US ambassador looking forward to working with MEPs
Ambassador Anthony Luzzatto Gardner tells Rajnish Singh that developing good relations with the parliament is one of his 'top three' priorities.
Reflecting on the current strength of cooperation between the United States and Europe, recently appointed US ambassador to the EU Anthony Luzzatto Gardner told the Parliament Magazine, "I see every day confirmation of how important our ties with the EU are […] not just on economic issues, but on an increasing number of other areas, such as development, humanitarian aid, and political and security issues." Given the broad range of topics on which the EU-US collaborate together, for Gardner "the EU remains, and will continue to be more and more the partner of first resort."
Gardner, an EU politics student and former intern in the European commission for DG competition who is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish, as well as being a German speaker, told this magazine he was "thrilled" with his new role in Brussels. He highlighted the close work between the two partners on dealing with a range of international relations issues, including the current Ebola crisis, and the growing threat of Islamic State, but he highlighted economic cooperation, particularly the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), as "the most salient" issue.
"The EU remains, and will continue to be more and more the partner of first resort"
Given the ongoing Ukraine crisis, and further application of economic sanctions, when asked if the west and Russia were heading towards a new cold war, Gardner responded with a resounding, "No," adding, "the president has been very clear about this". Instead he stressed the US has, throughout the crisis, expressed to Russia that "there is another path […] the path of de-escalation to reach a resolution to this crisis. We continue to hope, and continue to urge Russia to choose that path."He considered it a good sign that Russia has recognised the results of October's Ukrainian elections, and called on Vladimir Putin's government to exert pressure on Russian separatists not to hold their own elections. However, he did say Russia's recent behaviour "was clearly not acceptable in the 21st century."
With expectations running high for a successful outcome to the TTIP talks, the US representative was keen to stress "that we are still at a very early stage in the discussions […] this is a very complicated and ambitious set of negotiations that we have started". Gardner therefore felt that to announce a date by which the talks could be concluded would be 'artificial', instead saying he thought it was important for both parties to "continue to work intensively". The ambassador said that the new European commission which started in November and the mid-term elections in the US could act as a "boost to the talks, bringing greater dynamism and a sense of purpose." For Gardner the results of the US elections "would not have any impact on the current talks [as] there is bipartisan support for what we are trying to achieve in these discussions"
The diplomat admitted that next year will be critical for the TTIP talks "in the sense that we have to show on both sides of the Atlantic concrete results from the discussions." Recognising growing negativity towards TTIP in some member states the ambassador emphasised that "the anxieties that have been expressed have to always be taken seriously, and we are listening to them." However, he added, "it doesn’t mean we share these anxieties in all cases". Giving the example of opposition to the investor state dispute settlement, he felt "these anxieties were misplaced". Overall, he admitted, "frankly we have to do a better job in the US and in Europe to explain why these anxieties are misplaced based on fact and historical record […] and to be clear, in a number of instances we would agree with the critics that the mechanism could be improved." He also disagreed with arguments that TTIP would reduce environmental and health and safety standards as "a deal that would reduce such protections would not be passed either by congress nor the European parliament."
"Developing relations with the parliament is going to be one of my top three priorities"
The US ambassador was keen to emphasise that he looked forward to developing a good working relationship with MEPs. After a recent visit to Strasbourg Gardner admitted, "I have been to Strasbourg once before 20 years ago, but now to see 28 member states represented under the European flag was frankly a moving experience." He added, "I have always said, even before coming to Brussels, that the EU institutions can easily be caricatured and I think it’s unfair. "For the ambassador, the institutions, especially the parliament, have grown in importance over the years, particularly under the Lisbon treaty. "We have flagged back to the US the growing importance of the European parliament, hence our emphasis on this institution. Developing relations with the parliament is going to be one of my top three priorities."
Even with the growth of Eurosceptic parties in parliament, Gardner was still positive about what could be achieved, saying, "I prefer to see the glass half full, since we Americans tend to be more optimistic, the fact of the matter is between the three largest groups there are enough votes not only to achieve TTIP, but also the main projects of common interest between the US and EU."
The ambassador congratulated the parliament and commission for working together during the hearings to get the new commission started on 1 November, in particular pointing to the selection of Cecilia Malmström for EU trade commissioner as "an excellent choice". "We think it is a very strong team and we look forward to having close cooperation with all the members of the commission and parliament," he concluded.
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