Forum Report: Wed 7 Mar 2007: Vision for the G8

Report on the Panel Session with with His Excellency Wolfgang Ischinger and the Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford

“Vision for the G8 and EU-Transatlantic Relations”

HIS EXCELLENCY WOLFGANG ISCHINGER – The German Ambassador to the UK

& RT HON LORD HOWELL OF GUILDFORD – Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Spokesman for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

Topics

  • German and UK Relations
  • European Union
  • Climate Change
  • CO2 Emissions
  • Energy Charter

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER

  • Referred to being made aware of possible negative press upon his arrival to UK ie: Holocaust, WW2, and Hitler. After 11 months found that, there was no problem.
  • Listed 3 possible reasons for the warmth of his reception including:
      1. Germany performing better economically with growth up to par
      2. The change in Government with Germany’s new Chancellor Angela Merkel
      having a positive effect
      3. The football world championship in Germany
  • Stressed Germany’s desire for a strong and united EU and pointed that Germany has 9 close neighbours who throughout history had either invaded these neighbouring countries or had in turn been invaded by them. As Germany is perceived as a strong country and there are 82 million Germans compared to 50 million French and 8 million Dutch, it is an important challenge for Germany is how to make their neighbouring countries feel comfortable. It is therefore important to work out differences in the European Council to make sure that the smaller neighbours don’t feel dominated.
  • European Summit, of which the UK is a leading member, had special significance. Germany and the UK are trying to be a leading force in tackling climate change and environmental CO2 emissions. Recognition was made to David Cameron and the Conservative active debate as to how CO2 emissions can be reduced and how the German Government can work to achieve desired result. Also felt that it was important to get the other countries to recognise the importance of this issue.

LORD HOWELL

  • Recognised that there had been fluctuations in the relationship with Germany, starting with a low period post war but the last few years have been a good period.
  • The argument over whether Europe could be a counterweight to the power of the USA has made the UK feel torn at times. He stated that superblocks and powers do not necessarily fit in to the grand scheme today, ‘big not necessarily being beautiful’.
  • There has been a shift of power because of the microchip to China, India, Korea. The cutting edge is technological power. There has been a resurgence in Russia and other countries like Brazil coming forward. There is a totally different world with a miniaturization of weaponry and power in Asia being dispersed into millions of computers.
  • The Middle East is riven into groups. Big power blocks no longer make sense. The US no longer has the power it once had and can no longer impose its template.
  • What is the Europe that we want?’ We are good Europeans but not totally committed to ever closer integration. The UK wants to be a good neighbour with lots of European friends we want to work closely with.
  • UK interested in the broader issues of world stability – Middle East/Iran/Central Asia/ lift Africa out of poverty. This different agenda can be fulfilled through a global network system which ties countries together. In London we have a ready made network to take us into all the leading IT Nations in the world with the Commonwealth of which India especially has colossal opportunities. Feels the Eurocentric view may be out of date. China is well ahead with energy technology and may be able to give us advice.

Questions & Comments from the Floor

Tanya Brisby: What progress is Germany making with Russia?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER

Sorry to say that Russia says No to the European Energy Charter, as does Norway.

We are trying to work on Russia/Europe Agreement and incorporate energy into that but unresolved issues are blocking it at the moment. European Union believes that with regards energy and transportation issues, it is important to make Russia feel as Western a country as possible as in the distant future the UK may be energy dependent with Russia perhaps being one of the suppliers. Germany wants to make a strong and stable relationship with Russia as the Germans feel insecure, possibly due the historical and geographical reasons.

LORD HOWELL

spoke of the West being too dependent on fossil fuels. “We need to look for energy security as the mix is not right now”. Russian gas is important to the UK as a net gas importer, with the whole EU being at least 30-40 percent on Russian supplies, of which we need a share. Russia also has energy customers in the East and Western Europe are requiring a much greater percentage that that of the UK. Many countries are dependent on Russian gas and Russia has a lesser need to export to the UK than we do to have its import. It is an uncomfortable situation. We need to diversify to such as Norway and have a more balanced energy mix from imports. The pipe links to Russia were even now ‘proving tricky.’ The question of Carbon Emission Control Schemes was then referred to, as was the CBI’s concern over rising energy costs. He concluded by saying that climate and energy security principles are immensely complicated and recommended the book “The Energy Labyrinth”.

Gabrielle Howartson: What is future of the European Union?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER

We need to reform the EU. It is now much bigger with 27 countries. 20 out of the 27 countries have agreed to maintain the current situation in the EU but it will need to be reworked and reformed. But he recognises that the idea of a new Constitution with the need for a referendum is a non-starter. However, he feels that the present situation where there are 6 month changes of presidency is not a good way of handling/running today’s Europe with 500 million people. There are many more people at the EU table now and it is more difficulty in communication than when it was smaller.

LORD HOWELL

The EU Constitution is a difficult concept for the UK but the EU needs a makeover as it was designed for a different age. It will be even more different with the Turks and Croats. Possibly it should be redesigned on a more flexible basis.

A former Parliamentary Candidate: What do Germans think of the Special Relationship between Blair and Bush and the UK and the USA?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER

We do not underestimate the strength of the UK/USA Special Relationship and consider that the EU is blessed with the UK Membership because of the ability of the UK to act as a Bridge Builder between Europe and the USA.

LORD HOWELL

UK values the relationship with USA but should not necessarily follow them blindly. Blair and Bush have been pulled down by the whole Iraq conflict. He pointed out that Harold Wilson was amicable to the US but didn’t get involved in the Vietnam Conflict. There may be a realignment in the relationship when Blair steps down. He pointed out that the British learned at Suez that you cannot package democracy and impose it by force.

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