Post-Modern States: Rita Ricketts Interviews Chris Patten, the Retiring EU Commissioner for External Relations

By Ricketts, Rita | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Post-Modern States: Rita Ricketts Interviews Chris Patten, the Retiring EU Commissioner for External Relations


Ricketts, Rita, New Zealand International Review


Demob happy, and concentrating on his university chancellorship role, Chris Patten outlined the success of the European Union: 'its single market and currency, its ability to act cohesively in the international trade arena, and vastly improved management of its common external programme'. And, he hoped, the recent willingness of EU member states to agree cuts to agricultural subsidies will go some way towards the successful conclusion of the Doha Round. European integration too, he added, 'which so successfully cultivated economic and political stability in "old Europe"' is now set in train to bring the same benefits to ten new member states and even more neighbours. With enlargement (eight East European countries, Cyprus and Malta), the European Union's borders extend to the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa.

This new geo-political line-up, Patten argued, should help the European Union develop 'broader, more balanced policies', as should the creation of the high representative for foreign policy. A product of the new constitution, the foreign policy guru should help member states to agree 'common', if not 'single', policies, and parliaments to have a greater voice. In this way, perhaps, the European Union may avoid the mess it made over Iraq. But Britain, Patten lamented, could have led the way if its time-warped foreign policy had not prevented it from acting as a post-modern state should. Having dealt with international relations on a daily basis, Patten was convinced that postmodern states must accept that it is in their own national interests to work with others. 'It is the post-modern state', he explained, 'which now sets a precedent for co-operation in the conduct of relations between states, within Europe and around the world'. Coming to terms with this is as much a challenge for the United States, as for EU member states.

Fresh from the field, Patten began by expressing his surprise that 'a reforming Labour government, with a large majority and a manifesto commitment to take Britain to the heart of Europe, had failed to take a positive lead'. But was the explanation for this not simple? Like all post-war Prime Ministers, save Ted Heath (whose support for European integration was tantamount to treachery claimed Margaret Thatcher), Blair feared rejection at the polls, and the wrath of the (Murdoch) press, if he allied Britain too closely with Europe. (1) Imagine the headlines if he had appeared to put the European Union before the United States: 'British foreign policy made in Brussels'; 'Slap in the face for the Special Relationship'; 'Britain damages its long-term international trade prospects'; or 'death knell for sovereignty'? For Blair's government openly to advance the El; case, as Dennis MacShane recently pointed out, would be 'like advocating Christianity in a Rome full of Neros and Caligulas'. (2) Does Michael Howard, remembering the problems of his predecessors, think he will meet his Brutus (UK Independence Party) if he dares to 'flourish' inside, rather than alongside, Europe? (3)

Time warp

Patten added another possible explanation: 'being pro-European deprives senior politicians of a scapegoat'. When in difficulty, they have only to mouth the words of mass distraction 'EU' and the media pack are on the scent. That the media, for the most part, 'remains in a time warp over Europe' is one of Patten's bugbears. The sovereignty argument is 'history speak', and, worse, 'while the British are peddled the 'fraudulent myths of Europe', as Patten called them, 'they will continue to fear being swallowed-up by an EU super-state'. (4) Meanwhile across the water 'voters are given arguments in favour of pooling sovereignty: sharing decision-making in areas such as trade, environment, immigration, security, where co-operation benefits'. Pulling no punches, Patten dismissed the mythmakers. 'The EU is not a someone able to give back or take away power from nation states. …

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