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EU Ambassador to the United States John Bruton
addresses Seattle audience
By Roxana Arama               
Posted June 30, 2006

Ambassador John Bruton, head of the European Union delegation in the United States and former Irish Prime Minister, visited Washington State last week. He met with Governor Christine Gregoire and Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, with representatives from Microsoft, Boeing, the World Affairs Council, the Seattle Trade Development Alliance, the Rotary Club, the Council of European Chambers of Commerce, and the Washington Council on International Trade. In preparation for his trip to Seattle, Mr. Ambassador also met with a number of Members of Congress from Washington State.

Mr. Bruton has served as Ambassador of the European Union to the United States since November 2004. As the Irish Prime Minister, he helped transform the Irish economy into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Mr. Bruton was deeply involved in the Northern Irish Peace Process, presided over a successful Irish EU Presidency in 1996, and helped finalize the Stability and Growth Pact, which governs the management of the single European currency, the Euro.

On June 27, 2006, Mr. Bruton spoke at the World Trade Center in Seattle at a breakfast presentation offered by the International Visitor Program of the World Affairs Council. The Ambassador started his lecture – “Collaboration & Conflict: The US-EU Partnership” – with a praise to the State of Washington for its role in the global economy. Mr. Bruton mentioned that the European Union is our state’s largest export market and supplies 44 percent of the state’s foreign investment. “We are inspired by your example in the application of technology to other problems, with your state being one of the leaders of the world in bio-technology as well as information technology,” he said. The Ambassador also referred to the aircraft industry represented by Boeing. “These are very high debts that we owe to the people of your state,” he said.

The European Union – What It Is and What It Is Not
“The European common market is a common market for people's work,” the Ambassador said. In order for this common market for 500 million people from 27 countries to function, the Union has common standards for environment, trade, research, education, training, as well as for security, justice, home and foreign affairs.

“The European Parliament is the only directly elected multinational parliament in the world,” he explained and compared it with the United States bicameral legislative. "EU law is superior to the law of the other states and to the constitutions of other states,” he said, underlining that this is again a unique characteristic of the organization.

''Being a member of the EU is a guarantee of the continuous respect for democracy, for the independence of the judiciary, for the respect for the rights of property, and for human rights,” Mr. Bruton added. Although the institutions of the Union were initially designed for six countries, they have been continuously updated to reflect the new management needs as more states joined in. “You’ve got to have clear regulation if there is to be free trade,” Mr. Bruton explained.

Mr. Ambassador then talked about what the European Union doesn’t do: It cannot take a new member or amend its laws without the full agreement of its member states. He also pointed that the European Union doesn’t raise taxes, which would provide a great means of control. "European Union is not a superpower. European Union is an engine for the promotion of prosperity, democracy, respect for property, rights for the people,” Mr. Bruton said. Positioned as such, the European Union cannot solve the world’s problems. Instead, it focuses on its own internal problems, but can act as a moderator in global issues, along with the United States and other countries and organizations.

The EU-US Partnership: Collaboration
“The economic relationship between the European Union and the United States is perhaps the most defining feature of the global economy. The integration is broader and deeper than between any two other political regions in the world. The EU and U.S. account for 37 percent of global merchandise trade and 45 percent of world trade in services. The partnership is also the single most important driver of global economic growth, trade, and prosperity. And bilateral economic ties are increasing every year. The EU and the U.S. are each other’s main trading partners in goods and services and account for the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world as well as providing each other the most important source of foreign direct investment (FDI). The huge amount of bilateral trade and investment illustrates the high degree of interdependence of the two economies. Bilateral trade between the EU and U.S. amounts to over $1 billion a day; investment links are even more substantial, totaling over $1.8 trillion a year. Each partner creates jobs for about 6 million workers on each side of the Atlantic, and EU-U.S. trade accounts for almost 40 percent of world trade,” the Ambassador wrote in his “European Union – A Guide for Americans.”

The collaboration between the United States and the European Union goes far beyond a prosperous economic relationship. Through its international structures, the European Union hopes to help the United States in its fight against terrorism. "The United States cannot protect intellectual property solely on its own in the entire world,” Mr. Bruton added. “Nor can the EU. We are working together to protect the intellectual property."

The EU-US Partnership: Conflict
On the matter of growing dissonance between the United States and the European Union, Ambassador Bruton first clarified: “I think there isn’t so much a dissonance between Europe and the United States as we speak, as it is a dissonance between countries that are not the United States and the United States.”

