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Topical Aspects of the USEU Relationship

Topical Aspects of the US/EU Relationship

Speech delivered by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean to the American-European Community Association (AECA), KPMG, London, January 15, 2003. Source: FCO.

A happy – and prosperous – New Year to you all! First, let me thank the American-European Community Association for the opportunity to address you today, and Ian Barlow, KPMG for their kind hospitality in hosting this lunch. As Ian has said, you know first hand the importance of a strong EU-US relationship. Today, I’d like to discuss with you some of the most topical aspects of that relationship.

  • The Transatlantic Partnership

In this post-cold war world of ours, the US has a very important role – indeed a unique role as the world’s only super power. But the partnership between the US and the EU is indispensable. This partnership is uneven in parts; as the world’s only superpower, the US is naturally more important to Europe on certain security and military issues, but Europeans have huge strengths too – we Brits do on peacekeeping and all of us I believe have a very important role in building civil societies. Together we form a vital economic partnership on which much of the wealth and prosperity generated – not only in the EU and USA - is based, but of course much world prosperity is based or generated in the EU and US. We have a direct impact upon each other – an impact that perhaps we are not always willing to acknowledge on both sides of the Atlantic as clearly as we should.

  • A Downward Spiral ?

From time to time we hear a great deal of criticism of the relationship - particularly true now – strong views on Iraq, terrorism in the Middle East, splits over the Kyoto protocol, the International criminal court, the Ottawa convention on land mines, differences even on the protocols for Chemical and Biological Conventions, trade disputes on steel, even the retention of the death penalty exposes a real difference on important policy areas. These are problems which, as friends, we should acknowledge. However, a survey of US and European attitudes conducted by the Chicago Council for Foreign Relations last year provides a welcome reality check. It revealed that majorities on both sides of the Atlantic fervently support a multilateral approach to international problems and the strengthening of multilateral institutions. Both also champion NATO and its expansion. Europeans and Americans concurred that we should both play a strong leadership role in the world. The Pew Washington Research Centre’s opinion poll published last month concluded that 61% of Germans, 63% of French and 75% of British had a favourable view of the United States. Of course US statistics, as their mid-term elections have taught us, can sometimes paint a different picture from what actually happens. But my own experiences back up these findings – most recently during my visit to Washington last month.

  • Our Closest Friend

From whichever angle you view it, the United States and Europe are natural allies and friends. We share values of freedom and free speech. We share the ideals of democracy and human rights. We believe in the rule of law. And we share a real commitment to global prosperity and international security. These values and beliefs, that we have both defended over the years with such fervour, go well beyond issues of individual policy. Our democratic structures and beliefs come from the same stock. We made common sacrifice in defence of freedom in two world wars. And since the signing of the Atlantic Charter in 1941, the partnership between the US and Europe has been the fulcrum of global order. It has delivered peace and security in Europe, reduced national rivalries and balance of power politics, and embedded the concept of military co-operation across borders. From Marshall Aid – which the great post-war British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, described as the ‘lifeline to sinking men’ – to the US

Particularly in light of 11 September, the UK’s relation with the US gives us a unique position in Europe. We communicate well with both our partners – about international politics and as a result about each other. It is certainly not a question of choosing one relationship over another. British interests lie in maintaining strong relations with both Europe and the United States. As the Prime Minister said only last week:

‘There is no greater error in international politics than to believe that being strong in Europe means being weaker with the US. The roles reinforce each other. What is more there can be no international consensus unless Europe and the US stand together … We can indeed help to be a bridge between the US and Europe and such understanding is always needed. Europe should partner the US not be its rival.’

The support flows both ways. Europe is the US’s natural political partner. The support of developed, democratic Allies remains extremely important for American domestic opinion. Polls state that US public support for war would fall to 35 percent if the support from Allies were to be withdrawn. The US also relies on European influence within the UN Security Council, particularly that of the Permanent Members, and in the G8. I am often asked why we do not make more of our role publicly. The answer, I think is obvious. There would be no surer way of reducing our influence and irritating our partners. But I can assure you that that influence is real and felt across the board from defence to trade.

  • Military Co-operation

In defence, Europe is a vital partner of the US, albeit a junior one. We work together either via NATO, or as individual states as part of a coalition of the willing. The European military machine is of course smaller than America’s, but we can provide key capabilities. We have highly trained Special Forces, critical to so many operations. We can provide, amongst other things, air-to-air refuelling capabilities, air support and strike missions. I have witnessed these first-hand during my period as a Defence Minister. We can also offer over-flight rights, access to bases or the staffing of posts vacated by US troops sent to the front line. We have the capability to undertake nation-building roles in post-conflict scenarios, something there is often little appetite for in the US. These functions were vital during the Afghanistan and Balkans campaigns.

Now, in the new millennium, co-operation between Europe and the US in the fight against global terror is again at the very heart of the pursuit of security and justice in a very uncertain world.

We may be 17 months on from the horrific events of September 11th, but our common determination to fight terror is not wavering. I was with the Prime Minister on that ghastly day when the news broke. As he said, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the US because those attacks were attacks on all of us – and on what we stand for.

And the appalling events of yesterday evening in Manchester where a British police officer (DC Steven Oake) lost his life bring home to us – what a clear and present danger terrorism is to us all.

  • Iraq

Of course, the subject currently on everyone’s mind is Iraq. We all agree that Iraq poses a real and unique threat to the stability of the region and the rest of the world. We cannot allow Saddam’s WMD ambitions to go unchecked.

