Chris Patten

Chris Patten, European Commission’s Commissioner for External Relations

The European Commission’s Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, has said that in 2003 the EU will work to support the ratification and implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by China.

Addressing a human rights seminar in Brussels organized by the European Commission’s Human Rights and Democratization Directorate for the NGO community on July 14, 2003, Patten said the Commission’s European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) has been entrusted the task of supporting the implementation of EU’s human rights’ commitments. The EIDHR is a European Union program that aims to promote and support human rights and democracy in third countries.

China signed the ICCPR in October 1998, but its parliament, the National People’s Congress, is yet to ratify it.

Patten gave the following reasons for the European Union’s incorporation of human rights concerns in its activities:

“First, promoting human rights, democratisation and the rule of law promotes peace and stability. This is a doctrine of pre-emption to which the EU can happily subscribe. We have constructed a solid framework for the protection of human rights in Europe – backed up by credible supra-national courts, in the shape of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. This has served the cause of peace well. It makes just as much sense to promote human rights in the wider world: Even though democracy is not perfect, states which are founded on democracy and human rights are less likely to lapse into bloodshed and wage aggressive wars. In the words of Winston Churchill ‘Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

“This is why democracy and human Rights are an integral part of our conflict prevention strategy: they are, for example, a key aspect of the Commission’s Country Conflict Assessments covering more than 120 countries. This is also why human rights’ projects are being supported from the 30 million euros available this year for the Rapid Reaction Mechanism.

“Promoting human rights is not just in our interest morally. Democratic States, which respect human rights and the rule of law make more reliable trading partners. With the EU accounting for around one-quarter of the world’s gross domestic product and one-fifth of the world’s trade flows, this is a factor we cannot afford to ignore.

“Democratic and human rights-based States are also more likely to take their international commitments seriously. When States undertake obligations whether in the trade, armaments, human rights or any other field compliance should be the expectation. That is one reason why the EU has invested diplomatic energy in opposing the signature of ICC bilateral immunity agreements they could serve to undermine the Rome Statute, and States parties to the ICC should not undermine the Statute by the back door.

“There is more the EU could do, in my view, to support the implementation of international human rights’ obligations, a point I will return to a little later. But in terms simply of treaties, there is an impressive degree of subscription to human rights’ values by the international community.

“With over 140 countries having ratified the two major covenants and almost all States having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the argument that human rights are a ‘western construct’, and universality a distant dream, simply no longer rings true.

“Invoking international law tends to put the spotlight on States. But we should not forget that human rights are vested in individuals. Those rights aren’t derived from the benevolent acquiescence of States. They stem from a higher, ‘natural’ legal order. And this is what lends legitimacy to our concern at what goes on in others’ backyards, to our actions to promote human rights in third countries and to our protests when rights are violated.

“This is also why the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights is such an important instrument. Unlike bilateral assistance, there is no droit de regard on the part of foreign governments: we are reaching out directly to the people. And this is why it is so important to acknowledge individuals as rights-holders in the concrete cases we discuss as part of the EU human rights’ dialogues, with countries like Iran and China, and in the demarches we make on individual cases under the Guidelines on torture and the death penalty.”

Patten called for the “mainstreaming” of human rights in EU’s work. He said, “Mainstreaming is designed to genetically modify our entire approach to external relations. We have introduced basic and advanced human rights’ training for all Commission staff whether they are in Brussels or being sent to Delegations. Yet our greatest hope for mainstreaming lies in our external assistance programmes, in particular through our Country and Regional Strategy Papers (CSPs). This is straightforward arithmetic: 55” of all international aid is managed by the EU and its Member States. If we can ensure that all this assistance is set in a framework that includes human rights, we can make a real difference. The European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, for all its strengths, is a minor instrument by comparison, with just over 100 million euros per year. One of its 4 thematic priorities is democratisation, good governance and the rule of law, and this recently saw 40 million euros allocated to 29 focus countries. At its best the EIDHR can offer valuable ‘seed-money’. But it will never be big enough to really ‘tip the balance’. This is why mainstreaming is so utterly important.

“Another facet of mainstreaming is the human rights’ clause in EC trade and co-operation agreements. I do not agree that the measure of success of the clause is found in the frequency with which it results in punitive measures or suspension of agreements. I do believe, however, that we can make the clause a dynamic tool to advance human rights in a positive mode.”

During the seminar NGOs exchanged views with EU officials on the direction and the effectiveness of EU policies on human rights.

Meanwhile, the draft constitution for Europe, drafted by Valery Giscard d’Estaing the head of the European Convention, eliminates the post of Commissioner for External Relations replacing it with a EU Foreign Minister. Following are some of the changes that the draft constitution, being presented to the current EU president on July 25, 2003, is proposing.

  • President Of European Council: New job, proposed to replace the EU’s current six-month rotating system. To be elected by European Council (member states) for two-and-a-half-year term, renewable once. In case of serious malpractice, the Council can end the mandate. The EU president cannot hold a national mandate at the same time, and will represent the EU on the world stage, without infringing on the new EU foreign minister.
  • European Council: Gathers leaders of member states. To meet four times a year. To take decisions by consensus, unless constitution provides otherwise.
  • Council Of Ministers: Each country to take turns to chair one ministerial council, such as finance or environment. External affairs council, however, to be chaired by the new foreign minister.
  • European Commission: The independent EU executive, with power to initiate legislation and oversee its implementation. Each member state will have a commissioner, but from November 2009 only 15 commissioners will have the right to vote, including the president and foreign minister.
  • European Parliament: Increased decision-making powers. Enacts legislation jointly with the European Council. To elect Commission president, and can censure Commission. Size limited to 736 members, with a minimum of four per EU member state, for a five-year mandate.
  • Eu Foreign Minister: New post, to be appointed by a qualified majority of member states. The foreign minister also to be responsible for security and defense policy, and will replace both the Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana.