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DAVID FROST: And now it's time to welcome the, the lines are open now to Chevening and Robin Cook our Foreign Secretary's there, Robin good morning.

ROBIN COOK: Good morning to you David.

DAVID FROST: Let's begin with the subject of the European Army, there's strong American support today in terms of your joint article with Madeleine Albright and quotes attributed by the Observer to Bill Clinton as well, that presumably is a, is very good news as far as you're concerned, that, that in fact the Americans are saying it won't weaken Nato?

ROBIN COOK: It helps to get the Record straight and to get the message across, I have a joint article with Madeleine Albright in which we both make the point that far from weakening Nato the development of a greater capacity for rapid reaction with Europe. The development of forces that can help crisis management actually strengthens Nato and indeed as George Robertson, the Secretary General of Nato has also said today, these proposals were developed in cooperation with Nato at all levels linked into Nato as he says they're umbilically linked. And I hope the point that comes across here is that action we've taken and taking the initiative to set up this force is in the British national interest because it is in the interest of our security that we preserve stability on the continent and we protect against instability. And that's what this is all about.

DAVID FROST: Now as you describe it and so on, and as we describe it in this country, it is, there does seem to be a slightly different emphasis to some of our colleagues on the continent, that we tend to be talking about peace keeping, dealing with human rights violations and so on, and some of them seem to be talking about peace making and fighting, not necessarily just inside Europe but outside Europe whereas we tend to concentrate on Europe. There's a difference of emphasis there, isn't there?

ROBIN COOK: Well all I can say David is that for the last two years we have discussed this exhaustively, perhaps exhaustingly within European meetings and all 15 of us have signed up to the same text at the end and those texts always stress that this operation is about crisis management, about peace keeping interventions, humanitarian intervention. Of course we have learnt from the past that sometimes that kind of crisis management does need to be robust, for instance David think about the early years in Bosnia when we sent in a protection force that was too weak to protect even itself never mind the people it was supposed to be protecting. Think about that massacre at Srebrenica, people who thought they were being protected by our force. Now if we'd had this stronger more capable force of the kind that we're now proposing, now working for, then we might have avoided that humiliation, we might have saved the lives of those people who were massacred at Srebrenica. So it is, yes, about crisis management but it does need to have a serious robust capacity so that people understand that when we go into crisis management we have a real military capacity. Now that's got to be in the interests of Britain, of Europe, of the people who might be in the crisis and I do find it interesting, David, that today there is a poll in one of the papers indeed not a paper particularly sympathetic to us, which shows that 55 per cent of the British public, a big majority actually support what we've doing here and that shows that they understand much better than the Tories are peddling the scare stories, that this is in Britain's national interest.

DAVID FROST: Right but at the same time we do have French quotes like Joispin saying if we manage to achieve this in the second half of 2000 we will have crossed a milestone towards the creation of a united political Europe, or Chirac saying development of the European Union Foreign and Defence policy is a fundamentally political project?

ROBIN COOK: Well we live in a democratic Europe David, and people will say different things but what is important is that they sign up to the same text and Lionel Joispin and Jacques Chirac have both signed up to the same text as us and those texts make it clear that this is a crisis management force, not only that but it will only be used by Europe if Nato as a whole decides not to be involved and let us remember that, we will only go into action with a European-led force if Nato has already decided that this is not a job for it, the first call will be Nato and if Nato does decide to lead the operation then these forces will be available to Nato, that's why it strengthens Nato, not undermines Nato.

DAVID FROST: Nice, the European Council meeting, unqualified majority voting Robin, it would seem from the various things that have been said that there are six areas people feel on which you will not give an inch in terms of qualifying majority voting viz-a-viz the veto and they, people say those are tax, social security, foreign policy, defence, immigration and the system of funding the European Union, is that correct?

