|Alun Davies AC|
|David Melding AC|
|David Rees AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Delyth Jewell AC|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AC|
|Mandy Jones AC|
|Cosmin Onisii||Dirprwy Lysgennad Rwmania i Lys St James|
|Deputy Ambassador of Romania to the Court of St James's|
|Ei Ardderchogrwydd Mr Dan Mihalache||Llysgennad Rwmania i Lys St James|
|Ambassador of Romania to the Court of St James's|
|Claire Fiddes||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Gareth David Thomas||Ymchwilydd|
|Gwyn Griffiths||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Llywyddiaeth Rwmania ar Gyngor yr UE||2. The Romanian Presidency of the EU Council|
|3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:04.
The meeting began at 14:04.
Good afternoon, and can I welcome Members and the public to this afternoon's meeting of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? Can I remind Members that the meeting is bilingual? If you require translation from Welsh to English, then please use the headphones on channel 1. If you require amplification, then the headphones are available, but on channel 0. Can I also remind Members to turn your mobile phones off, or on silent, so they do not interfere with the broadcasting equipment? There is no scheduled fire alarm this afternoon, so, if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location.
Do any Members wish to declare an interest at this point in time on these matters? I see not. I would also like to put on record our thanks to Joyce Watson for her work as a member of the committee. As Members will be aware, the committee structures changed last week, and Joyce is no longer a member of this committee. For the record, thanks to her.
We move on to the substantive item on the agenda this afternoon, and I'd like to welcome the ambassador from Romania to the meeting, His Excellency Mr Dan Mihalache, who's the ambassador of Romania to the Court of St. James's, and his deputy head of mission, Cosmin Onisii—welcome, this afternoon. I'd like to invite you perhaps to give a presentation first of all, before we start. Just to inform members of the public, clearly, the Romanian nation had the presidency of the European Union since 1 January, and that is coming to an end—the six-month presidency—but you will obviously, clearly, be an influence in the next months ahead. Ambassador.
Thank you, Mr Chairman, distinguished Members. It's an honour for me to make this presentation before this distinguished committee. Every time when I make such a presentation, I remember when I was sitting in your place, and not being an ambassador. So, it's a kind of moment of remembrance and nostalgia about my previous political role.
As you know—and thank you very much again for taking your time for this presentation—our country is currently holding the presidency of the EU Council, for the first time since its accession to the European Union, 12 years ago. And, especially talking about our accession to the European Union, I would make a very personal remark, that the UK was for Romania a great supporter of our accession in the European Union—first in NATO, and then in the European Union. And the vote, which we respect, for leaving the European Union is for us a great loss—for my country. Because we had in the UK a strong ally on the table of the European Union. We had a great co-operation within the European Union, especially in matters regarding to harmonise common positions, in terms of defence, security, foreign policy, neighbourhood. And, from this point of view, very frankly speaking, we respect but we regret this decision. But what I can assure you is that we will have together the same partnership in NATO, and a strong and enhanced bilateral partnership, and seek together co-operation with the UK in all the areas regarding, especially, security, defence—common defence—information exchange and foreign policy.
Romania's first mandate as presidency of the Council of the European Union came at a difficult time, a time of outstanding European developments, chief among which the Brexit process, and the campaigning of—[Inaudible.]—at setting up a framework of the future relations with the US as a strategic partnership. It was a quite complicated time of reflection on the future of Europe. There were the European elections that took place in May. Now we have the big challenges, which are to set up a new EU legislative and institutional cycle, a new Commission, a new political architecture of the Parliament and of the Council.
During the last six months, these European dynamics were further influenced by a rapidly evolving general context, to name only the complex transatlantic agenda, the advance of Eurosceptic rhetoric, and then increased international pressure on our social market economy model. Despite all these challenges that I mention, our Presidency of the EU Council represented an excellent opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to the values of the European Union and to strengthen and articulate its role among the member-states. In these circumstances, the Romanian Presidency, I could say it proved effective, and I would like to highlight just a few of our achievements.
We undertook 280 legislative dossiers from our Austrian friends and partners; Romania managed to finalise the negotiation of 90 of them. There are statistical figures; I don't know how interested you are. We had 1,307 events and reunions, 37 ministerial meetings. The multi-annual financial framework for 2021 to 2027 was one of our priorities. The Romanian Presidency managed to prepare a revised draft of the negotiation box to clarify and simplify the options on the negotiating table in order to facilitate future discussions about EU leaders. Then, we have the policy of enlargement, which is important for us, and the eastern partnership in the context of its tenth anniversary.
