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The European Union's Foreign Policy: Making a Difference in the World

November 14, 2001

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: This morning it is with great pleasure that we welcome to the Carnegie Council a man of many talents, a very distinguished British politician, a former Governor of Hong Kong, and the current European Union Commissioner for External Relations, the Rt. Hon. Christopher Patten.

Commissioner Patten has been described as "a man of persistence, courage, and effectiveness." No stranger to the handling of complex political situations, he has displayed his diplomatic prowess on numerous occasions. It has been said that he never shies away from controversies and is not afraid of challenges. These are qualities which he displayed as Conservative Minister in Margaret Thatcher's Government and again in 1992 when he was appointed by John Major to oversee the last five years of British rule in Hong Kong and to negotiate the handover of the colony to China. This experience was captured in his excellent book, East and West.

Upon his return from Hong Kong, Tony Blair appointed him Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland with the responsibility of proposing a series of needed reforms. In comparison, his current appointment as External Relations Commissioner may be less controversial, but nonetheless challenging. It has been a little over fifty years since the Schuman Declaration was established, and the European Union has come of age. Its influence has grown and its role extended to make it a significant and important actor on the world stage. As many countries turn to the European Union, it is Mr. Patten's responsibility to ensure that the EU executes and maintains an effective, consistent, and coherent external relations policy.

Since becoming Commissioner in 1999, Mr. Patten has made the reform of EU foreign assistance an urgent priority. He has advocated that conflict prevention be at the heart of the EU's foreign and security policy agenda.

Recently, he has been at the forefront of European efforts to build an international coalition against terrorism. In addition, he has overseen EU efforts to promote peace, stabilization, and development in various parts of the world, including Kosovo, Macedonia, and the whole of Southeastern Europe.

Mr. Patten's blend of pragmatism and idealism in declaring his strong support for promoting human rights abroad has earned him applause from the European Parliament External Relations Committee.

Our guest entered politics early. After earning his B.A. and M.A. from Balliol College of Oxford, he joined the Research Department of the Conservative Party and served as Director for five years. He was elected a Member of Parliament from Bath in 1979. He later moved to the Department of Education, before becoming Overseas Development Minister and the Environment Secretary. He was made Party Chairman under John Major and is credited with securing the Conservative election victory in 1992. I would ask that you please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Mr. Christopher Patten who will take us inside the European Union's foreign policy.

Remarks

CHRIS PATTEN:Thank you very much for that kind and courteous obituary, which, as they say, my father would have enjoyed and my mother would have believed. It is extremely good to be back in New York, where I suppose I began what I trust doesn't sound too pretentious to describe as my political career. I first got involved in politics here in New York in 1965, working from the Hotel Roosevelt, in John Lindsay's mayoral campaign. It was the campaign which was distinguished, among other things, by the candidacy of William Buckley. When he was asked what he would do first if he won, Buckley replied, "Demand a recount."

I'm like many who have spent part of their lives in New York, which added to the intensity of our emotion in September and in the weeks since. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be back in this spectacular city, which many of us consider a second home. You referred very kindly to various events in my life, including the time I spent in Hong Kong. It was extraordinary how the departure from Hong Kong became one of those events which makes one famous for fifteen minutes, in Andy Warhol's phrase. It was actually going to the Council on Foreign Relations here, when I was trying to flog East and West that the Bangladeshi taxi driver, after looking two or three times rather curiously in his rear-view mirror, said to me as I was paying him, "Has anybody told you how like Chris Patten you look?"

It did make me famous, or infamous, I thought, in China, at least until recently. The Chinese now have a full character expression to describe me: a "friend in concord out of discord," and I'm sufficiently a friend for Mr. Tang, the Foreign Minister, to be quite larky with me. He came into my office in Brussels recently, looked at the photographs of my daughters on the wall, and asked, "How come beautiful daughters have ugly fathers?" I will talk to you for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and then give as much time as possible for questions.

I'd like to begin with Henry Kissinger's famous question, speaking for Metternicht for the nation state, as well as for Europe's most important, if somewhat incredulous, ally. You may remember Dr. Kissinger asked, "If I want to know what Europe's foreign policy is, whom do I telephone, whom do I ring?"

