Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)

Mr Robert Cooper and Mr Richard Crowder

30 JUNE 2008

  Q280  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Wearing a hejab, of course!

  Mr Cooper: Of course! This time we gave out copies of the proposal we put to the Iranians, several newspapers have published it and it has excited a certain amount of debate within Iran, which was one of the things we hoped would happen, but I do not think we are expecting this to come to fruition this year.

  Q281  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Presumably the Iranians also have a tactical problem about how to get from now until the installation of the new American President without any nasty experiences.

  Mr Cooper: Yes. I do not know, they are very difficult people to understand.

  Q282  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Yes, but it must be on their minds.

  Mr Cooper: I guess so, but they are very good at concealing what is on their minds. (The answer continued off the record)

  Q283  Chairman: One of the things which has developed and one can see is more than hinted at, proposed within the Security Strategy, is the development of the European Neighbourhood Policy.

  Mr Cooper: Yes.

  Q284  Chairman: One wonders how far the pursuit of stability and specific interests such as energy security sometimes seem to take precedence over the promotion of democracy, good governance and human rights in the neighbourhood. Our approaches to Belarus and Algeria are not identical.

  Mr Cooper: Right.

  Q285  Chairman: What do we do about it?

  Mr Cooper: I am reluctant to fall back on the old Foreign Office standard saying we deal with these things on a case-by-case basis.

  Q286  Chairman: With respect, the problem about that is we differentiate, but one of the difficulties is if you have something called a Neighbourhood Policy, if you then have things on the one hand called a Union for the Mediterranean, which looks as if you are treating people rather homogenously, and if you have an Eastern Partnership for other countries, there seems to be a contradiction between the positive conditionality which you are talking about in one area and, on the other hand, trying to group people together into all being part of a common neighbourhood.

  Mr Cooper: The reality is that the way in which the Neighbourhood Policy operates, and you have probably heard this from the Commission, is that those who really want to move forward can move forward and get support in moving forward. If you look at where the money goes, you will see that a whole lot more goes to Morocco than it does to Algeria just because the Moroccans are interested in the kind of development that we are trying to encourage.

  Q287  Chairman: On the other hand, you talk about making special arrangements with Israel in spite of the fact that perhaps as far as settlements and opening up travel in the West Bank are not altogether fitting into things which in the Middle East Peace Process we would have expected.

  Mr Cooper: The language in the Council Conclusions on Israel was very carefully worded. The Israelis have chosen to present it in one particular way, but I do not think that is the way everybody here sees it.

  Q288  Chairman: I shall re-read it. In the Strategy you do call on the European Union to be more "active, capable and coherent" and, indeed, there have been some efforts made. I wonder how far you feel that the EU has delivered on that commitment in the original Strategy. To some extent that takes us forward to a Lisbon or Lisbon-minus agenda.

  Mr Cooper: I do not think the European Union has had a problem with being active. Capable, I think we have still got some way to go. Here in Brussels we have improved our organisation in the five year period, we are more capable of handling the very large deployment in Kosovo now than we were five years ago, for example, but there are capability questions, which we discussed earlier. The big challenge is coherence and that is connected to the Treaty, on the one hand, and it is also connected to a bit more. I ask myself sometimes if all of our activity really fits into a kind of coherent political objective or not.

  Q289  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: As the greatest supporter and believer in this room, other than you, of your document, you could argue that actually the EU has been able to do what on earth it likes, expanded its activities in many different directions ever since the day you printed it and, therefore, there is even less rationale for rewriting it.

  Mr Cooper: Yes. I am not in favour of rewriting it.

  Q290  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Or even adding to it. It covers everything really, so if we add bits on all we are doing is emphasising certain bits more than they were before.

  Mr Cooper: I am certainly in favour of trying to take some clearer steps in the direction that we want to go, particularly on the capability front.

  Q291  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: I think we agreed that would be an addendum, did we not?

  Mr Cooper: Yes, certainly. As far as coherence is concerned, partly that is a story about the Treaty. That is such a big thing that the rest is not so important. It is also a question of it being a day-to-day struggle to ensure that one has a viable political strategy surrounding all of the things that you do.

  Q292  Lord Anderson of Swansea: The 2003 document referred to working with partners. We have had five years' experience of that working and in your judgment in what way should a revised document envisage that form of working with partners? The same partners, new partners, different forms of mix, clusters of partners?

  Mr Cooper: Things have changed a bit in five years. China is a much more prominent player now than it was five years ago and begins to look much more like a potential partner than it did five years ago. Although the Chinese have not rushed forward eagerly in these areas, you find in areas like Darfur and Burma a different Chinese response now from five years ago. That is a bit of the landscape which has changed most prominently.

  Q293  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Accepting international obligations in a way that they would not have done before.

  Mr Cooper: Yes. In a rather narrow area, in Chad we have the first Russian participation, in a ESDP operation with the contribution of helicopters, and that seems to me to be a good thing.

  Q294  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Presumably the partners at that time included private sector partners, NGOs and so on, or did one have in mind simply the other organisations?

  Mr Cooper: No, we were thinking internationally of partners. We do work very much with NGOs in some areas, for example in Kosovo. In preparation of the police rule of law operation in Kosovo there has been very extensive contact with the NGOs who know that sector very well.

  Q295  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: This question of partners leads one always back to China, Russia and the United States, and probably beyond that India, although it is not the quite same order of priority because at the moment the Indians do not seem to be very big players on the international stage.

  Mr Cooper: Except in the UN, of course.

  Q296  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Yes, but they are negative, they are defensive players, so they are not really on the same side as us. I suppose we could try to make them slightly less tiresome. Given that is so, that it always leads you back to China, Russia and so on, is there going to be any way in which the review of the Security Strategy can actually lead to a qualitative improvement in the way that Europe handles these things? Is there any way in which the review is going to point towards a better performance in that?

  Mr Cooper: I am afraid to say I come back to the Lisbon Treaty. I think the Lisbon Treaty would have been helpful on this point because it makes much clearer who is in charge of putting forward proposals. When you have 27 people around the table somebody needs to make a proposal. Now, no doubt, what you agree, because it is by consensus, is going to end up fuzzier than that, but at least you can start with some clear proposals and priorities and it would be much easier to do that if you had one structure, one person clearly in charge. For me, that is the best way of getting round that. It also potentially makes the dialogue with the third parties a bit more meaningful. I do not know if Lord Hannay perhaps has participated in troika meetings at some point or other.

  Q297  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: No, thank God!

  Mr Cooper: Well, there we are, I do not have to explain to you what they were like.

  Q298  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: No.

  Mr Cooper: They are not a very useful way of communicating with people. In the end communication takes place between two individuals, not between enlarged teams on both sides. For me, that would be the best way of producing a bit more sharpness into the way in which we conduct these things.

  Q299  Chairman: This was illustrated to us when we were looking at the way in which the Quartet works within the Middle East Peace Process, that in fact it is—

  Mr Cooper: Sextet.

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