US withdrawal from “rules-based global order” will boost EU’s influence, says diplomat

Former American ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner says that the United States “withdrawing” from the rules-based global order will make EU leadership “increasingly important.”

Anthony Gardner | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

02 Nov 2018

While the US withdrawal is creating a “vacuum”, Europe is registering successes in upholding the rules-based global order, according to Anthony Gardner, who served as US ambassador to the EU in Brussels from 2014 to 2017.

Gardner said that, on free trade, the EU had successfully pressed ahead recently with bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), with Japan, Mercosur, Australia and New Zealand.

“This has been made possible in part due to US withdrawal from TPP and the international rules-based trading system,” he said.


Gardner said there had been “no sign yet” of President Trump “seriously engaging” on reform of the World Trade Organisation, thought to be one of the President’s priorities, or “understanding that it needs the EU as partner in dealing with China.”

On climate change, Gardner said that the EU’s “continued sponsorship” of the Paris climate accords have been “crucial.”

This, he said, had led to many states and cities in the US make pledges to meet US commitments under the agreement, despite President Trump’s climate scepticism.

“My understanding is that despite the federal government’s opposition to the agreement, sub-federal actions are keeping the US in line with its emissions targets,” he added.

“The withdrawal of the US leaves a vacuum that can’t be filled entirely by any other actor”

Speaking ahead of the upcoming crucial mid-term elections in the United States, which are expected to be a key test of President Trump’s record in office so far, Gardner said that the EU’s success or failure on the world stage will depend in large part on whether Trump is a one or two-term president.”


But Gardner told this website that the next European Commission, which will come into office later next year after the European elections in May, could be too “consumed with internal issues” to fill the gap left by the US.

“Given the strength of populist euro-sceptic tendencies now in several major EU member states, it is likely that the next five-year Commission will have greater difficulty looking outward to the world.”

“It may well be consumed with internal issues, including whether and how to ensure that the rule of law is respected,” he added.

Turning to foreign aid and humanitarian assistance, Gardner said that with massive US cuts to foreign aid, it was crucial for the EU to show leadership.

But the bloc is already a leader on some key issues, including the regulation of data privacy and digital economy, he said.

“The GDPR regulation, for example, has been exported around the world, including to California, and EU rules on digital taxation, competition, copyright and intermediary liability for illegal content will often set the global norm,” he added.

Despite this, Gardner cautioned that in other areas, Europe would struggle to uphold the rules-based global order.

Citing EU efforts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal as an example, Gardner warned “this will become even more difficult.”

With new US sanctions against Iran due to come into effect on November 5, he said, “I am doubtful the EU can guarantee Iran the economic benefit of bargain.”

“Efforts to cut Iranian financial institutions from SWIFT will cause a major transatlantic dispute as SWIFT and its executives will be caught between contradictory legal requirements.”


Gardner, who was appointed by Barack Obama and has been a vocal critic of President Trump, said that Trump’s attacks on the media, judiciary, his business conflict of interests and authoritarian tendencies had all played a major role in legitimising similar behaviour all over the world, including in Europe.

“The EU will struggle to promote the principles of good governance, human rights and anti-corruption around the world as the Trump administration continues to weaken US support for these principles,” he said.

“It would be a mistake to believe that Russia could ever be a partner in upholding the global rules-based order as it is fundamentally a revisionist power that wants to rewrite the rules.”

Gardner said that while China is more of a status quo power, given the fact that it sees advantages from rules to preserve its continued rise in prosperity, it would be naïve to expect China to be a partner in upholding a world order that the EU wants.

“The withdrawal of the US leaves a vacuum that can’t be filled entirely by any other actor,” he added.

After leaving office, Gardner joined Sidley Austin LLP as senior counsel. He is a member of both its International Trade and Privacy and Cybersecurity practices and splits his time between the firm’s London and Brussels offices.

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