Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


EU RELATIONS WITH THE PACIFIC ISLANDS (10873/06)

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for your explanatory memorandum dated 21 June 2006 which Sub-Committee C considered at its meeting on 6 July 2006. The Sub-Committee agreed to clear the document from scrutiny.

  Overall we support the objective of the Communication, and believe that it is a timely and well-thought out proposal for the strengthening of relations between the EU and the Pacific Islands.

  However, we consider that some important issues have been understated or left out of the Communication. We would like to draw particular attention to the following points:

  The Communication gives the impression that development cooperation takes place in a vacuum. We would have preferred to see key international frameworks figure much more prominently. The Millennium Development Goals should have been a central theme. Reference could also usefully have been made to the Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA), which is the "blueprint providing the fundamental framework for the sustainable development of small island developing states".[57] Similarly, there should have been an adequate reference made to the need to coordinate activities with the UN and other international actors.

  The area of conflict prevention and management receives scant attention in the Communication, despite the challenges of security and stability faced by many of the Pacific Islands. Greater emphasis should be laid on the frameworks that can be applied, and the actions that can be taken, to assist states experiencing or recovering from violent conflict, such as Samoa and Timor Leste, in a way that is tailored to their specific situation.

  We consider that the Council should specifically consider the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) dimension of the partnership. One area in which the CFSP could add value is crisis management, both through civil and military instruments, as well as through assistance in building the capacity of the Pacific Islands Forum to respond to crises.

  We welcome the Communication's recognition of the vulnerability of the Pacific Islands to natural disasters, and are fully in favour of the proposed expansion of the current regional disaster preparedness programme into the area of disaster risk reduction.[58] However, given the extreme vulnerability of these countries to natural hazards,[59] and the huge impact of disasters on development, it seems worthwhile emphasising a stronger focus on disaster risk reduction. A reference to the Hyogo Strategy for Action 2005-2015, which is the overarching international framework in this field, would also be helpful.

  We would like to emphasise the role that both Australia and New Zealand play in the Pacific region, both bilaterally and as members of the Pacific Islands Forum. Whilst the EU could play a useful role in the development of good governance and institution-building, this must be done in coordination with these two countries. There is a need to strengthen the EU's dialogue and cooperation with Australia and New Zealand on regional development and security issues. We would like further information on the current partnership between the EU and Australia and New Zealand as it relates to the Pacific Islands. Are there any formal consultation mechanisms, and what is the level of bilateral dialogue between the Member States and Australia and New Zealand?

  Finally, in its conclusions the Commission states that "the Pacific region would appear particularly well-suited for joint EU presence and action in the field, for instance through seconding officials from Member States' services to the Commissions' regional Delegations in the Pacific."[60] Do you support this proposal?

  We request that you take account of the above considerations when considering the Communication at the forthcoming General Affairs and External Relations Council, and that you write to inform us of the outcome of that meeting.

6 July 2006




Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP to the Chairman

  Following the Commons Scrutiny Committee's report on our recently deposited EM on the Commission's Communication, "EU relations with the Pacific Islands", I am writing to give you the Government's views on the passage you highlight from the conclusions of the Communication.

  Firstly, it might be helpful to reiterate that the Government supported the idea of a European External Action Service, only as part of the Constitutional Treaty settlement, and as a body to support the proposed European Foreign Minister. Without the provisions of the CT we therefore see no useful role for an EEAS. In addition, and more generally, we would be opposed to any proposals for Commission Delegations to take on responsibility for Pillar II policies.

  However, we would not be opposed to seconding UK officials to Commission Delegations per se. Provided that those officials were tasked with the implementation of Pillar I policies, this would be similar to our current practice of sending officials to the Commission's headquarters in Brussels—a system that has proved successful in promoting a better mutual understanding of policies and working practices.

13 July 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 6 July, in which you confirmed that Sub-Committee C had considered the EU's Communication on a Strategy for the South Pacific and cleared it from scrutiny.

  I welcome your Committee's support for the objective of the EU Communication and your confirmation that it is a timely and well-thought out proposal. Your letter also drew attention to some issues of particular importance to Committee Members and asked that full account be taken of their considerations at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) meeting. The GAERC met on Monday 17 July and approved, without discussion, Conclusions agreed at the COREPER Meeting on 12 July. I enclose for your information a copy of the agreed Conclusions (not printed).