Leave aside for a moment that there have been times when the European Union could have asked the same about the United States. I want to argue today, not that there's one telephone that the United States can call, but that whomever the U.S. Secretary of State telephones is likely to give more or less the same reply, albeit in one of eleven languages. What's remarkable is not that we haven't come further in developing a foreign policy, but that we've come as far as we have in the last few years.

I want to begin with two propositions:

  • First, just as the development of the European Union has broken down the traditional boundaries between domestic and foreign policy in the national affairs of Member States, so at the European level the boundary between what is internal and what is external policy has become increasingly fuzzy. In the modern world, the interrelationships between the external and the internal run very deep. The foreign policy agenda today touches on issues - from drugs, to environmental degradation, to money laundering - which are not customarily thought to be the business of foreign ministers and their departments.

  • Secondly, the European Union is now an indispensable dimension in international affairs in a way that it certainly wouldn't have been even a decade ago. To say that it's an indispensable dimension doesn't mean that it's a settled dimension. The relationship between the external relations policy of Member States and of the European Union as a whole is still an extremely controversial matter.

Obviously, in Europe we've come a very long way in the last forty or fifty years. Beginning with the Coal and Steel Community, we've now created a single market of fifteen countries, which we hope in 2004 will be a single market of twenty-five countries. We are the largest trading group of sovereign nation states in the world, with our own currency, which will shortly be in the pockets of twelve of the Member States of the European Union, though not yet in those of the citizens of the country which I know best. We are the largest provider of development assistance in the world - about 55 percent - and of two-thirds of all grant aid for official development assistance. When Greece, Portugal, and Spain threw off dictatorships, they very shortly became Members of the European Union, which helped consolidate democracy in those countries. The enlargement policy of the European Union is perhaps the most significant reason why, with the exception of Yugoslavia, the collapse and dismemberment of the Soviet Empire, has been managed without, on the whole, a hard landing.

Nevertheless, we can't rest on our laurels. We still have to work out clearly who or what we want to be. Comparisons that were sometimes made between Europe and the United States two centuries ago in that respect are very wide of the mark. They were made most notably in the last couple of years by the American academic at Oxford, Larry Siedentop, in a book called Democracy in Europe, very deliberately a throwback to the title of de Tocqueville's famous book about the United States. Siedentop argues that, unlike the United States with the Founding Fathers, and great debates about how America could become a nation, we in Europe were not having the same profound political debate about our futures.

It's a misunderstanding of the position in Europe. In the United States, there were sub-national entities which were destined to become a single nation state. In Europe, we are old nation states, with deep roots and long traditions, which are struggling to find the right institutional framework for a supranational polity. It's an extremely different challenge. Nevertheless, we still have to work out how much we want to do together in both internal and external affairs on the international stage as well.

We have moved over the years in trying to develop an external policy through various stages of communiqué diplomacy. We are now moving from ringing declarations, usually issued slightly too late to make any difference to real action on the ground, above all, in the Balkans on our own doorstep. This is not surprising because it was the breakup of Yugoslavia which exposed our humiliating inability to do more on our own. That event, more than anything else, compelled us to develop the instruments of a coherent foreign policy more effectively.

We're attempting to create a common foreign and security policy. Foreign and security policy goes right to the heart of what it means to be a nation state and, in my judgment, for the foreseeable future, there will be in the European Union fifteen foreign ministers, fifteen foreign ministries, each with their own concerns and preoccupations, or twenty-five after enlargement. But they will be trying to work more effectively together so that Europe can do more in the aggregate than individual Member States can manage on their own.

This means that the common foreign and security policy is a bit lumpy and slow-moving, and occasionally we get at cross purposes with one another - for example, over Iraq in the last few years.

Nevertheless, there has been a real change of gear. At long last, we have a European foreign policy which is properly linked to the institutions which manage the instruments needed for its accomplishment, instruments like external trade, sanctions, assistance, justice and home affairs, like policy on migration or transnational crime.

