Guenter Burghardt Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The European Union and Transatlantic Relations: Conversation with Ambassador Guenter Burghardt, Head of the European Commission's Delegation to the United States: 3/7/02 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Transatlantic Relations

In a way, you're going through a process like we did when we formed a Constitutional Convention to discuss the forming of the United States of America. So in one sense, we are a kind of a model. Although you are doing things quite differently in your own distinct way, your relationship with us has been important all along. I noticed that in some of your recent speeches you quoted from President Kennedy, and his remarks calling for a rejuvenation of what was then an already existing Atlantic partnership. Talk a little about that.

President Kennedy had many long conversations with President Hallstein when he was President of the United States and Hallstein was President of the Commission. President Kennedy articulated for the first time in the early sixties a concept which has always been there. The United States after the Second World War was very helpful in bringing this European integration process about. It started with the Marshall Plan, which laid the basis of economic recovery. But the United States had understood at a very early stage, as much as the Europeans themselves have understood, that to return to a system of nation states in Europe without a common denominator, just everybody looking at the United States to solve their problems on an individual basis, would not be in their interest.

So they are very much in favor of the Europeans fully learning the lessons of the many wars in Europe. And in this respect, they supported the European Defense Community. The European Defense Community, there was no discussion whether European Defense capability would be harmful for the alliance. It was almost the first priority of the United States that the Europeans would create their capabilities which could then act in conjunction with the United States. So they were supportive and helpful.

There were Americans who helped Jean Monet to write the treaty which led to the European Coal and Steel community. And President Kennedy was surrounded by some of those people. He made a very important speech on the Fourth of July in 1962 in the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the American Independence Day. His speech was a very farsighted speech, because in 1962, the European community was just coming out of its inception. He said two things. He said, "If our European friends achieve their goals, then this will one time make it possible to have a transatlantic partnership of equals, sharing in leadership, sharing in taking on those many global tasks ahead of us." And he said, "If this time comes, I, President Kennedy, would suggest a Declaration of Interdependence between the new world, the United States, and the New Europe."

Now, this concept, and this is why I refer to that, is a concept which has been true throughout the development. Of course, there have been issues of a more confrontational nature when it came to trade policy issues or occasional differences about an international issue and a diplomatic issue. But basically, we share in the common values, we are very much aligned as political animals in the global zoo of political factors: democracies, market economies, caring about individual rights, and wanting to export stability to the rest of the world and not import instability from the rest of the world. So we have common objectives. Therefore the transatlantic partnership, transatlantic relationship, has always been a dimension of the European integration process itself.

I found this one of the fascinating aspects of my own work. Whatever I did during those thirty-five years now with the European Commission, it always had, here and there, a transatlantic dimension. This is why I was happy to take on the posting I now have, as the European Commission Ambassador in Washington, to explain to our American interlocutors what is going on in Europe, to negotiate from time to time about the more difficult issues we have to manage, and to reflect together how this newly constituted Europe with our future Constitution will interact with the United States in order to pursue global issues in many areas from trade, through the environment, to the solution of conflicts around the globe.

Let's take two issues where there often appears to be more conflict than there is. Talk briefly about them because we don't have a lot of time. But on trade, I noticed in one of your speeches, or in a document accompanying a speech, that 85 percent of the trade between the United States and Europe is undisputed trade.

Ninety-eight percent.

Ninety-eight percent, sorry. Ninety-eight percent.

Yes.

So when we pick up the paper and read that we're fighting about bananas or we're fighting about steel, at one level it's very serious and a very important issue, but it's a bump in this road that you've been describing.

Sometimes we get things wrong, and we have to argue it out then. But the basis is that the United States and the European Union are each one-fifth of the world economy. We share 40 percent of world trade. We share 56 percent of the world GDP, with 10 percent of the world population. We are the two elephants, when it comes to our economic importance. And, therefore, we have an overwhelming responsibility to get the 100 percent right. If we are not working together, we won't get there. If we are fighting each other, we will not achieve this. But if we work together, we can achieve a great lot of things. And 98 percent of this enormous common basis we have is problem-free, because trade flows. We have an economic relationship across the Atlantic which is worth $2 billion a day. This is the aggregate amount of exports and imports of goods and services and investment. It's the biggest relationship in the world, and it gives us a strategic importance to take care of world affairs which is second to none. We have to live up to that responsibility.