  As you will see, the Council Conclusions address many of the points raised by your Committee Members, but I shall attempt to summarise these, and other additional points, in the same order as in your letter:

MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS (MDGS)

  The Council has stressed the importance of supporting the Pacific region to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in the fight against poverty. Issues such as governance, stability, regional and economic integration, and environmental vulnerability will need to be addressed. The Council has commented that special attention should be given to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, being the three countries with the lowest GDP/capita in the Pacific, and the most disadvantaged and poorest groups of society of the countries in the region.

BARBADOS PROGRAMME OF ACTION (BOPA)

  The Council did not include a specific reference to the BoPA in its Conclusions but highlighted the unique identity and vulnerability of Small Island States and the importance of respecting the special needs of the smaller nations in the region. In addition, the Mauritius Strategy, the outcome of a 10 year review of BoPA at a special UN international meeting in January 2005, reinforces the BoPA and recognises the need for achievement of the internationally agreed development goals for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which will require a more focused and substantially increased effort by the SIDS and the international community.

CONFLICT PREVENTION AND MANAGEMENT

  The Council agreed that a key area of focus in the Communication was the need for a strengthened political relationship between the EU and the Pacific ACP countries, for example through an enhanced dialogue with the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). It was also acknowledged that political cooperation will include specific assistance for fragile states and for post-conflict reconstruction, in line with the United Nations, and encouragement for further initiatives, such as electoral monitoring and special missions to help resolve political issues. It was also recognised that the objectives and principles of Community development should highlight the importance of policy coherence and should take account of individual countries own needs, strategies, priorities and assets.

CFSP AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

  The EU's limited resources are used in places where they can best contribute to peace and security through engagement in active crises. It would be difficult for the EU to prioritise its limited resources to build crisis management capacity with other organisations eg the Pacific Islands Forum. In the case of disaster response, the Pacific Islands are beyond what the EU is currently considering.

NATURAL DISASTERS AND PACIFIC ISLANDS VULNERABILITY

  The Council did not include a specific reference to the Hyogo Strategy for Action 2005-2015 but noted the vulnerability of the Pacific Islands to natural disasters and the particular challenges of sound sustainable development. The EU is committed to support sustainable development in the Pacific and will help countries to protect their biodiversity, including dealing with climate change and rising sea levels and addressing diminishing fish-stock and coral bleaching. In addition, the Council stressed the need to strengthen Disaster Risk Reduction including through the Pacific Tsunami Early Warning System and the France, Australia and New Zealand (FRANZ) agreement.

COORDINATION WITH AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

  In underlining the importance of ensuring that policies fully support the MDGs and the principles outlined in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of March, 2005, the Council recognised the importance of working closely with all other donors in the region, including multilateral institutions. It was also recognised that an improvement on donor coordination, harmonisation and alignment to recipient country systems was essential and in this context the Council acknowledged that the EU's existing relations with Australia and New Zealand should be further strengthened. There are no formal consultation mechanisms for the EU to discuss the Pacific Islands with either Australia or New Zealand, although, as you may know, each Member State holding the EU Presidency hosts Foreign Ministerial meetings with both countries at which a wide range of issues are discussed. In addition, the EU, the UK and France are Dialogue Partners with the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) and attend the Post Forum Dialogue meeting immediately after the annual PIF Meeting. Ian McCartney, the Minister for Trade, will lead the UK Delegation at the 2006 Post Forum Dialogue in Tonga at the end of October. I cannot comment on the level of bilateral dialogue between Member States and Australia and New Zealand. In the South Pacific, only the UK and France have a diplomatic presence. The Commission has Delegations in Canberra, Wellington, Suva and Port Moresby, as well as offices in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa.

EU SECONDMENTS

  A similar question was posed by the House of Commons Select Committee following their scrutiny of the Pacific Strategy Communication. I responded to this question in my letter to you of 13 July.

  I hope that this response, and the enclosed Council Conclusions, addresses satisfactorily the concerns of your fellow Committee members.

20 July 2006



57   Mauritius Declaration. International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, adopted at Port Louis, 14 January 2005, UN document A/CONF.207/L.6 (consolidated). Back

58   P 10, para 2. Back

59   As recognised in the annex (p 19, para 4). Back

60   P 12, para 3. Back


 
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