ROBIN COOK: We set out six red lines David, and I said in the House of Commons on Thursday, we have not changed our view on those in the nine months since we first published our White Paper with those six red lines in them and we're not going to change our view in the 14 days between now and Nice, particularly for instance to take a case of tax and social security, we believe that these are very important parts of the national characteristic, of national identity, it is important that they should be resolved by national parliaments and the governments, we therefore have no intention of giving up the need for consensus in those areas. But there are areas David, you know, where majority voting could work to our advantage, remember that those who want to keep the British veto on everything are also asking that we keep the German, the French, the Greek, the Spanish veto on everything and sometimes it is in Britain's interest to get rid of those vetoes by the other countries. Let me give you just one example, we're being lobbied by some of the professional associations that they would like majority voting on the free movement of professionals because it would give them a better chance, for instance, to work in the lucrative German market, now Germany keeps a veto on that in order to protect the jobs for themselves. It could be in our advantage to move to majority voting so that British people with professional qualifications could take up jobs in Germany.

DAVID FROST: And looking at the future, at the end of this particular conference the Tories say that there should be referendum on Nice because it is going to be so important, is that a good democratic idea?

ROBIN COOK: Well Nice will be important because it is going to open the door to a wider Europe, biggest enlargement in the history of Europe and that is very much in Britain's national interest because it will make the a single market larger and more prosperous, it'll give us more clout in the world, it'll enable us to attack our common problems with the central European countries like cross-border crime. So we want to see enlargement, so we want to see agreement at Nice and the treaty that paved the way for it. But you know I think it is pure humbug on the part of the Conservatives to say that there should be a referendum on it they never gave us a referendum on anything, they never gave us a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty which involved an awful lot more majority voting than will ever come out of Nice. The reality is, David that they're desperate, they've lost a domestic debate on economy because they know we've got sound economic management, they've lost a domestic debate on public services because we're going through the biggest ever investment in those services. They're now desperately trying to raise European scare stories as the only thing available to them and the evidence of the polls this morning is it's not working, people aren't fooled.

DAVID FROST: And tell me, you mentioned enlargement there, a moment of vision here Robin, how many countries will be in the EU in ten years time would you suspect?

ROBIN COOK: I believe over 25, we've got a dozen in the accession process at the present time and indeed the report from the Commission shows that the frontrunners among them, five or six of them, are very close to completing the economic and the political requirements for membership. Now this is a good thing David, because it means that we'll be able to provide the kind of security and the kind of guarantee of freedom in central Europe that we already have as members within the European Union at the present time and it's a really exciting moment that we could reunify Europe, the end of the Berlin wall was the end of the political division of Europe but not until we've expanded the European Union will we be able to break down the division of Europe into rich countries and poor countries. This is very important and that's what Nice is about, I find it very sad the Conservatives want to oppose that.

DAVID FROST: Tell me something, last Sunday there was that story in the Sunday Telegraph, Robin Cook last night launched an astonishing attack on Gordon Brown for interfering in policy which is none of his business, very specific all of it, the Foreign Secretary authorised a spokesman to tell the Telegraph that Mr Brown was interfering in all aspects of government allowing his staff to undermine other ministers and so on, what did that, how did that come about, I mean did you do that, you denied that that actually happened.

ROBIN COOK: I certainly did not, no of course I didn't and I denied it seven days ago and I'm very happy David to put it on the record again, I did not authorise any such statements, they do not represent my views and I deplore negative briefing against colleagues, I never do it┐

DAVID FROST: But who, who said all these things then?

ROBIN COOK: Well you will have to ask the Telegraph.

DAVID FROST: Well no which member of staff?

ROBIN COOK: You'll have to ask the Telegraph David, David you'll have to ask the Sunday Telegraph, they made these claims, I've made it clear that these are not my views, they've got to explain how on earth they thought that such views belonged to me or were authorised by me, I've a good working relationship with Gordon Brown and indeed as me met for dinner the Monday after that not let me stress any kind of crisis meeting, it had been organised a month beforehand, we've got a good relationship personally, we've got a good relationship professionally┐

DAVID FROST: So would you say, would you say that┐

ROBIN COOK: No let me finish this point though David, this is a government more united on points of policy than any previous government that I can actually recall and we're going to keep it that way.

DAVID FROST: Yes but they do seem to be, may be united on most policies and so on but they all seem to be having lots of merry back-stabbing going on, but basically if, if you had to characterise your relationship with Gordon would you describe it as a) affectionate, b) mutually admiring or c) adversarial?

ROBIN COOK: Is this one of these Chris Tarrant sets of questions David.

DAVID FROST: That's right, phone a friend if you want?

