Newsnight asked Chris Patten, formerly Europe's Commissioner for External Relations, how the international community should respond to the violence in Basra and whether the UK's exit strategy is now in shreds.
Chris Patten: "Our policy had been to biff our neighbours, now we were in bed with them"
The interview was broadcast by Newsnight on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005. It is also available from our website.
Mr Patten's latest book - a memoir of his five years as Commissioner - gives an insiders account of international diplomacy.
In the extract below he examines what he believes to be the EU's weaknesses in terms of developing foreign and security policy.
If you'd like to comment on this extract - or on our interview with Mr Patten - click here to send us an e-mail.
Not Quite the Diplomat: Home Truths about World Affairs
By Chris Patten
Published on 26 September, 2005
The dominance of the Big Three [Britain, France and Germany] goes to the heart of the question of the effectiveness of European efforts to make foreign and security policy. I mean no disrespect to the twenty-two other member states, but there is no European policy on a big issue unless France, Germany and Britain are on side. Unless they work together, nothing else will work. It is as clear and simple as that. Of course, others can make important contributions, and the addition of new members constantly adds to the insights than can be offered about parts of the world with which the other member states may be unfamiliar. But without the 'big three', there is no policy.
That was most evident over Iraq, which also exposed some of the weaknesses of the present system of trying to make European foreign policy. The subject of Iraq was scarcely debated in the Council: as the arguments hotted up elsewhere - at the UN in New York, on the telephone lines between London, Paris and Berlin - we pretended in Brussels that there was nothing amiss. The great Iraqi elephant sat in the corner of the room, and we edged nervously past it pretending it was not there. 'Elephant? What elephant?' There was a sort of code that was usually observed, which dictated that no foreign minister should say anything too direct or blunt that might embarrass a colleague. To their credit, one or two ministers (for example, Finland's and Ireland's) occasionally broke the unwritten rule and raised a contentious issue. It was a little like committing some physical indecorum in a great aunt's room - maybe excusable but not very nice.
All this made for a very friendly atmosphere, but meetings were not always as useful as they should have been. Sometimes they happened principally because it was that time of the month. Maybe making foreign policy is always like this, with the cut and thrust of debate confined to smoothly clever diplomats and kept away from ministers. Maybe (and this much is certainly true) it is early days. After all, the EU was in a sense created as an alternative to foreign policy. Our policy for years had been to biff our neighbours; now, we were in bed with them all. And maybe - the biggest 'maybe' of all - making foreign policy with fifteen or twenty-five is such a public activity that it is bound to involve more genteel play-acting than real-life, kitchen-sink drama.
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If you'd like to comment on this extract - or any of the issues raised in our interview with Mr Patten- send us an e-mail.