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Speech by Chris Patten, 
Commissioner for External Relations
Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI)
Paris, 15 June 2000


A European Foreign Policy: Ambition and Reality


Russia, first, whose transformation has been one of the most significant features of the last 50 years. Russia’s future relationship with the EU is an issue of profound importance for our continent – and it remains a conundrum. For Russia is undoubtedly European. But she is not Western. Russia a great power. Yet her enfeebled economy is only 8% the size of the EU’s while depending on us for 40% of its external trade. Where does this leave our long-term relationship? And where does it leave countries from Central Asia to the Caucasus to Ukraine which lie between the great continental poles? This is a question which can provoke passionate theoretical debate about the geographical limits of the Union; and about religious and cultural divides. My own approach is pragmatic. Our interest and our obligation is to engage with all these countries, and with Russia above all, to help them develop the structures they need for sound economic and political development. Let us focus, for now, on that priority.

The Russians have always placed greater faith in strong leaders than in strong institutions. But if they are now to attract investment; if they are to overcome their huge problems of nuclear safety; if they are to defeat their cancer of corruption and fraud; if they are to reemerge, in short, as the great power they should be – they need strong and effective institutions to underpin the rule of law. No amount of good laws will make any difference if they cannot be applied in practice, and if the courts are too weak to enforce them.

The EU is keen to work in partnership with Russia. At the EU-Russia Summit in Moscow at the end of last month I could sense the hope of a fresh start under Mr Putin. But we can only help if Russia shows its own commitment to individual rights and the rule of law. Events in Chechnya continue to cast a long shadow.