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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 14:45 GMT
Chris Patten, European Commissioner
DECEMBER 3rd, 2000
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Chris Patten has held a string of high profile jobs since he lost his seat in the Commons eight years ago. As Chairman of the Party he helped steer John Major to victory in '92 but failed to get re-elected himself. He's currently one of our European Commissioners and will be watching events unfold in Nice this week with special interest. Let's start right there with Nice, top of the morning by the way.
CHRIS PATTEN: Very nice to see you.
DAVID FROST: Very nice to see you. Mr Prodi was quoted as saying there's a 50-50 chance of success, whatever that is at Nice and Germany's Minister for Europe said the biggest enlargement and the greatest reform ever undertaken by the EU is now in the balance. What's your prediction?
CHRIS PATTEN: I think it'll be okay, I think it'll be okay because it's got to be. We're talking about the most important move that the European Union has made for 30 or 40 years, the enlargement, huge enlargement, really making the European Union stand for pretty well the whole of Europe. There's a moral argument for it, there's an economic argument, there's a strategic argument and what we have to do at Nice is to make sure that we make the changes to the Commission, to the weighting of votes by member states, to the way we do business operationally, we have to make the changes that will make that enlargement possible.
DAVID FROST: Now the deal on the, the weighting of votes and the haggling is almost there, isn't it, with 33 for Germany and 30 for us and so on and the Dutch and the Belgians probably sorted out as long as Germany ends up with more than France so on the weighting of votes there ought not to be a problem?
CHRIS PATTEN: I'm not sure that that's quite so, no, I think there's a serious and an important debate between France and Germany, I think ever since the Common Market began, ever since the '50s France has felt very strongly that it should have equal standing with Germany and therefore the other big member states should as well, Italy and the United Kingdom and that's a very emotional argument, I doubt whether it will as important for the United Kingdom but I think it's a very important argument in France and what it reminds us of is that every country in negotiations like this, every country has red lines, every country has things it must get. We talk about these councils, we talk about these meetings in Britain as though it's always the British Prime Minister whether Major or Blair who's beleaguered, who's fighting against the rest, it's not like that at all, everybody has their agenda and everybody is understandably fighting for it.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of the six key areas, sometimes phrased differently when Robin Cook was talking here last week and so on, the six key areas that we're going to stand firm on, allegedly, tax, social security, defence, treaty changes, EU funding, border controls and so on, are there any of those on which you think we should be more cooperative?
CHRIS PATTEN: Well I understand why ministers take the view they do, if you take a couple of areas, take tax and take social security, nobody's actually talking about having European-wide harmonised tax rates, Europeanising tax as a whole, but there are serious arguments about whether the single market would be easier to run, if you were able to deal with fraud across borders, if you were, were able to deal with double taxation more effectively, equally there are arguments about the portability of pensions which effect the single market. So there are, there are serious issues which have to be debated but clearly a British government finds itself to some extent constrained by the sort of hysterical reporting of these things in the media. There is a serious debate but it's distorted, as those businessmen pointed out in a letter in the paper today, it's distorted by some of the extraordinary media distorting of what was quite a straightforward argument. It's a point, in a sense, that John Humphries also makes in the Sunday Times today.
DAVID FROST: But I mean is this a change in, in, I mean the tabloids and the broadsheets you're saying are hysterical?
CHRIS PATTEN: Well particularly, particularly some of the tabloids, but not only the tabloids and what's quite interesting about them is that they've completely turned turtle, the Sun and the Mail used to be far more pro-Europe than I've ever been in the '75 referendum campaign the Sun's famous line was that the opponents of Europe could rant and rave but reasonable men should be listened to, reasonable men like the Sun which was then in favour of us playing a constructive role in the European Union.
DAVID FROST: But you could say that you've turned turtle a bit too because you didn't complain about these hysterical front pages in the Sun and the Daily Mail when they were backing you in '92?
CHRIS PATTEN: I don't think, I don't think they were quite as hysterical then. I actually just have to say that I don't think that whatever the amount of reporting or whatever the sort of reporting, it actually shapes people's views in quite the way that newspapers sometimes think, I mean in '92 the Sun argued that it had won the election for John Major, I don't believe that was true. Our research at the time interestingly shows that the majority of Sun readers thought that it was a Labour newspaper.
DAVID FROST: Really but it, it's having more impact now you say?
CHRIS PATTEN: I, I think it's the, it's the constant stream of stuff, one story after another, I mean if you were to phone up a newspaper and say the European Union was going to ban cricket next week you'd get it on the front page, I mean it's, it's mad.
DAVID FROST: And what about, how important is it therefore to have a government after the next election that will really engage with Europe and bring about a referendum as soon as practicable?
CHRIS PATTEN: Well I think it's very important in Britain's interest to have a government that will engage with Europe and that will take a constructive role in Europe.
