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23rd Apr 2021

Interview

Former US envoy to EU: 'Our democracy is fragile'

  • Anthony Garnder was US ambassador to the EU under president Barack Obama (Photo: Casa de América)

The former US envoy to the European Union, Anthony Gardner, says Americans have had a day of reckoning for democracy.

"I think many Americans grew up thinking the images we saw last night could only happen in under-developed countries," he said in telephone interview on Thursday (7 January).

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"In fact, I remember many of my friends even made fun of some European countries for political instability, as in Italy, where I used to live. Well, now we discover that - guess what? - our democracy at home is fragile," he said.

He spoke after mobs of supporters of outgoing US president Donald Trump broke into Washington's Capitol Hill by overwhelming a sparse police and security presence earlier this week.

The rioters roamed freely through the building, ransacking offices, with some waving Confederate-era flags. Four people were killed, one shot dead by a police officer.

"I never dreamt I would see these things, and ... chilling, chilling," Garner said of the riots.

Gardner was ambassador to the European Union under president Barack Obama between 2014 and January 2017.

He left after unceremoniously receiving a telegram from the incoming Trump presidency, which instructed him to vacate his post almost immediately.

Now, Garner is demanding the same is done to all other ambassadors appointed by Trump.

"I would like to see all politically appointed ambassadors leave no later than noon January 20th and not stay one minute more," he said, referring to the inauguration date for president-elect Joe Biden.

"That is what happened to us [Obama-era diplomats]. It was a breach of precedent and it should also happen to them," he said, adding that all of them should have, in any case, resigned following the riots.

Mending wrecked EU relations

Gardner says he remains hopeful that the incoming Biden presidency will renew relations with the European Union.

But it will be a step by step process, he said, noting that big issues like China and climate change will most likely take priority.

"We are not going to do these ambitious controversial things. The time for that is gone," he said, highlighting as an example past efforts to secure a US-EU free-trade deal.

Instead, he suggested the Biden presidency will reach out to allies and regain the trust lost under four tumultuous years of Trump.

Gardner's successor in the EU post was Gordon Sondland, a billionaire hotel magnate dragged into a Trump impeachment inquiry over attempted US extortion of Ukraine.

Sondland was purged in early 2020, just two days after Trump was acquitted by the Senate in the impeachment inquiry.

And, looking back, Gardner described Trump and Sondland's impact on EU relations as mindless wreckage.

"The administration contributed to the wreckage by misunderstanding, disdaining the EU, and trying to break it apart. That is going to end," he said.

Gardner said the EU and the US will most likely focus on positive topics at first and try to avoid difficult issues like data-sharing and privacy.

"We are going to need to handle carefully and quickly the Airbus-Boeing simmering dispute," he said, referring to a transatlantic row over state subsidies for aviation firms.

Will he make a bid to return as US ambassador to the EU under Biden, EUobserver asked?

"I am very happy in the private sector," he said.

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