BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 23.06.02

Interview: MENZIES CAMPBELL, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman

argues that the European Union is on a dynamic path despite the slow pace of agreement on measures to combat illegal immigration and achieve European enlargement.

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: 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.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.