DAVID FROST: But that means, that means you would have to vote Labour?
CHRIS PATTEN: No it doesn't, I've, I'm tribally a Conservative, I was born a Conservative¿and I dare say I'll pass out a Conservative.
DAVID FROST: No, no Conservative¿
CHRIS PATTEN: I very much hope that every opposition in this country has tended to be more anti-European than it was when it was in government and I think the, a Conservative government would see pretty quickly that it's in our national interest to fight within the European Union for what we believe is best but also to recognise that there are some decisions that we want to take with others, that's always been the Conservative Party's position, it's not me that's changed, it's the Conservative Party which¿has changed its position.
DAVID FROST: But you would, you would like to see a referendum as early as possible in the last Parliament though?
CHRIS PATTEN: I would like to see a referendum in the next Parliament, I think there is a serious argument about getting the economics right for, for, for entering the Euro zone but I happen to think that most of the big arguments are political and the sooner they're put the better.
DAVID FROST: But if you want a referendum in the next Parliament you know you can't get that from the Conservatives because they've ruled it out?
CHRIS PATTEN: Well it has been known for governments when they're faced with reality to adjust their position, what I don't understand is how you can say we rule out joining the Euro for five years, we feel passionately strongly about it. If mean if you feel passionately, strongly about it presumably it's a matter of principle.
DAVID FROST: Yes and presumably that should continue. Well what do you feel about notes on, notes on the current government, I think you feel that the current government, until perhaps this week, or last two weeks, has been a bit timid in pushing Europe?
CHRIS PATTEN: I don't think that you can actually close down the debate on Europe¿
DAVID FROST: What before an election?
CHRIS PATTEN: Before an election, I don't think you can take the view that it's rather inconvenient so you won't talk about it. It is of course the case that despite the front pages in the newspapers the actual salience of Europe as an important voting issue isn't all that high, people still feel more that the Health Service, education, jobs are more important. But I think the government at one stage took the view that if it didn't say anything about the Euro, if it didn't say anything about Europe the issue would go away until after the next election and it won't. You actually have to put the case and I'm glad that ministers have started to do that.
DAVID FROST: But what about the pro-Euro Tories at the moment, I mean I think of Ian Taylor for instance, who's going to, could be de-selected tomorrow having been selected a year ago and the only reason for the change is that he's a strong supporter of Europe, I mean that's, that's a bad sign for the pro-Europeans in the party isn't it?
CHRIS PATTEN: When I was Chairman of the Conservative Party I had to deal with one or two cases where people were threatened with de-selection and I argued passionately against it. I think if the sort of people who are trying to de-select Ian Taylor who's an outstanding Member of Parliament, if those sort of people were to actually control the Conservative Party you could say goodbye to the Conservative Party ever winning an election. My wife's uncle was one of the most distinguished anti-Europeans in the Conservative Party for years, Derek Walker Smith, resigned from the government because he was against Europe, Member of the European Parliament that argued against much of what Europe was trying to do, he was never bell, booked, and candled out of the Conservative Party, he was always regarded as a, as a, as a trusted mainstream member of the party despite his views. We've got to be a broad church not a narrow sect.
DAVID FROST: Right and what about the wider issue, just for a second, why has the Tories become so captured, it's been over a few years by Euroscepticism, I mean it's, it's been a total successive wipe out of other views, why is it?
CHRIS PATTEN: I think it's very difficult to explain, I think some of it is tied up with Mrs Thatcher's, Margaret Thatcher's departure from office, I think then the, anti-Europeans had too much of their head in the '90s, I think they helped to destroy the Conservative government and I think they've been making the running since and I think that to a certain extent some Conservatives have thought that if you chase after the front page of the newspaper that's the way to win the next election, I don't think it is. I think the papers, first of all the editors don't have to be elected, the editor of the Sunday Telegraph who last week had a headline saying that the Americans would withdraw from Nato if Europe went ahead with a rapid reaction force, a completely fabricated story, not a word of truth in it. I think that if you let those people push your policy, I think if you let them have the lead you won't get anywhere, at the end of the day they'll let you down.
DAVID FROST: What about Northern Ireland, Nationalists, you said, should be encouraged to join the new police force and there is this pause, Seamus Mallon's put forward seven questions that he wants clarified before there's a response by the SDLP, that's quite urgent isn't it?
CHRIS PATTEN: Yes it is, we produced our report, it was a report about policing, it wasn't a report about politics, it was¿
DAVID FROST: But the two are inextricably linked in Northern Ireland aren't they?
CHRIS PATTEN: It was an attempt to get policing out of the political debate, I think we, we put forward extremely sensible proposals, I didn't say a word when the legislation was going through Parliament, when it got through Parliament I put out a statement last week urging people now to join the police, urging them to support a police service which following our recommendations will be as fine a police service as you could get in any modern society.
