Chris Patten's always been a busy man: former chairman of Britain's Conservative Party, Governor of Hong Kong, Europe's External Relations Commissioner. At 61, he's in the House of Lords and chancellor of Oxford University. Now he's published Not Quite the Diplomat, a learned romp through the lessons of a life in politics. He spoke with Time's J.F.O. McAllister.
you're very critical of tony blair. He's an extremely talented politician, articulate and intelligent, and brilliant at the more vulgar end of empathizing. But I think he's deeply superficial. He skids across the surface of issues. In foreign policy, that's accompanied by an excessive regard for his own ability to charm people into his point of view.
doesn't a politician who wins three elections rate a little more respect? Blair's greatness was reforming a Labour Party that knew it had to be reformed. His reforms of public services were Conservative ideas he cottoned onto rather late and rather incoherently. But what is he going to be remembered for? Principally for Iraq.
your affection for the u.s. seems to have declined, too. I still get a huge buzz from just being in America. Do I get a buzz from President Bush's Administration? No.
you've issued your share of bland communiques, but your book calls for more open international disagreement. It often ends up in self-delusion if, with a great power, you don't take arguments head-on. I don't think Britain ended up influencing the Bush Administration on Iraq one jot. We were simply a sort of multilateral pin to stick in the Administration's lapel. Europe's relationship with the U.S. is fundamentally strong enough for us to disagree. Had we set out where we thought things were mistaken, it might have emboldened American critics of the policy. And why do we always feel obliged to leave a warm feeling in the air whenever we see President Putin, who to a considerable extent doesn't share our values?
because europe needs russia's gas. Yes, but he has to sell his gas to us just as we need to buy it. He has nothing else to sell us.
even after iraq, aren't european leaders still notably reticent about criticizing the U.S.? There's a profound awareness that unless we're careful, we're going to look like grandstand critics rather than players. In order
to make ourselves a more effective partner, able occasionally to criticize, we in Europe have to be able to do more on the ground ourselves. But Europe's most effective contribution to global security has been the enlargement process in the E.U., a tremendous example of soft power. That's why to turn our back on admitting Turkey would be to reject the most important contribution Europe has
made to geopolitics.
you say europeans are "more inclined to take holidays than risks." you mean they can't compete? Our population is falling and aging. Defending our social model doesn't necessarily mean working harder or taking fewer holidays, but it does mean working later in life, providing more opportunities for women and, especially, much better education and training. The real threat to European well-being isn't Polish plumbers, it's Asian software engineers and scientists. On the whole, European universities are underfunded and not well managed. We're so snooty about the U.S. and its alleged meretricious consumerism. But they're investing twice as much in knowledge as we do, which is really their investment in the next generation.
How does this gap get fixed? Governments have to put their money where their mouth is.
AND HOW SHOULD THE WEST APPROACH CHINA? China would be much more worrying if it were to fail. We should draw China, and India as well, into global leadership on economic and political issues.
ISN'T THAT ALREADY HAPPENING? Too often we've given the impression we're in favor of rules-based global governance, provided the rules suit us. I'm seriously worried about growing protectionism in the West.