Ambassador Gardner’s Handelsblatt Invterview; ‘Europe Should Welcome German Leadership’

Handelsblatt (Dec 23) – In an interview with Handelsblatt, Anthony Gardner, the United States ambassador to the E.U., said Europe needs German leadership. He said he was surprised by the aversion many Europeans have to the planned TTIP free trade deal, and frustrated by the public narrative in Europe that Americans don’t care about data privacy.

Anthony Gardner, the United States ambassador to the European Union, has been watching Europe for two decades. He said he understood the differences within Europe about the refugee crisis but called for an integrated approach and common policy – even if it didn’t always correspondent with the view of the United States. He said he had faith that the bloc would come through its crises stronger and called for more solidarity.

Handelsblatt: The tensions in overcoming the refugee crisis have led to talk of the European Union falling apart. Can Europe be rescued?

Anthony Gardner: The E.U. is facing challenges and some of them have been described by Europe’s own leaders as existential, touching some of the core parts of the E.U. project like freedom. It isn’t the first time the E.U. has been exposed to real crisis, the banking crisis is one of them. In all of the prior crises, the E.U. has emerged stronger. Banking union as a response to the financial crisis was logical.

But there are no guarantees.

The logic in each of these crises including this one is the E.U. needs to acquire tools to handle global challenges. A member state by member state solution just doesn’t work. That means Frontex needs to be strengthened and the E.U. needs to have effective border control mechanisms.

Some eastern European countries aren’t showing much willing to share the job and take in refugees. How do you see that?

The Commission put out its own forecast about the positive economic consequences of immigration to the E.U. The E.U. does have a demographic issue. The age pyramid is inverting. Therefore not surprisingly the Commission has identified immigration as an opportunity and not as a threat. However it’s fully understood that many states believe that immigration needs to be controlled. We fully understand that governments feel that part of national sovereignty is controlling their borders. However, it’s also clear that this problem can’t be fixed just by fences or just by member states exercising separate policies that are not coordinated on an E.U. level. The other point I would make is that the E.U. has a history that is very closely bound up with immigration. Solidarity is important and it needs to flow in both directions.

Critics say Germany’s welcoming culture set off the refugee crisis and that Germany is too dominant in the European Union.

Europe needs leadership and should welcome German leadership because there are not many other countries that are capable of providing that leadership right now for economic reasons. That’s one of the reasons why this Brexit discussion is unfortunate. Hopefully the referendum will result in a yes vote so the U.K. will no longer have one foot out the door and one foot in. It’ll be fully inside so it can regain its prior place as a leader. And we welcome as well a full Franco-German partnership which has been a motor of E.U. decision-making for decades.

Does the E.U. need to better coordinate foreign and security policy in the new year?

Yes. In all of its manifestations. We want the E.U. as an integrated, coherent voice on the world stage. Does it mean the E.U. will sometimes not agree with us? Of course. But that’s partnership. We work together in many key areas, for example in Iran, and sanctions against Russia.

But there are trans-Atlantic tensions too, in terms of data privacy, for example.

I fully understand the sensitivities about this issue in Europe. But a frustration for me is that the public narrative here goes, “We in Europe care about data privacy and you in the United States don’t. A lot of your citizens are willing to sell your data to the highest bidder, you’re sucking up European data and selling it and misusing it.” This is a gross caricature and it’s not helpful.

Were Europe’s top judges wrong to quash the Safe Harbor data transfer agreement?

We respect the court judgement. We are currently working through the consequences of that decision and we continue to make good progress with the E.U Commission in upgrading Safe Harbor. We have until the end of January to get this right.

You have to persuade the European parliament.

Many European politicians do not understand U.S. data privacy laws, and do not give us credit for the reforms that have occurred under this president in the last 18 months to data privacy laws. We have to explain that more effectively to the parliament and to general opinion.

European politicians are saying the U.S. shouldn’t brand Edward Snowden a traitor.

Any parliament is free to pass any resolutions it wants. But perhaps it would be a good idea to think about how certain resolutions are read and interpreted. Especially when these resolutions are not binding. Edward Snowden has put lives at risk and has done significant damage not only to the United States but to our allies. That’s why he should come back to the U.S. for trial.

The European parliament has called on Google to separate its search machine and other businesses. Do you think fear of competition from the United States is leading to anti-Americanism?

I’m not here to defend Google. They have a lot of very good lawyers. The resolution was a politicization of what should remain a competition case. I don’t feel that the European Commission wants to politicize competition cases or that anyone there is guided by anti-Americanism. We believe that E.U. competition law has proven it worth over the course of many years. That’s why it should be employed without any politicization.

More than three million people signed a petition opposing the free trade agreement TTIP. Do you understand their concerns?

I’m surprised. Either we take the lead strategically for global trade, or we become marginal figures. We can’t stop globalization but we have the chance to shape it with the free trade agreement. If we fail, other countries who do not share our values, and whose weight in the international trading system is growing fast, will set the agenda themselves.

Is it likely to complete the deal during Obama’s period in office?

Obama’s government will work through to January 2017. The president is committed to getting this done. Is it ambitious? Yes. Is it impossible? Absolutely not.

Thomas Ludwig is Handelsblatt’s Brussels correspondent. To contact the author: ludwig@handelsblatt.com

Why It Matters

If the countries of the European Union coordinate more on key issues, they could better represent their views in an effective partnership with the United States and on the world stage.

Facts

The European Union and United States are negotiating the TTIP free trade deal but disagree on key issues such as data privacy.Within the European Union there are rifts as to how to handle the influx of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.The E.U. and U.S. are negotiating a new trans-Atlantic agreement governing how data is shared.