A global rule book – A key goal for EU Foreign and Security Policy

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A global rule book – A key goal for EU Foreign and Security Policy

The European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten sets out the case for a system of global governance based on rules and human rights, at an EPC breakfast briefing on 27 September 2002.

European Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten addressed an EPC breakfast meeting on “The Lessons and Challenges in Building a CFSP”. A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not attributable.

Mr Patten said it was worth underlining that what Brussels was attempting was a common, not a single, foreign and security policy, “because foreign policy goes to the heart of what it means to be a sovereign nation state.” But what was needed above all, he said, was the political will to make it work: without political will “institutional architecture” was irrelevant.

The EU and peace in the Balkans

The Commissioner said the most successful single example of CFSP was the commitment to enlarge the European Union and bring in most of the central and eastern European countries. That was Europe’s response to the disintegration of the Soviet empire in the late 80s and early 90s, and the move towards enlargement was the single most important reason why the disintegration of that empire has been accomplished – outside the Balkans – without significant political fall-out.

The Balkans, however, represented the worst, and most humiliating example of Europe’s pretensions running ahead of Europe’s capabilities. The result of that failure was massacre and ethnic cleansing, although EU efforts to rebuild the Balkans had gone extremely well – an example of what can be achieved when European countries work together.

Commissioner Patten said that three years ago, when he and Javier Solana were appointed to their respective jobs as external relations Commissioner and the Council’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, it would have been impossible to have a discussion which was not dominated by the Balkans. Now, that was no longer necessarily the case which it showed what Europe was capable of when there is the political will.

“Without that political will, no messing about with the institutional architecture is relevant. I don’t doubt that you can make institutional changes which develop the political will, but unless governments and political leaders are committed to a project, it simply isn’t going to work.”

Mr Patten pointed out that a European foreign policy was not the same thing as “grumbling about the United States”. If Europe wanted to be taken more seriously as a counterpart of the US, and indeed a counterweight, the EU had to be prepared “to put more weight on our end of the transatlantic rope.”

Handling problems in European/United States relations

The EU should not seek to rival US investment in military capacity or military technology, “but we have to be more credible in the security field”.

And while no European politician could credibly stand on a Bush-style platform of increasing defence spending by 15% while cutting health and education spending, there had to be more investment in precision guidance systems, munitions, telecommunications, air lift capacity and special forces. And the Rapid Reaction Force had to become a credible force on the ground.

Ten member states are taking part in peacekeeping operations around the world. 80% of forces in the Balkans are from EU countries, but, asked Mr Patten, was this really enough? The EU also had to demonstrate credibility by helping the dispossessed and the alienated. That meant leadership in the field of development assistance and leadership in the debate about opening markets to poorer countries. “Unle ss we lead that debate – with, I hope, the US – the DOHA round will be in real difficulty.”

Even where the EU did not agree with the US – for instance over the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court – the answer was not to grumble, but to “take our share of responsibility and make multi-lateral solutions work as effectively as possible.”

Indeed multilateralism was a key component of the CFSP, said Mr Patten. The post-war world, infinitely richer and more comfortable than the grim, bloody first half of the last century, was based on the propositions that enemies had to be contained and that an international “rule book” to set out democracy, the rule of law and the opening of international markets had to be established. It had been a “pretty successful” formula, and one that people on both sides of the Atlantic have fund it easy to identify with. So why, he asked, did some people now want to abandon it?

Mr Patten said European and Americans had broadly the same views of international threats and the requirements of international relations, so the real challenge for the US and EU was to make multilateralism more successful and build on current achievements – supporting regional cooperation, strengthening the global rule book, and taking a proactive view of preventive diplomacy.

Perhaps there should have been more “social work” in Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet forces. Perhaps that would have made it easier to do what the EU was now trying to do, “rather than rushing round the mountains trying to buy back the Sidewinder missiles we sold them ten years earlier”. Perhaps, also, more should have been done in Iraq, and more done to tackle terrorism over the last 20 years.

Building up a multi-lateral system of global governance

There was a tendency to picture the world up to the end of 1989 (the collapse of communism) and the phase since September 11 last year as “bookends”, but there had been “quite a lot of history” in between. Now the issue of making multilateralism more effective was the most pressing item on the agenda of improving the indispensable EU-US relationship.

The next few months would be interesting because the most difficult and intensely important elements of global politics will collide, he said.

The questions to be answered are:

  • How do we deal with the world’s only superpower, and how does it deal with us?
  • How do we prevent the gap between the culture of the West and Islam turning into a chasm?
  • How do we make the institutions of global governance – the rule book – more effective?
  • How do we decide, given the crisis in Bosnia and the appalling events of September 11 last year, when military intervention is justified?
  • How do we behave when the state we believe to be dangerous is developing weapons of mass destruction?

