Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60-67)

Commissioner Wallström

2 JULY 2008

  Q60  Lord Tomlinson: Okay—you have won me over!

  Commissioner Wallström: This, again, is an inherent problem of the timing of any policy strategy of this nature, because it also has to be combined and seen in the context of a five-year plan for a Commission, like the Barroso Commission, which tries to set out a long-term agenda for the five years' mandate. We try every year to translate that into a bit more detailed planning and then we go into the Legislative and Work Programme with even more details. It is always a delicate balance to strike here, to see that we have the right level of detail and, also, to allow for a proper political discussion on the priorities. Yes, there are inbuilt conflicts like the one you mention, but of course we deal with everything, as I usually say, from counting cod fished in the Baltic Sea to fighting famine in Africa. If we do all these things, there will always be enough to say this is a citizens' agenda because we deal with food safety, with toy safety, with passenger rights, things which are very, very close to citizens' hearts, which they can see in their everyday lives are important. At the same time you have the bigger picture of immigration. Of course, for politicians and political leaders it is a matter of not only following public opinion but also leading, and explaining, for example, the benefits of enlargement and how this has helped both development in the countries where they have come from and the countries in which they very often work. I think this is something we have to improve. We have not been able to explain well enough the benefits of enlargement. The benefits are overwhelming. All the statistical facts show that this has been beneficial to Europe. We have ended the division of Europe into an East and a West. That is a fantastic achievement for our generation and for our generation of politicians.

  Q61  Lord Tomlinson: My problem, Commissioner, is that I have looked back at this exercise last year and the year before, and I say, "Apart from the Lisbon Treaty, what was priority last year?" It has not made a great impact on me. And if it has not made much of an impact on me, I would suggest it has probably passed the average citizen totally by. What was our big idea for 2007? I have forgotten it. You probably have not; but if I have forgotten it, I would suggest that most of our citizens have.

  Commissioner Wallström: We return to My Lord Chairman's first question in a way. We have gone the whole circle around. This means, also, the planning possibility for the institutions, of course, to set them on an agenda, and at the same time we want to communicate to citizens. What citizens will remember is what we do on energy and climate change—that we have addressed that, that we are doing something on biofuels—or where we are visible with things that are very, very concrete. This is what citizens will see, and very few, as you rightly say, will remember that as part of a five-point agenda or whatever. We win democratic legitimacy by doing the right things that really change the lives of European citizens. That is how we win legitimacy.

  Q62  Chairman: Before asking Lord Roper to ask what may be the last question, could I say Commissioner that if any member of the public were to ask me, "What is in the Annual Policy Strategy? How can we understand what it is all about?" I would hand them the nine pages that we have here of our questions and your answers, which is half the length of the Annual Policy Strategy itself. I think it sets out admirably what the intentions of the Commission are. That is a way of saying that it is hard to sell an Annual Policy Strategy. It is not that it is 18 pages long but that, for the citizens, it should be in the form of questions and answers. What is it you are planning to do about this and that? Then you get the answers. This excellent document, which you sent us, of questions and your answers, is the best guide I have seen to the APS since you started having one. I say that in terms of congratulations and thanks to you, because it has made our job of getting our heads around this strategy a lot easier.

  Commissioner Wallström: Thank you very much. Could I say, also, that I am very proud that we have started with something else; that is citizens' summaries. For all proposals that we prepare to send to the Parliament and to the Council we have to attach a citizens' summary which is a one-page description of the proposal. Why is it needed? Who will be affected? What does it mean? When will it enter into force?

  Q63  Lord Roper: Commissioner, quite rightly in your thirteenth answer you say that there is no detailed reference for the European Security Strategy because that is going to be reviewed by the end of this year. To some extent, the European Security Strategy acts as an instrument to ensure that there is coherence between the various Community institutions when it comes to external actions, and you refer to some of them in your answer. I notice that there is one which you do not refer to, that is sometimes referred to as the security-development nexus, or, in another way—the sort of documents which were prepared under the Portuguese Presidency and which are being followed up—the policy towards fragile states, which obviously involves development and economic matters as well as security matters, and therefore combines operations coming from the Council as well the Commission. Do you not feel that this is another matter which ought to be mentioned and included in the discussion of the strategy for next year?

  Commissioner Wallström: As they say: "Thank you very much for this question." I think you are more of an expert in this particular field, but I think we have to note this. I remember a discussion in the Commission also covering the issue of fragile states, but I am afraid that I do not know enough of the details of the strategy to be able to comment. We will take it with us. We will follow up and ask exactly where this issue is right now. Do you want us to come back with a reply?

  Q64  Lord Roper: I was in Brussels and talking to Mr Popovska in the Development Director-General this week and they are doing some further case studies on it in a number of countries, but it is something which I think is very much on the agenda for next year and I therefore feel it is a pity that it was not included in this document.

  Commissioner Wallström: I take your point and we will report back on this.

  Q65  Lord Freeman: I know that governments respond to the Annual Policy Strategy. Are there any other consultations from parliaments or the private sector?

  Commissioner Wallström: I mentioned at the beginning that we have received four opinions from national parliaments as well. More and more we are invited to present the strategy to national parliaments, so I think this will increase. I hope so, because this exactly the idea, that we will spark this dialogue and get input from both national parliaments as well as Member States' governments.

  Q66  Chairman: Commissioner, Madam Vice-President, I thank you very, very much indeed for spending this hour with us. Even in the virtual fashion that we have done it, it has been extremely helpful to us. I hope that our questions to you have indicated what our concerns are. I think you have met many of them. We wish you well, particularly during this rather difficult period following the Irish referendum. We look forward to further contact with you, because direct contact with the Commission has enormously helped us in our work. We are extremely grateful for the Barroso initiative and all the other ways we have been able to communicate with you. The availability of your Commissioners to give evidence to our Sub-Committees and to our Select Committee is highly appreciated, and we can assure you that we will remain what they call in France interlocuteurs valables. We thank you very much indeed.

  Commissioner Wallström: Thank you very much My Lord Chairman and honourable Members. I never thought I would say this, but I have appreciated all the contacts and the hearings also from you. Thank you very much. It is on behalf on my collaborators here as well. I feel that we have not only interlocutors but also allies and friends over there.

  Q67  Chairman: You do.

  Commissioner Wallström: Thank you very much. I hope we meet in person next time.

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