Mr. Bruton went on to explain that, because America is a superpower, it has the means to change societies through aid and trade and the world expects it to. Also, he added, “it’s very hard for the American citizens to fully realize how much this country is looked up to.” The United States is the country that pioneered democracy and drafted the first constitution. The United States has gained the right to preach the gospel of democracy in the world, but when it doesn’t live up to the expectations, there is a big sense of disappointment, he explained. Although Mr. Bruton admitted that it is an unfair treatment and it is hard work to gain global acceptance, he said that the United States should not stop its efforts in the face of criticism.

“United States has to try to make the world a better place,” the Ambassador said. In this regard, the Annual EU-US Summit in Vienna on June 21, 2006 offered new hopes for cooperation on many issues of contend between EU and U.S.

One of those issues is the treatment of agriculture on the two sides of the Atlantic. The complex negotiations on free trade at the World Trade Organization have not make any progress in the last years. All the parties involved would need to make concessions, the Ambassador explained. Poorer countries are demanding that the European Union and the United States reduce the subsidies they pay to their farmers in return for the major developing nations cutting the amount of tax they charge on imports. Reducing those import tariffs would allow America and Europe to sell more in those countries. While the subsidization of farmers has been reduced in Europe, it is still at high levels in the United States. Mr. Bruton hopes to reach an agreement and “create a sense of forward momentum of liberalization.”

“Part of the problem with poor WTO processes is that people have come to expect that they will be rewarded by others for doing something that’s actually a better thing for themselves than for anybody else,” he continued. The WTO has to change mentalities if liberalization is to succeed, the Ambassador concluded.

At the US-EU Summit in Vienna, the two parties discussed the WTO common trade agreement. “On trade, I felt that the US side listened exceptionally closely to what [EU Trade Commissioner] Peter Mandelson said about ambiguities in the various offers and President Bush remarked that a Trade Round, which opened up markets for them, could do more for Africa than aid or debt relief,” Mr. Bruton wrote in his weekly message on the official website of the Delegation of the European Commission to the USA.

"US needs to look at its offer again," Mr. Bruton explained, as the interests of the United States are bigger than what the World Trade Organization could cover and offer, both in agricultural and non-agricultural aspects. But, the Ambassador added, both the American and European offers could and should be improved, in parallel.

While the European Union is very dedicated to helping control the global warming, the United States has a rather strange attitude about it, Mr. Bruton remarked. Although America is the biggest consumer of oil and generator of greenhouse gases in the world, only 20 percent of its population believes that global warming is a real problem. On the other hand, 60 percent of the Europeans take the problem seriously. His message is that the global warming cannot be solved without America’s help and involvement.

Mr. Bruton brought in numbers to back his comments: while the American citizen uses on average 25 barrels of oil a year, the Europeans consume 12.5 on average, compared to the 2 barrels of oil that the Chinese citizens use each on average. “The biggest lifestyle change should be made by the biggest consumer,” Mr. Bruton said. There is a lack of concern about global warming in the United States although the climate change affects the entire planet. “The fact that this is being ignored contributes to some of the dissensions,” Mr. Bruton concluded.

The War in Iraq
The Associated Press reported that about 15,000 people marched through Vienna on the evening of Wednesday, June 21, 2006 to protest President Bush's visit for the annual EU-US Summit. Mark Leonard, director of foreign policy at the Center for European Freedom, in London, said, "I don't think Europeans are ever going to learn to love George Bush. He probably remains the most unpopular U.S. president in history within the European Union.“

Asked about the his take on the way the European public sees the United States, Mr. Bruton clarified that only a minority in Europe oppose the war in Iraq.

“We are now looking forward,” the Ambassador said, explaining that the difference of opinion before the war is now “history” and will be dealt with by the historians. “It is in our interest to see the United States achieve what they had started: mainly a transition to the pluralistic democracy in Iraq,” he added. It is a different issue if it was good to go in there in the first place and overthrow the beehive, he elaborated. “Now we have to establish a new beehive that works better,” he said.

The audience was very interested in the enlargement of the European Union and asked Mr. Bruton to comment on it.

"The enlargement of EU is one of the miracles of modern world”, the Ambassador said. It is as if the United States had merged with Mexico to create the United States of North America with free labor and movement.

