America’s Recent Envoy to the European Union Discusses His Experiences and Visions on the State of Trans-Atlantic Relations

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By Axel Krause

 

Paris, March 13, 2017

 

Uncertainty.

 

No single word I think better summarizes the current state and mood on both sides of the Atlantic and notably as it relates to – and clouds – the future of the 28-member European Union’s that will celebrate its sixty years in Rome later this month.

Two cataclastic events – Brexit and Preident Donald Trump’s election – are largely responsible. This Wednesday’s widely-expected victory in Holland’s parliamentary election by anti-EU, right-wing populist Geert Wilders might well be the harbinger for others – in France April 23-May 7 where right-wing, equally anti-EU Marine Le Pen is also expected to score heavily and in Germany this autumn.

With possible, Brexit-like referenda looming,  the very existence of the EU is being challenged, the questions are many – what has the EU accomplished ? Why has it seemingly failed in many areas, such as trans-Atlantic trade development ? Who and what is to blame ? What could or should be done on both sides of the Atlantic ?

To address these questions and others, we today begin publishing the first of two interviews with two seasoned, outspoken officials, one American the other a Frenchman, Pierre Moscovici, EU Commissioner for economic, monetary, fiscal and customs-related affairs, and formerly Socialist minister of finance and of European affairs ; his will appear in this space shortly.

 

The first is with Anthony Luzzato Gardner, 54, who until January 20 was the US Ambassador to the EU, and though wide experience with transAtlantic relations as a lawyer, banker and a former director for European Affairs on the National Security Council, he and other US ambassadors were abruuptly ordered by Trump to vacate his Brussels post by Trump on inaugeration day. He quickly accepted an offer to join the prestigious College of Europe in Bruges to be followed by a stint at the Robert Schuman Center at the European University Institute in Florence, prior to returning to London in September.

Gardner has spent much of his professional life involved with European affairs, as lawyer, consultant, financier, fundraiser for President Barack Obama, author and lecturer, having graduated from Harvard, Columbia Law School and Oxford ; and is at ease in French, Spanish (his wife is), and Italian. His father, Richard, taught law at Columbia, served as an adviser to President Jimmy Carter who appointed him ambassador to Italy where Tony spent part of his childhood.His mother stemmed from a Venetian family, reflected in his middle name. Commenting on Gardner’s reputation,   a longtime French, Brussels-based television news corrrespondent, told me : « We did not see as much of him as we would have liked, but we regarded him as a « heavyweight. »

During your Senate confirmation hearings four years ago, you said that a top goal for you as ambassador to the EU was to witness signing the biggest bilateral trade deal ever, the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. But today, after four years, progress seems totally stalled. What in your two years have been your most significant accomplishments ?

First, yes, my greatest regret was that we were not unable to conclude TTIP, nor to make enough progress on the negotiatons, but having said that, we did manage to promote improvement in US-EU relations in a number of significant ways.

 

How so ?

 We managed to negotiate a Privacy Shield Agreement to promote data flows between Europe and the United States and that was very important ; because the prior agreement(known as Safe Harbor) was found invalid by the European Court of Justice. And it was very difficult to achieve because the atmosphere in Europe at that time was very very charged after the Snowden revelations.

The second achievement and significant relates to the finalization and the ratification of the data-privacy protection agreement which also was, is to enable (more effective) data exchanges between law enforcement authorities.

 

What then happened to the accords ?

The first was an executive branch agreeement with the (EU) Commission that is now in force  with our first annual review scheduled in July; the second contains a piece of legislation that indeed had to pass both the House and the Senat, which it did on an overwhelmingly positive, bipartisan basis and in which I was able to play an important role if I can say, because it (also) extended the (existing privacy protection under 1974 legislation) rights of US citizens to EU citizens in some ways. And this was an essential prerequisite for ratification by the European Parliament.

 

Coming back to TTP, where do the talks now stand?

 In the last days of the Obama administration, the EU Commission and the USTR (office of the Special Trade Representative) got together and decided to publish a snapshot summary of where they ended up. There has been no followup. They are now in deep freeze. And I agree it is unlikely that they will be taken out anytime soon. Particularly in light of this (Trump) administration’s expressed  preference for bilateral deals and given this administration’s clear preference for protectionism, meaning, and as he (President Trump in his inaugeral address) termed his trade rules – Buy American and Hire American. This will come as a relief to some. But its wrong to cheer the demise of TTIP as it means we will lose a lot if it truly does die…in terms of exports and jobs and (as they relate to) solidifying a strategic partnership with the EU.

 

But does it matter ? After all, the strong recovery of the US economy and to a lesser Europe’s seems to remove a basic, initial purpose of the TTIP project – to kickstart the two economies’ GNP growth.

I agree in a way, but you have to remember that it was never just about the second T (trade), but it also was about the P (partnership) and the I. (investments)  Both sides may have mistakenly made too much of the (trade-related) economic consequences of the deal. It wasn’t a gamechanger. What was really important for me was the P and also the I.

