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17th Apr 2021

Patten: The EU will never be a real power

  • The British commissioner oversaw EU external relations in 2000-2004 and is currently the chancellor of Oxford University (Photo: European Commission)

Former external relations commissioner Chris Patten in a 2004 conversation with US diplomats explained why the EU will never be a "real power," mused on the shady past of some EU leaders and said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has "the eyes of a killer," a cable published by WikiLeaks reveals.

Under the headline "Dining with Chris: Random thoughts from Relex commissioner Patten" US ambassador to the EU Rockwell Schnabel on 28 April 2004 penned down the comments made by the commission official "over rubbery fish."

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A British Conservative, Mr Patten expressed his scepticism that the EU will ever become "a real power," because "there is always someone in the room who is overly cautious, and will insist on looking at matters 'sensibly'," the cable reads.

"To be a real power, Patten said, a country must be ready and able to adopt and implement a policy, even if the rest of the world considers it unwise. Europeans may agree or disagree with US policy, but they admire that the US is ready to carry out the policies it thinks best, no matter what the rest of the world thinks."

On Russia, from where Mr Patten had returned a week before, he said Vladimir Putin, who was president at the time, had done a good job mainly due to high world energy prices, but he had serious doubts about the man's character.

Cautioning that "I'm not saying that genes are determinant," Mr Patten then reviewed Putin family history: grandfather part of Lenin's special protection team, father a communist party apparatchik, and Mr Putin himself decided at a young age to pursue a career in the KGB.

"He seems a completely reasonable man when discussing the Middle East or energy policy, but when the conversation shifts to Chechnya or Islamic extremism, Putin's eyes turn to those of a killer," the then commissioner said.

Just three days after a key referendum on the divided island of Cyprus, in which Greek Cypriots rejected the re-unification plans put forward by the United Nations, Mr Patten said the EU commission would focus on "figuring out how to spend money in Northern Cyprus," the Turkish part which would be de facto left out of the EU when the island joined the bloc, on 1 May 2004.

The EU official noted the Greek Cypriots were "on their heels" diplomatically after their blatant efforts to stifle opposing views on the UN referendum.

"This incident, Patten said, was a sad reflection on the realities of EU enlargement: Some of the new members were people you would 'only want to dine with if you have a very long spoon.' Not that the EU should have been surprised by [Greek Cypriot President Tassos] Papadopolous' behavior, Patten said, since they knew well who they were dealing with: [Serbian leader and war criminal Slobodan] Milosevic's lawyer."

On Turkey, of whose EU bid Mr Patten was "the biggest proponent in the commission," the British politician anticipated the formal opening of accession talks - which started in December 2004 - but noted that the political climate in Europe was hostile.

France, a traditional opponent of Turkish accession, was not so much of a problem, Mr Patten argued, as its president at the time, Jacques Chirac "can change his policies on a whim."

The main stumbling bloc for Ankara, in Mr Patten's view, were the conservative parties in Germany - at the time in opposition, but poised to win elections the following year - and in Spain, where the conservative Popular Party had just been ousted from power, but was still influential.

EU enlargement as a process of integration in a community was at times not fully understood by the US, who viewed the expansion similarly to Nato's, the Brit argued.

"We have to be ready to trust their food and sanitation standards, for instance," Mr Patten said.

Political bargaining was also a big component of EU enlargement, the commissioner explained.

"Cyprus, for instance, probably should not have been admitted but the Greeks insisted on Cypriot admission as the price of agreeing to some of the northern European candidates," the cable reads.

"Croatia, [Mr] Patten said, is probably far more prepared for EU membership than either Bulgaria or Romania, who will likely enter the Union earlier. Romania, in particular, was a 'feral nation'," the US diplomat noted.

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