We've come a remarkably long way in the last few years, demonstrated by the effectiveness of our policy in the Balkans. It's instructive to compare Europe's reaction in this international crisis with how European Member States reacted in the Gulf Crisis a decade ago. Immediately after the 11th of September, we went to Pakistan where we moved rapidly to agree to sign a trade and cooperation agreement with the government, to propose the opening of our markets further to Pakistani textiles and garments, to offer substantial development assistance, all posited on Pakistan's return to democracy next year.

We also recognized in Iran that there was a real opportunity to open doors and windows to the Iranian regime, and we're preparing to negotiate a trade and cooperation agreement. Along with the United States, we have been the largest providers of development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

The speed and coherence of our reaction are a demonstration of how far we've come in the last years. This level of cooperation, this amount of pooling of sovereignty, raises what for me is one of the most interesting questions in foreign policy; that is, how national is the national interest? It's an issue for us in the European Union and for the United States as well. It's fair to say that in the U.S. there have been real suspicions, which perhaps still linger today, of multilateral obligations and entanglements of allowing Gulliver to be tied down by the Lilliputians.

There are five reasons why we in Europe feel we have to develop a common foreign and security policy as an example of multilateralism in action, and these are all reasons which should matter to you in the United States as well.

  • First, the concept of a nation whole unto itself has become increasingly anachronistic. The nation state survives as the basic political unit, but in the modern world the concept of "national" has become harder and harder to define. Globalization isn't just an economic phenomenon. Politically, all nations operate within an increasingly integrated web - a web of trade, of telecommunications, of finance, a single global ecosystem in which the Internet is accelerating the erosion of national boundaries and national jurisdictions. Foreign policy today should be about protecting, strengthening, and expanding that web, as Tom Friedman, for example, has argued. That requires active engagement with others to solve common problems. What's clear is that no nation, however great, however strong, can operate on its own.

  • The second reason: multilateralism is in the interests even of the most powerful nations. Even big countries need allies. That's made self-evident by the United States' effort to build a coalition since the 11th of September.
    There are problems with allies, who aren't always very comfortable. I understand that Roy Jenkins is to talk to you on Friday morning about his massive door-stopper of a biography on Winston Churchill. He may recall in his eloquent remarks Winston Churchill's observation that the problem about allies is they do tend to develop opinions of their own.

  • Third, and perhaps counter-intuitively, the greatest powers - the United States, China, Europe - need to work constructively with others precisely because they are the biggest. I think the United States is the best example of that. Resistance to multilateral entanglements erodes the legitimacy and credibility of global leadership.

  • Fourth, multilateralism is more and more important as globalization gathers pace. I feel very strongly that the combination of the opening of markets, of capitalism and technology has been overwhelmingly to the benefit of humanity. But there are too many people who have been left behind, marooned in poverty and misery, faced with the challenges of globalization, not with the opportunities. You can't tackle that dark side of globalization, from drugs to environmental degradation without multilateral engagements, which is what we've been arguing in Europe over climate change and the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Fifth, and the last point, it's greatly in the interest of Europe, the U.S., and others to engage because we need the Bretton Woods institutions today more than ever if we are to enjoy a free and prosperous world. We need to strengthen those institutions and ensure that their democratic roots go a great deal deeper.

That is a point I'd like to pause on for a moment. I've stressed that the nation state is and will remain the basic political unit, the primary source for political loyalty and the attraction of political affections. Citizens of nation states understand instinctively in almost all cases that their country needs to share sovereignty with other countries, in order to manage the problems of the modern world.

The difficulty is that the institutions that we've established to manage that pooled sovereignty haven't yet - and it's as true of the European Union as it is of the Bretton Woods institutions - managed to attract the same sort of loyalty, legitimacy and credibility as the institutions of nation states. This is the most interesting and important problem of political science today.

I hope that with a common, coherent foreign policy, Europe is able to contribute to the creation of a more effective trans-Atlantic relationship. I hope that we're able to become a more dependable partner, ready to face up to the challenges of globalization and conflict, and do so side by side with the United States. I hope we can also agree to work together to make multilateralism a success.

