Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-26)

Mr Jim Murphy, Mr Martin Shearman and Mr Alan Parfitt

25 JULY 2007

  Q20  Lord Swinfen: Is the EU prepared to put money up front?

  Mr Murphy: The EU is prepared to help bring about the investment, but in terms of the intention of the EU it is also about them seeing a return for that investment. In the EU it is an investment of political and diplomatic will. Much of this is brought about, quite rightly, by private companies in terms of the investment.

  Chairman: We are under some pressure of time, because I know you would like to be away about five o'clock, so I am going to miss the next question and ask Lord Crickhowell if he would like to ask you a question. Perhaps you might be able to send us a written answer, if you would be very kind.

  Q21  Lord Crickhowell: How far does the EU strategy on Central Asia allow for the fact that many of the Central Asian countries, despite having Russian rule for a large part of the last hundred years, and so on, are very, very different in character, politically, economically and socially? Is Europe recognising that? We talk about these great areas on the map, Central Asia, as if they were all the same. How far is it recognised that we have got to actually have different policies for different states?

  Mr Murphy: I think this reflects back on the conversation we had a little earlier in terms of the continent of Africa. Within the EU approach, the UK with others insisted that we did have a sensible tailored approach to different states in that part of the world. It will be a surprise to many, as my noble Lord referred to, after 80 years or so of Soviet rule to discover the sheer diversity in terms of culture and national characteristics that exists in that region. In terms of what we are doing, we are developing, where we can, a different approach to different nations. I already alluded to Turkmenistan, but if you look at the difference between Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, in Uzbekistan we still have the EU visa restrictions and we still have the restrictions on farm sales connected with the failing to make progress on human rights, whereas in Kazakhstan—back to this issue of reward, this issue of positive encouragement—because the market has been opened up there has been a strategic decision taken to have a different level of engagement as a signal to others that if they make the reforms which are necessary then it will lead to a change attitude from the European Union. So that is a process which should continue.

  Q22  Lord Lea of Crondall: Coming on to Kosovo, Minister, there was a UN Security Council resolution introduced last week and there are two levels, I suppose, to the EU immediate prospects there. One is to do with the timing of the civilian EU mission, but could you put this into the context of the fact that it is a very sensitive time and the EU has got so many manifold interests and we want to give Belgrade some encouragement as well as a big stick if they do not cooperate? Could you put all that together?

  Mr Murphy: I can try in the time that is available! In all of this we are absolutely clear what the end point is and it is independence for Kosovo. That is where we will end up. I say that first because I do not want in any way for it to be implied that the UK is in any way reneging on its responsibility, and we see it as a responsibility to the people of Kosovo. I met with President Ahtisaari earlier this week and went through with him again the detail of his plan and we remain very strongly of the view that his plan, because of the sheer work that he put in and the effort he made to try and find common purpose and common cause, should be the basis of the eventual settlement in Kosovo. In terms of the specific issue of the resolution of the United Nations, we intended to table with others a resolution which was relatively minimal in its demands and its specific content, but it was clear that that resolution was not going to proceed and as a consequence it has not been put. What we have now is, taking up the suggestion, I think originally by President Sarkozy, one more round of talks with the contact group. We are committed to doing that, but once that is concluded we then, as the international community, know we get to a really difficult decision which we cannot and should not avoid, because of our previous commitments and because of the situation on the ground in Kosovo. We have no intention of reneging on our responsibility, so it is pretty clear what are the options that are available to us, but our determination is still to give a resolution through the United Nations. At the end of whatever process we go through, we are clear that Kosovo and independence for Kosovo is the end point and not something which is continuously delayed. We are fast approaching a period where we do have to make the decisions.

  Q23  Lord Lea of Crondall: Is it that Belgrade can play it by whatever the Russians are saying?

  Mr Murphy: I am not party to the bilateral conversation between the Russians and Serbia, but there is a sense that President Ahtisaari's plan had an inbuilt reassurance for Kosovo and the Serbs in terms of protections of freedoms, substantial devolution and those sorts of protection. Our view is that while, of course, these highly sensitive issues, Russia's concerns have been met. Russia's legitimate public concerns have been met by President Ahtisaari's proposals and there is now no policy basis for us not to make progress. In terms of the specific status, in terms of the EU support on the ground, I think I am right in saying that 120 days after status has been agreed then there has to be an effective EU commitment on the ground. There is already an EU team in place now doing the preparatory work, which is another signal to the people of Kosovo that we are not reneging on our responsibility. I hope that puts some of the specifics together.

