3rd Dec 2023

US diplomat soothes EU nerves after summit debacle

The US ambassador to the EU has brushed aside speculation that the ascendance of China or confusion arising from the Lisbon Treaty have undermined the special relationship between the two sides.

Focusing on the EU's importance in the areas of security and crisis-relief, the ambassador, William E. Kennard, told EUobserver in an interview: "Anytime anything dramatic happens in the world ...the world looks to what the US and the EU are going to do."

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  • Mr Kennard: "Anytime anything dramatic happens in the world ...the world looks to what the US and the EU are going to do" (Photo:

"We have with the EU and its member states a shared history and a shared sense of values that we don't have with any other large bloc of people," he said. "The US and the EU collectively represent 800 million democratically-elected people, and so when issues arise, whether it's of human rights violations or the need to bring stability to troubled parts of the world, whether it's Afghanistan or Pakistan or the Middle East, the EU is our logical partner."

The diplomat underlined President Barack Obama's belief in multilateralism and progress in ties with China and Russia. But he indicated that the level of trust between the EU and US exceeds what it has with the emerging powers.

"We don't share the same culture, history or values with Russia," he said. "It's a different category altogether."

Mr Kennard arrived in Brussels in January at an awkward moment. The US at the Copenhagen climate summit in December clinched a last-minute deal on emissions with Brazil, South Africa, India and China, leaving the EU out of the room.

In February, the Spanish EU presidency learned via the media that President Obama planned to skip an upcoming summit. A US spokesman at the time said Washington did not know who was in charge in Europe following passage of the Lisbon Treaty. The European Parliament subsequently compounded unease by voting down a transatlantic pact on counter-terrorism, the so-called "Swift" agreement.

The US ambassador laid part of the responsibility for the summit debacle on Spain: "We had never committed to a summit and we had never told the Spanish government that we were coming to Madrid in May. I think there may have been an assumption that we were," he said.

He also hinted that the meeting was a diplomatic nicety rather than a venue for pressing decisions. "All of our political leaders have incredible demands on their time, we have to be careful in deploying their time to make sure there are defined outcomes," Mr Kennard said.

Lisbon needs 'patience'

The ambassador gave robust support to the Lisbon Treaty, however.

Zooming in on Lisbon's plan to marry the European Commission's work on development with the bloc's new diplomatic corps and for closer co-operation between commission delegations and member states' embassies, he said: "We think it represents an ability for the EU to project itself more effectively on the world stage and that's good for the US."

He also backed the idea of greater EU military integration, such as building up rapid-response units: "We recognise that our resources are not unlimited and to the extent that the EU has a capability that is complementary to Nato, that is certainly in our interests."

The ambassador urged critics of Lisbon to give the transition more time.

"One of the hardest things that government institutions are called upon to do is give up power. And Lisbon is fundamentally about shifting the power dynamics within the EU institutions ...It's going to take some patience," he said.

"I think that it [Swift] was an issue of the parliament on the one hand and the commission and Council on the other trying to establish what the institutional prerogatives will be post-Lisbon," he added.

Neuroses misplaced

In the context of EU angst on whether its new foreign relations chief, Catherine Ashton, or its US envoy, Joao Vale de Almeida, were good choices, Mr Kennard said Washington is no stranger to squabbles over appointments.

But he said he was surprised by the Brussels culture of self-deprecation in the context of the EU's achievement on a historical scale.

"I've been struck since I've been here, how often I hear a lot of self-criticism in the EU, of the EU institutions," the ambassador told this website. "The EU is one of the most remarkable institutions in the world when you think what has been created here out of the ashes of World War II, and in such a short space of time: A common market, a common currency and increasingly a common defence capability. It's absolutely remarkable."

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