I want to finish with one point which preoccupied me when I was writing a book after leaving Hong Kong. I was fascinated by the comparison between the political mood - the zeitgeist, as it were - at the beginning and end of the last century. With very few exceptions - A.E. Housman comes to mind as one - there was a very strong feeling in Europe at the turn of the century among political philosophers, journalists, politicians, novelists and poets that the great shaping ideas of nineteenth-century capitalism and democracy had made both economic and political freedom secure in Europe forever. We then spent thirty or forty years virtually losing freedom in Europe. We clung on by our fingertips through two terrible tyrannies of communism and fascism, the Gulag, the gas chambers, the battlefields. One reason why we hung on was because of the support and leadership of the United States, of a generation of men like Marshall and Atcheson. By the end of the eighties, we saw the same sort of mood as at the turn of the century. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the barbarians had been banished from the gates.

One wonders after the 11th of September whether this date is going to be a symbol of a new century as bloody, though perhaps more mindlessly bloody, as the last. If we're to avoid that, then we must take to heart those old lessons about international cooperation and multilateralism.

I hope that, without being sanctimonious, and without allowing too large a gap to develop between our words and our deeds, we in Europe will be up to it and that we may count on your support and leadership in the work that lies ahead.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: I would like to mention the role of the EU in the United Nations, because it is a success story. For 96 to 97 percent, we speak with one voice, expressed in most cases not by fifteen Member States, but by the Presidency. And in addition to that, our friends in Central and Eastern Europe who want to become Members of the European Union associate themselves with our positions, with the consequence that the Presidency speaks for and on behalf of twenty-seven or more Members of the United Nations.

That leads me to the question - referring to your remark that the concept of nation state is anachronistic - of whether we should move our close cooperation a little bit forward to include the Security Council which is also anachronistic?

Shouldn't we start discussion of a European representation in the Security Council, at least for the beginning, to the extent that we ask British and French colleagues and friends to perceive themselves as agents of a common European foreign policy? That would be a beginning and give new dynamics to a discussion of how to reform the Security Council. I would be very much interested in your view.

CHRISTOPHER PATTEN: I completely agree with you about the extent to which Europe speaks with one voice in the UN. It's also true that our partnership with the UN is increasingly important in areas like conflict prevention.

Most recently in Kosovo, in East Timor, we have developed in Europe a detailed knowledge of how to manage those problems of societal breakdown. We've managed to acquire as many lessons about that as anyone, and we're now trying to working out ways in which we in the United Nations can for the future better manage those situations. But we've been very good partners as well as increasingly speaking with one voice. It would be easier for me to make a robust speech about the importance of revisiting the question of membership of the Security Council in New York than it would be in either Paris or London.

I sometimes wonder whether the first step in addressing that question shouldn't be to look at other institutional arrangements, which are increasingly necessary. There has been a debate about an economic security council, and perhaps the first step should be to work for the creation of such a council, which would reflect, among other things, almost one European voice and competence on issues like trade, and to some extent development assistance as well.

In the Commission communication which we'll be producing early next year before the conference on sustainable development in Johannesburg, I hope to persuade my colleagues in the Commission to address that issue, which would be a first step to facing up to the other problem that you mentioned.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Bretton Wood institutions. Could you address what you think should be the future of the World Bank? There are some people who say it should be a banker, others who say it should do social work and development work. And, particularly if Europe has 65 percent of the development aid, what should its relationship be to the World Bank in addressing the economic challenges of the developing world?

CHRISTOPHER PATTEN:When the last Managing Director of the IMF retired, he observed that Europe was far less influential in the Fund than it should have been because it spoke with so many voices. So the first thing that Europe should address is its contribution to debate in the World Bank and the other organizations. Not true of the World Trade Organization, because there is a Community competence.

The World Bank is a very different institution, and must be a very different institution, from Citibank or Dresdener Bank. It must combine a sense of moral fervor with all the prudence and effectiveness which should go with a trade which makes some people very rich by borrowing money at one interest rate and lending it at another.

