Meeting with European Union Parliamentarian on Trade, Military and Diplomatic Relations

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Defence and Military Veterans

08 November 2004
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Meeting report

8 November 2004

Professor K Asmal (ANC)

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Mr P van Rynen, a Member of the European Union Parliament, spoke on the enlargement of the European Union (EU) and the trade, military and diplomatic implications of this. Ten new state members now belonged to the customs union. This would make trade easier for South African companies to penetrate those countries. The enlargement and the new neighbourhood policy would probably increase funding pressure to develop neighbouring countries in Europe and North Africa.

It would be preferable to rely on African arrangement when dealing with African security issues. The African peace troops would be better placed to deal with the issues than European troops. There had always been question marks raised about the involvement of European troops in Africa. Europe should be able to assist when necessary and where there was an agreement between African and European leaders.

EU member countries were very jealous of their independence on foreign and security issues. They were not ready to give up any powers in this field. The EU had full powers to act for all member States in issues like trade and environmental matters. He hoped that Finland was able to maintain all ties with countries across the world even though it was an EU member. The EU should not be developed in a way that would deprive Finland the sovereignty to deal with other countries.


Mr van Rynen reported that he had been a member of the European Parliament from 1995. Finland had 16 EU Parliamentarians, and these had been reduced to 14 following the enlargement of the European Union (EU). The enlargement was one of the important processes happening in Europe.

The enlargement of the EU had happened in stages. The Union had been established after the Second World War between six countries: Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. The countries had tried to form a federation in the 1950s. They had concluded two crucial agreements: one on defence and the other on political community. Had these agreements come into force, a federation would have been established. The French Parliament had rejected the idea of a federation in 1954. At that stage, the possibility for political integration was minimal.

The European Economic Community had been formed following the Rome Treaty in the 1950s. The United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland had joined the Community in the 1970s, and Greece, Spain and Portugal had joined in the 1980s following internal democratic changes. The membership had grown from 12 to 15 in 1995, following the admission of Finland, Sweden and Austria. Ten new members (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Moldova and Cyprus) had joined in 2004. Bulgaria and Romania were negotiating memberships and would probably join in 2007.

The European Council would soon decide when to start negotiations with Turkey. The issue was whether Turkey was ready to start the negotiations. This was a difficult matter to decide, given the country's population size, the fact that most parts of the country were geographically outside Europe. Many countries, like France, were opposed to Turkish membership. President J Chirac had indicated that there would be a referendum in the country about Turkish membership. Mr van Rynen indicated that he was in favour of Turkish membership and believed that it would be realised in ten years' time.

Croatia had also made an application to join and would start in 2006. Macedonia had also applied and other countries would submit their applications in the near future. There had been discussions on whether Russia could and should become a member. Many Russians felt that it was undesirable. Like Turkey, the country was virtually outside Europe. It would be difficult to reject Russia if Turkey was accepted. Every European country that met the entry requirements was entitled to apply for membership.

A new neighbourhood policy was being developed to cater for countries that did not have an immediate membership perspective. A new policy covering the whole of Europe was also in the pipelines. This was closely connected to the enlargement of the EU.

The EU had been established as a confederation, and its Parliament was composed of members of other national Parliaments. It had a Commission to assist its powerful Council of Ministers. There had to be unanimity before the Council took a decision. The EU had gradually moved towards a federation as indicated by various treaties concluded in the 1990s. The European Parliament had begun to look like a real Parliament after it was elected by a popular vote. More powers had been given to the Parliament in the 1990s, and the European Commission now resembled a national government with the Council of Ministers as an Upper House. This was more in line with the views of federalists. There had also been strong forces to reject the formation of a federation. Mr van Rynen was himself opposed to a federation.

EU leaders had signed the Union Constitution a few weeks ago and member countries should ratify it. Some members would hold referendums on whether to accept the Constitution. Great Britain was one the countries likely to reject it. A referendum was likely to be held in 2006 after the next Parliamentary elections. France would also hold a referendum and it might reject the Constitution. Former French President Valry Giscard d' Estaing had chaired the committee that drew up the Constitution. He had doubts about the possibilities of Turkey becoming a member in the kind of Union that would be established by the Constitution. This meant that if Turkey became a member, France would reject the Constitution.

Mr van Rynen was in favour of Turkish membership but against the Constitution. The Union would include different countries. It would be better to have the Union as a confederation rather than a federation. Finland was a very small country with five million people in the far North, so should have as much independence as possible. Should it give away its sovereignty to a federation of 500 million people, it would only form 1% of the federation's population. Its influence would thus be very minimal. The ideal situation would be a decentralised and diversified Union. He understood the need for close integration among central European countries.

Implications for South Africa
In the trade arena, the EU enlargement would make trade easier for South African companies to invade in those countries. South Africa would be able to penetrate markets, and those countries would also be able to invest in South Africa. However, the enlargement and the new neighbourhood policy were probably going to increase funding pressures for developing neighbouring countries in Europe and North Africa.

