Ambassador Gardner’s Remarks at the College of Europe: “The New Transatlantic Agenda: Twenty Years On, and Twenty Years Ahead”

Thank you, Rector Monar.  It is a pleasure to be at the College of Europe today, and especially to have the chance to meet your students.  Alumni of the College of Europe have had stellar careers in many places, including in the United States Mission to the European Union.

I became fascinated by the European Union during my graduate studies. During that period I arrived at conclusions opposite from those presented by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in her famous Bruges Speech. I continue to believe that greater European integration has been positive for Europe and for transatlantic relations.

Stuart Eizenstat, former US Ambassador to the European Union, recently described the EU as “the greatest, most successful experiment in world history, in binding together a former war-torn continent into a peaceful, democratic, free market tolerant group of member states, through shared and pooled sovereignty and mutual respect.” I fully subscribe to that description.

I think it is important to state this because Europe is afflicted with self-doubt about the future of its Union. We all know the difficult challenges that the EU currently faces; but we should not forget that many countries are lining up to join the Union and that millions of people are desperate to flee to Europe precisely because it is a beacon of hope  and opportunity.

When I served as Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, I worked on the New Transatlantic Agenda – a document that intended to provide a detailed, action-oriented plan for US-EU cooperation, in the hope of replacing ad hoc reactions to occasional transatlantic frictions.

If I had to write a new version of the NTA in 2015, it might start something like this:  The United States and Europe are united by common values guiding our work together in pursuit of shared goals: economic and social prosperity for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic; upholding the rule of law and strong democracies; meeting humanitarian needs on our borders and around the world; countering extremism; and advancing peace and stability worldwide. These goals are very similar to those we expressed 20 years ago. In some areas we fell short of our ambitions; in some we succeeded.  Tonight I’d like to review what we have accomplished over the past twenty years, then offer some thoughts on how the U.S.-EU partnership may evolve over the next 20 years.

The Past Twenty Years

One goal of the NTA was to promote peace and stability, democracy and development around the world.  We were overly optimistic about our ability to partner with Russia. Over the past twenty years, we tried and tried again to integrate Russia into the international system, from inviting them to join the Council of Europe and the OSCE in the 1990s to President Obama’s championing Russia’s candidacy for the WTO.  Unfortunately, we have not yet succeeded. Unfortunately, the Putin regime sees the presence of democracies and western values at its borders as a threat. The regime is popular today, but over time the Russian people will see how the Kremlin’s policies are dramatically damaging Russia’s own interests.

We failed to build a partnership with Russia, but, against all predictions to the contrary, the United States and the European Union have succeeded in maintaining unified pressure on Russia through coordinated sanctions.

And the U.S.-EU partnership did succeed in its mission of promoting peace and stability in the Balkans, a region that in 1995 was ravaged by war and ethnic conflict.  The appeal of EU and NATO membership—aided by U.S. engagement and assistance— has been a transformative political and economic force.  The United States and the EU have provided money and technical support for democratic reforms, rule of law and counter-corruption efforts, and the transition to market economies.

A second goal we identified in the NTA was responding to global challenges,such as fighting drug trafficking and terrorism, meeting the needs of refugees, and addressing climate change and combating disease.  We have long had strong bilateral cooperation with many EU Member States on law enforcement, and our cooperation on justice and home affairs obviously assumed greater importance after 9/11.

A third policy goal identified by the NTA was expanding world trade and closer economic relations. We can claim some success here. The US and the EU have worked closely over the past 20 years at the WTO, including on the recent breakthrough to significantly expand the coverage of the Information Technology Agreement that eliminates tariffs on $1 trillion worth of trade in high-tech products among 54 economies. The US and the EU are also spearheading negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement to eliminate tariffs on solar panels, wind turbines, water treatment equipment and other environmental goods. And we are also leading the way on the Trade in Services Agreement that aims to open up markets and improve rules in areas such as licensing, financial services, telecoms, e-commerce, maritime transport, and professionals moving abroad temporarily to provide services.

Although we haven’t made the progress we had anticipated on US-EU free trade, we established the Transatlantic Economic Partnership in 1998 to address obstacles to trade and pave the way for mutual recognition on goods and services. We improved transatlantic regulatory cooperation and set up the Transatlantic Business Dialogue to bring our business communities closer together and have them propose to our governments specific trade liberalization measures.

And, of course, we launched the Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Agreement (TTIP) two years ago. This is more than just another trade deal; it is a strategic choice. If the United States and Europe want to strengthen our respective economic power and extend our strategic influence during uncertain times, we must make a decision together: either lead on global trade or be left on the sidelines. There really is no choice.

Another area mentioned in the NTA’s economic chapter continues to be debated: the goal of “facilitating information flows, while addressing the risks to privacy.” In 2000, in collaboration with the European Commission, we reached an agreement on establishing the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework, to allow companies to transfer personal data from the territory of the EU to the United States while providing privacy protections.  More than 4,400 companies have relied on Safe Harbor to transfer data necessary to support transatlantic trade, the digital economy and jobs in both the EU and the US.  It has proven critical to protecting privacy on both sides of the Atlantic and to supporting economic growth in the United States and the EU.

We understand Europeans’ concerns over data privacy. President Obama recognized that, given the power and scope of our signals intelligence activities, we needed to do more to reassure the world that we treat “all persons … with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality and where they might reside,” and that we provide appropriate protection for the “legitimate privacy interests [of all persons] in the handling of their personal information.”  And so we have now put into place express limits on the retention and dissemination of personal information about non-U.S. persons collected by signals intelligence, comparable to the limits we have for U.S. persons.

