CHRISTOPHER LORD PATTEN OF BARNES interviewed by PAUL HOLMES
PAUL Lord Patten has been described as the best Foreign Secretary Britain never had, yet even without that job his CV is more than impressive. Most famous of course internationally recognised as the last Governor of Hong Kong, the man who oversaw the return of the last British colony or territory as they called it to Hong Kong. He as also British Cabinet Minister through the 80s, he chaired the - this is under Margaret Thatcher of course, he chaired the Independent Commission for Policing in Northern Ireland, and he served as European Commissioner for External Relations for five years, and is now the Chancellor of both Newcastle and Oxford Universities, so he fits a fair bit into a day. His new book is called What Next, it's a round up of the world at the moment, and the predictions for what the 21st Century might bring, deal with fights over water for example. Lord Patten is due this weekend to arrive in New Zealand on a speaking tour, and I grabbed some time with him early this week before he left London and began by asking him what were the most fundamental changes in Europe in the 20 years since the Berlin Wall had fallen and Europe had begun to reunify.
CHRISTOPHER LORD PATTEN OF BARNES - Chancellor Oxford University
Well I suppose there are two huge changes. The first is that Europe has been pretty well united within a system of integrated sharing of policy making, a system which sustains welfare, capitalism and democracy, and virtually every European country is either already a member of the European Union or wants to be a member of European Union. Secondly, what we did with the enlargement after the fall of the Berlin Wall offering the countries of Russia's former European Empire, the Warsaw Pact countries, the possibility of membership of the European Union, was to underpin the process of democratisation, of stabilisation in a similar way to the way we did it with Spain and Portugal and Greece when they recovered from fascist authoritarianism 40 or 50 years ago. So it was the same process using the enlargement of the European Union as a way of promoting regime change if you like without using munitions or rockets or tanks. The whole process was very rapid, and I think there's been one paradoxical consequence, and that is that Europe no longer matters to the rest of the world as much as perhaps it did when it was the cockpit of world wars, and it was where the main division between communism and democratic capitalism took place. So it's curious that perhaps Europe's geostrategic position has been reduced by the fall of the Berlin Wall.
PAUL You've also written the reasons for the unification of Europe, the reasons for the EU are clear, it was a brave and visionary thing. Some in this part of the world might regard Europe as bloated, protectionist and as you say a bit impotent. Can you see why we might think that down here?
LORD PATTEN Yeah but I think you'd be wrong. I mean I can quite see how when Britain joined the European Union the fact that we changed our agricultural policy or were obliged to do so, went down very badly in New Zealand and Australia, that's wholly understandable, but I don't think you'd be better off if Britain was now to cast itself out into the Atlantic. So I think I may seem a bit odd to some New Zealanders today but you'd have been actually better off if we'd been in there from the first place shaping it, and today, today you wouldn't be better off if Britain was weaker and purporting to regard the Commonwealth as some alternative to our regional economic integration, because it isn't.
PAUL Can we talk about the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland and Poland have finally voted yes to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, only the Czech Republic remains in suspension on this, they want a compromise. How would European ratification of Lisbon change Europe, how might it affect countries like New Zealand?
LORD PATTEN Well the truth is that it wouldn't change it nearly as much as either the proponents or the opponents of the Treaty are arguing. The Lisbon Treaty changes the way we run our affairs institutionally in order to take account of the fact that there are now 27 members of the European Union, when we started talking about this there were 15, so with any luck there'll be slightly more coherence about European policy making, but don't hold your breath, and it's not going to fundamentally change the relationship between our friends like New Zealand in either the foreign insecurity field or the trade and commercial field.
PAUL China, with which you have considerable experience, you've written that we all need China to change its attitude, in what way?
LORD PATTEN Well first of all I strongly believe that China joining in the global economy, and China growing at 9-10% for pretty well a quarter of a century has been very good for the rest of us, I'm not one of those people, unlike some on the right in America, who regard China doing well is somehow a threat, it's not a threat, it helps to provide jobs and economic growth in the rest of the world. But where I think there is a real problem today, leaving aside the question of China's human rights record, which is a big thing to leave on one side, where I think there is a problem today is that we - for all the talk about G20s and better regulation of banks and financial services, we haven't really dealt with something which is at the heart of our economic problems which is the imbalances in the world, and particularly the imbalance between the United States which has been a huge borrower, the world's borrower of last resort, and a big spender, and China which has been a huge saver, and has bought so much American debt.