I don't like to read from papers, so I will speak a little bit more freely before you. I would say that, at this moment, Europe is at a crossroads. Europe has to have vision, leadership and determination to play a role in a very changing and dynamic international environment. If we look together at Europe, we see that politics is changing, and the dynamics of geopolitics and international relations is changing too. Societies are divided. Traditional politics falls down, in a way. What was our common understanding about politics, based on right and left—and now I'm talking not just as an ambassador, I'm talking as a former political analyst, strategist; this is my professional background—is changing too.
New types of relations are emerging, and the question is: are we, together, prepared for this new world or not? Of course, the Brexit phenomenon means weakening. It's an element that weakens Europe, and I tell you this very frankly and directly. Okay, we respect what is the will of the people, the British people, but we should think about if we are prepared for this new world, if we will be in the camp of winners in this competition and in this rearrangement of global politics or if we, together—Europe and the UK—will be in the camp of the losers. This is a question also for you here in Wales. This is a question that I'm asking all my British counterparts, and I will answer with two important elements.
First of all, probably most of you know that we have here in Wales a very important, strong Romanian community, and it will be a task for us together to manage this community, which is an added value, I believe, to the society here, and to give together as politicians—you, politicians, us as an embassy—those political messages that mean assurance and reassurance that, despite how Brexit will be—hard, soft, sooner, later—they are welcome as a part of this society and as an added value to this society. I'm not for the first time here in Cardiff; I've visited a lot of places here—enterprises, universities—and I can tell you that people are welcome here and they appreciate very much the openness of the society here for our Romanians. But, in the next period, it will be essential for the community to have this reassurance met.
Second, we have to think together—I met this morning also with the First Minister—how to develop relations between communities here in Wales and communities in Romania. Relations are not just institutions. Relations are built between people, between people that share values, between people that share the same interests. I believe we have broad possibilities to develop these relations between the Parliament and our parliaments, between your Commission and our foreign policy commissions in the Senate and in the Chamber of Deputies, between universities here and in Romania, between local communities here and in Romania—to make also cultural exchanges, why not? On 1 December we will have an exposition in the lobby here, in your famous lobby, and a concert, but Welsh artists are always welcome to do the same thing in the Romanian Cultural Institute in London or in Romania directly, because we can build relations, trust and co-operation. Thank you very much.
Well, thank you for that presentation. I can assure you that this committee is undertaking work to look at what the Welsh Government needs to do to ensure that Wales plays its part in being part of the winners in global politics. I can also assure you that every Member here will welcome the contribution Romanian citizens have made in Wales, in particular. We'll always work towards ensuring that the relationship with those citizens and that contribution is welcomed, recognised and built upon as a good, strong community.
In relation to the last point, the future relationships, again, this committee has been looking very carefully at the future relationships Wales should be having with both the EU and other regions and nations across the world. It's very pleasing to hear that you have had those discussions and you are looking at both an institutional relationship with your Chamber of Deputies, but also building a partnership up, in a sense, with Wales, to look at various exchanges, whether it's cultural, educational or industrial. That's very pleasing to hear and I'm sure we'll be contributing that element to our work in the future.
But in the meantime, we want to ask some questions as to how you see your presidency of the council, its role over the last six months, where you see it going in the future, the priorities Romania set for that presidency and how they have been achieved. Because, even though we may not be members of the EU, we will be continuing to trade with members of the EU and the direction that the EU takes is going to be very important to businesses and to people in Wales, so we want to ensure that we have an understanding of where that reaction is going. So, perhaps I'll pass on to David to ask some of the questions on some of your four priorities.
Yes, I'm just looking at the priority of a safer Europe and Europe as a stronger, global actor. I just wonder if you can give us a picture, really, of where we are and what the potential might be in future for continued co-operation between the United Kingdom and our current EU partners, but then our EU neighbours, I suppose, once we've Brexited. Because Mrs May was very clear when she started her administration that, whilst we would be leaving the EU, it would be important to continue, wherever possible, to be part of the security and defence architecture of the EU—and obviously we're not leaving NATO, so that's in place, but obviously the relationship between NATO and the EU is a significant thing. We face many threats to our culture and democracy and security. It's quite a broad concept now, whereas 50 years ago it would have perhaps been a bit more traditional in terms of what influences we need to guard against. So, I just wonder whether you're an optimist or a pessimist that some of the best practice we've developed will be able to continue.
