The Rt hon Chris Patten
Commissioner for External Relations
European Parliament Debate in Plenary
Strasbourg, 12 March 2003
Introduction: the ambitions of the Common Foreign and Security Policy
I hope that I have never over-sold to this House the achievements of the Common Foreign and Security Policy or even its potential under the existing Treaty. I have always been acutely conscious of its limitations. Let me quote briefly from a speech I made almost three years ago, in June 2000:
"In the important advances achieved in CFSP in the last decade," I said, "the Member States have not given the Commission a sole right of initiative; nor, in general, have they agreed to abide by majority votes; nor do they accept that Europe has 'occupied the space', reducing national freedom of action... Foreign policy remains primarily a matter for democratically elected Member State governments." (1)
That has never been more evident than over the last few miserable weeks, which have also amply illustrated what I went on to say that:
" All Member States should acknowledge what those actually doing the work of CFSP have long understood that mere inter-Governmentalism is a recipe for weakness and mediocrity: for a European foreign policy of the lowest common denominator. That will become more and more obvious as the Union takes in new members."
The sorry figure cut by the European Union in recent weeks should not blind us to the real and remarkable achievements of CFSP over the last decade: in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, and in many other parts of the world. But it should also remind us how far we have to go. Of course, it is possible as some have suggested for a small group of Member States to act as a driving force to give Europe a coherent, high profile foreign policy. But without better machinery to harness common political will, they are just as likely to drive an incoherent high-profile policy. This has not been a good time for those who believe that the way forward for European foreign policy is to leave things to the big Member States.
Enhancing the role of the UN.
One lesson we can already draw from the unfolding events is the importance of developing the role and authority of the United Nations. It is in the interests of the whole world that power should be constrained by global rules, and used only with international agreement. What other source of international legitimacy but the UN exists for military intervention? On what other basis is it possible, indeed, to address the problem of weapons of mass destruction? I am here thinking not just of the particular case of Iraq, but of the wider issue. America's refusal to press forward with ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty hardly strengthens the hand of the IAEA and others seeking to prevent the proliferation of nuclear technology in Iran, North Korea and beyond. I regretted, too, America's decision to resile so lightly from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. For such decisions and there have been many send a dangerous signal about the value that the US places on international commitments. And that, surely, is a critical battle lost in what some call the 'war against terrorism'.
For I find it hard to conceive how the terrorist threat can be confronted effectively except through international co-operation and disciplines. Impressive work has already been done within the EU and through the UN Counter-terrorism Committee. We should continue to help countries which find it hard to meet their counter-terrorism obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1373. And we should continue to work for a less unequal world for example in the WTO Doha Development Agenda; by carrying forward the Monterrey decisions on development financing; and by implementing the Johannesburg decisions on sustainable development. As a general rule, are wars not more likely to recruit terrorists than to deter them? It is hard to build democracy at the barrel of a gun, when history suggests that it more usually the product of long internal development within a society.
Because of the UN's unique role as a source of legitimacy, it is of the greatest importance that if a war is waged in Iraq, the UN should authorise the decision to attack. If, tragically, the position of the UN remains ambiguous (if, for example, authority for an attack rested on Resolution 1441, but without explicit Security Council confirmation that Iraq's failure fully to comply constituted a casus belli), then it is still likely to be desirable that the UN should provide the framework as soon as possible for humanitarian assistance that may be necessary thereafter;
that it should oversee the emergence of the new Iraqi polity, driven by the people of Iraq themselves; and that it should help to co-ordinate the international reconstruction effort that will certainly be required. But it would be better (who can seriously dispute this) if, a huge "if" we were able to disarm Saddam Hussein preferably by inspections.
EU humanitarian assistance and other co-operation
The EU is a massive donor in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, and we are already the largest humanitarian donor in Iraq. If it comes to war, we shall certainly have to step up that help, not just to the victims of the conflict, but to those who may seek refuge from it. The Commission has been engaged in intensive contacts with UN organisations and with countries neighbouring Iraq about how we might best contribute on the humanitarian front. €15m has already been set aside, but we may well need to go further drawing, if necessary, on the budget's emergency reserve.
It will be essential that, with other international assistance agencies, the EU should be free to give independent and impartial help. A strict separation will need to be maintained between military action and assistance in order to preserve the so-called 'humanitarian space'. That objective will be much easier to achieve if the UN is recognised, at an early stage, as the lead assistance co-ordinator.