Therefore, when we have problems, and let's take steel, because that's the most topical one, we do not consider that there is no problem in the United States when it comes to the steel industry, it's obvious that there are problems, but we try to analyze those problems together with our American friends. We say to them, "There is over-capacity worldwide. We are prepared to pursue together to look into this, and to share the burden of reducing that world capacity, and together to convince others like Russia and Korea to do likewise." This is process which happens in Paris in the OECD.

We also accept that you have a steel industry which partly -- not the whole steel industry -- large parts of it are noncompetitive. It is bearing heavy legacy cost, as they say here, which has to do with the layoff of workers and ...

And who will pay the retirement benefits and so forth.

Exactly. And as long as the noncompetitive industry has to come up for those costs, there will be no restructuring of the industry.

Now, we had this problem in Europe. We went through two very major restructurings of our steel industry. We have reduced our capacity by 50 million tons, while the United States has increased capacity at the same time. We have done that at great cost for the taxpayer, with important subsidies. In a way, what the legacy costs represent here has been taken over by the European taxpayer. We have privatized, then, these industries, and these industries have restructured. Today in Europe, you find essentially only three big conglomerates producing steel, highly competitive, and we have become an import market. So we are saying, "We have done that. We can even give you some advice on how to do it. But we never took recourse to unilateral import restrictions, we did not solve our problems at the expense of others."

What has happened now in Washington, is [you have] a president who has taken a decision which we are convinced will not solve the American problem, which is very bad news, first of all, but which is wrong as far as the functioning of the global system is concerned. It gives the wrong message, the wrong signal. These are the methods of the 1930s to deal with domestic problems, and we cannot support such a way of action.

You're suggesting that in this ideal that President Kennedy projected in the sixties, there is a working process of mutual education.

Let's talk about foreign policy and defense policy. We have many common interests, and although we share the same values, we have very different styles about how to approach the world. Europeans, because of their recent experience [in building the European Union], try to come up with multilateral solutions and become part of a larger multilateral process, whereas we are faulted, not necessarily but sometimes by the Europeans, because we are unilateralists. Do you think that this dynamic of two different ways of approaching the world will also come under the tutelage of this educational process and lead to positive outcome as we approach the post-9/11 world?

What you call our educational process, which is our constant interaction and consultation and discussion under what we call the New Transatlantic Agenda, from the top level of the presidents down to the working level, the legislators, the business dialogue, everybody who is engaged in the transatlantic environments, this education process has to take into account different mentalities which you mentioned.

Now, as far as the United States is concerned, I must say that there has always been an internal American discussion about how much unilateralism is good for the United States and how much engagement of the international community is better and more effective in the medium and long term. These two foreign policy schools have been there since Theodore Roosevelt. Sometimes it was the more unilateralist school of the Theodore Roosevelt kind which was in power in Washington, most of the time it was the Franklin D. Roosevelt school of engagement, and the Wilson school of engaging people which had the upper hand. John F. Kennedy, the speech we mentioned, is a clear example of that school. So there is an internal American debate. It has to do with the fact that the United States has survived contemporary history and has emerged from it as the sole world power.

Superpower, yes.

A superpower, with a huge military potential not reached by anybody else. The American defense budget and the American defense capabilities far outreach anybody else. And, therefore there's a temptation to use what is called, here in this country, the "hammer and the toolbox," which is the military. We are saying, "Not every problem is a nail." You need the hammer from time to time, but you also need other ways, other capabilities to address the root causes of problems, including [the problem of] terrorism. This is where the European Union has a lot of capabilities. It is multilateral by its own definition. It's part of its own way of doing things. Therefore, it has no other option than to try to engage the rest of the world.

In a partnership, it is good to have two partners who have complementary means of action, under the assumption that these two partners sufficiently talk to each other to find out what they want to do together. When they agree on what is needed to be done, then they can implement a division of labor. Where the deficit sometimes is now is that on the European side there is the impression that not enough talking has taken place before action is being taken.

Now, we can redress such an imbalance, and I'm quite hopeful that we will also overcome some of the acrimonious discussion which have been exchanged across the ocean recently.

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