Against the backdrop of these unprecedented actions, we were disappointed in the European Court of Justice’s decision on Safe Harbor two weeks ago, which creates significant uncertainty for both U.S. and EU companies and consumers and puts at risk the thriving transatlantic digital economy.  We believe this decision was based on incorrect assumptions about data privacy protections in the United States and ignored the significant reforms over the past 18 months.

For the last two years, we have worked closely with the European Commission to strengthen the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, with robust and transparent protection, including clear oversight by the Department of Commerce and strong enforcement by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

We will continue to work with the European Commission to release an updated Safe Harbor Framework soon. We remain committed to providing robust protection of EU citizens’ privacy continuing to grow the world’s digital economy.

The Next Twenty Years

Over the next twenty years, the US and the EU will need to increase their focus on a number of challenges mentioned in the New Transatlantic Agenda twenty years ago.

Climate change is an example.  One key element of our climate cooperation must be securing a new climate agreement in Paris.  The United States is on a path toward achieving its 2020 target of a 17% reduction percent below 2005.  We announced our ambitious post-2020 target at the end of March, a target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels in 2025.  Our target puts us on a pathway consistent with achieving deep reductions of 80 percent or more by 2050, the level commonly expected from advanced economies in order to hold expected warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.

A new agreement in Paris would be an historic step and establish for the first time an ambitious, durable climate regime that applies to all countries, is fair, focuses both on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience, includes strong accountability measures, and ensures ongoing financial and technical assistance to those who need it.

The next twenty years will require even greater focus on law enforcement, especially with the European Union. The US and Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, already collaborate, for example in cracking down on online child sexual exploitation, human smuggling, drug and weapons trafficking, and other serious transnational crime. We are also cooperating closely with Europol on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, an essential tool to combat terrorism, while also looking for ways to stem the tide of foreign fighters from Europe and the United States into conflict zones, and their return. The US and the EU need to deepen their collaboration on cybersecurity and cybercrime, exploring closer cooperation in the field of standardization for the protection of critical infrastructures.

When we signed the NTA, issues of migration and asylum were handled by EU Member States; now, EU laws and institutions take an increasingly important role on these issues.  As the EU crafts a coordinated approach to the current migration crisis, the United States has an opportunity to partner with the EU and to share our own experiences as a country with a long history of weaving migrants and refugees into the fabric of our society.

Over the next twenty years the US-EU partnership also needs to focus on combating the scourge of corruption. It is a root cause of alienation and anger around that world, often exploding into conflict and violent extremism.  The transatlantic partnership needs to do more to support democracies around the world and to prevent the efforts of external powers to subvert our own democracies at home.

There were a few areas that the NTA barely touched on: military cooperation and the digital economy. The US Department of Defense and the EU military staff are looking at a number of concrete initiatives in the field of military cooperation; I hope we will be able to announce them soon.

The NTA was signed when the internet was still in its infancy. So it is hardly surprising that the digital economy was barely mentioned. Today it is perhaps the most exciting growth sector; no wonder the Juncker Commission is focusing on it. The Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy is intended to create the regulatory and market conditions to help companies to innovate, collaborate, invest, create jobs, and drive growth while better serving consumers. This is a vision that we, of course, support.

Cross-border data flows between the U.S. and Europe are already the highest in the world.  And with the rapid growth in mobile computing and advent of the Internet of Things, big data analytics, and cloud computing, those flows are projected to grow substantially over the next decade, to the benefit of new digital companies, established industries, consumers, researchers, and governments on both sides of the Atlantic. Technology can and must be part of the solution to some of the challenges I’ve mentioned: Climate change. Migration. Corruption. Radicalization.

We don’t know what new technologies will develop in the coming years. We do know, however, that how we coordinate now on these issues will determine whether we end up building incompatible regulatory frameworks that stunt growth, or instead are able to harness the promise of new technologies for the good of Americans and Europeans alike.  Transatlantic collaboration, not only on the government-to-government level, but among researchers, policymakers, academics, and civil society, is essential to build a strong foundation for the future.

Building Bridges Across the Atlantic

That brings me to my final point.  Perhaps the most essential part of the NTA was the commitment to build bridges across the Atlantic.

The Fulbright-Schuman program is one way the United States and the European Union have supported such people-to-people exchanges.  The first exchanges took place nearly 25 years ago, set in motion by the Transatlantic Declaration of 1990.  Since then, over 350 American and European academics, researchers, and mid-career professionals have benefited from this U.S.-EU exchange program.  The program has allowed them to spend up to nine months with their peers on the other side of the Atlantic, returning home with new perspectives on their field and on the transatlantic relationship.

The College of Europe has long been an important partner for Fulbright-Schuman, One of your professors here, Michelle Chang, is herself an alumna of the program.

Just as the U.S.-EU relationship has deepened over the past 20 years to meet new challenges, now is the time to take the Fulbright-Schuman program to the next level.  That is why I am proud to announce the launch of a new joint initiative, the Fulbright-Schuman Innovation Grants. These grants are designed to support researchers and mid-career professionals who work at the intersection of technology and policy, allowing for a transatlantic approach to harnessing the potential of new technologies.  Our inaugural group of Innovation Grant recipients will focus on data privacy, but future years may focus on issues such as cyber security, health care, or issues that have we have not yet even thought of.

We need the best young minds of Europe and the United States focused on these issues. You are the ones who can build those bridges, now and throughout your careers.


If you take one thing from my remarks today, let it be this: The transatlantic partnership is not just words on the pages of a twenty-year old document. It is relevant.  It is vital. It is constantly adapting.  It is based on shared values, and it has the potential to make a positive impact on every global challenge we face today—and more importantly, to how we address these challenges tomorrow.  Each one of you has a role to play in strengthening and broadening that partnership.

Thank you.