  Q24  Lord Anderson of Swansea: So you agree that at some stage the moment of truth must come? President Sarkozy wanted a postponement of six months. It is said now that the US and the Kosovo President have come to a deal, in recognition of the US moving to their view, that they will postpone UDI, but Serbia has made its position clear, Russia has made its position clear, there will be no compromise, and within a short period of time, surely, the problem must be faced with all the consequences which Serbia has threatened?

  Mr Murphy: The problem does have to be faced and the problem will be faced, but the end point is independence for Kosovo.

  Q25  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I do not want to criticise at all the decision which has been taken recently to postpone, as President Sarkozy has proposed. I think there is probably a lot of good sense in that but, Minister, could you perhaps reflect when the end of the 120 day period comes that it is sometimes better to force a country into casting a veto than to allow it to get away without ever having to veto, which is what the Russians have been allowed to do this time, because basically what we have done is to accept that because they told us privately they would veto it they do not have to sit there in the Council and reject what you yourself have rightly said, in my view, is a perfectly good set of proposals which take proper account of the Serbian minority, and so on. Next time round, I would have thought the balance of advantage may be rather different and flinching from putting a matter to a vote and compelling a country to veto is the best way of enabling them to get away with it with rather less cost than they would otherwise have to pay.

  Mr Murphy: Without speculating in an unhelpful way, it is the case that we have committed to this one last round of talks. We come very shortly to a crucial international decision and without criticising the United Nations at all as an institution, it is the case that the people of Kosovo have been given a commitment by the international community and it is our intention, the UK and others, to help them achieve that. In terms of how we achieve it, we have not given up hope that there may be a UN route because there is not a substantial legitimate public rationale for rejecting in any substantial way President Ahtisaari's proposals. I made that clear to him again earlier this week, and we remain committed to doing that.

  Q26  Chairman: I wonder if I could ask a final question, given the time constraints, and that is on the European Neighbourhood Policy. The June 2007 European Council invited the future presidency to take forward the work on the strengthening of the ENP. What progress do you feel has been made in the last year on the neighbourhood policy and what are the main areas in which the British Government would like to see further improvements?

  Mr Murphy: There has been progress in the past year, and the German Presidency gave this some particular profile. There has been progress on Ukraine, on trade and with Lebanon and Egypt. The progress over the next period is primarily around the first high level conference which will take place, which will involve the EU Member States and those in the neighbourhood, both to the east and to the south. We see that as a really important gathering, the EU Member States, those in the EU's eastern neighbourhood and those in the EU's southern neighbourhood, a gathering of those governments and NGOs as well. The issues we expect to come out of that—and again it is about specifics—will be about governance, energy and the issue of economic liberalisation. But again it comes back to the point which has permeated much of our conversation today, which is about developing specific agreements with specific nations within different parts of our eastern and southern neighbourhood.

  Chairman: Thank you. Indeed, the neighbourhood action plans, which are developed with partners, are important. We have just completed a report on the European Union and the Middle East Peace Process, which will be coming to you but which does in fact particularly talk about the way in which the neighbourhood action plan with Israel is something which is quite important in our relationship with Israel and indeed on possible leverage as far as our relationship with Israel in that situation. I would like, Minister, because I know your time is very constrained, to say how grateful we are. We had a question about strengthening the Mediterranean dimension of the ENP, which I know the Portuguese presidency is quite interested in and perhaps it might be possible for us to have a written answer on that. I would like to thank you very much indeed. It is a bit hard of you, because quite a lot of the things we have been talking about were things which really were developed and carried forward under your predecessor, but you seem, in the relatively short time that you have been occupying your position, to have learnt a great deal about what is happening. We certainly look forward to seeing you again and to talking to you on specific things. We have just started an inquiry into relationships between the European Union and Russia, and indeed last week we had Sir Mark Lyall Grant and two of his colleagues talking to us about the beginning of that inquiry. We will towards the end of it, because Russia comes within your remit as well, hope that we will have a chance to see you about that, but in the meantime I know that you have young children and as the Scottish school holidays began three weeks ago you really would like to get back! We hope you have a very happy holiday with them and we look forward to seeing you again in the autumn. Thank you very much indeed.

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