Enlargement requires both the candidate country and the Union to satisfy certain conditions. People that want to join have to be dedicated to democracy. “The European Union creates an economical incentive for political good behavior of all of its states,” the Ambassador said, but it can also expel a country that ceases to respect democracy.

Mr. Ambassador referred to the case of Turkey, the states from ex-Yugoslavia, and ex-USSR. ''To be in EU you must believe in your heart in European integration," he said. Countries shouldn’t join just for trade or financial aid, rather, they should embrace the philosophy of human rights, minorities, and everything the Union stands for. “The people have got to internally say ‘yes’, not only their leaders,” Mr. Bruton said. “It is important to make that mental leap.”

“The EU is an engine for the promotion of democracy, for the promotion of property rights,” Mr. Bruton reiterated.

Addressing the other side of the coin, Mr. Ambassador referred to the Copenhagen criteria that cover the conditions that the Union itself has to fulfill before adding a new member state. Obviously, there are depressing effects if it opens to a country less developed, and the European Union has to care foremost for its current population. “It's not the case of moving chess pieces around on a table; it has to function effectively with the people,” Mr. Bruton explained.

Illegal Immigration
Another topic of interest for the audience was illegal immigration. The European Union has been dealing with it for the last 50 years, since Africa has been decolonized. People attracted by the European lifestyle, greatly idealized by the media, want to get out of their villages. There is also resentment for a Europe that organized the world, and that established the trade policies that keep Africa at a disadvantage. Then there is the issue of religion: People there feel that theirs is superior to Christianity and Judaism, the Ambassador explained.

“The solution, if you can call it a solution,” Mr. Bruton said, “is for the African economy to develop, (…) for the investment and education to be facilitated in that part of the world.” The African markets should be integrated with the European and American ones, for the pluralistic democracy to reach that part of the world. “That’s much easier said than done,” admitted the Ambassador. “In the meantime, there are lots of people arriving at our ports. (…) People can't wait for 25 or more years.”

The Ambassador used the example of Ireland that needed almost 50 years to get where it is today. “Morally we should let them in,” he said. “Politically, that’s just impossible. Our citizens won't accept it.”

“It's a dilemma,” Mr. Bruton said. “And it’s a dilemma we will have to continue to live with. But we will keep trying to improve conditions in Africa.” In that regard, the United States and the European Union should work together to help Africa. “We have a moral obligation to help these countries,” Mr. Bruton underlined. “We should give them our money. Not somebody else’s money. Our money.”

The Future of the European Union
The Ambassador stressed the continuous work needed to establish and maintain common values in a Europe with people of multinational and multicultural backgrounds. People join campaigns to stop something, but not to stay long enough to build something. “It’s crisis of democracy,” Mr. Bruton said. Also, they don't get informed because they are bombarded with information and they usually choose what is more entertaining.

“What we need to do is to reestablish the sense of the responsibility of citizenship, along with the rights of citizens,” Mr. Bruton said. ”Citizens have a responsibility to inform themselves, it’s not something that they can delegate to anybody else.”

Also, the Union should reform its decision-making process, suggested the Ambassador. It needs to introduce more majority voting. “We have to be less insistent on our own national rights,” he said. Each member state has to give up more in terms of individual and national rights if an European Union of 40 member states is to work as opposed to one of 15.

Although everybody in the Union participates in the election of the representatives to the European forum, “we didn’t achieve yet a sense of emotional unity within the EU,” Mr. Bruton said. The solution would be to have elections for European executives in the same day, the Ambassador proposed. “That conversation about which woman or man should be sent to the European Union, that would unify Europe,” he explained. “People are interested in people, (…) they are not terribly interested in constitutions and in rules,” the Ambassador said. The debate between candidates would energize Europe; it would create the emotional unity needed to solve many internal problems.

The audience appreciated the many topics that the presentation covered. Below are a few comments on the Ambassador’s speech:

“I liked it. I liked how he listed the things that EU does and doesn’t do. I think it was informative.”

“We don’t see in the United States an expression of the emotional strength of our people as individuals and I liked that he talked about that from the perspective of the European Union.”

“I enjoyed it. It’s great to find something like this in Seattle. I want to find out more about the organization. I enjoyed his comments.”

“I’m very impressed. It’s nice to hear the European perspective. We have a disconnect between the political powers and the general public. It’s great to listen to such lectures.”

Additional Information
European Union – A Guide for Americans:
Ambassador John Bruton’s Website:
World Affairs Council, Seattle, Washington:


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