 

So then what you say are the most important issues facing the US-EU relationship today, including those related to defense?

 It is a long, long list. I would identfy three on the top of my list: First, what is going to happen with this (Trump) administration’s approach to trade policy. And specifically what does it imply with regard to relations with Asia and to Europe ?

In the short and medium term there could be frictions with Europe over, for example, the (administration-proposed) border adjustment tax which looks like it will emerge by the end of the year.

Its purpose is to tax imports, to promote exports, with backers with support in the House and among some in the White House, arguing it is comparable to the Europe’s VAT. (value added turnover taxes) while the EU argues it is not akin, and is discriminatory on imports and thus, a (US) subsidy for exports with the result that it (the border tax) could end up before the WTO (World Trade Organization) Serious trade frictions could emerge if the US decides to go unilateral…(and if it rules against Washington) ignoring the WTO.

Secondly, I worry about the Privacy Shield, since it is at a very delicate moment right now. I worry particularly since the new head of the CIA Mike Pompeo has stated his desire to increase government access to citizens’ data, rolling back every executive order of the Obama administration some of which relate in a very important way and directly to government access to data.

Thirdly, I am worried frankly about visas. The European Parliament just passed a non-binding resolution calling yet again on the Commission to take action to impose visas on US residents visiting Europe. This gets rather technical, but it all relates to the fact that five European countries today – Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus – do not benefit from the visa waiver program that is supposed to apply equally to all EU members. It comes up as the administration moves to tighten visa controls. This issue could come back as a major topic.

 

What about other issues ?

We have serious differences and there is potential for more. Over friction regarding  global climate change, where we are going in opposite directions. The Iran deal (negotiated by the Obama administration) continuing sanctions applied to Russia, although this administration – via the vice president and secretary of state – seems to be saying that we must continue moving for (cooperative) implementation of the Minsk agreement. (in which Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine pledged to end the Russian-backed war in the Donbass region of Ukraine)

 

But how can you expect dialogue, much less meaningful, formal  discussion, with a president who seems to know little if anything significant about the EU ? 

We have been seeing contradictory statements coming from the White House. Early on he (President Trump) clearly indicated in various interviews that he was, at best, indifferent about the future of the EU; as to whether it collapses, or stays together. He also said it was a protectionist construct, that it served as a vehicle for German power., and is disfunctional. We know he was a cheerleader for Brexit and apparently felt more Brexits were a good thing.

Now, however, some ten days ago, retreating recently from that position, he has reportedly  said publically that he loves the EU. And, saying, more or less, if they’re (the Europeans) in favor of it, I’m in favor of it.

But, but I think allies would be justified in asking to see action, not just words. We know that close presidential strategist Steve Bannon, among others in the Trump circle of advisers, certainly believes the EU is disfunctional and undemocratic.

 

Several close to Trump, who share Bannon’s views, have been mentioned as possible candidates to succeed you in Brussels. Notably, Ted Malloch, a US academic, author, consultant and television producer.

It’s a remarkable situation. At least one you mention, who has not been named -Ted Malloch – has been surprisingly vocal, so highly, highly unusual to go out of his way, before being named, to insult the president of the Commission, describing him, Luxembourg’s former prime minister, as a very adequate mayor of some city in that country, and recommended shorting the euro, while comparing the EU to the former Soviet Union. Considering that the EU Commission and 28 member states, along with our Senate, also approve the choice of my replacement. On the future, I think we have to wait to see who they name.

 

Media worldwide are covering the Dutch elections March 15 and France’s presidential election April 23-May 7 and the increasingly possible, emergence of populist, right-wing leaders there and elsewhere in the EU, including in Germany this autumn. Is it a major, ripple, domino-like threat to the postwar system of alliances – from the Bretton Woods agreements to NATO and the EU ?

There is a clear relationship between Brexit, Trump’s victory, and these elections coming up in Europe. And it is surprising they are presenting challenges though the economic situation in most is really quite good, including relatively low unemployment in Holland, the US and elsewhere (compared to the situation in the 1930s) But there is rage.

The intensity of feeling (rage) is manifesting itself for many reasons. One can certainly name stagnation of middle-class takehome pay. Many have not benefitted from globalization. And though there have been improvements, the feeling is that the system you mentioned, is unfair and rigged. How the system we built, the liberal, international order, with free trade and open societies. The EU has also stood for these values.

But the feeling is (among citizens on both sides of the Atlantic) that they have not benefitted as much as they should have. And there is an appetite for change. To throw out the old (governing) elites. It is important on both sides of the Atlantic to listen to these expressions of rage, and draw the right conclusions.

 

Were you correctly quoted as saying recently that it was « lunacy » for President Trump and his administration to admire and draw closer to these right-wing movements ? 

I said it and I believe it. I do not see how they (the populists and their parties) advocating a fragmented Europe could possibly serve US interests.