Well, as we talked some minutes ago, it's a two-way street, not a one-way street. We have to design the logic of our future relations, which will be a quite complicated process, not just because of the Brexit phenomenon, but also because the European Union has its own problems. Sometimes it could be that Brexit is not the first priority of the European Union, and I'll tell you very frankly, you should be aware of this. Okay, now we have a deadline. The deadline is when?
End of October.
End of October. But there are voices. Let's say, 'Okay, if we don't reach an agreement until then, it must have—.' You know the song: 'It must have been love, but it's over now.' [Laughter.] Roxette.
Let's make a common effort. Okay, there are so many ingredients in this, therefore we cannot forecast it at this moment. What will the future European Commission look like? What will the majorities in the European Parliament look like? What will your own Government look like? So, it's quite complicated to make a very precise and diplomatic forecast that we will have a triumphant parade in the future.
Could I ask one quite specific example then? If the British Government said it still wanted to be in the European arrest warrant, for instance, would that sort of co-operation be open or would that not?
Well, I believe the package is a little bit more complex. So, the idea of pick and choose will be quite complicated. We don't have a wish list here and we pick something—'We want the arrest warrant, but we don't want something else.' Of course, we want, in terms of security and defence, to stay very close together—information exchange, police co-operation. But you can ask your Government how much it will cost to replace the information exchange in terms of Europol. It could be a huge sum.
No, you asked me, I believe—. I have another question. Yes, security, we have to stick together. I believe NATO remains the stable security structure of the democratic and civilised world and, for sure, the United Kingdom will play an important role in security and in NATO. And then we have to deal with some ideas that could come up to have different defence and security structures. But in that idea, you will have Romania as a partner.
One of the other priorities for your presidency had been promoting a Europe of common values, and looking at countering racism, xenophobia and things like that. What is your assessment of how that has gone? How do you think that project can be taken forward, including involving the UK, even in the likely event that we will be leaving the European Union, looking at it from a UK perspective, but also across the European Union, where we've seen phenomena that, maybe, have been linked to a rise in populist feeling?
Well, the political dynamic is changing, also, in the European Union. Every time, I make a comparison between the moment when I was in the European Parliament 10 years ago—what were the topics that we discussed then in the European Parliament and what do we discuss now on the European level? Then, we were talking about enlargement, about the Balkans and about including the Balkans, about Moldova and about Ukraine. It was a sort of enthusiasm. Now we are talking about what the divisions are and how populism is emerging. If we look at the recent elections—European elections—we can make some comparisons.
It is our only chance to stick together on common values like democracy, pluralism and freedom. Europe is a big continent. It's not like America, it's not like China and it's not like Russia. It's a continent made by 27 states or 28—27 without the UK. Including the UK, let's say 28. The main basis is to stick to values. If we don't have the common values, it's very difficult to manage it. Probably it seems to you like a more philosophical answer, but I don't have a concrete one.
Ambassador, hopefully you'll come back in November here, when we're doing a cultural exchange with Bucovina. We have an artistic exchange. We'll be showing it up in the top of the Senedd, so we'll invite you back for that.
I wanted to ask you, on this issue of European unity, we're seeing at the moment a real doubling down of that message, a strengthening of that message from the European Union, a reminder about what the European Union is about, the solidarity, the mission and the vision. That has to be a response, surely, to exactly what you are saying—across Europe, different manifestations of scepticism about the European Union, or different manifestations of contrary forces pulling away to either forms of nationalism, populism or division. It seems that the European Union now is really doubling down and strengthening its message, in a way, perhaps, we haven't seen for a few years.