DAVID FROST: And you disagree that Peter Mandelson has gutted this particular report as one of your team, Professor Clifford Shearing has said that the core elements have been undermined by this legislation, you, you give this legislation your approval?
CHRIS PATTEN: I think what Professor Shearing was doing was looking at a very early version of the Bill, I've said that I'm not going to get into the debate about what happened to the legislation as it went through Parliament, what I can say is at the end of that process the reforms, the thrust of the reforms that we wanted is being followed and Northern Ireland will, I hope, with the support of the whole community have the sort of policing that it, that it deserves. It's terribly important that people stop playing politics with, with the police in Northern Ireland, it's terribly important that they join the police from both communities, it's terribly important that people are no longer shot as police officers because they're thought to represent a particular argument about the nature of the state.
DAVID FROST: And what about the reaction, we've got SDLP on the fence at the moment, Sinn Fein leaning against, very strongly at the moment anyway, advising any of their people to join the police and, but I was surprised by the quote from Bertie Ahern saying at this moment he could not recommend Nationalists to join the police force, that was a bit of a disappointment wasn't it?
CHRIS PATTEN: Yes and I hope that at this moment won't be for very much longer, I think that all Nationalists, I would hope all Republicans as well, would see that the proposals we've made for the police ensure that there is better civilian control over the police in Northern Ireland in the future than there is in almost any other society. I hope that they will see that the proposals we put forward were for an effective police force but also for a police force which would protect people's human rights and protect both communities against the people on the extremes.
DAVID FROST: Do you think you under-estimated, Chris, the, the power with the Protestant community, the power of the name, the power of the Royal blessing, Royal insignia?
CHRIS PATTEN: No, what we recognised was how difficult a job we had to do, it's interesting that politicians were able to agree to everything that was in the Good Friday Agreement, the one thing they couldn't agree about was policing because it goes right to the heart of the most difficult political debate in Northern Ireland. We felt very, very strongly that you couldn't leave the police identified with one particular set of political arguments, you had to make sure that the police could be seen to represent the whole community. It's extraordinary isn't it that politicians in Northern Ireland can very easily find a symbol for the new Assembly which doesn't represent one tradition or another, they can agree to have an oath for members of the Assembly which doesn't annoy one side or the other and yet they can't agree about policing. If they can do it for themselves why can't they do it for the police force.
DAVID FROST: We touched on various of your activities this morning, Chris, important activities, when you reach 60, which is impossible to imagine but anyway, but when you end as a European Commissioner have you any plans to go back into politics at all, last, last time you said no but it was sort of 90 per cent no.
CHRIS PATTEN: No.
DAVID FROST: Are you 100 per cent saying you won't go back into politics?
CHRIS PATTEN: Yes I am and this is the last public service job I'll do, when I finish it I'll be 60, I want to enjoy my '60s as much as possible, I'd like to write, I'd like to do some more serious gardening and maybe one or two other things as well, maybe even make television programmes which I enjoyed doing between Hong Kong and this job. I don't want to hang around in politics forever, I've had, I've been very lucky, I lost my seat in Parliament which I didn't want to do of course, I've had two or three extraordinarily interesting jobs since then but this is the last one I'll do.
DAVID FROST: At that point we'll take the news.
[BREAK FOR NEWS]
DAVID FROST: The, what did you make of all that stuff this week about Michael Portillo, you worked with him back in the days of the Central Office, is he¿
CHRIS PATTEN: I recruited him from Cambridge, he's an extremely intelligent, very capable man and I very much agree with what he's said about the Conservative Party having to be inclusive, having to reach out to people, after all with the share of the vote the Conservative Party has at the moment, unless you reach out to people you're in opposition forever, so I think he's been absolutely right in what he's arguing about. I don't agree with him about everything but I think he's one of the real big beasts in the jungle to borrow a phrase from British politics.
DAVID FROST: You're slightly, slightly closer probably in views to him than to Ann Widdecombe possibly?
CHRIS PATTEN: Well I, I know Ann Widdecombe perhaps as well and she's a very forceful personality. I think there is a part of the Conservative Party which doesn't like Michael Portillo saying that we need to reach out to, into attract groups who haven't hitherto been Conservative and I think if they have their way well we'll continue to be a narrowly based political party and continue to be in opposition, so I agree with Michael.
DAVID FROST: Chris thank you very much indeed. Our huge thanks to Chris Patten, we'll be back with breakfast with frost here on BBC1 next Sunday and we'd also like to invite you to join us for dinner with Frost as well next Saturday evening on BBC2, well it's actually called 40 Years with Frost starting at 8.10, hope you enjoy that, hope you enjoy this next Sunday when Eddie George will be with us. Top of the morning, good morning.
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