US and EU must continue to be 'critical partners'

But 'crisis of trust' influencing seven decades of strong EU-US relationship, says Christian Ehler

08 Jan 2014

The last year has been a turbulent one for transatlantic relations: The re-election of president Barack Obama, a close ally for the European Union and trusted partner in 2012, was welcomed by Europeans. The anticipation to start negotiations on a comprehensive US-EU trade agreement fuelled the hope for an intensification of transatlantic relations.

The current crisis of trust is now influencing the strong relationship that has been built over almost seven decades. Nowhere else has the US committed so much of its intellectual, economic, and security capital since 1945 and throughout the Cold War as to Europe, for the purpose of guaranteeing global stability and peace.

Let's hope that the current crisis will be a trigger to rethink, rebuild and reinforce our partnership

In the 21st century, the EU, as the complementing key advocate of the rules-based international economic and political order, has been among the closest allies of the US. This spirit has been profoundly shaken by the revelations on NSA surveillance practices. The methods of the NSA - in particular when directed against leading representatives of befriended nations and within their premises - are completely unacceptable and have to be investigated thoroughly. The concerns of our citizens have to be taken seriously and have to be discussed openly. But I would like to repeat what I said earlier this year in this magazine: we should not put at risk one of the largest trade projects of this decade, the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).

It is these tough economic times facing both the US and the EU that underpin recent support for a transatlantic free trade agreement. By launching negotiations, the EU and the US developed a joint transatlantic initiative for jobs and growth, including a roadmap for promoting trade and investment. I strongly oppose any suspension of the TTIP negotiations.

As I emphasised many times in plenary, even within the last week, to take TTIP hostage over Prism would not only affect the Americans, but would also have dire consequences for the European economy.

The conclusion of a transatlantic free trade agreement would create much-needed jobs and provide new economic growth in Europe. Something we should not ignore - especially in times of economic crisis. Regulatory cooperation and standardisation will be key in this process: If the US and the EU do not improve cooperation in this regard, the emerging BRIC countries could seriously challenge established standards. In particular in the field of emerging technologies an EU and US cooperation in standardisation is crucial.

Instead of demanding to put TTIP on hold, we should consider reaching a mutual understanding that neither the negotiations nor persons and institutions involved should be subjected to offensive intelligence measures by either side. Despite the concerns of today, strategically we should keep in mind our transatlantic friendship, our common history, mutual values, as well as joint achievements.

This position is shared by European decision makers and US representatives alike. The recent visits of congress representatives to the European parliament show that our concerns are being taken seriously. Senator Murphy and congressmen Diaz-Baart, Meeks and Jim Sensenbrenner – who visited Brussels in early November - are truly committed to a strong transatlantic partnership and will help to rebuild trust.

They are not alone: Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, has recently called for a "transatlantic renaissance" and even more pleasing: a survey published this week by the Pew research centre states that a majority of the respondents see Europe as more important to the US than did so in 2011: "Thinking about the relationships the United States has with Europe and Asia, 50 per cent of the public sees ties with Europe as most important for the US, compared with 35 per cent who say relations with Asian nations are most important". Let's hope that the current crisis will be a trigger to rethink, and rebuild and reinforce our partnership.

The challenges we are facing are manifold and cannot be solved by the US or the EU alone: The US and the EU are also critical partners in addressing global political and economic problems through the Nato alliance and together account for 90 per cent of global development assistance in health as well as 80 per cent of overall aid around the world.

As chair of the transatlantic legislator's dialogue, I will ensure that we will constructively work towards not only the realisation of the transatlantic economic relationship's full potential, but also the safeguarding and revitalisation of our shared core values and common goals.