Well, when there was the meeting in Sibiu, Romania—a meeting of the council—our presidency was put into one word: 'cohesion'. So, we have to rediscover the European cohesion, and the European cohesion comes with values, benefits—rediscover the idea of reducing some gaps of development between countries. It will not be a very simple process. You had, during time, some various pressures. You had the economic crisis of 2008, 2009, 2010, which put the idea of cohesion under a big question. Then you had the big migration wave, which also created a sort of pressure—an external one—about the cohesion of the European Union and various interests. Then you have—I'm very sorry for speaking about this here in your home—the Brexit phenomenon, which also puts a mark, a sign, a big question, about the cohesion. So, the pressures are various, but I hope that the wisdom will prevail and the wisdom means: are we ready or not to be, as Europe, together with the UK, a strong global actor? Okay, this is a public hearing, and I won't give you details about this—what has been said to me by some important players of Wall Street, but you can think about it.
On that point, cohesion was the central theme of the Romanian presidency, and you are the first of a trio, with Finland and Croatia following you. I'm assuming, therefore, that you have had good discussions with both of those nations as they follow the presidency, to ensure cohesion remains the central theme and top of the agenda in the next 12 months, effectively.
Yes, and I hope that, because this is also an important instrument, the future financial exercise will be a strong signal of cohesion.
I'm interested in how you believe the Romanian presidency has been able to lead on some of the longer term objectives of the European Union. We are going to be beginning to look at a new budget round, a financial framework, in the next few years, and clearly there will need to be reviews of the common agricultural policy, cohesion funds, and the rest of it—some of the great pillars of European co-operation and collaboration. I'm interested in understanding the extent to which you've been able to make progress in preparation for those conversations that will follow in the next few years.
Well, at the Sibiu summit of leaders, we tried to design a lead. To what extent we managed this, it would not be very sincere to say that all is solved, but I believe we need, together, at a European level, a better understanding of what's happening in the world, a better response to the question of if Europe wants to be, as I said, a global actor or not, because it's possible, with time, that we could be there, not at the table, but in the—. How do you call it?
Upstairs, watching just. And to find ideas and leadership, because at least some big political processes are driven by leadership and by leaders.
I've got two questions for you, actually. What discussions have you had between the EU 27 around funding structures post Brexit? Question 1: do you think smaller countries will have to increase any of their budgets, or do you think the larger ones, Germany and France, will take up the slack when Britain leaves? Question 2: you keep saying about a two-way street, which is good, yes—some give, some take. The UK Government has already stated that EU citizens' rights in the UK will be guaranteed, deal or no deal. So, EU citizens in the UK will be guaranteed their rights, but the EU 27 have not reciprocated this for UK citizens inside the EU. Have they?
Yes. There have been individual—
I think every—. Well, of course, we can't speak for every country in Europe, but, at least from what I know, Romania has definitely sent a message of reassurance—a very firm one—to the British Government, and most of, if not all, the other EU members have done the same.
Okay, brilliant. So, we'll go back onto the funding structure. What do you think?
Your first question is very tricky.
There's a debate, but manageable, from my point of view. If we stick to the idea of cohesion, then this idea of increasing, decreasing—. The idea of the United Europe is to help regions and countries to come to the same level of development. But this is not a done thing. So, for instance, the debate in NATO—I'll give you a comparison—there are some voices that say, 'Okay, why should just we pay for collective defence and you are not?'. We, Romania, don't have a problem with this because, since three years, we have a law that's made military expenditure two per cent of the GDP—
—and we respect this, but we are one of the few countries that has this provision. Then, somebody could say—I don't want to give names—'Why should we pay for collective defence?' or not. The same in Europe: 'Why should we pay for a region somewhere?' or not. But this is the beginning of the end, and when we talk about cohesion it's avoiding this phenomenon. 'Solidarity' means to bring all families together, not divide them into rich and poor families.
No. Thank you. You've answered my question already. Thank you, Chair.
Since the question has been raised on Brexit, I'll ask one question. Clearly, as you highlighted earlier, there are other priorities within the EU, and Brexit is not necessarily always the top of that list. But have you, as the Romanian presidency, seen or experienced perhaps the challenges being put to one side sometimes because of Brexit? In other words, you've already talked about the direction to go for, the next multi-annual financial framework to be discussed, how that's to be used—has Brexit distracted the EU under the Romanian presidency from actually getting on from what the EU really wants to get on with?
The president of Romania, who I represent, has always stated that we want to have the UK as a close partner, and in whichever meeting that I know of, and as a former chief of staff to the President I believe I have my information, he was trying to persuade all the European partners to have a moderated approach towards the process of Brexit and to try to find rational solutions and solutions that can guarantee our relationship in the long term, which is not necessarily the overall mood in Europe. But we will wait and see what is happening.
