THE EU-US RELATIONSHIP: WILL IT LAST?
European Commission - IP/95/425 27/04/1995
It has become almost a cliché to say that something has gone wrong in the transatlantic relationship, that the EU and the US have lost interest in each other and have found more exciting prospects elsewhere. This in my view is a gross exaggeration and oversimplification. It continues to be the most important international relationship for both parties, but the changing political and economic circumstances make it essential for us to refocus our attention on it, finding the right policies and mechanisms to adapt it to those changes". In a speech to the American Club of Brussels, Sir Leon Brittan, European Commission Vice-President responsible for relations with North America, attempts to clear some of the fog obscuring the discussion about how Europe should deepen its relationship with the United States. He proposes a three- pronged strategy: building from the bottom up on the current links we already have; filling in the gaps by boosting parliamentary and business contacts; and preparing for a possible future initiative by carefully analysing the pros and cons of a number of ideas which have recently been made, such as a Free Trade Area and a new Transatlantic Treaty. This new relationship must involve security, economic relations and American and European joint involvement in the rest of the world. On security, Sir Leon says "I detect an understandable US impatience with the EU as it struggles to develop coherence in foreign and security policy to match its single voice in trade matters. We need in the coming months to resolve the question of how the European pillar can relate to the US". "It is up to the EU to find solutions which are internally acceptable. But they also have to be operationally credible to our partners. It has long been a myth that the United States is opposed to the creation of a European defence identity. But as that entity will still be using NATO logistics and material when operating outside NATO auspices, the US has a legitimate interest in our ability to create a European pillar which can take real decisions with the political, administrative and military structures to implement them". Sir Leon explains how the economic relationship will come more to the fore, and may in time come to equal the old security relationship. Likewise, the relationship will be characterised increasingly by a desire to pursue common objectives on the world stage: "Those who predict an American return to the isolationism of the past are wrong. Europe and America have shown we can work well together in the wider world. It is not a question of ganging up on the rest of the world so that other countries fall into line with some great EU-US plan. Rather, we must use our considerable resources to make a more effective, joint contribution to the most pressing of the world's problems". Where do we go from now? We need to imbue the relationship with a new sense of purpose and a new feeling of momentum, upgrading it to identify a broader new goal even if it takes several years to bring everything fully to fruition, Sir Leon explains. If not, we could be left with a dangerous vacuum in the interim. Working from the bottom up: "Europe and America need a progress-chasing mechanism between Summits, to pursue and monitor issues identified above all by the business community. We must consider whether we have the right institutions for driving the relationship forward. For example, we used to have meetings at Cabinet level between US Ministers and members of the European Commission. This practice has fallen into disuse. Surely the time has come to revive it. Perhaps we need some group of personal representatives on the EU side to meet with US representatives regularly to work through a large common agenda". Filling in the gaps: "we also need a new forum in which representatives of the US Congress, EU national parliaments and the European Parliament could meet to discuss the transatlantic agenda. This would not replace existing links. It could adopt resolutions which would then be fed back into their respective national and European policy and law-making mechanisms". "Similarly, we are planning to launch a consultation of business on both sides of the Atlantic to test reactions to the idea of setting up a Transatlantic Business Dialogue. This should not try to come up with a negotiating agenda but should rather focus on the longer term. It could include new areas of industrial cooperation over industry, business rules and trade and investment in eastern Europe". Working on a new initiative: "among the big ideas most frequently mentioned are a transatlantic free trade area, an economic space and a new transatlantic treaty. I have an open mind on these ideas. It is not too soon to test those ideas now and to begin weighing the pros and cons. But we must not create false expectations, nor get carried away by seductive ideas which cannot be translated into reality". "In the coming months, the Commission will look seriously at the feasibility of an EU-US Free Trade Area. We have just come through an ambitious tariff- cutting negotiation, and need to see whether there are realistic prospects for further cuts. A free trade area would have to be compatible with the WTO, which requires them to cover 'substantially all trade'. Agriculture is sensitive to both sides and certain other sectors like textiles continue to enjoy high tariffs in the US. I do not see the EU agreeing to eliminate all tariffs on its agricultural trade with the US for the sake of a free trade agreement. Any such arrangement would need to provide for certain exceptions which would in turn need to be compatible with the WTO". "Would we want a free trade area just with the US, or would an EU-NAFTA area be preferable? The latter would bring further economic possibilities, but it is politically more difficult to negotiate with three governments than with one." "The idea of going beyond tariff reduction towards the elimination of other barriers and obstacles to business development is an attractive one. An EU- US economic space would go further than just free trade, including mutual recognition of standards, as well as increased cooperation in competition policy and other areas." "Finally, we need to look seriously at the idea of an EU-US Treaty. It could provide a way of integrating all the various components of our relationship which I have considered today - security, political and economic. Nonetheless, until the EU has the IGC behind it and until NATO and the EU have worked out the new European security architecture neither the EU nor the US are likely to be in a position to negotiate a full-scale Treaty to govern future Transatlantic relations. When that has been done, we will be better placed to see whether its incorporation into other elements of the relationship in a new Treaty is the right way forward". "The immediate target is that, by the end of the Spanish Presidency, I hope we can announce our ultimate objective, at least in general terms. In the meantime there is much work to do". ***