The EU must not let the US sideline its institutions or their values

In reworking its relations with the US, the EU must not let Washington sideline Brussels' institutions or their values, writes Anthony Gardner.

Anthony Gardner | Photo credit: Press Association

By Anthony Gardner

17 Feb 2017

The European Union is no stranger to crises and threats. Ever since its birth 60 years ago, it has repeatedly emerged stronger when faced with internal challenges, such as the financial crisis and the threat of Grexit, or when faced with external pressures from Russia, China, and more recently from terrorism and mass migration flows.

But never before has the EU had to face friendly fi re from its leading ally and supporter. US President Donald Trump has stated that he is at best indifferent as to whether the EU succeeds or fails; that the EU is merely a vehicle for German power; that the EU was established as a way to beat the US in trade. And he seems convinced that the EU is a dysfunctional and undemocratic body that does not deliver and is about to fall apart.

These are cartoon strip caricatures of the EU, inspired from fringe voices in Europe, including among MEPs; and they represent a radical departure from settled US foreign policy.


For at least 60 years the US has pursued, on a bipartisan basis, a policy of supporting the European integration project. 

This has made eminent sense because the project has been overwhelmingly in the national interest of the US in multiple fields, including trade, competition, the creation of the single market, and more recently the creation of a digital single market, an energy union and a capital markets union, as well as e  orts to enhance law enforcement and the protection of Europe's external borders.

US business has been among the most vocal supporters of European integration, because it has been a significant beneficiary. I am pleased that even UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said, "It remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain's national interest that the EU should succeed."

Is the US now going to become more Eurosceptic than the British?

During the three years of my tenure, the US and the EU accomplished some important achievements, thanks in great part to the positive collaboration with the European Parliament.

I made it one of my top priorities to work closely with the Parliament, because it continues to exercise responsibly its powers under the Lisbon treaty. I had the great privilege of meeting with nearly every political group; and I am pleased to have made lasting friendships.

Together we rebuilt transatlantic trust that was weakened by the 2013 Snowden disclosures. We finalised the privacy shield. 

We finalised and achieved ratification of the data protection and privacy agreement (DPPA). 

We worked closely to ensure that the digital single market evolves to the benefit of growth, trade and innovation. 

We made significant progress on several important and challenging trade issues discussed under TTIP, though clearly not as much as we would have liked. Parliament, especially the international trade committee, played a positive role in the negotiations. 

I hope we will succeed in capturing those gains and find ways to build on the foundation we have laid. Reversing US bipartisan policy toward the EU would unleash significant negative economic and political consequences for the United States. 

Washington should avoid the temptation to deal with Europe on a purely bilateral and transactional basis, while ignoring the EU institutions, or acting as a cheerleader for Brexit and similar movements in the remaining 27 member states.

I remain convinced, despite all of the challenges, that the EU is not about to fall apart; to the contrary, it is delivering achievements in numerous areas that matter to the United States; Washington should be encouraging greater EU cohesion, effectiveness and willingness to engage with the US to address a long list of regional and global challenges. The EU, not just the member states, has important assets that it can contribute.

It is essential that US business - not just Silicon Valley, but also industrial manufacturing firms in the heartland - remind the business leaders in the administration of how much is at stake in terms of US exports, jobs and growth if Europe fragments and weakens.

Although US business interests are far too narrow a gauge with which to judge the importance of the EU's success to the United States, it may be the only real argument to prevent a catastrophic reversal of US policy toward the EU.

The EU member states should send clear signals to Washington that they will not permit a sidelining or an undermining of the EU; and they should be clear that, while they naturally wish to enjoy a strong collaborative relationship with the new administration, they will ensure that it is based on a respect for democracy, human rights, tolerance, international law, as well as the protection of the international institutions built together since World War II. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be applauded for making this point.

It remains critical that the EU define a common agenda of action with the United States, even if on a narrower basis than before. The fight against terrorism, the protection of our external frontiers, the reinforcement of our trade defence mechanisms, the joint protection against intellectual property theft and the crackdown on tax evasion by multinationals could be part of this agenda.


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