Lennart Meri Conference – LMC

The Lennart Meri Conference is a high-level annual meeting at which foreign and security policy issues are discussed from the perspective of the Northern and Eastern parts of Europe.

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Lennart Meri Conference

Anthony Gardner: The European Union Needs to Balance German Power to Survive

U.S.State Department / Wikipedia
U.S.State Department / Wikipedia
Anthony Gardner

The full interview by BNS/Erik Eenlo.

Supporting European integration has been US policy for 70 years. Donald Trump, both as a candidate and president, and some members of his team have questioned this policy. You have been harshly critical of these statements. Vice president Mike Pence and Trump himself have later declared US support for the EU but what does this speak of that the US has begun to question the most successful peace project in history and undermine the efforts of its European allies?

Although the rhetoric of the Trump administration toward the European Union has indeed improved after a disastrous start, we have to wait to see whether sustained engagement now follows the good words expressed during the visits of Vice President Pence and Secretary Tillerson to Europe. The EU and its member states are rightly concerned. On the eve of the EU Malta summit European Council President Donald Tusk sent a letter to the 27 EU heads of government in which he listed the new US policy toward the EU as a major risk to Europe. Although the President has recently said that he is "all of favor" of the EU if the Europeans are for it, he has repeatedly expressed skeptical, even hostile, views about the European Union -- clearly reflecting advice he has received from Nigel Farage and his White House adviser Steve Bannon. Trump was a supporter of Brexit and thought that other European countries should follow Britain's lead. Fortunately, Prime Minister May told him in the Oval Office that, while she must deliver Brexit, a prosperous, stable, integrated and democratic Europe is in the fundamental national interests of the UK and that the UK does not desire a breakup. While I am concerned that this administration clearly disdains multilateralism and undervalues the contributions of the EU, I remain cautiously hopeful that the experienced business leaders in this administration will ensure some continuity in the seven decades of bipartisan support for European integration. The business community understands well what the EU has done for European growth, stability and prosperity and especially how it has promoted US jobs, exports and investments in Europe.

Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have stalled and the new US administration seems to have no interest in reviving them. Common sense indicates that US and the EU, the economies of which are already entwined together, have a lot to win from an ambitious trade agreement, but opposition to such a treaty is fierce also in Europe. What does the future hold for US-European trade relations and is the only realistic goal now to prevent a trade war that the protectionist policies of the Trump administration seem to have launched?

The recent meeting between EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross indicates that there may still be hope of continuing at least some aspects of the TTIP agenda. It is certain, however, that the President's strong protectionist tendencies, his promise to make America great by buying and hiring American, and the clear desire of his trade advisers to use US trade laws to enact unilaterally trade defense measures without going through the WTO, have all made transatlantic relations even more complicated. Many of the tough issues in TTIP -- including government procurement, geographical indications, maritime services and tariffs on agricultural goods -- now appear too hard to solve. It may be advisable, therefore, for the US and the EU to settle on a less ambitious TTIP (that would include regulatory sectoral cooperation) and to focus on a common international trade agenda that would include working even more closely together at the WTO against unfair trade practices of third countries, especially China.

The EU is faced with many crises and challenges (Russian agressiveness, migration, populism, right-wing extremism, Brexit, turmoil on its southern and continued war of attrition in its eastern neighbourhood etc.) and is preoccupied with internal consolidation. Should it continue to ambitiously engage its eastern neighbours to prevent further destabilization from its periphery or concede the former post-soviet space (except the Baltic States) to Russia?

Absolutely not. There can be no question of consigning the EU's eastern neighbors to Russian domination. That would be equivalent to condemning millions of freedom-loving people who aspire to be part of the European family to oppression, corruption and stagnant growth. This would be immoral. One of the greatest risks of the Trump administration's policy toward Europe is the possibility that the US will now cease to be an active partner of the EU in countering corruption, poor governance and Russian disinformation in the Balkans. We have done great work together, and with private sector partners, to strengthen the judiciary, the police and transparency, as well as to promote economic growth; this must continue. Several Balkan countries have a path to eventual accession to the EU if they complete their paths of reform. The US should continue to be supportive of this.

How does Britain´s departure from the EU change perceptions of the union in the US? Is there a debate going on in your country about the shifts in balance of power inside the EU and the apparent strengthening of the Franco-German axis?

The Obama administration made a comprehensive assessment of how Brexit would impact the United States, Europe and the UK and concluded that it would be overwhelmingly negative. This administration clearly has a different view (although it has yet to articulate a coherent reason why). As the UK is philosophically closely aligned with the US on so many issues of concern in the areas of economic policy (including trade, data privacy and competition) and politics (including sanctions, energy security), the Obama administration concluded that it would be far more preferable for the UK to continue to work with us as a member inside an effective EU club. One of the unfavorable aspects of Brexit is that the EU27 will become even more unbalanced and subject to German dominance. The Germans would agree that this is not healthy and runs counter to the long-standing tradition of having several centers of leadership. Persistent economic weakness in France has stripped away the pretence of a joint Franco-German motor in Europe (although President Macron's victory will lead to efforts at reviving it). The UK, despite its ambivalence to the EU, provided significant intellectual leadership to the EU and substantial diplomatic and military assets as well. Once the UK has left, it will be essential to balance German power in order to ensure the legitimacy of the project in the eyes of the EU's citizens. Without this legitimacy, it will not be able to endure.


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Lennart Meri Conference – LMC
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