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EU: Patten Says Rift Over Iraq Threatens EU Cohesion, Reconstruction Aid Not Guaranteed

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Chris Patten, the European Union's external-relations commissioner, today told the European Parliament the rift over Iraq threatens the bloc's common foreign policy with long-term paralysis. He also warned the United States that a war against Iraq without United Nations backing would not be legitimate and that the EU would find it difficult to finance post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq without such UN authorization.

Brussels, 12 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The EU's external-relations commissioner, Chris Patten, said today the European Union has cut a "sorry figure" in the world as a result of its failure to agree on a common foreign policy on Iraq.

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Patten traced the EU's woes to the unwillingness of the bloc's member states to give the European Commission a coordinating role in foreign policy or to abide by majority votes when decisions are made.

Patten said the problem is far from new, pointedly quoting from a speech he had given in Paris nearly three years ago: "[The EU's problems have] never been more evident than over the last few miserable weeks, which have also amply illustrated what I [said three years ago in Paris] that: 'All member states should acknowledge what those actually doing the work of [the] CFSP [the EU's common foreign and security policy] have long understood, that mere intergovernmentalism is a recipe for weakness and mediocrity, [a recipe] for a European foreign policy of the lowest common denominator. That will become more and more obvious as the union takes in new members.'"

Also speaking in Strasbourg, the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said yesterday that EU member states have "an obligation to give proof of loyalty and mutual solidarity" in their foreign-policy decisions. Prodi said the EU member states on the UN Security Council have a "particular requirement" to coordinate their actions and defend the interests of the bloc.

Patten today said that this can only be achieved by means of "better machinery," i.e., the European Commission should be given a more decisive role.

He said that making EU foreign policy can no longer be left solely to the member states. "Of course, it is possible, as some have suggested, for a small group of [EU] member states to act as a driving force, to give Europe a coherent, high-profile foreign policy. But without better machinery to harness common political will, they are just as likely to drive an incoherent, high-profile policy. This has not been a good time for those who believe that the way forward for European foreign policy is to leave things to the big member states," Patten said.

Patten also sharply criticized the United States, saying that military action against Iraq would not be legitimate without United Nations approval. "It is in the interests of the whole world that power should be constrained by global rules and used only with international agreement. What other source of international legitimacy, except the UN, exists for military intervention?" Patten said.

Patten said the United States has consistently placed "little value" on its international commitments. He went on to say that the U.S. refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its unilateral scrapping of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty have harmed efforts to combat nuclear proliferation and the fight against terrorism in general.

Patten stressed that the United Nations should also oversee the rebuilding of the Iraqi state after the war, allowing the Iraqi people to drive the process. "If, tragically, the position of the United Nations remains ambiguous, if, for example, the authority for an attack rested solely on Resolution 1441 but without explicit Security Council confirmation that Iraq's failure fully to comply constituted a casus belli, then it is still likely to be desirable that the UN should provide the framework, as soon as possible, for humanitarian assistance that may be necessary thereafter, that it should oversee the emergence of the new Iraqi polity, driven by the Iraqi people themselves," Patten said.

Patten warned that the EU -- by far the largest foreign aid donor in the world -- would find it "problematic" to find reconstruction work in Iraq if the United Nations failed to authorize war. "It will be very difficult in any circumstances [that is, because of EU budget constraints] to launch massive new programs in Iraq and in the neighborhood of Iraq. But it will be that much more difficult for the EU to cooperate fully and on a large scale also in the longer-term reconstruction process if events unfold without proper UN cover and if the [EU] member states remain divided," Patten said.

On 10 March, Patten made the same point a little more bluntly in an interview published in the British daily "The Independent." He said in the interview that the question of how easy it would be to get the European Parliament and the member states to authorize funding for Iraq under such circumstances was a "no-brainer."

Patten went on to note that "the Germans pay for 25 percent of the community budget. We know what the German opinion is, and I am a democrat."

Today, Patten also warned the discord over Iraq could result in collateral damage to enlargement. Referring to a recent warning by French President Jacques Chirac that the candidates' support for the U.S. line could undermine their chances of accession, Patten said: "I think it is particularly damaging that disagreements over Iraq have been allowed to overshadow the debate about [EU] enlargement. We should not call into question the European vocation of countries simply because of their views on the Iraq crisis."

Nevertheless, Patten said, the candidates must understand they are about to make an "existential choice." He quoted the EU's Maastricht treaty, which requires all member states to "refrain from action...likely to impair [the effectiveness of the union] as a cohesive force in international relations."

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