bigger amount used in that way.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for the amount of time you have given us, which is rather more than we originally suggested to your office. Obviously your own first-hand experience while you were a Commissioner but also subsequently in the region has been very valuable to us. Although we have come to our preliminary conclusions, I think almost all the things you have said will have confirmed us in the direction we were already pointing but they have given us a good deal more useful evidence to sustain the positions which we were adopting. Again, thank you very much indeed. Having had the chance to come before us, I hope you will not mind too much if on some subsequent inquiry we call on you again because tapping your experience of the Commission and its work is very useful to us and you do not have to come quite as far as some other witnesses. Thank you very much indeed.

previous page contents

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007