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Afghanistan, Iraq: Aid at gun-point - Die Zeit interview with EU External Relations Commissioner

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Afghanistan, Iraq: Commissioner responsible for External Relations calls for militarily-backed construction programme
Die Zeit: Has the European Union any plans for Iraq after the war?

Chris Patten: We have plans for humanitarian aid if it comes to war. Because I'm afraid it will come to that. The EU's emergency aid agency, ECHO, has acquired more experience in Northern Iraq than anyone else. In recent years we have spent over €150 million in that area.

Die Zeit: and the rest of Iraq?

Patten: How can we draw up detailed plans for reconstruction at the moment? The EU Member States have adopted totally opposing positions on the Iraq question. A quarter of our EU budget comes from one Member State which has adopted a position based on an honourable, unambiguous conviction. There is as yet no UN mandate and no-one knows what to expect in Iraq when the fighting is over. With so many imponderables, it is difficult for me as Commissioner to make any calculations. In previous crises it was simpler. We were only able to do what we did in Afghanistan because we were all united regarding that war. Furthermore, there was a clear UN mandate for the aftermath of that conflict, just as there was for the Balkans.

Die Zeit: The Iraq war could command such unity - when the time comes where everyone has to help.

Patten: It is already clear that we have to help our partners in the regions. But what do we do about Iraq's debts and what is the connection between reconstruction and the price of oil? At all events the Member States and the European Parliament would certainly be looking at me very critically if I were to start issuing fat cheques now.

Die Zeit: The impending war in Iraq is casting long shadows. Can the EU cope with working in several crisis regions at once?

Patten: There is no doubt. The Foreign Affairs Ministers find it hard to cope when they have to deal with more than one blip on their radar screens. The situation in Afghanistan is far from satisfactory. And North Korea is already coming into view. Kashmir is making us nervous. The Middle East and the Balkans - there is still a lot to do everywhere. Keeping pace is difficult while Iraq is the focus of debate. Take Turkey for instance. Turkey has a new and courageous government striving to tackle the difficult economic situation and embark on legal reforms needed to meet EU accession criteria. In addition it still has to take an active part in the Cyprus question. All of this is not made any easier for it.

Die Zeit: Reconstruction as in Afghanistan can take many years. Has Europe got the stamina?

Patten: There is a sort of CNN effect. As soon as people stop looking at the television, they forget about the problem. Nonetheless over the next five years the EU will spend a billion euro on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. On top of that there is emergency aid. In 2002 we planned 205 million for reconstruction and around 70 million for humanitarian aid. Over 80 percent of that has already been spent. If we add to that the resources from the Member States, then we can see that Europe provided €830 million for Afghanistan, 750 million of which have been used up. We should not simply be looking at the money in all this but also at the 350 new schools and around 450 hospitals. Or the removal of the landmines. Europe's money has been invested wisely. And it is reaching its destination faster than in the past.

Die Zeit: The EU has a great goal in Afghanistan. It wants to build a working nation state. How can it work in a country that has never been capable of forming a nation?

Patten: You cannot build a nation for others. You can only help. What does a community need most? Stability, both institutional and political. A clean, incorruptible governing apparatus. A competent administration. Impartial courts. A proper police force. And above all investment in people through education, schools, doctors. Finally an infrastructure. That is precisely what we are trying to do in Afghanistan.

Die Zeit: What is the biggest snag?

Patten: Why are we so unsuccessful in the fight against opium-growing? Poppies continue to be grown where the arm of the new government cannot reach. This is another reason why we need a reliable government for the entire country. Anyone in Britain or Germany who asks why we are making such efforts in Afghanistan should know that 85 percent of the heroin on our streets comes from there. The land under poppies has increased tenfold. Income from drugs production is roughly equal to the total figure for development aid. Collapsed states are the darker side of globalisation - breeding grounds for crime, the drugs trade and terrorism. So, if we help to strengthen the position of a legal government, then Europe's money is also being spent on its own security.

Die Zeit: How important is military presence? For Afghanistan the UN requested 20 000 troops. At the moment there are just 4800 men stationed there.

Patten: In Afghanistan our military commitment is far less than in some Balkan countries. Europe is admittedly quite good at the reconstruction of countries. We have an endless supply of "soft" power - development aid and much else. However, to be able to make better use of it, the EU should be able to make greater use of his "hard" power. For this reason I am in favour of increasing military expenditure. Otherwise we shall never be able to play the international role we seek for ourselves.