These, warned Mr Patten, are the challenges that everyone will confront this autumn.

Questions and Answers

Answering questions, he said the United Nations was at the heart of global governance, as were the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO and other bodies. On Iraq, he was content that “the action is where it should be – in New York”. The challenge for everyone was what happens when the global rule book is defied and one or several countries refuse to play by the rules.

On the use of telecoms, Mr Patten said the relationship between political values and modern technology was understated. Modern means of communication made it more difficult for dictatorships to survive and, in development policy, everyone had to recognise the extent to which poorer countries have been left out of the technological revolution – an area which was no longer a luxury but a vital component in the achievement of prosperity.

The future for the global regions

The Commissioner was asked whether the commitment to regionalism extended sufficiently towards the MAGHREB (North African) countries, and whether there was a lack of coordination, as claimed by EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, between the EBRD and the IMF. He replied that the objective under the Barcelona and EuroMed processes was to create a free trade area by 2010 around the Mediterranean – but that target seemed more ambitious as the deadline approached.

There had been increasing trade north to south, but not such a success between the regional partners. Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco were trying to open their trade with each other and he hoped the AGADIR process would kick in soon.

But, went on Mr Patten, there was a broader agenda, and it was vital for the EU to help the various regional groupings to achieve more regional integration: at the moment it is hard to negotiate successfully with other blocs, if your own is not cohesive. And it is difficult to tackle some competitive issues around the world on the basis of 189 individual states each seeking to be treated equally.

The Commissioner said that, as regards the IMF and EBRD, the EU packed a smaller punch in the Bretton Woods institutions because it does not speak with one voice, compared with the WTO where the EU negotiates as one. Pressed on his contention that institutional architecture is second to political will, Mr Patten insisted again that political will could not lag far behind institutional arrangements.

CFSP and EU institutional reform

He went on to describe the distinct functions of the EU’s High Representative and the External Relations Commissioner: the former embodied the political authority and will of the 15 member states, while the latter was responsible for the resources, people and money which the member states have already agreed to share.

Some people thought that the money should go to the political authority, while others thought the political authority ought to reside in the person with the money. This was an ongoing debate.

On relations with China, Mr Patten acknowledged there were difficulties on human rights issues, but observed that this applied to some other countries too, and he rejected the thesis that it was impossible to have a working relationship on other aspects of policy while still speaking out strongly on abuses of human rights.

Asked what could justify US military intervention in Iraq Mr Patten said that whatever action the international community was obliged to take in Iraq should be on the basis of a UN mandate, to which the EU was committed, and an international consensus. But a difficult question loomed: “If Saddam Hussein continues to defy the UN and will of the international community, what do we do? Do we write a letter to the Financial Times? Do we organise a petition?”

The option of sending in inspectors to check on weapons came with obligations to ensure the job could be done comprehensively, and even if that objective were to be achieved successfully “you cannot simply walk away from the process you have started”. This would be the focus for the next few days on Iraq.

A much broader issue was the role of the US itself, which some saw as that of a benign ruler, setting global rules. Others said an attempt should be made to create a global empire with an emperor in which the rules reflected a global consensus. Mr Patten preferred the second route, and he warned America: “Just because you are strong does not mean that the only way to make yourself safe is to use military strength rather than the other options available.”

The challenges facing Bosnia

Questioned about Bosnia, Mr Patten said the problem in Bosnia-Herzogovina was the lack of leaders ready to take risks in the interests of their own destiny. The EU would donate 100 million euro this year, but such sums would decline, as would those of all international donors to the region in the coming years. That was inevitable as other priorities pressed. But he did not underestimate the difficulties Bosnia-Herzogovina still faced: “a lot of leadership is required.”

Questioned on short-termism in politics, Mr Patten took terrorism as an example. He pointed out that, while America was still shaken by September 11, and saw terrorism as a new, compartmentalised issue requiring an instant response, Europeans, with many years experience of terrorist activity, took a more long-term view. They recognised the role of unemployment and poverty in alienating people and sometimes prompting acts of aggression.

No state or political system could ever satisfy everyone and it was inevitable that terrorism would never be entirely defeated. Europeans, better than some Americans, understood that a “wide range of tools” was needed to defeat terrorism. One target was state-backed terrorism – and terrorism-backed states, but Mr Patten warned: “Terrorism will never be completely conquered – people will always be alienated.”

For more analyses see The European Policy Centre’s


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