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IP/00/1344

Brussels, 22 November 2000

The European Union:Contrasting experiences and common hopes in Britain and Germany

Speech by Chris Patten to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, the Deutsch-Englische Gesellschaft and the Institut für Europäische Politik, BERLIN, 22 November 2000. Mr Patten concedes that at present people in both Britain and Germany feel alienated from the European project. He looks at various suggestions for re-engaging them primarily by finding better ways of connecting national and regional political institutions with European ones. Despite their very different experiences of the EU the German and British people are asking similar questions about how much Europe they want and need. Mr Patten looks at how these questions are being answered by the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The EU does not aspire to a single foreign policy, but if we are to achieve a more effective, more coherent and more visible CFSP, Member States need to accept that mere inter-Governmentalism in CFSP is a recipe for weakness. Mr.Patten concludes by looking at recent experience, notably in South East Europe and in Russia. The EU has much to offer around the world and through the process of its own enlargement - as model of regional integration. It needs to carry forward the project, which has been one of the great achievements of the C20th, "with sensitivity for the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between the Union and its separate members".

Mr.Patten first acknowledges his debt to Ludwig Erhard, whose concept of the 'Soziale Marktwirtschaft' was of such "importance to the… development of an intellectually invincible Centre-Right philosophy in the later years of the last century". He goes on to compare the very different experience of Germany and of Britain in the EU. For many years in Germany European construction amounted almost to a secular religion: unquestioned and unquestionable. The British, by contrast, have never felt glad-hearted about Europe. They have focussed on sovereignty, as if there was choice to be made between the nation and the EU. But this is a fallacy. As Churchill said in 1930: "…from every man will some day be required not the merging or discarding of various loyalties, but their simultaneous reconciliation in a complete or larger synthesis".

The more important question is how democracy should operate in such a large construct. At present people feel a lack of 'emotional commitment' to the EU. Joschka Fischer recently suggested that the way to re-engage them was through a directly-elected President of the Commission, and a European Government which might emerge, for example, from the Council or from the Commission.

Mr Patten is concerned that many might feel "further threatened and alienated by such developments". It is national Parliaments, and lower levels of Government such as the Laender, that are Europe's democratic bedrock. The question is how they might provide a more potent source of legitimacy for the European enterprise. Mr.Patten looks at various mechanisms that have been proposed, including a Second Chamber of the European Parliament, and a charter of competences.

The Council, too, needs give thought to "issues of transparency and public communication. It is corrosive that decisions ripen and are taken behind closed doors, and then blamed on a wicked dragon called 'Brussels' when they prove problematic or unpopular".

Despite their very different experiences of Europe, Germans and Britons are starting to ask similar questions about how much Europe they want and need. Mr Patten looks at how this question is being answered in the field of external relations.

Efforts to fashion an effective foreign policy have been frustrated by the determination of the nations to maintain their independence of external action. "I do not make this point in a spirit of recrimination," because "foreign policy goes to the heart of what it means to be a nation". But "It means that we should be clear-sighted about the limits of CFSP. The EU does not, and cannot, aspire to a single foreign policy." At the same time, if we want a more effective, more coherent and more visible CFSP, "Member States need to accept that mere inter-Governmentalism is a recipe for weakness and mediocrity". "My job, working closely with Javier Solana, is to contribute to the policy-making process and to deliver Community instruments more effectively in the service of Europe's external objectives".

Mr Patten goes on to look at recent experience in South East Europe where the efforts of the EU are making a real difference. "We must honour our promise…to help them to rebuild their countries economically and institutionally, and on that basis to welcome them back into the European family". If Russia is to re-emerge as the great power it should be, it needs "strong and effective institutions to underpin the rule of law". The EU can help to build such institutions, but "real partnership will only be possible if Russia shows its own commitment to individual rights…Events in Chechnya have continued to cast a long shadow". The EU's own enlargement "constitutes the single greatest contribution the EU can make to European even to global stability". The EU also provides a model of regional integration which is relevant to many other countries, from Asia to Latin America "struggling to evolve economic, legal and political frameworks that will contain the passions of states, help to manage relations between them, and channel the process of globalisation in beneficent directions". Finally, Mr Patten looks at the EU's relations with the United States. We have huge mutual interests. "But there are also many areas in which I think the US have got it wrong…We need to develop a candid relationship in which we can explore the antipathies as well as the sympathies of honest neighbourliness". Europe will not win arguments with the US unless it is itself taken seriously. "So we need to carry our share of the defence burden as we already carry much more than our fair share of the burden of external assistance". By developing the CFSP "we may hope to contribute to a healthier global balance".

Mr Patten concludes by observing that the debate over the EU's future development can arouse strong emotions and concerns. "But let us never lose sight of our common ambition, and of the value of what we have inherited. The development of the EU was one of the great achievements of the C20th. We have a heavy responsibility to carry forward the work with sensitivity for the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between the Union and its separate members".


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