JOHN HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair has come
back from the European Union Summit in Seville telling anyone who'll listen
that Britain got pretty much what it wanted on illegal asylum seekers.
That's one view. The other is that we went there with a proposal for some
kind of sanctions against countries that refuse to take back their illegal
immigrants and it was thrown out. And what WAS decided will be so ineffective
we might almost as well have stayed at home. Critics of the European Union
say: so what's new? The EU has now reached the stage where it's almost
impossible to take firm and speedy action on anything that's remotely controversial.
And there are some very big issues coming up - not least the enlargement
of the Union from fifteen to twenty-five members by 2004. The Liberal Democrats
have always been the most enthusiastic EU party. Their Foreign Affairs
Spokesman in Menzies Campbell.
Good afternoon Mr Campbell.
MENZIES CAMPBELL MP: Good afternoon.
HUMPHRYS: Another lacklustre summit
by most standards or by most judgements anyway, is the European Union running
out of momentum do you think?
CAMPBELL: I don't believe it's
running out of momentum and the enlargement that you referred to a moment
or two ago is going to ensure that it doesn't, because of course if we
get up to twenty-five members then clearly there has to be a very substantial
programme of reform in order to ensure that the union continues to operate
and that programme of reform is in some senses being carried on outside
the Seville Summit by Giscard d'Estaing at the convention which is taking
place in Brussels at the moment, designed to produce proposals for what
I believe essentially will amount to a constitution for Europe, making
clear what are the responsibilities of Brussels, what are the responsibilities
of individual Parliaments and more particularly what are the rights of
individual European Union citizens.
HUMPHRYS: A long way to go on that
but I'll come back to that in a moment if I may. Let's just have a look
at those asylum proposals that we took to Seville. What was agreed was
a fudge by most assessments, not much is going to happen for a very long
time. I mean that is a matter of concern to us with our particular problem.
CAMPBELL: Well I think the important
issue though is the fact that the principle was agreed that the only way
in which this can be done is upon a European Union wide basis and although
you are right to say that the language was typically opaque, in truth what
happened was that the proposal that economic sanctions of some kind should
be used against countries that wouldn't co-operate, that proposal was pretty
well dumped. There's a proposal as you know today that Clare Short has
described as morally repugnant and silly, well that may not win her many
friends in the Cabinet but I think it was right for her to make that judgement
and I think it was right for France and Sweden to lead the charge against
the idea of the imposition of economic sanctions.
HUMPHRYS: But the problem is that
we do have a serious problem in this country right now with people who
will not go back, choose not to go back to the countries from which they
came and the countries from which they came won't have them anyway, even
if they wanted to. So there is this serious difficulty. What do we do?
What should we do about it?
CAMPBELL: Well I think you start
first of all with a system of enforcement which is much quicker, much more
effective, much more efficient than the one we have at the moment. If there
are people who are genuinely not entitled to be here, who don't fall within
the terms of the United Nations' convention, who aren't part of our moral
responsibility, then we should make sure that they go through the process
and are returned as quickly as we possibly can.
HUMPHRYS: Their countries may not
have them back - some of them.
CAMPBELL: There's a way...we've
also got to deal not just, forgive me, not just with asylum but with the
causes of asylum in the sense that many of these countries are very poor
countries and that's why the suggestion that we might threaten them by
withdrawing aid, seemed to make very little sense, indeed as some said,
would be counter productive. We've got to use economic reform, the offer
of assistance, incentives, all sorts of things of that kind, so as to do
our best to ensure that the economic conditions which provoke people into
being economic migrants are so far as possible removed. You have to attack
this problem from both ends.
HUMPHRYS: So in effect we should
bribe countries to take back their own people, who shouldn't have been
here in the first place.
CAMPBELL: Well I wouldn't put it
like that because you have to recognise.....
HUMPHRYS: ....you slotted it in.
CAMBPELL: Well you have to recognise
that in countries like Bosnia and Afghanistan where there was terrible
instability it was inevitable that there would be refugees from these countries.
