Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Baroness Margaret Jay, Chair, ODI
The fourth meeting in the 'What Next in International Development' series saw Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MPexamine Europe's role in global issues.
Baroness Jay, in the chair, opened the meeting by welcoming Geoff Hoon MP, and explaining that his speech would focus on three questions which he had already asked the prospective audience to provide feedback on. These were:
Which three main global challenges are especially suited for a Europe-wide response?
What three main strengths and three main weaknesses will determine whether the EU is or is not able to deliver a good response?
What does the UK and wider European development/external relations community have to do differently to make sure the weaknesses are overcome?
Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP
Rt Hon Geoff Hoon opened his speech stating that there had never been a more important time to discuss the international challenges that we face today and the role that Europe can play in tackling these. He said he had previously argued that politics has changed with the challenge of globalisation. He said that he greatly valued the policy contribution of both ODI and the Foreign Policy Centre and also said that it was vitally important to harness the significant role of the NGO community. He emphasized that the message he wanted to convey was one of working together, especially in the European context.
He stated that much of his career has centred on Europe and that he had seen the contribution that the EU can make within the multilateral system. He explained that the questions he posed to the audience before this meeting were difficult. When asked which three main global challenges were especially suited to a European Union response, unsurprisingly the answers included some of the most difficult issues that we face today:
Tackling global poverty
Making progress on climate change
Supporting conflict resolution and peace-building initiatives
The causes of widespread poverty and instability can only be dealt with at an international level. These issues mobilize citizens; people care about what happens in remote places and governments need to respond. As the world's largest donor, the EU provides half of all aid. The Minister said that he works very closely with DFID on the global poverty agenda and one issue remains a top priority: keeping the promises of the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 on Africa which European leadership helped to achieve. In addition, at the December 2006 European Council, four areas were highlighted for priority action in 2007: strengthening the strategic partnership with Africa; supporting Africa's quest for good governance; promoting growth and sustainable development and investing in people. The Council also underlined the importance of intensifying co-operation between the EU and Africa on the links between migration and development.
International Trade: Doha Development Round
Trade can have as equal an impact on reducing poverty as aid. The EU is still working hard towards a successful outcome of the Doha Development Round and the UK government remains fully committed to achieving an ambitious, pro-development outcome that delivers for the poorest countries. The EU must continue to show the leadership it has done right from the start to help bring about an agreement.
EU Regional Trade Agreements with the ACP
Alongside Doha, the EU is also pressing ahead to achieve successful development-friendly Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific. 2007 is a critical year.
Climate change is at the forefront of the debate on sustainable development. Strong multilateral commitment is required if this issue is to be addressed effectively. Opinion polls show consistently strong public support for united EU action on the environment and energy security and more than half of UK citizens polled support joint EU decision-making on these issues. Again, the UK government has been at the forefront of tackling this issue and it is now a top priority for the EU. The right outcomes from the Spring European Council in March would set the EU on an accelerated path to becoming the world's first low-carbon economy. It should include the ambition of making EU power generation carbon-free by 2020. The EU-China Climate Change Partnership, agreed at the EU-China summit in September 2005 now has a rolling work plan. There is also hope for agreeing a common EU position on a post-Kyoto framework which can form the basis for the G8 summit in June.
Conflict resolution and security
There are clear linkages between development, climate change and security. The European Defence co-operation agenda has been remarkably successful and the European Defence and Security Policy has enabled the EU to make a difference in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and post-tsunami Indonesia, deploying over 11,000 military personnel. In the Middle East, the EU contributes to the international community's efforts and took the lead in delivering direct support to the Palestinian people after the Hamas government was elected last year. In addition, the EU is the second largest donor in Afghanistan, contributing collectively a third of the aid provided by the international community.
Future challenges for the EU will include ensuring that all of its work is mutually reinforcing, for example, that EU development policy is underpinned coherently by policy in other areas such as trade, energy and security. The EU must also continue to press for aid effectiveness and increased transparency.
Living in an increasingly inter-connected world, the UK government must find the best way, not just to work with European partners, but also to co-operate with and influence other countries and multilateral institutions. The contribution of the EU is often not sufficiently recognised in UK public debate so there is a need to engage people on the issues they care about, and to encourage lobbying - sometimes of the governments of other Member States too.
The EU also needs to work with other relevant regional and international bodies and NGOs/civil society. The EU is also increasingly taking on a leadership role in areas where only slow progress has been made elsewhere. On trade, climate change and conflict issues, for example, the EU is already making a difference for greater prosperity, peace and security well beyond its own borders.
The following questions and comments were raised during the discussion which followed:
What conflict resolution/peace-building roles has the EU played elsewhere, e.g. in Darfur?
How is the EU seeking to change its role from merely that of an observer and to ensure that its voice is heard?
Politics within the EU are very difficult - it is necessary to have one conversation per issue, with one constituency. What role could other Europe Ministers play in improving this?
There are often differences in the approach of different member states to poverty reduction - e.g. for those affected by migration, both from nearby, as well as further afield, such as Spain. How can these differences/issues be overcome?
EU policies on climate change, trade and agriculture (CAP) are not aligned with policies for poverty reduction. What will the UK government do in this regard?
Will there be an EU campaign on work/job creation with the ILO, etc and will the UK government be at the forefront of this campaign?
How will the common security policy and the changing role of NATO fit together?
What more can the UK government do to ensure that EU policies on trade, migration, etc enhance development and how can reporting on these be improved?
What are the three priority issues for the EU over the next 12 months, rather than the much longer-term?
In his responses, Mr Hoon stated the following:
Peace building was a key issue and central to that is governance. EU states must recognise that they have a responsibility, derived from their colonial history and the focus should be on capacity building.
Another focus should be on building the relationship between the EU and Africa.
An important part of the Minister's responsibilities were the Caucuses and a significant issue was that an assertive Russia may re-awaken previously frozen conflicts in the area, for example in Georgia. The process of inclusion (for example, in NATO) must continue.
There would be an increasing focus on the Black Sea region.
The evolution of the Common Foreign Security Policy had been controversial. Javier Solana had carried out important work and such a presence in the Caucuses would be very valuable.
Common enthusiasm for defence was beneficial as it provided a good resource and developed compatibility.
It was important not to have separate conversations in each Member State and in Brussels on separate issues and instead to work out a way to pool sovereignty in relation to foreign policy.
It was important to ensure that poverty reduction and other, related policies were aligned.
The UK government had indeed helped to ensure that climate change had been pushed up the agenda.
The NGO community in the UK could bring their well organised and effective campaigning power to bear with other states in Europe to ensure that important issues took centre stage.
Job creation was an important issue. Markets should ensure high labour standards both internally and externally.
In relation to CAP, the UK had argued for a serious review of the EU budget and significant reductions in subsidies had already been achieved.
The three immediate priorities for 2007 were: climate change, Africa and the Constitutional Treaty.