Immediate humanitarian help is one thing but the demands upon us will certainly extend much beyond that. As you are all too well aware in this House, Europe's external relations budget is already heavily committed. It will be very difficult in any circumstances to launch massive new programmes in Iraq and in the neighbourhood of Iraq. But it will be that much more difficult for the EU to co-operate fully and on a large scale also in the longer-term reconstruction process if events unfold without proper UN cover and if the Member States remain divided.
When I have made this point in the past I have sometimes been accused of issuing a threat of EU nonco-operation if the United States chooses to proceed without UN backing, on the principle suggested by Tom Friedman from the sign in a china shop: "If you broke it, you own it." But that is not my point. I am making, rather, a simple observation of fact: that if it comes to war, it will be very much easier to persuade you the EU budgetary authority to be generous if there is no dispute about the legitimacy of the military action that has taken place; about the new political order that emerges thereafter; or about who is in charge of the reconstruction process. I am not making a quasi-legal point. I am simply offering a political judgement of no great novelty or sagacity. It seems pretty obvious.
Minimising collateral damage
I am gravely concerned and I know that many in this House share my concerns about the potential collateral damage of recent events, and of a war, if it comes to that. Our joint efforts should be directed to trying to minimise those potential effects. I am thinking not just of the death and destruction that might be wrought by war itself, or of the destabilising consequences for Iraq's immediate neighbours but of potential damage, for example to the authority of the United Nations; to NATO; and to transatlantic relations, which are going through a very difficult passage. In all these contexts we must look beyond the immediate arguments and remind ourselves of our long-term interests to co-operate and to strengthen the flawed but necessary apparatus of international governance.
But there are three other areas where we should also work to reduce collateral damage from recent events.
The first is the Common Foreign and Security Policy itself, which has suffered a severe setback because Member States on both sides of the debate have chosen to take firm national policy positions as if they spoke for the European Union as a whole. We must not be disheartened by this setback. There have been similar divisions within the United States, and even within the US Administration, but these do not pull the country apart because in the end the President is empowered to speak for the nation as a whole. As a Union of independent nations we do not enjoy that luxury. But that is reason to redouble our efforts to build an effective CFSP, not to abandon them. As we return to the work we shall find, perhaps, a little more humility even among the large Member States who can surely see how much they have damaged their common enterprise and how much they have reduced their common influence as a result of public squabbling;
A second European project that risks being hurt by recent events if we do not work actively to sustain it, is the cause of enlargement. I think it is particularly damaging that disagreements over Iraq have been allowed to over-shadow the debate about enlargement. We should not call into question the European vocation of countries simply because of their views on the Iraq crisis. Let us assure the acceding countries that we continue to look forward eagerly to their imminent membership.
But on the other side of the argument let us acknowledge that those who join our Union are making an existential choice. They are not declaring themselves for Europe and against the United States. Emphatically not. But, in the words of the Treaty, they are accepting a responsibility to "refrain from action... likely to impair [the effectiveness of the Union] as a cohesive force in international relations." (2) The present members may have set a bad example but that does not reduce the responsibility on all members, including the acceding states, to meet that Treaty obligation.
Finally, I want to say a word about Israel and Palestine. What happens if there is a war in Iraq? Let us suppose, let us pray, that it is brief. Let us further suppose that all the worries expressed about the consequences in terms of stability of the country prove unfounded. Let us, in short, put all or most anxieties to one side.
I want to ask two questions. First, will the peace that breaks out drive Palestinians and Israelis into an historic reconciliation? The state of the Palestinians was described last week by Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency. "The stark fact is", he wrote, "that almost a quarter of Palestinian children are suffering from acute or chronic malnutrition for purely man-made reasons. No drought has hit Gaza and the West Bank, no crops have failed and the shops are often full of food. But the failure of the peace process and the destruction of the economy by Israel's closure policy have had the effect of a terrible natural disaster".
Second, in the aftermath of a war, will America (the leader of a UN backed operation or a more limited coalition) take a much more proactive role in forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace? We have been told that will happen. European leaders have been told that will happen: that the road map will see the light of day before we all run out of road. I sincerely hope that is so. I genuinely fear the outcome if war in Iraq is followed by another year or more of violence in Palestine and Israel. That would further inflame opinion in the Islamic world. To defeat terrorism, it is said by some to be necessary to defeat Saddam Hussein. That may or may not be true some of us are at the very least agnostic on that point. But what I am absolutely sure about is that to invade Iraq while failing to bring peace to the Middle East would create exactly the sort of conditions in which terrorism would be likely to thrive. And none of us would be immune from the consequences.
(1) A European Foreign Policy: Ambition and Reality: Institut Français de Relations Internationales (IFRI), 15 June 2000
(2) TEU Article 11.2