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Breakfast with Frost
Chris Patten, EU commissioner for external affairs
Chris Patten, EU commissioner for external affairs

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Mr Blair said the French were undermining plans to reform the system of massive subsidies paid to farmers and President Chirac said the controversial British rebate now needs to be reconsidered. The man in the middle of all this, and much more besides, is of course Chris Patten, the EU Commissioner for External Affairs. Chris, good morning.

CHRIS PATTEN: As always, a pleasure.

DAVID FROST: And vice versa. Let me begin by, was it a shock - this deal - it seems to have come as a shock, the deal between Chirac and Schroder seems to have come as a shock to Tony Blair. Did you know it was happening when it was happening, or did it come as a shock to you?

CHRIS PATTEN: No, it was a bilateral deal and agreed between the French President and the German Chancellor and I don't think anybody did know about it. It made it possible for us to accomplish the main objective last week, which is to welcome ten new member states in to the European Union in 2004 - so it did clear the way of problems relating to that.

DAVID FROST: But it destroyed the chances for reform of the CAP, according to everybody, and according to Tony Blair, France and Germany were reneging on the 1999 promise of reform.

CHRIS PATTEN: No, I don't think that's true. First of all, it doesn't make reform of the CAP impossible, and it doesn't remove the obligation which people accepted in 1999 to start to address the importance of reforming the CAP, and in the initial stage to have a mid-term review of this. And I think we should recognise that this is an issue where Tony Blair has the inevitable on his side - we will have, sooner rather than later, to reform the CAP. We will have to do that if we're to play any sort of leadership role in the talks on international trade, because unless we reform our own system of subsidies, we won't be able to take the sort of leadership role which will be expected of us, after the discussions in Doha. So I think that Mr Blair is in the advantageous position of having the inevitable, the implacably inevitable, on his side.

DAVID FROST: What about the issue of the British rebate. Jacques Chirac, did he raise that seriously, or is it a sort of mischief-making smoke-screen, do you think?

CHRIS PATTEN: I think it was a French tease. Everybody knew that it wasn't -

DAVID FROST: Striptease?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I'm not sure about strip. Everybody knew that it's not on the agenda at the moment and President Chirac should also know, since he was in the chair during the discussions on the Nice Treaty, that after 2006 you could only make a fundamental change like that on the basis of unanimity - and I don't imagine that Britain will be happy at getting rid of the rebate. So it's not on the table now and after 2006 it's only on the table if everybody agrees.

DAVID FROST: That's the really important point, it's safe as long as we keep vetoing where necessary, 2006 - they can't change it even after 2006 without our blessing.

CHRIS PATTEN: Right. And that was made absolutely explicitly clear in the discussions in Nice. It was actually related to another matter but it's obviously going to play in our favour.

DAVID FROST: What about the single currency and the stirring words of Romano Prodi that the stability pact is stupid - do you agree with him that it's stupid or with the European Central Bank that it's indispensable? One or the other!

CHRIS PATTEN: And when did you stop beating your wife.


CHRIS PATTEN: I think very few people who have discussed Romano Prodi's remarks have actually read the whole of the interview in Le Monde, unlike you and me, I'm sure we've read it.

DAVID FROST: Never miss it. Le Monde, never miss it.

CHRIS PATTEN: But I think there are two points, and one should be clear about them. First of all there are the rules of fiscal prudence, which underpin the stability pact and have brought substantial change in a number of countries. Secondly, and I think it's the point that Romano Prodi was focused on, is that in trying to assert those rules, there isn't a strong enough authority to make sure that people can't choose, pick and choose, when to apply the rules and when not to.

DAVID FROST: But he reiterated I still say it's stupid, again this week, didn't he?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I think, I think there is a real question about the economic governance in the stability pact, about how you can make sure that big countries as well as small ones stick to what they've agreed. I don't think anybody, however, should argue against the sort of attempt to impose stability, prudence, in countries. I think, though, that there are arguments in due course for doing that in a more sensible way over the whole of the economic cycle.

DAVID FROST: On the EU president, the one that would be elected by the member states or heads of state, not by popular vote, your - you disagree with Tony Blair on that: he wants one of those and you don't want one of those.

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I just wonder whether it isn't another example of people's institutional ambitions running ahead of political will. I find it very difficult to believe that in the last few weeks Mr Chirac, Mr Blair, Mr Aznar and Mr Schroder would have been very happy to have had a former prime minister turning up in Washington to tell President Bush what Europe's views on Iraq were. So I'm not sure that the political will is there to make a serious go of this job. I also think it raises serious questions about the relationships between the parliaments, between the commission and between the European Council, and while I'm in favour of getting rid of things like the six month presidency of the European Union and having more coherence and better co-ordination, I don't think this is a very sensible way of doing it.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of Iraq, you've been very outspoken on the fact that we must go through the UN and so on but we heard Colin Powell - Colin Powell we should say - just yesterday saying time is running out, a matter of days, we can't wait forever and so on. If, in fact, there was a situation in which the US decided to go ahead with a pre-emptive strike because they've been blocked at the UN, we couldn't desert them at a moment like that, could we? We would have to go along with them in the pre-emptive strike, wouldn't we?

CHRIS PATTEN: I think it's the general view was that they've been reasonable in what they've been asking for in the UN and they'd tried everything but had been blocked by one country or a couple of countries. I think it would be very hard for people to say they hadn't tried as much as they could to get the authority of the UN behind them and since they hadn't been able to do that despite their best endeavours, they would have to go ahead anyway. So I think it has happened, for example over Kosovo, where there wasn't unanimous support at the UN but we went ahead.

DAVID FROST: What about the -

CHRIS PATTEN: But obviously it will be better, if we can do this through the UN we have the moral authority that goes with having a UN decision and I think that's what will actually happen.

DAVID FROST: Could there ever be, actually, EU countries that actually sent troops to such a mission, do you think, or is that impossible?


DAVID FROST: That would, that would have to have UN -

CHRIS PATTEN: - and you know there are EU troops in Afghanistan at the moment, there were EU troops in the Gulf War.

DAVID FROST: And what the Tories, Chris, this particular conference. You must have been somewhat, not befuddled but anyway, by the fact that suddenly the government of John Major emerged as a sort of villain in IDS's speeches and so on, and apparently responsible for people thinking of the Tories as the nasty party and so on. Was that, was that the right way to go about your predecessors?

CHRIS PATTEN: I don't think it's very sensible to base your appeal to the electorate of the future on rubbishing what the last Conservative government did. I think that much of the present government's economic success in its first four years was based on simply continuing the successful policies which had been pursued by Kenneth Clarke. And I don't think either that it was very sensible to wave around your head your consistent bravado as a rebel against the Major government. As Winston Churchill said, the problem about political suicides is you live to regret them, and that is what's happened, I think, over the Conservative Party's very successful but lamentable political suicide of the 1990s.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time, you don't want to run for leader ever, do you?


DAVID FROST: No. But you think that Ken Clarke's still got a shot?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I hope that Iain Duncan Smith will be a successful leader of the opposition and in due course a successful prime minister, and I think that he would be more likely to accomplish those objectives if he was able now to do what Neil Kinnock frankly did in the early '80s, which was to gather round him on the front bench talent from the left, the right and the centre. The problem, I think, for the Conservative Party at the moment with very few members in the House of Commons, is it's not using their talents as well as it could.

DAVID FROST: Chris, it's always a delight to have you with us.

CHRIS PATTEN: Thank you very much.


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