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Breakfast with Frost
Chris Patten, EU Commissioner for External Affairs
Chris Patten, EU Commissioner for External Affairs
Interview with Chris Patten, EU Commissioner for External Affairs on Sunday 01 June 2003.

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

DAVID FROST: We're joined now, as promised, by Chris Patten, who is recovering from his tennis injury.

CHRIS PATTEN: Staggered back from St Petersburg.

DAVID FROST: Yes, well I was going to ask you about that, is James right that they never, those two men never got together - Chirac and Bush?

CHRIS PATTEN: They were in the same room but I don't think they had a bilateral, I don't think they had a serious discussion, but they will do at Evian.

DAVID FROST: They will.

CHRIS PATTEN: I mean the problems facing the world are too severe for people to focus on the arguments - and the genuine arguments - and disagreements of the past few months. You mentioned some of them, the slowdown in the world economy, the question in Iraq of reconstruction, the Middle East peace process, the problem of Africa, poverty in Africa. These are problems which demand international cooperation and I hope that people won't spend too much time saying we were right, you were wrong.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of everybody's got to do some back pedalling or what?

CHRIS PATTEN: Yes.

DAVID FROST: Or do you think France has got to do more back pedalling than ...

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I think everybody's got to show a certain amount of generosity of spirit which politicians aren't always very good at. But it's, it's terribly important that we put what were genuine disagreements behind us and recognise that in alliances, in partnerships, you're entitled to have your own opinions and sometimes you'll fall out. But what is terribly important is that by and large we give one another the benefit of the doubt.

DAVID FROST: And at the end of this Evian session do you think, to quote your own words, people will be saying well generosity of spirit has triumphed again?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well it would be nice to imagine that happening. I think some of the spin doctors on both sides will be trying to demonstrate that their man didn't back down. I don't think that's very helpful, I think everybody needs to move forward. And I think in Iraq, for example, everybody needs to build on the basis of the latest Security Council resolution. You know, I feel sorry for the people in Iraq who are many of them still living in miserable conditions.

DAVID FROST: The Spectator was alleging, as you probably saw this week, that you'd undercut the efforts of Tony Blair to preserve the Atlantic alliance and that you'd been the foreign minister of the Franco-Belgian-German rump. IE: implying that you were more on the side of France than the United States. Is that just?

CHRIS PATTEN: No. And I don't think you'd expect a generous tribute to me from Lord Blacks and Brussels. I mean it was an old-fashioned hatchet job but I've got a thick enough skin nowadays to manage all that. I've never believed that we could do without the transatlantic alliance. Our relationship with the United States is absolutely crucial for most of the things we want to achieve in the world. It's also true to say, as the Americans admitted in their strategic document a few months ago, that most of the things they want to do they need allies in order to accomplish. But I don't agree with what a lot of the neo-conservatives in the United States have been saying. If you say it's anti-American to disagree with Richard Pearle then there are millions of Americans who are anti-American. But when Conrad Black used to disagree with President Clinton, nobody said he was anti-American.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the closer cooperation on foreign policy and so on, there's that quote in the constitutional document about member states shall actively and unreservedly support the union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. Looking at Iraq, that, that sounds a bit like a laugh, a bit like a fantasy, doesn't it?

CHRIS PATTEN: Absolutely. The first thing to be said is that that is the obligation already. Where you agree on a policy - where you agree it - you're supposed to support it and try to work to make it happen. Over Iraq that was demonstrably not what happened and there was serious and bitter argument - I'm not surprised, because the issues are very serious. You can only have a common foreign and security policy, not a single one - I don't think we'll ever have that - you can only have a common policy if there is the political will to make it happen. And that has been the case in the Balkans, where ten years ago we were all over the place, it hasn't been the case in Iraq.

DAVID FROST: And what about, in fact, the, in terms of this going forward, this idea of a single foreign minister? I mean which would, I suppose, combine your role and Mr Solano's role.

CHRIS PATTEN: Solpat Pattana.

DAVID FROST: Exactly. I mean would that work any better than the two of you now?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I think we've made the existing arrangements work about as well as two human beings could but the institutional arrangements are far from perfect and bringing together, as it were, my budgetary responsibilities and his responsibilities to work with foreign ministers I think would probably make sense. It would be a very difficult job to do. It wouldn't mean the end of 15 or 25 foreign ministers in Europe because, as we've seen over Iraq, foreign policy, security policy, goes right to the heart of what it means to be an independent nation state and that isn't going to disappear whatever the, some of the ludicrous Europhobic ravings of the tabloids and the Daily Telegraph have suggested.

DAVID FROST: And what about the fact that in this document there's no mention of God or Christianity in the preamble. Now is that in fact political correctness gone mad, because after all the dominant European culture is Christian?

CHRIS PATTEN: To be candid, I think God and religion have got quite enough to do without being dragged into the debate about the future constitution of the European Union. I, for one, am extremely pleased that we haven't got into the business of how we define this or that religion, how we define the different ethnic, cultural religious traditions of Europe. I don't think, in order to make clear what should be done at the European level, what should be done at the level of nation states, you need to drag the Almighty into it.

DAVID FROST: And are you any keener, as some pro-Europeans are saying, this referendum on the constitution may not be such a bad idea after all?

CHRIS PATTEN: I think referendums are awful. The late and great Julian Critchley used to say that, not very surprisingly, they were the favourite form of plebiscitary democracy of Mussolini and Hitler. They undermine Westminster. What they ensure, as we saw in the last election, is if you have a referendum on an issue politicians during an election campaign say oh we're not going to talk about that, we don't need to talk about that, that's all for the referendum. So during the last election campaign the euro was hardly debated. I think referendums are fundamentally anti-democratic in our system and I wouldn't have anything to do with them. On the whole, governments only concede them when governments are weak.

DAVID FROST: Well I wonder how many people agree with you there. Perhaps we'd better hold a referendum to find out. Thank you very much Chris for being with us, as ever.

CHRIS PATTEN: As ever. Thank you.


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