The UN inspectors have been mandated by the whole Security Council (by countries as diverse as Mauritius and Syria) to disarm the Iraqi regime of its WMD. We have every confidence in the inspectors’ ability to pursue their task on the basis of the tough and uncompromising terms set out in UNSCR 1441. The international community’s determination is clear – across the US, the EU, the Arab League, and the Non- Aligned countries.

Our prime objective is to rid Iraq of its WMD. A further objective is to maintain the authority of the United Nations by demonstrating the Security Council’s effective response to the challenge posed by Iraq’s non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions for over a decade. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we want to follow the UN route. That’s why we went to the UN, why we worked hard on Resolution 1441. But if Iraq fails to live up to its obligations under that resolution and others, it must be in no doubt of the serious consequences it faces.

No decision has yet been taken to use force against Iraq but we must be ready for that eventuality, and prepare prudently, while allowing the UN inspectors to complete their task.

  • Developing World

These are uncertain and perhaps dangerous times, but while focusing on the immediate challenges posed by both the situation in Iraq, and the global terror network, we must not neglect wider, but related challenges in the developing world. There are challenges in which I have a close interest in my role as Minister responsible for trade policy and world trade.

The EU and US have a duty to develop those states that don’t enjoy our levels of prosperity. There is real determination, from Tony Blair and the Cabinet, to help developing countries. Ridding the third world of disease and poverty is in everyone’s interest. In the past, developed countries perhaps deluded themselves that they were insulated from the problems of the third world. If a country collapsed into poverty and civil war that was sad for its people. We might offer them loans and assistance. We might remind them of the benefits of free trade, good government and so on. But ultimately it was their problem. We helped with aid, but not much else. Today it is obvious that we cannot isolate ourselves from the misery around us. It is not right and even if we did not recognise that in Government, which we do, the collective consciences of our citizens will not allow us to. Not only do we have a moral duty to help developing nations, but of course eventually our security may depend on it. A third world abandoned by the west can quickly become a fertile recruiting ground for extremists. Where poverty, desperation and disease proliferate, so too will those willing to exploit the weak for their own ends. State-sponsored terrorism will rear its vile head or, as Afghanistan demonstrated even a terrorist-sponsored state may emerge. It is no accident that many of the threats we face today come from failing states, rather than successful ones bent on expansion.

Despite having a smaller economy, the EU currently gives more in aid to the developing world than the US. The EU provides some 55% of all international aid, and 66% of all grant aid. More important than providing aid however, we must concentrate on helping the third world develop by increasing trade. It is food for thought that, were we to halve the current number of trade tariffs, global trade would increase by £260bn. £100bn of that would benefit developing countries. This is three times the amount currently donated to the developing world and, pound for pound, trade goes much further than aid.

To reach a really successful conclusion to the current WTO trade round (a round with a major focus on how world trade can help developing countries) we are all going to have to work very hard together and even more closely in the coming months and years. This challenge was at the heart of my discussions with US trade representative Bob Zoellick in Washington last month. There are some tough negotiations ahead, not least of which on GMOs and access to medicines where the US and Europe have significantly different approaches. But the very difficulty of these issues argues for ever closer dialogue.

  • Trade and Investment

For all the highly publicised trade disputes between Europe and the United States, the fact is that the economic relationship is immensely strong and hugely important. You will not be surprised to hear me say that I think that the Trade and Investment relationship is the bedrock of the wider transatlantic relationship. Naturally though, when dealing with the US, with my trade and investment hat on, my efforts are concentrated on attracting investment to the UK, rather than to our other EU partners. I am pleased to say, we do rather well! The UK has attracted $249 billion of US foreign direct investment; 38% of all US investment into the EU, and more than the combined totals of Germany, France and the Netherlands. Similarly, the UK has the largest stock of investment in the US of any nation. Trade flows between the US and UK totalled $140 billion in 2001.

Last July I announced the UK's inward investment figures for 2001/02. As expected, due to the global economic conditions, our results were down. However, the headline figure of 764 projects ensured that the UK retained its position as Europe's top investment location. US companies remain the biggest investors in the UK, and last year were responsible for 288 out of the 764 location decisions.

The UK's performance at attracting the world's best companies to its shores has been outstanding. And remember that US companies, by investing in Britain, are investing in Europe too. So no complacency – there are signs that the US economy may be picking up – but only so far in particular sectors.

When the Prime Minister appointed me to this job nearly 2 years ago – he made me a Minister in two government departments – the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was a first in government, and he did it because he believes that trade and foreign policy are inseparable as issues. Trade should be mainstreamed into our international relationships and we have to recognise how much that trade can be affected by what is happening in foreign policy. For me that is particularly true of the US, because I am the Minister with front line responsibility for North America politically as well as being the International Trade Minister.

  • Conclusion

We have a responsibility to maintain the freshness and dynamism of the US/EU partnership. However, like all successful partnerships, it must be worked at. The buoyancy and strength of the relationship affects not just our nations, but the rest of the world as well. If it is adversely impacted, the ripples extend far beyond the EU and USA. And the business community can and should play an important part in sustaining our relationships. It is you who strike the deals, make the partnerships, set up your offices either here or in the US, and who make and sustain highly important personal contacts that form the cement of our transatlantic partnership. It is for all of us – together – to ensure that the EU/US partnership is – and is seen to be - strong and effective to the benefit of us all.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).