ROBIN COOK: No let me be clear, I have a good strong working relationship with Gordon Brown as a professional colleague as I do with all members of the Cabinet and we're united on the policy questions and Gordon Brown, I think, has done a first class job in running a sound economy and also making sure that we run a fair economy so that for instance we're tackling child poverty and within a generation we'll eliminate it, a very bold programme and one that Gordon's leading. DAVID FROST: But in general terms on, on the Euro you have a difference of emphasis, both you and Tony Blair have clearly decided that you've got to start preaching for the Euro otherwise you're going to lose that one, whereas Gordon would rather, rather that not happen and the Euro be not discussed before the election?

ROBIN COOK: Well the policy was set out by Gordon Brown and it's one that I fully share and I've endorsed on many occasions and that is that we believe in principle that there is a strong case for Britain being inside the Euro and that Britain could benefit from it, but only provided the economic conditions are met and I also share that view. Now what we'll be fighting this election on is a very clear commitment that Labour will give the public a choice, if we believe that there is a case for joining the Euro we'll put it to the public in a referendum. The Conservatives are going to the election saying we're not going to ask you we're going to take the decision ourselves, we're going to take the decisions on the basis of our prejudice not the national interest, even if we thought Britain would benefit and there'd be more jobs on going to the Euro we won't do it because of our prejudice against Europe, I'm quite confident who'll win in that debate.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the Sunday Times saying today UK to shun Euro for five years, a poll was conducted between November 16 and 21 and showed that only 22 per cent of people were in favour of membership, 62 are, 62 per cent against which is more than the 55 per cent you were quoting earlier on the other, on the other front, but, but UK to shun Euro for five years, do you think that will come true?

ROBIN COOK: We have set out our policy David and I can only repeat it to you again and I'm very happy for every opportunity to get it across so we cut through the mist. Early in the next Parliament we will carry out an economic assessment, if that shows our economic tests to be met we'll then put it to the public in a referendum and it's down to them to decide whether or not they're going to accept those economic arguments. But I do believe if we can present a strong economic case the British people are hard-headed people, are not going to turn down a chance of more jobs, more exports, more investment. DAVID FROST: Do you feel in terms of PR that having made the general promise of a referendum on PR not, not hinged absolutely on this Parliament, but that next time you'll need to make a pledge for a referendum on PR within the next Parliament?

ROBIN COOK: That is our policy David, a commitment to consulting the public on an alternative to present voting system is one that has been endorsed by our party twice in the course of this past year and it will be the policy at the next election. DAVID FROST: It will be, that, that's an important clarification there, people were concerned that might not happen? ROBIN COOK: Well David the manifesto has not been written but that is the commitment of the party and that is the policy of the party. DAVID FROST: Mr Fischer the German Foreign Minister, Robin, said that he thought the EU might benefit from a directly elected President, is that a good idea do you think?

ROBIN COOK: I tend more to the view of Chancellor Shroeder the head of the German government who said that such an idea is a pure illusion and I think the reason why is that any kind of attempt to run that sort of pan-European election would be a sort of artificial electorialism. There is a neat to make sure that we anchor European democracy into the European institutions but the way to do that is to bring in what is the heart of democracy throughout Europe and that is the national parliaments of the member states and that's why Tony Blair has proposed that we should have a second chamber in the European Parliament bringing together the national parliaments of Europe. Now that's a good way to make sure that the democracy with which our people identify is heard within Europe and that we keep the right balance between the institutions of Europe and the national governments of the member states, I believe that's an idea that's got a lot of support, including from Mr Fischer himself.

DAVID FROST: One last, one last thought Robin, which is we had a lot of discussion this morning about the idea of banning French beef, what do you think about that?

ROBIN COOK: Well we've made it plain that if our scientists say that there is any risk to human health in Britain then of course we're prepared to ban any import that puts that health at risk. At the present time our scientists are saying to us that there is not a risk to human health and this is because we insist that any beef imported has to be within the 30 months and that the same kind of rules be applied to our own beef. We will make sure that that rule is applied but if our scientists any time change their mind and come back and say look there is a possibility of risk then we'll act and we'll ban it.

DAVID FROST: Robin thank you very much for joining us this morning, we shall miss you at breakfast.

END

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