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Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK

UK Politics

Patten: Moral dimension to enlargement

Prodi's new commission promises to reform Europe

Chris Patten has ascribed a moral and strategic dimension to his latest job: EU commissioner in charge of enlarging the European Union.

Chris Patten: "Enlargement has to be pushed forward as steadily as we can manage"
The last governor of Hong Kong - who is still regarded as a future Tory leader in some circles - said he regarded his days as a Westminster politician as behind him.

Mr Patten said all the members of the new commission - led by former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi - recognised the challenge of restoring faith in the European Union.

[ image: Chris Patten:
Chris Patten: "Lesson of Kosovo is need to push EU's borders"
"I think Professor Prodi has made clear that we've got to be a reforming commission. The commission has got to reform itself," he said.

"We've also got to take account of what's happened in the Balkans in the last few years and I think enlargement is a very important priority in the new commission's work."

As commissioner for external relations, the EU's success in taking a lead in Balkan affairs and in reaching out to former communist states of central Europe will be central to Mr Patten's brief.

Speaking to BBC, he suggested increasing the number of member states within the EU would bring a variety of rewards.

"I think one of the lessons of the '90s is that enlargement is a substantial priority for Europe at the turn of the century," he said.

"It has a moral as well as a strategic dimension and we've got to get on with it."

The lessons of the Kosovo conflict showed the need to build ties throughout Europe, Mr Patten said.

"I think everybody must have learned from what's happened in the past few months how important it is to try to ensure at a reasonable pace that the frontiers of the European Union are as far as possible coterminous with the geographical frontiers of Europe.

[ image: Neil Kinnock: Patten says he is 100% behind the former Labour leader]
Neil Kinnock: Patten says he is 100% behind the former Labour leader
"In other words, enlargement has to be pushed forward as steadily as we can manage."

Mr Patten's new job will force him to work closely with his former political adversary, Neil Kinnock, who remains in the commission and becomes one of its two vice-presidents, with special responsibility for tackling fraud.

But the former Conservative minister insisted this would present no serious obstacle.

"Elections aren't of course motive for people saying kind and charitable things about each other, but there are more important things in life than elections.

"The job he has is an extremely difficult one and he'll have my 100% support."

Mr Cook played down any suggestion his return to political life could be a stepping stone back to Westminster.

"I've been beyond ambition for years," he said. "I don't regard myself as closing the door on the United Kingdom but as far as Westminster is concerned I think that is my past rather than my future."

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