Europolitics interview with Anthony Gardner, U.S. Ambassador to the EU
Anthony Gardner talks to Europolitics about Washington’s policy priorities in its close relationship with the European Union.
What changes have you noticed in the way the European Commission is operating under Jean-Claude Juncker’s new leadership?
I do have a feeling that things have changed here. We have followed with great interest a new vision that has been set forth by this Commission. I’ve worked in the private sector for many years and I’ve lived through corporate restructuring many times. For me, this is a very bold and necessary corporate restructuring. One of the key issues it seeks to do is to make sure that all the various Commission services work together around key projects. One that struck me very much is the importance being attached to growth, jobs, entrepreneurship and completion of the single market and digital agenda. It has been correctly pointed out that the internet and digital economy will be as important in the 21st century as electricity was in the 18th and 19th centuries.
One and a half years into the TTIP negotiations, the two parties are still sticking to their opening positions. How does the US want to break the impasse?
I cannot give you a preview of how a new start will translate into practice. But I can tell you I’m confident we will see at the next round in early February, and following this round, some concrete proposals to show the public that the fresh start is indeed fresh and that we are making progress in both directions: improving our existing offers and proposals and in areas where we haven’t yet been able to make announcements.
Should we then expect the US offer on public procurement to be put on the negotiating table soon?
I cannot be precise. But I think we will be in a position to show concrete progress. At the same time, it is really important to note that even in the areas where we haven’t made a proposal or reached a consolidated text, we have actually made considerable progress in exchanging each other’s positions. That’s an important part of the work, including for example regulatory alignment. Let’s take one example. We are about to see a report published on auto safety. What has held us up on auto safety was the absence of data on how we conduct our tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, cannot just give an equivalency determination without data. So we now have a report that should provide that basis on which the equivalence determination can be made. If we can do that in one area, we can have proof of a concept for other areas and sectors.
Could you indicate your offensive and defensive interests on regulatory cooperation?
We are equally interested in the sectoral work that is happening in auto safety, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and other areas. But we are just as interested in the cross-cutting principles on how we go about making regulations. We are in close touch on this with the Commission. We have tabled our proposal and separately the Commission is going through its own reflection about better regulation.
We think that the emphasis on better regulation is very important. By the way, not just for us but for everybody in Europe, including European business. I’m struck how often European businesses come to me and say we share your interest in making sure that there is greater transparency, accountability and stakeholder participation in the process of EU regulation.
Isn’t the greater publicity and transparency surrounding the TTIP, compared to other free trade agreement talks, turning out to be an impediment to advancing the negotiations?
Transparency is demanded by the public. We understand that. It has led the Commission to release part of its position papers. I agree with your initial statement. These negotiations have been more transparent than any before and quite rightly so because they are more ambitious than any trade talks before. We have a different system. We feel that we have a system that works for us. Members of Congress do have access to our negotiating proposals. You’ve seen a number of briefings we have with Congress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and TTIP. We published our objectives at the beginning of this round and we have detailed chapter by chapter explanations about what we are seeking to achieve.
Are you planning to follow the Commission’s example and make your negotiating papers public?
No. We feel that our objectives are there. Anyone who wants to know what we are trying to achieve should go on the USTR website. We would argue that the amount of documents currently available is probably too much for any single individual to digest and understand. Having said that, we are still in a process of reflecting how much more we can do.
Speaking of transparency, how do you see the role NGOs are playing in the TTIP talks?
My message is, to be clear, that transparency is an important principle, not only in the case of TTIP but more generally. Transparency is not a one-way street, whereby only governments need to be more transparent about their objectives. It is a two-way street. Critics need to be transparent, particularly NGOs, about how they are being financed. I’m struck that in Europe today there is very little transparency about who finances and who stands behind most NGOs. That is in stark contrast to the situation in the US, where you can go on a website of most NGOs and see who finances them. I would like to see that change here. By the way, it is not just the US government. I think many people are struck, including many European businesses, who nod their heads in agreement when I say this in my public statements. They want more transparency.
How concerned are you about the debate in the UK on renegotiating EU membership and possibly leaving the Union?
It is of concern and everyone from the president down has been very clear that we have an interest in having a strong UK in a strong EU. It’s a bit sensitive because we are not a member and do not want to interfere. This is for the UK people to decide. It is a decision for Europe and the UK in terms of renegotiating any deal to ensure that the UK stays in. But when asked, we are very clear that we have a strong interest in seeing the UK stay in. Why? Because we think that the UK has played, and can continue to play, a very positive role in the evolution of Europe. We are not alone in thinking that. Secondly, we see, as a third-party observer, that the UK has actually been very effective in fighting its own corner on issues of concern to it, in financial services but not only there. I can tell you I actually downloaded most of the internal competence reviews that were done by the UK government. It was very interesting to see that the conclusions say it is good to be a member. I have followed EU issues for a long time. I lived in London for 13 years and cannot remember any major case where the UK was outvoted on an issue of deep interest to it. The UK, we think, is better off fighting its own corner inside. If not at the table, it would be subject to regulation rather than actually formulating it.
Do you think the British government is taking your views on board?
Britain is a critical partner for the US for many reasons. One of them is that it is part of an organisation called the European Union. I would simply say to those who think that a deal similar to the TTIP could be struck between the UK, when it is outside the EU, and the US that they are simply wrong because its negotiating leverage would not be as significant as that of 28 EU member states.
What can we expect from the upcoming meeting on terrorism in Washington?
What’s on the table is enhanced information-sharing. I do not know what form it is going to take. It is just too early to predict. What I can say is that we are interested in, and are following closely, the debate around the European Passenger Name Record (PNR) legislation, which in our view is necessary and overdue. This is a decision for the European Parliament to take. We would like to deepen cooperation with Europol. We are looking to achieve real progress at the Washington meeting.
There has recently been a discussion among foreign ministers on new channels of communication with Russia and conditions for easing sanctions against Moscow. How do you see this debate? Is this the right moment for the EU to soften its stance towards Russia?
We’ve seen the four-page document, which contains carrots, not only sticks. We’ve been very clear that the purpose of sanctions is not to punish Russia. We do not want to destroy the Russian economy. The sanctions were to change Russian behaviour. Also to be clear, we remain in total alignment with the EU and the Commission that it is too early to consider rolling back the sanctions because Russian behaviour does not merit it. If Russian behaviour does change, gradual change and relaxation of the sanctions should be considered, of course. But we are not there yet.