My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Soley and will raise only a few headlines. First, on the context, there is turmoil throughout the Middle East and north Africa region, much of it interconnected. No one can now plausibly blame Israel for that turmoil, with Israel itself being an oasis of stability. Nevertheless the current Israeli Government, with their settlement policy, are surely placing obstacles in the path of a two-state solution, just as the Palestinians raise their own obstacles to peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, emphasised.
Secondly, the EU’s interests and those of its member states are directly involved throughout the region, not just because of refugees and terrorism. We have a clear interest in seeking to stabilise the region on democratic lines.
Thirdly, I recall the US jibe against Europe: “We do the cooking; you, the Europeans, do the washing-up”. There is surely an element of truth in this. It is Secretary Kerry who has taken the lead, both on the Middle East peace process and over Syria. Yet it is fair to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is playing a key role on behalf of the European Union in the rapprochement with Iran, and not just because of the EU sanctions. Is the main strategic political role always to be led by the US and does the EU mainly have a secondary role in institution-building and humanitarian aid? Even if this is inevitable there is surely a key, if subordinate, political role for the EU, not only over Iran but over the quartet and the Syria problem. We should also not decry the washing-up or soft power role. For example, the EU and its member states have spent more than €1 billion in funding Syrian refugees. The EU has also offered attractive carrots to the Palestinians.
Finally, perhaps the Middle East is a test case for the new European External Action Service after its apparent success in Kosovo. By using all its available instruments, the EU has a serious role. There has been real progress on the immediate humanitarian side. In the longer term, there is much EU experience in the building of viable civil society institutions, the rule of law and human rights. This is particularly seen now in Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab awakening.
Back to Palestine: the EU is the largest provider of development aid to the Palestinian territories yet there is surely insufficient conditionality for all the money which is given. Last December, the European Court of Auditors concluded that EU assistance to Palestine has been reasonably effective but it highlighted many areas of concern. I have two final questions. Will the Government press for these to be addressed and, generally, will they seek to make the EU’s political weight in the region more commensurate with our financial contribution?