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How not to answer the questions

Posted by Richard Thursday, January 20, 2005

UK correspondent for that strangely Europhile news agency UPI, Hannah K. Strange, has been granted an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with the egregious minister for Europe, Denis MacShame.

Unsurprisingly, the copy has not been used by any of the national media, leaving UPI to find an outlet only in the somewhat obscure periodical, World Herald where – but for this Blog – it would have languished unread in any number of dentists' waiting rooms.

We have resuscitated it for one purpose – to demonstrate how MacShame, like his colleagues, have elevated the practice of not answering questions to a higher art form.

In the interview, UPI asked him about US-EU relations, the future of the EU, and British political controversies. We reproduce the sequence relating to the lifting of the EU arms embargo on China, and another short sequence on how MacShame is going to win the referendum on the EU constitution. Firstly, China:

UPI: Concerning Britain's agreement to support a lifting of the EU arms embargo despite intense pressure from the United States ...

MacShane: There is no agreement. ... There's a discussion going on between individual governments in Europe ... and with the United States. There's no agreement at the moment, it's there as an issue that a lot of people are talking about.

Q. Will the U.S. feelings have an important impact on any final decision?

A. Well, the United States is a vital ally of the United Kingdom and other European Union member states, so, of course, talking to America is something that all European governments do daily. Mr. (Javier) Solana was there in Washington a couple of weeks ago just watching the current installation of (the State Department's) Condoleeza Rice and (Robert) Zoellick and Nick Burns. All three of them know Europe intimately.

Nicolas Burns has been the U.S. ambassador to NATO, and is one of the world's great experts on Europe. Zoellick has got 25 years experience of working closely with European countries and Miss Rice -- fluent Russian, fluent French -- plus the president visiting here next month, I think the dialogue ... has never been deeper. ... There's a new sense the partnership between the United States and Europe is coming back into being after the period of difficulty (with) ... the initiation of the Iraq conflict.

Q. But Britain is supporting at the moment the move towards lifting the embargo.

A. We have made three points: firstly, the embargo was imposed in 1989, two decades ago in response to Tiananmen Square. Secondly, China has moved on very considerably since then, they'll be organizing the Olympic Games shortly, and China's got a legitimate right to ask for normal trade relations.

Other countries have been selling arms to China very strongly in recent years, some of which are very close to the United States. What we want to ensure is that any lift(ing) of the embargo is within the framework of the EU norms on exporting arms, which place important strictures on human rights. They don't contribute to increasing any tension in the Straits of Taiwan, and don't involve allowing the exporting of any relevant technology.

I think the big question that has to be asked is: Who's been exporting arms to China in the last decade. But it's a continuing discussion, no final decision has been made, and I think it's one that has been handled in a very open and transparent way and with full respect for the very strict rules that certainly Britain applies for any of its arms exports.

Q. If Britain does go ahead with its support of the lifting of the arms embargo, does it mean that Britain is following EU strategic preferences rather than those of the United States?

A. No, we are following British strategic preferences.
And now for the referendum:

Q. How do you intend to win the referendum on the EU Constitution?

A. By putting the facts on front of the British people - that this is a treaty that limits the powers of the European Union, strengthens the powers of national governments, strengthens the powers of national parliaments, preserves unanimity - or the word veto if you prefer - in all the key areas that matter, so nobody in Brussels can decide Britain's tax policy, Britain's foreign policy, Britain's military policy, Britain's crime and security policy without the consent of the British government and the British parliament. And we think that the union of 25 sovereign states, soon to grow larger, in which over half a trillion people will trade freely and do so within a framework of law, is an extraordinary historic achievement.

And it's been Britain's strategic goal for 500 years to ensure that this kind of Europe develops, not the Europe of my father and grandfather of division, rivalry, trade wars, cultural, political barriers, the denial of human rights - the old Europe that was a disaster for many of its citizens. Britain is a leading player in this (new) Europe, and we'll take on the isolationists and defeat them.

Don’t you love it… "over half a trillion people…"? Mr MacShame, shurly shum exaggeration?

And as for "Old Europe", wasn't that what Schröder was boasting about the other day? It is interesting to learn from MacShame that it was a "disaster". I believe that Rumsfeld expressed a similar view.