 

So how might the EU, its institutions, respond ? Can they ?

Let’s remember that in such matters, the main responsibility for dealing with them rests on the shoulders of member-state govenments. And so often, going back decades, they have blamed Brussels when things go wrong. And very quickly take credit when things go right. So often as an EU spokesman commented, they do not consider themselves shareholders in a common project. And if you are not a shareholder, you don’t invest. The EU, in so many areas, is still not considered a common project. And EU leaders can only do so much. Shaping the debate. Proposing legislation ; which it is doing. And clearly the institutions have been shocked by the populist wave.

 

What was your reaction to the recent White Paper of the Commission, proposing five different scenarios for the future of the EU that will be a major topic of discussion at the 60th anniversary summit of the EU in Rome March 25 ?

All scenarios are very different, ranging from Number 1 sticking with the Single Market to Number 5 involving a jump to a federal system that is not going to happen, of course. Number 4 involves advancing in some, but not all, crucial areas only, leaving everything else repatriate to member states. And Number 3 which would involve moving on a multi-speed EU endorsed in Versailles last week by the leaders of France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Also known as enhanced, or differentiated, cooperation under the Treaty of Lisbon in which those nations who want to move forward do so, leaving others behind until they decide otherwise, in such areas as defense, security and social issues.

 

But isn’t that last option already in place ?

There is that possibility and scope under the 2019 Treaty of Lisbon. But it’s never been used. And now with the UK leaving, it may in fact be easier.

 

Could this initiatve be used in the debate, confrontation with populist movements ?

They, the Commission and others, have been focusing mainly on promoting big things, notably security protection of borders, the fight against terrorism. But making their positions clearer, showing how they impact on people’s lives, that is the challenge. How communication may be changed could, should be a key subject for the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty summit.One used to be able to reference (the EU narrative) to the Second World War but this is no longer possible.  Youth yawns.You must direct the EU appeal to young people.

 

By emphasizing, for example, the modest but highly-popular Erasmus program for studying in the EU ?

Yes, and it is, as arguably the most successful EU project, heading toward a significant increase in financial backing. And the Youth Volunteer Program of the EU for younger people. But there are other EU initiatives (that warrant better communcation) such as (elimination of) roaming charges for mobile phones. And they, who do travel, don’t realize that roaming charges are being eliminated because of EU legislation. These charges apply when you are out of your home country.They (the Commission) botched a golden opportunity for publicising this in a meaningful way.

 

But are not there EU regulations for publicising EU -funded projects like for putting up signs on roads, for example, stating they were built with EU structural funds ?

Yes, there are clear and detailed regulations on this, right down to such details as displaying the EU flag. And I have suggested that (member states) make it mandatory, mandating, when it comes to projects (where the EU can take credit) such as eliminating roaming charges.

 

So you firmly believe the EU Commission can and should do more in terms of communication ?

Yes, I think so. They (commissioners) can do more, but there is a limit to their success particularly if member states continue on this policy of EU bashing. They should be cautious in running down the EU for very obvious reasons. As the Tories did for years.

 

But ignorance and indifference about the EU is not limited to Europe. How could you get Americans to be more aware of the EU and what it does and has accomplished ?

Let’s be realistic about what’s achievable. I don’t think we will ever reach the point where the average American will know a lot about the EU. The average European doesn’t know that much about the EU, though it affects so many aspects of their lives. I would be happy if (US) political and business leaders knew more about the EU. I have been rather shocked by some of the statements coming out of the Trump administration that lack perspective and understanding what the EU is,how it came about and most importantly, how it advances our own interests. I would be happy if more of our elites were more knowledgeable and understanding.

For example , many of our business leaders already understand the importance of our exports, and having a democratic integrated EUas I have seen in my travels to the US, and appreciated their level of sophistication and knowledge about the EU.

This level of understanding is now also true in various levels (of govenment) in Washington, certainly compared to my experience (in the White House) twenty years ago. And that extends to President Obama. The Privacy Shield Agreement was an Oval Office issue.

 

How would you describe the rôle of an ambassador in today’s digitalizing world – is the position going obsolete ?

It’s a great question. Yet even today, with our ambassadors gone, (under Trump’s orders to vacate their premises prior to his inaugeration) they are staffed and working thanks to talented people. And true many things are going on and heard about (in an administration) without it (the information) coming from the embassies.

However, ambassadors do play an important rôle, because there are things a government will say only face-to-face with an ambassador. And an ambassador is also the representative of the American people. In a way other members of the embassy cannot be. You must radiate American values and that is incredibly important.

 

Finally, do you have a handy, thumbnail definition of what the EU is ?  

Nothing pithy. As it’s a unique construct, a hybrid structure that isn’t the UN the OECD, and certainly not the United States of Europe. The definition of former Commission President Jacques Delors isn’t bad – a federation of sovereign nation-states.

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