Chris Patten, European Commissioner for External Affairs
Baroness Jay, Chair of ODI Council
1. Baroness Jay welcomed the audience and introduced Chris Patten.
2. Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for External Affairs, opened his speech with a remark on institutional issues. He stressed that, in order to move things forward in the EU, there was a greater need to focus on political will rather than on the right institutional architecture. Commissioner Patten saw the main issue under discussion as how to improve effectiveness of the external policy of the EU as a whole. To this end, the Convention had made some specific proposals such as the creation of a
- double hatted
- European Foreign Minister but it remained unclear whether the Intergovernmental Conference would endorse these proposals.
3. He specified that 'external relations' was a much wider concept then CFSP. It encompassed the 'first pillar' policies of the European Commission, such as development co-operation and trade, plus the 'second pillar' CFSP. This was important to note as decision-making processes differed between the two. In the first pillar, decisions could be taken by qualified majority; in contrast, CFSP required unanimity of Member States. First pillar policies were underpinned by a budget of about 100 billion euros per annum, whereas the CFSP only disposed of some 40 million euros annually. The 'pillars' would formally disappear under the new Constitution, but the difference in decision-making would remain. Chris Patten emphasised that these different sets of rules simply reflected the Member States lack of willingness to give up their sovereignty in the field of external relations. Therefore, the challenge was to ensure that Europe was using all its tools and resources effectively and coherently.
4. From Chris Patten's point of view, the EU's external action was by and large better than it was usually perceived. In Commissioner Patten's judgement, enlargement had helped to ensure that the dismantlement of the Soviet Union could be managed without a hard fall. Second, the EU helped to prevent further conflict arising in the Balkans. It had also been very closely involved in Afghanistan's reconstruction. The EU response to September 11th could be added as another example. Chris Patten said that the EU's reform of external assistance also represented a success, although further improvements were necessary, such as the budgetisation of the European Development Fund (EDF). Lastly, the Union had created an opportunity for European foreign ministers to better cooperate and agree on positions than ever before.
5. Chris Patten stressed that the functioning of the Brussels Institutions could not be understood without taking into account the role of the Member States. Only 20 percent of total EU aid came from the Community budget, the remaining 80 percent being provided by the Member States. Without the support of the Member States, improvements in EU external relations could not be credible. Furthermore, Commissioner Patten emphasised that the credibility of the EU abroad depended on its military capacity. He saw the need to back diplomacy with a credible threat of force to carry weight.
6. The key issue which Chris Patten addressed during his speech was how to reconcile the objectives of the CFSP whilst preserving the integrity of development assistance with its prime goal of poverty reduction. He quoted the Draft Constitutional Treaty which specified that development cooperation should be conducted within the framework of the Union's external action. To Chris Patten, foreign and security policy were intrinsically linked because 'failed states' could not be risked. He viewed development cooperation as the most powerful instrument for treating the root causes of conflict. From his point of view, there would not be development without peace, nor would there be peace without development.
7. For these reasons, the Commissioner for Development Poul Nielson and Commissioner Patten had recently presented an ambitious proposal for an African Peace Facility, worth 250 million euros, to support the African Union in peace-keeping and conflict prevention measures. Chris Patten stressed that the relationship between peace and development was not new and that the moral imperative for tackling both conflict and poverty was clear. He argued that the EU did not have a choice but to make the promotion of sustainable development as much a part of its fight for global security as the investment it made into multilateral institutions, fair trade and into its armed forces.
8. Nevertheless, Chris Patten acknowledged the fears of the development community that all policies could became subordinate to security imperatives. He drew comparisons to the Cold War when external assistance allocations were determined according to whether a given dictator was capitalist or communist. Commissioner Patten argued for avoiding a hierarchy of policy areas, where development policy became subservient to CFSP. Instead, he called for coherence in external relations. From his point of view, this meant that crisis management came first. Care had to be taken to neither centralise the EU's instruments nor to subvert poverty reduction goals to short term political ends. He also reminded the audience that September 11th forced to EU to reassess its organisational structure.
9. Against this background, Chris Patten endorsed the position taken by international development actors at the OECD Development Assistance Committee when they discussed the role of development assistance in the fight against terrorism. Their report emphasised three areas where development assistance played a role:
- bolstering long term structural stability;
- dissuading disaffected groups from embracing terrorism and other forms of violent conflict;
- denying groups or individuals the means to carry out terrorism, not least by reinforcing good governance.
According to Commissioner Patten, the key for this was to start with institutional strengthening.
10. In conclusion, Chris Patten underlined that it would be a mistake to confuse the process of political goal setting in EU external action with the CFSP. In his view, using the appropriate tools in order to achieve foreign policy objectives was not the same thing as imposing a security agenda on development assistance. He called upon development actors to be confident of their specific mandate and to be prepared to explain to others what could be achieved through effective development programmes. He reminded the audience that it was still open how the proposed European Foreign Minister might function and where development policy and the future Development Commissioner would sit in any future architecture.
11. Several points were raised during the discussion:
- It was asked in how far the EU Institutions aimed at improving communication of policies and practices to the public. Commissioner Patten responded that his main concern was to improve communication between and within EU Institutions.
- The failure of Cancún posed the threat of replacing multilateral trade agreement by bilateral ones, which would be disadvantageous to developing countries. From Chris Patten's point of view, this would be equally problematic for big players like the EU.
- Concerns were expressed that governance issues did not receive enough attention within the EU external action agenda compared, say, to infrastructure. Chris Patten explained that co-operation on governance was harder to quantify and demanded more sensitive negotiation between donors and recipients than infrastructural aid.
- Destitution was seen as putting great pressure on countries emerging from armed conflict. Chris Patten wanted to see the EU's humanitarian aid beyond what it was achieving to date but more coherence was needed.
- It was questioned that the EU could sufficiently protect the interests of the poor while pursuing its security interests through external action. In particular, the Monterrey targets for aid, which were aiming at reducing poverty and under which the EU had committed to reaching 0.39 % of GNP by 2000, might be achieved in aggregate while directing the majority of aid towards middle income countries. In reaction, Commissioner Patten put forward his idea of splitting the budget for external assistance into two distinct funds, one with a security and one with a poverty reduction focus, to avoid competition between the two.
In this event, Chris Patten spoke on the need to focus on political will rather than on the right institutional architecture to improve effectiveness of the external policy of the EU as a whole.