The European Union in the World - Reflections and Ambitions

10 September 2004

Building a real CFSP

Reflecting on his five years at the heart of the European Commission, Chris Patten, said he was filled with a sense of “wonder that the whole thing works at all.” He praised the achievements under the current Commission, including the smooth transition to the single currency, EU enlargement - the “biggest foreign policy success” - and the deepening of the institutional structures that accompanied these changes. Given these developments and looking ahead into the future, the Union should not settle for becoming a “customs union deluxe” and he noted that he had been part of the group that wanted more for a long time. While Europe had been convinced that it had to step up its political strength to match its economic power (the “economic giant and political pygmy”) the difficulty in achieving this was perhaps unsurprising.

“Foreign policy goes to the heart of what it means to be a nation state,” he said pointing to the disarray in the Union over questions such as Iraq and Middle East policy. Above all, the achievement of a common – not a single – foreign and security policy required political will. Refining and reforming the current “sub-optimal architecture” was necessary, but one could continue tinkering with institutions without much progress, if the political will was lacking. He issued a clear demand toward the Union’s largest countries, saying that the United Kingdom, France and Germany had to work together: “Without their collaboration, we are nowhere.”

Commissioner Patten cited three reasons why CFSP was essential. The stabilization of the European neighbourhood was of crucial importance to ensure the extension of prosperity and to close the gap between rich and poor around the European continent. Secondly, the European countries could only convince the US of the effectiveness of multilateralism by being a strong partner in international affairs – not by attempting to be a rival superpower. Thirdly, Europeans should define and give a functional dimension to the outlined vision of “effective multilateralism.” Europe should not shy away from answering the difficult questions including when to use pre-emptive force to defend the moral legitimisation of the authority of the United Nations.

The European Neighbourhood

While the spread of modern technology and now the extension of global terrorism had eradicated distances, achieving and extending stability could only happen by lending a hand to one’s neighbourhood. EU enlargement had been crucial to underpinning economic and social reforms in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The European Neighbourhood Policy aimed at extending this zone of security and prosperity beyond the Union’s borders. Commissioner Patten said that his greatest personal disappointment in his five-year term had been the failure of the European Union to create a strategic partnership with Russia and the “wilful inability to recognize the importance of working jointly to achieve our goals.” The EU had not been clear, consistent or firm enough in communicating its views to Russia and this had weakened its credibility. Much of this was linked to differences in worldview between the Union and Russia: while Russia still operated on a balance-of-power, Tsarist pre-1914 logic, the Europeans had embraced the policy of strong and stable neighbours. These fundamental differences in approach needed to be tackled directly, otherwise EU policy would fall short of its goals. “We cannot have an adequate view on developments in the Northern Caucasus, without understanding Russian policy in the Southern Caucasus,” he said highlighting an example.

Turning to the EU’s Mediterranean neighbours, he said that the goal was a free trade area by 2010 with a shared system of political values underpinning these economic advances. Nevertheless, he cautioned, that “helping the process of democratisation is not like making instant coffee. It cannot simply be rolled out like Persian carpet. But we must do more to encourage reforms in countries of the Arab League,” he said. He hoped this commitment would be reflected in the next budgetary agreements.

On Turkey, he said one should not overestimate the impact of the country’s membership on Arab League states, but that it would surely have geostrategic consequences. “Turkey is an Islamic country and with its reform efforts it is behaving like we would want Islamic countries everywhere to,” he said. “After Turkey has done all this will we reject it as non-European? After we accepted it as European in 1963?” If Turkey was accepted, the European Union it would join would naturally have to be very different than the one of today. Neither the current common agricultural policy (CAP) structure, nor the structural funds could be upheld. A clear benefit of Turkish membership was the demographic impact it could have on the European Union, where population growth was currently dwindling, economic growth was lower than in Turkey and the overall economic output rate was already falling behind and would continue to do so, versus rivals in the US, China and India. “Turkey is best left to make its own case for membership and we will make a judgement on that proposal. The times when the US administration had generously offered Turkey membership in the European Union are over.”

A viable “super-partner”

Turning to EU relations with the United States, Commissioner Patten underlined that the Union had to persuasively argue against the “American Empire” attitude to foreign policy, by acting as a viable partner. “Or we can continue to delude ourselves into thinking that we are a rival superpower. We should not be and I do not want us to be,” he said. While Europe had a good record in peacekeeping and general economic affairs, it could do much better in research and development and defence spending.

The Commissioner said he was nervous about the continent and its future, given the stark differences in defence spending. Europe had the option of being either a “bag carrier” and complying with the wishes of its allies, a “neutral and sanctimonious super sniper, hoping the US will look after us in times of crisis” or becoming a full-fledged “super-partner” with a sensible political voice that “lies halfway between [the visions] of Paris and London.”  “We can no longer afford to be an elegant thrower of paper darts. We must not define ourselves as being ‘non-American’ and express our views forcefully while accepting more global responsibility,” he said. Europe needed to remind the US that the goals it wanted to achieve were more easily mastered in acting in concert with Europe.

Effective Multilateralism

Multilateralism could, to a certain extent, function without the United States, as had been proven with the creation of the International Criminal Court and the progress made on the Kyoto priorities. This, however, did not apply to security matters. The EU did its part in achieving effective multilateralism by actively working to close the gap between rich and poor, deal with bad governance and the abuse of power and in “draining the swamps which breed terrorism.” Nevertheless, it would also have to face up to the difficult questions concerning the use of pre-emptive force where needed, based on the premises of international law. “As long as we continue to dodge this question then we might be sanctioning the neo-conservative US viewpoint that we are wimps.”

Overall, he said, the European Union had to be clearer and more consistent in its foreign policy that it might sit more comfortably with the European desire for stability and appear less supercilious.

The Chairman, John Palmer, thanked Commissioner Patten for his extraordinarily clear perspective on the issues and praised the benchmark that the Commissioner had set for the open and transparent way in which he had done his job. His ability to express himself in “real” language, rather than obfuscate difficult political circumstances with technocrat-speak had been a refreshing change in Brussels. He also wished the Commissioner well in his important new responsibilities when he leaves office later this year.