BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 11.11.01

Interview: CHRIS PATTEN MP, EU External Affairs Commissioner.

Has the European Union been sidelined in the war against terrorism?

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair said right at the beginning that Britain would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. And so we have. But what about our European allies? There's a feeling in many Continental countries that they've been sidelined and that the European Union has been allowed almost no say in what goes on. Many of its members thought it would be different. After all, don't we have a common Foreign and Security policy? Well the European Union's Foreign Affairs Commissioner is Chris Patten. He's also in New York for that United Nations meeting and I suggested to him there that the EU has been shown to be pretty irrelevant. CHRIS PATTEN: No, I don't believe that's true, but I also think that it's, it's crazy to start talking about institutional battles between the European Union and member states when what ordinary people want, is to see us acting effectively, both to protect their security at home and to make the world a safer place, and I think we've got the balance about right. The European Union does some things supra- nationally, but it also ensures that member states make their contribution where they've got particular strengths, as Britain has, as France has, as others have, sometimes supra-nationally, sometimes you're behaving as a nation state and I think that that means that sometimes we're doing it as Europe and sometimes we're doing it as Europeans. HUMPHRYS: But if a Common, Foreign and Security policy means anything, wouldn't you, as the European Union's External Affairs Commissioner have a much bigger role in co-ordinating the EU's response? PATTEN: I don't think that's true, and you're actually using the wrong word I think. We do have a common foreign policy. What we don't have, and I don't think we'll have as long as I'm alive or you are, is a single foreign policy. We have found ways in which we can work together more effectively so I think we've been much more coherent, much more co-ordinated this time than we were with the Gulf crisis ten years ago. I think we've managed to do things much better in the Balkans than we did in the mid-nineties. But while we're doing some things better in common, there are at the same time fifteen member states, fifteen foreign ministers, fifteen foreign ministries, each with their own preoccupations and each with their own particular strengths and what we have to do, is to play both sides of the street, both to do things, together where we can make the aggregate of Europe's member states work more effectively and to do things, and to do things singly. HUMPHRYS: So in this particular case it's doing things singly as opposed to working together more effectively? PATTEN: No, it's not! I'm certainly not saying we can't act effectively. I'm saying we are working more effectively, but that foreign and security policy goes right to the heart of what it means to be a nation state. The European Commission has nothing to do with armies. What we are doing I think, is where, Europe should do things better together - in the trade, the development assistance, the political co-operation field - we're acting, so for example, we're providing in Europe, the most humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. We're providing about three-hundred million of which a-hundred million comes from the European Commission. We've just been in Pakistan, negotiating better access for Pakistan textiles to European markets, talking about a-hundred million assistance package for Pakistan, signing a trade and co-operation agreement with them. We're in Iran, I was there recently talking to them about, signing a, or negotiating a contractual agreement with them. We're providing more assistance than anybody to the Palestinian territories so that there is a viable negotiating partner for Israel in Palestine. Those are the sort of things we're doing, making a practical difference, working together successfully while at the same time President Chirac, Mr Blair and others, work as, as Europeans, but as also heads of government or heads of state in their countries. HUMPHRYS: Yeah but there are plenty of small countries that are not happy, I mean what about that dinner at Number Ten that Mr Blair called last week and the idea was that the French and the Germans would go and then the Italians and the Spanish sort of invited themselves and the Belgians said, well, we must be here as well, because we're holding the Presidency of the European Union. An awful lot of people across the European Union were very cross about it all. PATTEN: Well, it was clearly a very successful dinner party. Every, a lot of people wanted to go, but I don't think honestly that it makes very much sense to have an argument about, who Mr Blair invited to dinner. What matters is that Europe, large, middle-sized and small member states should be acting effectively together to freeze the assets of terrorist organisations, to deal with money laundering, to deal with airline security, to work together internationally, as I was describing a moment or two ago, together to make more of a difference. I don't think many people would have very much sympathy for us, if we were now to get into an argument about who did what on what pillar, which particular legal provision of which particular treaty, we were, we were working by, whether or not these things were done by the spirit of Jean Monet, or by the spirit of Charles de Gaulle! I think we just have to make a difference and I think everybody recognises that today, nation states can't do everything themselves. They do need to do some things more effectively together, but that doesn't mean that the nation state is obliterated. It isn't, and it never will be. HUMPHRYS: But I mean that's the whole point, isn't it? Do things more effectively together. You can't do that unless you really do have a common foreign and security policy. PATTEN: I think the European Union is playing a larger role than it did, not because it's vainglorious, but because we are aware of the gap between our economic and our political clout in the world and we do think it helps when we're able to exercise our political weight more sensibly and more influentially. We're the largest provider of development assistance in the world by a street. We're the most important, with the United States, we're the most important trading block so, what we're doing in Doha, in the WTO talks, is absolutely decisive. We do think that as the most effective example of a multilateral institution, we have a particularly important contribution to make, as the present debate about the fight against terrorism moves into, onto other agendas. Agendas, for example, touching on the dark side of globalisation, about the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation and violence. Those are all the areas where I think Europe will be able to do more, does do more, as we are in Marrakech at the moment, in the negotiations on the Kyoto protocol. HUMPHRYS: But there is a strong feeling in many European countries that you should develop your common foreign and security policy by giving more power to the institutions for example, by introducing majority voting on foreign and security policy at the next inter-governmental conference in two-thousand-and-four. There is a strong feeling that ought to happen. PATTEN: They wanted to go further, where it's sensible to make it go further. I think there's much less dogmatism or ideological fervour in the debate about how we could work together than there is, if I may so, in your questions! I think we have actually got our act together far better, over the last year and as I said earlier, just compare where we are now in the Balkans with where we were five years ago, just compare where we were on the Middle East five years ago and where we are now, just compare, for example, how Europe was all over the place in the early stages of the Gulf War campaign, at the beginning of the nineties, so this is better, it's more coherent, but it's not a single state. It's fifteen member states working more effectively together. HUMPHRYS: So you think the policy as it is is working fine and there's no need to make it any stronger? PATTEN: I think that the common foreign and security policy is getting stronger and will get stronger still, but what I do not believe in, and what will not happen, we will not have a single foreign and security policy, at least, not while I've, well not while I'm alive, I don't think. HUMPHRYS: But there just to go back to the overall attitude to what is happening. The way in which Britain and the United States obviously seem to be dominating this whole thing. We heard the Belgian Foreign Minister saying just the other day, and I'll quote him, he said "Blair's statements have left a bitter taste in the mouth" and he accused Mr. Blair of over-reacting, so many of the EU's member states are not happy. PATTEN: I don't believe that's true. Mr Blair has, I think shown commendable initiative, in helping to mobilise the international campaign against terrorism, and I think other European leaders have been almost equally active - President Chirac, Chancellor Schr´┐Żder and so on. Each member state can contribute, differently to what is a coherent strategy being pursued by them all, but I don't think it makes very much sense just because one European leader or another is on the phone more frequently to President Bush, to get jealous about it. HUMPHRYS: Chris Patten, many thanks. PATTEN: Thanks very much indeed.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.