Now we have to say to the refugees and to these countries: look stability
has been restored, often with the assistance..of the effectiveness of British
forces and British political emphasis, now it's time for you to go back
and we will assist you in the re-assimilation of these people, so as to
ensure that the causes of economic migrancy are so far as possible reduced.
I think that's entirely sensible. It's also, if I may say so, in our
long term interests to do so.
HUMPHRYS: Sure but their response
to that is to say thanks but no thanks. The refugees will say, or the
asylum seekers will say, we'd sooner stay here and their own country is
saying, no we not going to have them back, we'd sooner not. Then what
do you do?
CAMPBELL; Well, if they're not
qualified to stay here they shouldn't be staying here. And that's why
I said earlier part of the problem that we currently face is that our procedures
for dealing with these matters are far too slow and far too ineffective.
That's why we have to be much speedier in the way in which we deal with
those who seek asylum here and who are genuinely entitled to do so, and
much speedier with those who come here who are not entitled to do so, because
they're seeking economic migrancy. May I just make one other point about
economic issues. Remember we live in the United Kingdom in an ageing
population. Large parts of our economy will lack the sort of supply of
labour which will be necessary to keep the kind of economy and the kind
of standard that you and I have got used to. That's why I personally believe
we should be looking towards a kind of green card scheme which operates
with such effectiveness in the United States. Bring people here who have
got something to offer. That I think, would do a great deal for us and
it would do a great deal for them.
HUMPHRYS: Yes, I said I would return
to enlargement You say there is a programme of reform being put together
at the moment of all sorts, but the trouble is so long as rich and very
powerful countries like Germany say, actually we're all in favour of enlargement,
however we're not going to spend an extra Euro on it, on the things that
would be needed, for instance the CAP would require a huge amount of extra
money and would have to be reformed profoundly. They say, we're not prepared
to put another penny in, how do we get to enlargement by 2004?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think you're
right to point to the fact that, that headline goal may be difficult to
achieve and it's particularly so because the CAP requires to be reformed
and one of the disappointments of this week, I don't know if you noticed,
there was essentially, even before Seville, there was a shelving of the
urgency, of the need to reform the CAP. I hope that, that will be reversed,
because half of the EU budget is spent on agricultural support and if you
take a country like Poland, in the first wave of those wishing to join
the European Union, the financial advantages to Poland if the CAP is unreformed
would simply be unsustainable so far as the contributors are concerned.
It would be as if Poland had won the lottery without even having had to
buy a ticket.
HUMPHRYS: And as far as the Irish
are concerned if they throw out the Nice Treaty in their next referendum,
which at the moment looks as if they will do, again that's going to cause
a massive problem. It simply can't happen then.
CAMPBELL: Well, I'm a little more
optimistic than you about the Irish Referendum, because as you know at
Seville, Ireland was given the, if you like, the declaration of neutrality
which was always there in substance, but was exploited by those in Ireland
who argued that Irish boys would be made to go and fight for a Brussels
army. That's nonsense.
HUMPHRYS: Yes, but that's sort
of been discounted hasn't it?
CAMPBELL: Yes it has. There's
been a proper declaration of neutrality and that we hope will get rid of
that rather foolish argument. I think we should take the advice
of Pat Cox who was the Irish MEP who is the leader of the European Liberal
Democrats in the Parliament, who said "Look this is an issue for Ireland
itself. Left to its own, Ireland is likely to get it right". And I think
we should heed that advice.
HUMPHRYS; One final quick thought
about Romano Prodi. He wants a government for Europe and he wants a much
more streamlined one. And we might have an inner Cabinet in which Britain
might not even sit. Would you go along with that?
CAMPBELL: Certainly not. Mr Prodi
from time to time offers us these versions of how he sees the future.
But the truth of the matter is, these are only proposals. It is governments
that decide, not Members of the Commission and I think Mr Prodi would perhaps
be better employed directing his concern as to how the Commission can be
made much more effective, much less sclerotic and can demonstrate in a
way that the European Union can be much closer to the people who elect
Members of the European Parliament and who are citizens of the countries
which are members. Part of the dissociation if you like, between the people
of Europe and Europe itself has been because of the nature of the Commission
and the way in which it has behaved in the past.
HUMPHRYS: Ming Campbell, many thanks.