It is not impossible to combine that sense of mission with effectiveness as an opener of doors to genuinely private capital. Many of the best people that I've seen operating at the World Bank, like Ernie Stern, or Maureen Koreshi, have actually managed to balance the two.

If the World Bank is unable to speak for the world's poor, or to speak out against the degradation of our environment, or for improving the lot of women in all too many countries, it ceases to have a legitimacy. It needs to have that voice while at the same time following prudent and sensible banking practice. And, of course, it needs more money.

QUESTION: I was particularly interested in your expression "pooling of sovereignty" and that you don't see any current alternative to the sovereign state in Europe. Ambassador Kastrup talked about cooperation in the UN.

How would you see the relationship between the European Union and the Commission and the United Nations in the future? I am asking against the particular background that pooling of resources is sometimes done in a legal matter - for example, in the fisheries area - where you participate as a full-fledged member in the meeting of states' parties, whereas in the UN General Assembly you do not.

CHRISTOPHER PATTEN: As a British citizen, I find myself drawn all too frequently into a debate about sovereignty, which is in many respects an absurd debate. Sovereignty is, at best, an extremely slippery concept. There is a tendency in the United Kingdom to talk about sovereignty as though it's like virginity: one moment you have it, the next moment it's gone. For many of my fellow citizens, the story of our relationship with Europe has been one of treacherous governments giving away piece by piece our national birthright.

My own very strong feeling is that there is a huge difference between notional sovereignty and real sovereignty, and that what the Members of the European Union, by and large, are getting is real sovereignty in return for the surrender of notional sovereignty. If my country stays indefinitely outside the Euro zone, it will have all the sovereignty which goes with not sharing in the decisions which determine Britain's economic destiny. We become Norway or Switzerland with the bomb. Those concepts about sovereignty also apply in relation to our role in and partnership with the UN. I'm not nervous about what some people see as giving up chunks of sovereignty. What I am concerned about is that the institutions which manage that pooled sovereignty are as democratically accountable as possible. That is where we haven't yet got things quite right in the European Union, and the main reason for an alienation of voters from the institutions of the European Union.

It's something which the UN and the World Trade Organization need to look at.

QUESTION: May I draw your attention back East perhaps and ask, rather cheekily, for your assessment of your China-appointed successor Mr. Tung Chee-hwa, and also your views on the future prospects for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Hong Kong and our new anti-terrorism ally China?

CHRISTOPHER PATTEN: I'll give you the first chapter of my next book.

It's extremely difficult in political life to talk about a successor in a job. It was Stanley Baldwin who said when the captain leaves the bridge, he shouldn't spit on the deck. That is wise advice.

Tung Chee-hwa was a very successful, conservative Chinese businessman. It was as a representative of the conservative Chinese business community that I appointed him to my executive council when I was in Hong Kong. He seemed to me to be the best and most intelligent representative of a particular point of view - a point of view which I don't believe for some profound Confucian reason, because most of the people who talk about Confucianism have never troubled to read the Analects - that not only is there too much democracy in Hong Kong, but also in the United States, in the United Kingdom and in Europe. It's a profoundly conservative view which believes, for example, that the main reason for investing in China rather than in India is that India is a democracy and, therefore, jolly dicey. It's a curious way of looking at the world because the best countries in which to invest, are, with few exceptions, those which treat their citizens most decently.

Tung Chee-hwa is a very decent man who has lived by his conservative views as Chief Executive of Hong Kong. I don't think I would put it more strongly than that. My concern about business leaders in Hong Kong over the years has been that they have invariably tried to second-guess what they thought China was likely to do or how it was likely to respond, which has meant sometimes settling for or asking for a great deal less than China would have been prepared to concede. If you're Zhu Rongji or Jiang Zemin, Hong Kong doesn't feature in the first hundred problems in your in tray. Hong Kong is a success, Hong Kong is politically stable, even after the machinations of the one-time colonial oppressor. My fear is that Hong Kong will get less than it deserves because too little is asked for.

