PUBLISHED:April 09, 2008

An indispensable partnership

April 9, 2008 — Transatlantic relations have warmed “spectacularly” over the past three years, a trend likely to continue, according to Angelos Pangratis, the European Union’s deputy ambassador to the United States. Speaking at Duke Law School on April 8, Pangratis said that the EU and U.S., inherently interdependent on issues of security and trade, have developed into “indispensable partners” on global issues as well.

Although EU-U.S. relations were strained by the invasion of Iraq, it had faded as a divisive theme by the time President Bush visited Brussels in 2005, Pangratis said. Instead, even opponents of the war share an objective with the Americans — “a more democratic and stable Iraq.” The “profoundly multilateralist” EU has also appreciated the United States’ recent move away from a neoconservative and unilateralist approach to foreign policy, he said.

The EU is also “evolving spectacularly,” taking on more peacekeeping and related activities in hot spots around the world than ever before, he added. “As we become more involved in specific issues and crises, we find ourselves coming closer and closer to the U.S. in our way of handling this issue. Even if we differ on how to accomplish a goal, we share the same objectives and work out our differences.”

Transatlantic collaboration has “exploded” over global issues such as energy security, non-proliferation and disarmament, aid and development, and AIDS and pandemics, said Pangratis. On climate change, in particular, “we know, on both sides of the Atlantic, that if we don’t get it right between [us] there is no hope of doing something about it globally. We have different thoughts about how to approach it — we have our differences — but we share the need to deal with China and what kind of global discipline we need.”

While security poses a bilateral challenge, the EU and U.S. share clear objectives and cooperate closely in their fight against terrorism. “We know we can’t protect our citizens alone as well as we can together,” he said, noting they have worked hard to overcome differences on such issues as airline passenger information and other security issues.

Two outstanding issues that are currently under negotiation involve a proposal — opposed by the EU — to scan all containers coming into the U.S., and to include the EU in the Visa Waiver Program, allowing visa-free access to the United States for European citizens. “The U.S. is the only place where the EU is not treated as an entity yet,” observed Pangratis.

Representing, together, 60 percent of the global GDP and with an economic interpenetration that is unique, the EU and U.S. depend on one another for their prosperity, he said. Successful WTO negotiations are essential, he added. “We face a global reality where a majority of public opinion is negative to globalization, and that can translate to protectionist tendencies on specifics or in the political debate. In order to deal with that, we need the right approach on the global issues and the right approach on the bilateral issues.”

Pangratis pointed to the Transatlantic Economic Council launched last year to help coordinate rules and standards as proof that economic cooperation increasing in spite of differences on such issues as trade subsidies and genetically-modified organisms. “This process was motivated by the fact that we were seeing, between the EU and U.S., the same elements that appeared among EU member states in the ’80s when we created our federal market. Last year we entered a new era, realizing that we had an interest, not in competition, but in creating an integrated economic space to facilitate [mutual prosperity].

“We have differences in the way we see the world, and how our societies have evolved … but the interdependencies I’ve talked about are profound, are real, are powerful, and they are pushing us in the direction where this formidable relationship will continue to be even more formidable and will expand,” said Pangratis. He added that the “formula” might change with a new American administration, but the shared objectives won’t. “The notion of indispensable partners is extremely powerful and indispensable for the prosperity of our citizens, for the security of our citizens, and for the hope that we can have for a better world.”

Pangratis’s visit was co-sponsored by Duke’s Center for International and Comparative Law and Center for European Studies. His address is available as a webcast.