Lord Patten Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Europe and the World: Conversation with The Right Honorable Lord Patten of Barnes, CH; Chancellor, Oxford University, former European Union Commissioner for External Affairs; January 30, 2006, by Harry Kreisler

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Ideas Shaping the European Union

This is your third visit to our program, and one of the things that emerged very clearly in those visits and in your career is your concern about ideas as you engage in politics. I would like for you to explain for our American audience what you think the key idea is at the heart of the European Union that makes someone like you become a part of that process.

There are three points I would put. First of all, the historic reason for the European Union, which was very much advocated not just by Monnet and Schuman but by Americans after the Second World War, was that we should turn our back on nineteenth-century nationalism and through economic and political integration make the sort of European "civil wars" of the past a thing of history. At the heart of the European Union has been the reconciliation of France and Germany -- very different from what's happened in Asia, where there hasn't been reconciliation between China and Japan. But those two countries (Germany and France) lashed together at the heart of the enterprise. It has involved sovereignty sharing to a unique extent, but sovereignty sharing between nation states. It's nation states that provide the political leadership and the democratic accountability. That is the reason for the European Union being founded in the first place.

Talking about it today, people tend to overlook that very important trigger which fired the European Union into space in the first place, but there are two other reasons which I would adduce, which I think are enormously important -- ideas which Europe represents today. First of all, we live in a world in which nation states can't any longer deal with the threats which come at them from all sides, or provide people with the opportunities that they want and need. Even though people feel their natural loyalty and affinity to nation states -- the largest entity, I think, to which they can feel loyalty -- they nevertheless recognize that states need to work together to an unparalleled extent in order to deal with issues from environmental disaster to epidemic disease, and so on. Europe, twenty-five member states, virtually the whole of Europe, joined together, trying to do a lot of things jointly and earning in partnership the strength which none of us would have on our own. If you look, for example, at the moment about energy policy in Europe, we're far better off dealing with Russia, or dealing with the Middle East, or dealing with West Africa, all of them rather difficult areas -- we're far better off working together to deal with the subject of future energy needs than if we work separately.

The third reason -- I'm sorry to speak at such length -- is that Europe's most successful foreign policy has been enlargement, has been offering membership of the European Union to our neighbors, Spain, Portugal, Greece when they escaped from fascist authoritarianism in the late 1970s, early '80s, most recently the former countries of the Soviet Empire, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. That is a process which we still haven't completed.

For me, one of the arguments about keeping our commitments to Turkey, provided Turkey continues in the process of economic and political reform, is that it does mean, first of all, demonstrating that the European Union is a way of reconciling not just different minorities but different ethnic and religious groups. Secondly, it gives a real bridge between the Western world and the Islamic world, albeit in Turkey's case it's a secular Islamic state.

So, I would say that to the historic reason, ending wars in Europe, we can add today the practical point that countries have to work together, and the future point that this is one of the best ways of finding an accommodation between traditional Western societies and Islam.

Enlargement is an important process because it is Europe's way of bringing democratization and marketization to at least near countries that are considered historically part of Europe.

Absolutely. I think sometimes in America people, even policy makers, confuse the European Union with an alliance. It's much more than that, where you agree to share sovereignty, for example, in order to create a real market. One of the things you're doing is accepting the legislative and judicial authority that's required in order to make Europe-wide regulation work. Within that European Union we've agreed to share decision making to an extraordinary degree, but leaving aside some of those areas which still help to define a modern nation state, like tax-raising powers.

So, it's an interesting model of international governments. Nothing like it had been tried before. I suspect that in the future we'll see copies in other parts of the world, like Southeast Asia and Latin America.

In your previous book, after your experience in Hong Kong, you emphasized very much the link between political values and economic values, between political liberty and economic liberty. It sounds to me like democratization moves that process along as part of a negotiating process.

Yes, we've been extremely successful at regime change without using tanks or the military. We've used the offer of membership of the European Union to promote political and economic reform. It's very interesting to see how that is now working in the Balkans. It worked very well in Central and Eastern Europe where the change from Soviet imperialism, from Russian imperialism, was managed democratically and without any violence or mayhem. That wasn't true with the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, which was, I think, the most humiliating time for Europe as we stood by arguing among ourselves while Yugoslavia went up in flames. Now, in the last few years, trying to recover what has been lost, or some of what's been lost, we've offered members of the Balkan community the prospect of membership of the European Union. So, they have to conduct economic and political reforms, and if they do so, they then qualify to start negotiating for membership of the Union. Croatia has achieved that already, Macedonia's in the process of achieving it, and I hope that others -- Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- will come along in due course, though it's going to take some time. But the magnet which encourages them to change is membership in the European Union. If we were to take that away, I'm not sure what our policy would be other than the stationing of troops.

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