Should Hong Kong be democratic? I once heard Lee Kwan Yew ask rhetorically: "Did Hong Kong deserve democracy?", and you can imagine what the answer was. Hong Kong, not only deserves full democracy, and should have gotten more under the colonial oppressor, but Hong Kong will also get more democracy, because it has a sense of citizenship which is almost unique in Chinese cities around the world. This sense of citizenship makes Hong Kong different from Shanghai, which makes it not just the richest Chinese city, but something else as well.

Hong Kong is still a free, by and large liberal society, even though there have been one or two things done which I haven't cared for in relation in the rule of law. Hong Kong will remain what Sammy Feiner called "the only example of a society which is liberal but not democratic." But I hope that before too long it will be democratic as well as liberal. And China, where to begin or end? I remain of the view that it is impossible indefinitely to open up an economy and to keep an iron grip on politics. The reaction to the Falun Gong is an example of the nervousness of the Chinese leadership on that very point. My concern is that the Chinese leadership should recognize in time that it will be required to make political changes to ensure economic and social stability.

Just one anecdote. I was in Xi'an earlier this year with a wonderful interpreter. The whole time he was on his mobile, flashing up figures, looking at messages, buying and selling shares. I asked him, "You do well on the stock market, do you?" He said, "It's fantastic. I make more on the stock market than I do as an interpreter for the provincial government." So I said, "But what happens when the stock market crashes?" He said, "No, you don't understand. You always make money on the stock market." Now, he has clearly got a very different experience to mine.

But one day even China will face economic problems which will require a leadership with deeper roots than the present one has got.

QUESTION: I particularly enjoyed your stirring defense of multilateralism as the case that you would make to an American audience. But I wondered about three omissions.

First, in your remarks, you used the word "united" and you used the word "nations," but you never actually used them together. I'm curious, particularly because I had the impression that the European Union's foreign policy was to a great extent involved or implicated in strengthening the United Nations as a global multilateral institution and that you would see in many ways a common cause there.

Second is on your five points. I would like your reaction to two possible additions. One is the extent to which the United States has seen itself as a land of the rule of law with an interest in sustaining a global sense of the rule of law. Surely, without multilateralism that is not possible. One must have a set of rules that everybody, including the U.S., would want to uphold in its own interest.

The other thought was the extent to which self-interest cannot adduce, in a very literal sense, burden sharing. There are things through multilateral cooperation that others would do that you would have to do yourself. Peacekeeping is a great example, in which other countries send their soldiers out the front lines instead of the U.S. having to do so. Just your thoughts on those three points, which I would have loved to have heard in your remarks. Thank you for a very enjoyable and stimulating presentation otherwise.

CHRISTOPHER PATTEN: First, as I hope I did in my reaction to the Ambassador's question earlier, I totally endorse what you said about the importance of the UN.

We find ourselves working alongside the UN, in one crisis after another. We will obviously be one of the main providers of reconstruction assistance, as well as humanitarian assistance and professional expertise, in Afghanistan, as we have been in East Timor and Kosovo and Cambodia. And I hope that we can also work with the UN to deal with a general problem, which Afghanistan exemplifies; that is, the problem of failed states - Afghanistan, Cambodia, the DRC, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan. I was at a meeting with African foreign ministers recently, and the Sudanese Foreign Minister came up for a brief bilateral and wanted to interest me in the Sudanese peace process. I recalled that I was first involved "in the Sudanese peace process" in 1986. We must be much more proactive in tackling these festering international problems, and that involves working with the UN.

Secondly, on the rule of law, I am quite struck by American enthusiasm for extraterritoriality in legislation, combined with tremendous American opposition to anybody taking an interest in what happens in the United States. There is an intellectual disjuncture - let me put it diplomatically - in those attitudes to the rule of law, which I hope the U.S. will take a bit more seriously.

Finally, on self-interest, the Victorians used to sing hymns in which they asserted that doing what was right was normally good for you as well, not least for your pocketbook. There is an extraordinary and welcome symmetry between expediency and morality in international affairs, and I assert that with a straight face. If we recognized that it was usually in our self-interest to behave better, we'd find that we underlined and strengthened the national interest, rather than weakened it.

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