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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
Patten attacks UK's European debate
Chris Patten
Chris Patten is calling for more focus on EU democracy
The British debate on Europe focuses too much on sovereignty and not enough on democracy, European Commissioner Chris Patten has said.

The former chairman of the Conservative party warned that people were now alienated from the European Union because its lack of democracy was not being addressed.

Sovereignty, in the sense of unfettered freedom of action, is a nonsense

Chris Patten
During a speech in Oxford Mr Patten also said that those opposed to the EU should realise being outside it would mean a loss of sovereignty for the UK.

And he called for the creation of an elected second chamber, or senate, for the European parliament.

His call is in contrast to the UK government's stance, which supports the creation of a new second chamber but only as an unelected forum for representatives of national forums.

Mr Patten told his audience: "Sovereignty, in the sense of unfettered freedom of action, is a nonsense.

"A man, naked, hungry and alone in the middle of the Sahara desert is free in the sense that no one can tell him what to do. He is sovereign, then. But he is also doomed.

"It is often preferable to accept constraints on freedom of action in order to achieve some other benefit."

'People sullen'

Mr Patten told his audience that opponents of the EU claimed Britain could be economically successful outside it.

I suspect that the economic and competitive pressures upon Britain to come into line, in her own interest, could become very great

Chris Patten
"They are not wholly wrong. I have no doubt we would be less well off outside than in. But there would be no catastrophe; no Biblical plagues.

"The more important point is that far from gaining sovereignty, in the de facto sense, Britain would actually lose it.

"In international trade we would have to follow World Trade Organisation rules with little opportunity of shaping them."

Mr Patten, in charge of external relations for the European Commission, said people were feeling "sullen and alienated from the EU".

Democratic solutions

Among the solutions he suggested were including a proportion of delegates from national parliaments in the European Parliament - holding elections to both on the same day - and creating a European senate.

The comments follow Tony Blair's call earlier this month for an unelected chamber of national parliamentarians to police a new EU charter of competencies outlining the extent of Brussels' power.

Also in his speech Mr Patten warned that Britain would come under growing pressure to "come into line" on the euro.

He said Britain was already "no longer part of the inner circle of economic policy-making in the EU" and there would soon be more economic co-operation within the so-called Eurogroup.

The UK could continue resisting the extension of majority voting to new areas and thereby maintain her veto on sensitive issues like tax.

But, he went on, "as greater consensus begins to develop in the Eurogroup on economic, monetary and even fiscal issues, I suspect that the economic and competitive pressures upon Britain to come into line, in her own interest, could become very great."

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See also:

26 Oct 00 | Europe
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09 Jun 00 | Europe
Patten 'frustrated' by EU job
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