In the military field, the federal ideal had been common defence for Europe. Many federalists believed that Europe was an economic giant, but a political and military dwarf. A Rapid Reaction Force could be used in more demanding military operations. Some members were interested in close co-operation between member states and to retain control over military matters. Former colonial powers were interested in having all members involved in African conflicts, probably under the EU flag and not the national flags of former colonial powers. Finland would probably ask why it should be involved because it had no colonial "burdens".

It would be preferable to rely on an African arrangements. The African peace-keeping troops would be better placed to deal with such issues. Europe should assist when necessary and where there was an agreement between African and European leaders. The African Union should have a political mandate to deal with African affairs under the auspices of the United Nations.

On the diplomatic front, the EU had common foreign and security policy. Its activities were co-ordinated in many fields. Member countries were very protective of their independence on foreign and security issues. The EU Commission had missions all over the world and this had made contact between the EU and other countries. The EU had full powers to act for all member states in trade and environmental matters. He hoped that Finland was able to maintain all ties with countries across the world, even though it was an EU member. The EU should not be developed in a way that would deprive Finland of its sovereignty to deal with other countries.


The Chairperson said it was interesting that the integration of Europe was economically-driven at the beginning. The EU had numerous regulations and they were binding on the ten new members. They would have to comply with agreements between the EU and South Africa. The lesson for Africa was whether to go for economic or regional integration before moving towards political integration. He hoped that the Defence and Foreign Affairs Parliament Porfolio Committees would deal with these issues.

Ms C Johnson (NP) asked if it was compulsory that member states contributed human and financial resources to the Rapid Reaction Force. She asked how the development of the Rapid Reaction Force would impact development in Africa.

Mr van Rynen replied that members voluntary contributed forces to the Rapid Reaction Force. Members had the right to decide if their forces should be used in a given operation. The UN should be substantially strengthened. The regional arrangement should complement the UN systems. Africa should be able to take care of its security and related developments. There was a need for co-operation between regional bodies. The EU should be prepared to work with Africa.

A Member asked how the EU viewed Africa from a peace and security perspective. Was the EU considering establishing a presence in Africa? The African Union was considering the establishment of a 'standby force' and this would probably need the support of the EU. He asked if the EU was of the opinion that peace-keeping in Africa should be left to Africans.

Mr van Rynen replied that the idea for an African standby force was very laudable. The EU should assist in training and development of this force. The EU had responsibilities to Africa. There should be a system whereby Africans would have the main responsibilities and the EU would only assist when requested.

Mr M Sayedali asked about the criteria to be met before a country was accepted as an EU member. Which criteria did Turkey not meet?

Mr van Rynen replied some of the problems with Turkey were the human rights abuses, lack of democracy, and role of the military. The country had since changed their Constitution and matters were now looking better. There was also the question of the Kurdish minorities whose rights had been consistently violated. Legislation in the country was more acceptable, but implementation was problematic. The question was whether there had been enough positive developments to start negotiating Turkish membership. A comparison between Romania and Turkey would reveal that Romania was also not "in shape" when negotiations started. Many changes had occurred during the negotiations and this might happen in Turkey.

Ms F Hajaij (ANC) found it intriguing that Europe had become a strong economic force and yet it belonged to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The "boss" of NATO was the United States of America. It was strange that Europe still allowed the US to play such a large role in military matters.

Mr van Rynen replied that the EU was divided on this issue. Some member states preferred greater European independence on military issues. Some EU members, like Finland, did not belong to NATO and would not like to belong to any military union. Great Britain felt that it was acceptable for the US to take the lead. In the long run, Europeans would have stronger military capabilities and therefore more independence. NATO would remain in the foreseeable future if there was a good relationship between the EU and US. The EU should become a civil and not a military power, and NATO could take care of the military affairs. This would ensure that Finland remained unaligned to any military union.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) asked if there would be conflicts between the EU and NATO if the EU remained a civil power. The EU and NATO might disagree on whether they should be involved in certain conflicts. He also asked if the degree of contribution by a country towards the Rapid Reaction Force was based on the country's Gross Domestic Product. He also asked if countries had an equal voice, irrespective of their contribution.

Mr van Rynen replied that most EU members were also NATO members. If the EU was to remain a civil and not a military power, NATO members would form a European pillar inside NATO. There would be both American and European views within NATO, and members would have to agree on a particular view. The EU was based on clear legal rules. The influence of member countries was based on the number of issues, like the size of the population. The larger members normally contributed more. The Commission was supposed to be impartial. It should apply the rules without benefiting a country just because it had contributed more than the others. The rules of decision-making were followed very strictly.

The Chairperson wondered why so much attention had been given to Turkey. There was a war in Chechnya and nothing much was done about it. Africa had been criticised for different reasons. There was growing violation of human rights, xenophobia, violence and racism in some other European countries. He suggested that there had been attempts to 'demonise' Muslims.

Mr van Rynen said that some in the EU supported negotiations with Romania but were opposed to negotiations with Turkey. A comparison of the two countries would reveal that there was no basis for rejecting negotiations with Turkey. Chechnya remained an 'open wound in the body of Russia' and Europe as a whole. There were human rights abuses in Russia and the EU could not do much about the situation.

The meeting was adjourned.


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