PAUL Indeed you point out a fascinating fact that for 18 of the past 20 centuries, China's been the world's greatest power, they regard the last 100 years as a blip. I mean we look at some of the numbers of the resources China's going to need to continue its growth, you point out that China imports three billion barrels of oil per day. Now is that need for resources to continue China on its path going to cause problems?
LORD PATTEN Well it could do and one reason why we're facing up I hope at Copenhagen to some really tough diplomacy on global warming and climate change, is we can't go on as we have been doing. We can't go on with an increasing reliance on carbon, on oil and so on. It's both an issue I think of environmental policy and it's an issue of security and foreign policy as well, because what China has been doing is basing much of its diplomacy on it's appetite for commodities, and that has led to it doing the sort of deals which frankly we used to do in Britain, other European countries did, America did, in Africa and other developing parts of the world, which show a blind eye to issues of governance provided people can rack up the minerals and commodities and oil which they want, and it's not a very good way of doing business, it's not a very good way of promoting sustainable development.
PAUL Can China really be the greatest power while it's got no democracy, no real free speech, or is China so vast it actually needs a single party powerful administration as it has?
LORD PATTEN First of all in terms of per capital GDP, China won't catch up with developed economies for as far ahead as one can see, but they're gonna matter because there 1.2 billion very resourceful people whose per capita wealth has been going up fast and therefore their aggregate wealth has been going up. Will that be sustainable given that they still have a sort of Leninist political system? Well my own view as a Liberal Democrat is it's not sustainable, but you'd expect me to say that probably. I don't think you can open up an economy indefinitely and keep an absolutely rigid grip on politics. Truth is that the way China handles that political issue is going to matter very much to all of us, so I hope they manage it sensitively, but I don't think that China is the one hold out in the world, everywhere else, well I think with the single exception of Singapore, which has a much smaller population, at a certain level of economic growth and development politics changes, and a society becomes more plural and more open and more genuinely democratic.
PAUL Conflict in the 21st century, we've got a massive one going on at the moment in Afghanistan, Obama finds himself embroiled in a war, different war, not of his own making, people are already calling it a Vietnam. Can the Americans, NATO the Americans, defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, or is it a lost cause?
LORD PATTEN Well I think it's an issue for all of us not just America, which is why a number of NATO countries including our own here, the United Kingdom is involved side by side with the United States. Now there are all sorts of things you can say about Afghanistan, you can say we shouldn't be starting from here, which is a point that I very strongly feel that we should have actually had more boots on the ground after we'd go rid of the Taliban in 2001, 2002. You can also say, which again I think is true, that if we set ourselves the target of establishing the same sort of democracy in Afghanistan as exists in I don't know, Auckland or in Manchester, then we're in for some rude and bloody shocks, but there is this in my judgement difference from Vietnam. In Vietnam we talked about dominoes and I think it was a bogus metaphor. In Afghanistan I really believe the dominoes argument, I think if we were to walk away from Afghanistan we'd find the props kicked from under democratic politicians in Pakistan, and if extremists take over in Pakistan then you have a south Asian state in which there's an extremist government with nuclear weapons. The consequences strategically for South Asia, the consequences for all of us, Pacific countries and European countries, would be enormous.
PAUL Lord Patten, climate change. You've written that you've got no patience with countries that squeal about the uniqueness of their own particular problems. New Zealand might be seen to be doing that because 50% of our emissions of course greenhouse emissions are methane which we can do nothing about because it comes from the animals. New Zealand is promising to cut between 10 and 20%, Europe is going it looks like much more at Copenhagen, should we be cut some slack in New Zealand?
LORD PATTEN What every country has to do is to face up to its own responsibilities, this is in my view. The most difficult and important negotiation that's taken place for a century, it's incomparably more difficult than the negotiations at Versailles after the first world war, or Potsdam after the second, because what we're requiring people to do is to change the way they behave, to change their lifestyles in order to secure a common burden, it's very difficult to persuade people to do that. Each country has its own particular energy characteristics, but everybody has to do their own bit, whether it's Australia or New Zealand or Canada or Europe, we have to actually not only do what we think we can, but to go a little bit further, and anybody who pretends that all this can be fixed easily and comfortably by some technological breakthrough is I think guilty of a lack of political leadership, and guilty of a certain element of mendacity. We have actually to make changes and some of those changes may actually be a bit uncomfortable.
PAUL Lord Patten, thank you very much indeed for your time.
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