My question is based upon the concerns about, obviously, if there is more that needs to be done within the EU, because it's being held back a little bit, on future negotiations and on the relationship, what level of priority that would have considering the other internal workings of the EU, which have been delayed as a consequence. Have you had a feeling or any indication as to the timescales that might be applied to any negotiations once we leave the EU to agree a future relationship, because there will be other priorities within the EU 27?
I'm sorry, I don't have an answer to your question.
Ambassador, you've mentioned already that you were speaking to the First Minister today about the need to strengthen the relationship between Romania and Wales, not just institutionally but between our peoples. Can you tell us more about where you think that could develop?
I told you: we can find relations between local communities, between universities, between parliaments. I believe we could also agree a sort of exchange and consider it as an invitation to come to Romania to visit and to have an exchange with the foreign affairs committees in the European Parliament.
In the Romanian Parliament, sorry. I am just thinking about Europe. [Laughter.]
Okay. Well, I'll ask the question. What would you like to see as the legacy of the Romanian presidency of the European Council? Is it going to be cohesion at the heart of everything the EU does over the next 12 to 24 months?
Cosmin, what is the legacy, because I'm subjective in this? [Laughter.]
Well, I think we're lucky enough to have narrowly avoided being the presidency under which Britain left the EU. [Laughter.] So, that, in itself, is a legacy. I think the fact that we managed to avoid being that kind of presidency.
Well, it was avoided to be a funeral presidency. [Laughter.]
Yes, indeed. So, on that very point, and based on your discussions with the two others of the trio—Finland and Croatia—what do you think would be the feeling if—? We talk a lot about the feeling here within the UK, but if, having missed the March deadline to Brexit, we get to October and, for whatever reason, we find that we can't quite Brexit again and we're still here in another six months into the next presidency, and who knows, another six months after that—. I mean, heaven knows what it'll mean within the UK, but what would be the attitude of European—and I still regard them as partners, come what may—but what would be the view of the presidencies? Because, you're right, you may have avoided the funeral legacy of one of the members casting itself off, but it might be sitting there. Will we be carrying on from the—?
I told you before that there are so many elements that now are still unpredictable that I couldn't give a forecast, and I would be very—. Okay, I can be very diplomatic and say it will be all okay, but I won't do this because I'm coming from politics not from diplomacy.
There are a lot of elements. As you saw, perhaps, last week, they didn't agree on a chairman of the Commission. We won't know still yet what the majorities will be in the European Parliament. If the deal that functioned for decades between the socialists and the EPP, the European People's Party, will still be functioning anymore as a by voter basis of European politics—. You have a new political group that is—how do you call it? [Inaudible.] Renew or—?
Oh, yes—Renew Europe.
Renew Europe: they have 100 members of the European Parliament. And you have this Conservative group—Conservative not in terms of your Conservative Party—with the Poles. It's a changing political landscape. You don't know who will be the chairman of the European Council. So, there are various elements that paint the picture in which I cannot give you now a forecast of what the mood will be about Britain changing its way of acting or demanding for a new—. I cannot give you this prediction.
Okay. We've come, near enough, to the end of our session. Can I thank you for your time this afternoon? It's very enlightening to see a political sense from a diplomatic position to have come forward, especially on such complex issues. You will receive a copy of a transcript.
I am afraid of the copy of the transcript. [Laughter.]
As you may well know, it's to ensure that—if there are any factual inaccuracies, please let us know as soon as possible so we can correct them for the record.
I will be harshly criticised about this. [Laughter.]
Thank you very much for giving your time. It was a pleasure for this meeting, and the meeting before the official session of the Commission. I extend again, on behalf of the Romanian administration—I will talk to my colleagues in the Romanian Parliament, to make this formal invitation to visit Romania, because I believe that enhancing our personal contacts is a step forward. I hope I will see you in November when we make this little concerto and exposition here. Thank you very much.
Thank you. And thank you for the invitation, but, also, please take back the message that Wales is a very welcoming country to Romanian citizens. We always look forward to working and collaborating with them, and I'm sure that communities of your citizens will be very welcome here always. Thank you.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
For Members, I'd just like to move, under Standing Order 17.42(vi), that we move to have the remainder of the meeting in private. Are Members content? Therefore, we move into private session for the remainder of today's meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:57.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:57.