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The Rt Hon Chris Patten


The Rt Hon Chris Patten

Commissioner for External Relations

Speech on Iraq

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 3 September 2003

May I join my Council and Parliament colleagues in paying tribute to the bravery and dedication of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his staff. I knew Sergio well, first when I worked with him for five years in Hong Kong when he was helping us at UNHCR with the problem of Vietnamese migrants, then when he was Special Representative in Kosovo, and again during his extremely successful tenure as UN Representative in East Timor. He was an outstanding international civil servant a man of integrity, dedication and wisdom.

The 19 August bombing was an appalling attack on all of us who see international co-operation backed by the authority of the UN as the best way of resolving the world's problems. I am pleased that the Security Council has now decided that attacks on UN and humanitarian organisations will be treated as war crimes.

I was looking forward to working with Sergio and his team in Iraq : in just two months his impact on the transition process in Iraq was clearly visible. The tribute paid to him by Richard Holbrooke, former US Ambassador to the UN, and in particular Mr Holbrooke's reminder of how valuable was Mr Vieira de Mello's work to every country in the world (including the world's only superpower), was wholly deserved. It is precisely the vital importance of the UN's work that explains the purpose of those responsible for the appalling attack on its Headquarters in Baghdad. The murderers want this transition and the building of Iraq's democracy to fail through a strategy of creating chaos. Last Friday's horrific bombing of the mosque in Najaf using the same store of explosives and with equally tragic results is further proof of the aims and methods of the men of violence.

So I hope that our debate today can send them a clear message: whatever our past disagreements and important as they were, there is limited point today in focussing on them - we all have a stake in the emergence of a prosperous, stable and democratic Iraq. All of us should be committed to trying to make that happen.

I have no intention today of going back over old ground and old arguments, though I appreciate that some of those who raised doubts and criticisms in this Parliament and in the political institutions of the country I know best will not feel to put it mildly that events have proved them wrong. The question before us is not whether we should be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, but how we should be involved and what is required for it to be a success.

It requires security, as we know from previous examples of nation-building. In passing, I would add that we have not come close to cracking the problem in Afghanistan, another country where regime change has proved rather more straightforward than building a pluralist nation.

Success also requires recognition that the non-military commitments to security and nation-building must be as great or, in the long term, greater than the military ones.

It requires a sustained political and financial commitment to cover the gap between rhetoric and reality. You cannot build a modern, democratic, open society on the cheap.

It requires international commitment through the UN and its associated bodies. If we want to see the maximum international involvement then we have to take account of how most countries think that involvement can be most effectively legitimised and made to work.

And it requires, as the International Crisis Group has recently pointed out, in a characteristically thoughtful and well-informed analysis, early and substantial involvement by Iraqis themselves.

So what has the Commission been doing to help this process. Our first priority was to provide humanitarian assistance and I would like to pay tribute to the work of ECHO who have maintained their work activities in Iraq before and during the entire crisis, undeterred by the military conflict and recent attacks on humanitarian personnel. This Parliament should be proud of the work that ECHO does professionally and bravely.

Alongside this important contribution, the Commission has been preparing its proposals for an EU approach to reconstruction in Iraq, as requested by the European Council in Thessaloniki. We are prepared to help, if and when security conditions allow, provided that there is an adequate multilateral umbrella for our contribution, one that is separate from but co-ordinated with the work of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This is a message which I have personally made clear in meetings over the summer with US Secretary of State Powell and Under-Secretary Larson. I have been wholly consistent on this point, and I do not believe it has been either inappropriately controversial or unreasonable to be so. Let me give one example of political reality. I do not believe this Parliament would support any other approach. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my political judgement is way off the mark. But I don't actually think so.

Over the summer, Commission officials have been participating in the international needs assessment missions as part of World Bank and UN teams and I would like here to publicly thank them for their willingness to do this in difficult security conditions. Two of our staff missed being victims of the 19 August attack by a matter of minutes.

Alongside this crucial needs assessment work, the Commission and Presidency have been participating in weekly teleconferences of a Core Group, together with the US, Japan, UAE, World Bank, IMF and UNDP. There is a meeting of this Core Group in Brussels today to prepare a Donors' Conference for the period to the end of 2004. It will take place in Madrid on 23-24 October, and Spain has joined the group as host. I welcome that, and have assured the government of Spain that the Commission will do everything possible to make the conference a success.

All members of the Core Group have agreed that we must not allow our timetable to be delayed by the violence on the ground. But I can't pretend that attacks of the kind we are now seeing won't inevitably have some effect on international reconstruction efforts. In Madrid, we will be faced with discussions on what specific contributions we and others will make to the reconstruction of Iraq at a time of uncertainty about what can be implemented on the ground.

It is with this perspective in mind that I have made some initial contacts with the Chairs of relevant Committees to look at the budgetary implications for 2003-4, though in these difficult circumstances, we have not yet begun discussing detailed figures. Whatever the final conclusion of the assessments, we know the needs are great. But as ever we have to work within the existing financial perspective. That is the iron law that I have had to learn, whatever my political reservations. And we must still be in a position to respond to the hopes and needs of other parts of the world, for example Afghanistan and Palestine. When we make our proposal, you, as the Budgetary Authority, will have to decide whether we've got the balance right.

I sincerely hope that we have all learned lessons expensive and painful lessons over Iraq. For Europe, I hope we can all now recognise that the EU is more effective when we work together especially on the biggest issues in contemporary politics. If we can do that now, in Baghdad and Basra and beyond, then perhaps we can help to ensure that the removal of a wicked dictator leads to a better life for the people of Iraq.


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