The US-EU relationship is built on “our shared values of democratic governance, respect for human rights and rule of law,” says Ronald Gidwitz, US ambassador to the EU. Despite regular complaints about the EU from President Donald Trump, the ambassador emphasises that these values have “given our relationship strength and resilience over the past 70 years.”
He argues that Washington and Brussels face many similar challenges, including confronting Russia, China and Iran, as well combating terrorism, countering fake news, developing energy security and responding to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now, more than ever, we need to leverage our partnership to address the many challenges we face,” says Gidwitz. The diplomat is adamant that though there may be disagreements, “our goals are fundamentally the same.”
However, the biggest area of divergence remains trade. As recently as February 2020, Trump said, “Europe has been treating us [the US] very badly,” even claiming that the EU “was really formed so they could treat us badly.”
Yet Gidwitz believes the US is just “seeking a trade relationship that is more open, fair and balanced.”
Elaborating on this new relationship, he says, “We want to work with our European partners to create a more level playing field,” adding, “trade disputes, should not overshadow the many areas where the US and EU work together to promote our common goals.”
“Trade disputes should not overshadow the many areas where the US and EU work together to promote our common goals”
Gidwitz was appointed to his current role in early May under controversial circumstances. His predecessor, Gordon Sondland, was sacked by Trump, following his testimony at the Congressional impeachment hearings.
However, Gidwitz is keen not to allow the controversy surrounding Sondland to overshadow his work, saying, “US-EU relations are deep and enduring and far larger than any single individual. We continue to work together at many different levels and through a wide variety of channels - that hasn’t changed.”
Gidwitz is no stranger to Brussels; he has been US ambassador to Belgium since 2018 and has already worked with some key EU figures. “In this capacity, I had the pleasure to develop relationships with the then Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and then Minister Didier Reynders. We all have new jobs now working on EU issues.”
With the US withdrawing from the WHO, Gidwitz believes now more than ever that transatlantic relations will be key to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
He points out that both powers are allocating over $35bn to assist the global response, including funding towards vaccine development, research, preparation efforts for possible future pandemics and the humanitarian response to help those hardest hit.
“Our pharmaceutical regulators at the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency are cooperating with their counterparts from dozens of countries to accelerate efforts towards the development of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics,” he says.
But despite talk of cooperation to tackle the pandemic and economic recovery, Europeans remain barred from travelling to the US, even though lockdowns are being lifted across the European Union.
Accepting this as an issue of contention, he says, “An important component of recovery is transatlantic travel and we are committed to working with our European partners to safely reopen our economies and ease travel restrictions.”
Discussing the killing of George Floyd while under police arrest, Gidwitz calls Floyd’s death “heart breaking and tragic” and says that it is “a reminder that we have yet to achieve the goal of equality.”
He points out that Trump has directed the US Department of Justice to prioritise the investigation into Floyd’s death. “The demonstrations in America and around the world have brought renewed attention to the issue of racism and the work that remains to ensure we live up to our ideals.”
He continues, “The US mission will continue to raise awareness of the struggle for racial equality through our public messages and programs and in our advocacy for human rights issues. We will do this both independently and in cooperation with our European partners.”
“We are all awakening to the reality that Beijing is a rival that poses a fundamental challenge to the international rulesbased order”
Though growing tensions between the US and China have dominated news headlines lately, Gidwitz also points out the ongoing challenges Russia poses. “Both countries represent significant threats to our democratic systems and the rules-based international order. And both countries have exploited the COVID-19 epidemic to advance their own narrow interests,” he adds.
As Russia continues to undermine Europe through a combination of disinformation, malicious cyber activities, military pressure, campaigns of coercion and corruption and the exploitation of regional energy dependence, Gidwitz says, “The United States and the European Union are committed to holding Russia accountable for its aggressive and destabilising activities, including in Ukraine.”
Within this context, the ambassador is pushing for greater European energy security, opposing projects like Nord Stream II in favour of American liquefied natural gas and new nuclear technologies. Returning to the topic of China, he says, “We are all awakening to the reality that Beijing is a rival that poses a fundamental challenge to the international rules-based order.”
The United States has been warning Europe for several years of the security threat posed by using Chinese technology in the roll out of 5G infrastructure. As such, he welcomes the EU’s announcement of a 5G ‘toolbox’ to help Member States develop their own technologies.
Gidwitz says this has also resulted in several countries “re-evaluating whether they want to allow Huawei and ZTE to build their 5G architecture.”
Finally, the diplomat welcomes bilateral talks between Brussels on future relations with China, saying, “I’m thrilled that we have agreed to a joint China dialogue, we are currently in discussions on when to launch this effort.”