Jack Straw – 2002 Speech on the European Union


Below is the text of a speech made by the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, on “Critical Decisions for the EU” on 5th December 2012.

Next week at Copenhagen, the EU will take some critical decisions which will define the shape and stability of Europe for the next half century. Europe has to decide:

– its conception and its boundaries;

– whether the boundaries are geographical or in truth religious;

– and whether we have a vision which is strategic or myopic.

At the heart of these decisions lie two issues, one very specific – Turkey – but resonant way beyond its borders. The second, political, about the role of the nation state.


On Turkey, we in the United Kingdom want to see a ‘firm date’ set – to pick up the Prime Minister’s words – for the start of accession negotiations with the European Union.

This is now a matter of obligation both to previous EU decisions and to history. Three years ago at the Helsinki Summit all heads of state and government said that ‘Turkey is a candidate state destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate states.’

Of course Turkey has to meet the same Copenhagen criteria on human rights, the rule of law, and the market economy. No less than other applicant states but neither no more.

And Turkey has made significant progress since then. If the principal definition of a functioning democracy is that it allows the peaceful change of government then Turkey more than passes that test. Turkey has also introduced 48 separate constitutional amendments and 32 legislative changes towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria. Of course they are the first to acknowledge that there is a long way to go before they are ready formally to become members of the European Union. But there is no reason why a firm date cannot now be set for the beginning of those negotiations.

The most disreputable reason of all for feet dragging on Turkey would be to treat it differently from other applicant states because the majority of the country’s population was Muslim.

When Turkey was the most formidable defence of Western Europe’s eastern and southern flank against the Soviet bloc, I do not remember any Western European nation denying Turkey’s help in NATO because it was ‘a Muslim nation’. They have been full and active members of NATO for 50 years, loyal and effective. There is no reason why they will not become the same inside the European Union.

A state in which the overwhelming majority of its peoples are Muslim, which has parties which celebrate that fact (just as we have the equivalent in Western Europe) but which is secular, and which accepts our conception of liberal democratic values would be of huge importance to the stability not just of Europe but of much of the rest of the world. And we need to remember this – that so much of Europe’s own history, written in blood, has arisen through violence and conflict defined by religious strife.


The second issue for Europe – now being actively raised in the Convention on the Future of Europe – is the role of the nation state. Yes, the European Union only works if nations are ready to pool their sovereignty in appropriate areas. But for the EU to work effectively at 15, and still more at 25, 27 or 28, its institutions have to work with the grain of the nation state, not against it.

Slovenia is a small country. Some might claim the kind of nation state who should be protected by the European Commission from ‘the bigs’. But yesterday when I was in Slovenia, a proud nation state, which only gained its independence just over a decade ago, I was poignantly and unexpectedly warned of the dangers of failing to give proper expression to nations within the EU.

The way we ensure that the Union works is not by strengthening one institution at the expense of the others but by strengthening them all.


Mr Chairman, let me turn to one of the other major international news stories – Iraq.

Last month, the UN Security Council finally recognised that the world could no longer afford to ignore Iraq’s contempt for its disarmament obligations. After 11 years of Iraqi prevarication, intimidation and deceit, UNSCR 1441 gives Saddam Hussein a ‘final opportunity’ to comply with international law.

The text is sufficiently clear that even Saddam Hussein will find it difficult to find any loopholes. The first crucial test of Saddam’s intentions now looms. The regime must submit a full account of its holdings of weapons of mass destruction and dual-use technologies to UN inspectors and the Security Council by 8 December.

We have been here before. For seven long years between 1991-98, UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors sought accurate Iraqi declarations for chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. The inspectors were frustrated at every turn. For four years the Iraqi regime refused to admit the very existence of a biological weapons programme. An admission of guilt came only with the defection of Hussein Kamal in 1995.

As our dossier showed in September, Iraq has continued to develop its weapons of mass destruction. But even if we put to one side what has happened since 1998, the fact is that when the inspectors left Iraq four years ago, the regime had yet to account for significant amounts of WMD materiel. This included:

– up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals;

– up to 360 tonnes of bulk agent for chemical weapons (including 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent);

– over 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents;

– and large quantities of growth media acquired for the production of biological weapons.

These are not small quantities of WMD materiel which might easily slip off the balance sheet. They provide the basis for a huge chemical and biological weapons programme, with the potential to inflict many thousands of casualties. And they must be accounted for.

Given his record of evasion and deceit, it is unlikely that Saddam will provide a full and accurate account of his WMD holdings on 8 December.

He may declare that it has no holdings of WMD; or he may fill the declaration with meaningless detail designed to put the inspectors off the scent. Either way, this will be a serious mistake. The inspectors will test his declaration with robust inspections and hard questions. Even if Saddam makes the mistake of lying once again, we will want to nail his lies. While this weekend will not be the moment to declare Iraq either in breach or in compliance, a false declaration would make clear to the world that Saddam’s strategy is deceit. We will not allow him to get away with it.

If he is true to form, Saddam Hussein will try to confuse and divide international opinion. He will be seeking the benefit of the doubt. He does not deserve it. That is the relevance of the briefing paper the Government released on Monday setting out his vile human rights record. A man who flouts every law of humanity internally cannot be taken at his word that he is abiding by international law.

We will continue to make our argument robustly here in the United Kingdom, in the Arab world and as far as we can to the people of Iraq. We will take every opportunity to ensure that our voice is heard in Iraq. Yesterday I gave an interview to Al Jazeera which will have been seen by the regime. My message to them is:

– Don’t play games.

– Don’t make the wrong choice.

– Don’t reject the final opportunity provided by the Security Council.

And our message to the proud people of Iraq is that we know what they have suffered. We believe they deserve a better life. Without his weapons of terror, it will be harder for Saddam Hussein to intimidate and oppress them.

The choice is Saddam Hussein’s. We not only want a peaceful solution, we have designed a pathway to peace in Resolution 1441. But the only way of convincing Saddam to stop cheating and take that path is with the credible threat of force. We will continue to pursue that policy with consistency and determination.