printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Transatlantic Week

FPC Briefing
William E. Kennard
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 30, 2010

Ambassador Kennard: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, and thank you for coming. I appreciate that.

I have been in Brussels now for about five months. I presented my credentials January 6th, and I find that it’s been really a fascinating time to be in Brussels with the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of the new leaders in Europe, not only at the Commission but the leaders whose jobs were created as a result of Lisbon. Kathy Ashton, President Van Rompuy.

It’s an exciting and fascinating time to be there. One of the reasons I wanted to do this with my life is because I’ve had a fair amount of contact with the European Union in my previous jobs, both in the public and private sector, and I’ve always enjoyed the contact that I’ve had with the EU institutions and in particular the people. So when the President asked me to do this, I was thrilled.

It’s an interesting time, but it’s also a challenging time. One of the reasons why I have been so fascinated with the EU is because it is quite a remarkable creation in the world. I don’t think there’s anything quite like the European Union in terms of the scope and success of the multilateral institution.

Oftentimes I think when the headlines are screaming out about manmade problems like what we’re seeing in Greece, or acts of God like the volcano and the problems that it brought, I sometimes think we forget the remarkable accomplishments of the European Union. The creation of the world’s most successful common market; the elimination of trade barriers; multilateral investment agreement among the European countries which is unparalleled in the world; and what I think is the most remarkable achievement which is getting a lot of focus now, is the Euro.

I think it’s often helpful when Europe is facing challenges as it is now in some quarters, that we remember all that Europe has created and become with the EU institutions.

I think that Lisbon does signal a shift in the aspirations of the European Union. It certainly has been heretofore more of an inward looking organization. European integration has always been first and foremost about creating lasting peace and prosperity for Europe. And it has been phenomenally successful in doing that. The institutions are still young, but we often forget that their origin was in a Europe that was recovering from the ravages of world war and the real geniuses, the architects of the European Union understood that in order to create lasting peace and prosperity one needed to have an economic union. That was focused primarily on a Euro-centric view of the EU. That has not been, the enlargement efforts of the last ten years have been Euro-centric as well. But I think what Lisbon represents to us is a new ambition for Europe. A Europe that is more externally focused, that wants to project its power and influence externally and more globally, and we welcome this. We’ve always supported European integration. Our President and all of our senior leaders welcome Lisbon because Lisbon, we believe, will allow the European Union to be a more externally focused player and we need Europe as a partner on so many many things.

Oftentimes I hear a lot of hand-wringing about the state of transatlantic relations and is there a drift in the transatlantic relationship. From where I sit, I find that a little bit odd because engaged as I am in the full gamut of relationships between the EU and the United States, I see our engagement very deep on so many priorities, so many important priorities for Europe and the world. When anything dramatic happens in the world, often times the entire world looks to see what the United States and the EU will do and will do collectively. Whether it’s piracy off the coast of Somalia or devastating earthquake in Haiti or dealing with the vexing problems that are most challenging in the world today like the threat of nuclear proliferation, the threat of the ravages of climate change. And what is, I think, so important and meaningful now is that we have a very meaningful alignment between the priorities of Europe as expressed by its leaders and those expressed by our President.

If you look at the top foreign policy initiatives of the Obama White House, they line up quite nicely with the priorities of the European Union: Nuclear non-proliferation; stability in the Middle East; bring stability to other troubled parts of the world like the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan; climate change. Sometimes our priorities may have a different order in the pecking order, but fundamentally we have an incredibly meaningful alignment of significant issues. I think that’s an important opportunity for us. I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that we have now an American administration that is very much aligned with much of what Europe wants to accomplish in the world.

Our President is very much a multilateralist, as you know. He campaigned on the pledge to the American people and to the world that he welcomed a new era of engagement of America with the world. There again, that syncs up very nicely with the vision of the European Union which is fundamentally a multilateral institution.

So we have a lot of challenges before us but I think it’s important to set that foundation of where the relationship is now after a little more than a year into the Obama administration.

With that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

Question: Markus Ziener, the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

I’m curious actually to get your perspective on the Greek crisis and once in a while if you read the Op-Eds here in the U.S. you get a sense that there’s a little bit of a schatenfreude with what’s happening to Europe now. If you look at Paul Cookman today in the New York Times. That doesn’t seem to fit perfectly well into the transatlantic agenda or am I wrong?

Ambassador Kennard: No one would have put on the agenda to solve a Euro zone crisis. This is an unexpected event that happened. We’re very concerned. We’re watching it very closely. And we’ve been engaged at the highest levels of our government on this issue. President Obama has been very engaged on it, getting briefings on it quite regularly. Tim Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, has been meeting with top EU officials, IMF officials, and others.

Our hope is the same as the hopes of most people I believe in Europe and the world, which is, can we get this solved quickly. And beyond that, can Europe put in place a structure so that we don’t have to deal with this kind of a crisis again. I think that’s our hopes. I know that’s the hopes of Europeans as well. There may be some differing of opinion on how it gets solved and over what timeframe, but we’ve been urging speed because this affects us quite dramatically as well.

Question: Gregor Peter Schmitz. Der Spiegel. Thank you for coming Ambassador.

I have a follow-up question on Greece. What is your take on the leadership performance of the European government in the crisis? And with regard to the New York Times story today, I was a little struck by the reference in the story on President Obama calling Chancellor Merkel and expressing support for her maneuvering in the crisis because in Europe, as you know, there is a widespread perception that she has actually driven up the cost by her reluctance to act.

Ambassador Kennard: Well, look, I haven’t been a diplomat that long, but I know that when close allies and friends are facing challenges the worst thing that they need is for their friends to be openly critical about their performance. And it’s not productive for us to offer play-by-play critiques of what’s going on in Europe. What we need to do is offer support and urge that there’s a solution to this problem as quickly as possible.

Question: Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online, Slovak Republic, a news agency.

I have also a follow-up to the Greece. Can you exclude that you have also a negative scenario for the possibility that the problems will deepen and that other countries besides Greece -- for example Italy, Spain or other countries -- will have to face similar problems? And that these problems can then weaken the integration of the European Union?

Ambassador Kennard: We are obviously very focused on the Greek situation, like everyone. And we’re projecting out what different scenarios could be based on events as they happen. I’m not prepared to disclose publicly what those scenarios may be and what our reaction would be. We’re just hopeful that we can see a quick solution to the problems in Greece.

Question: And do you have a plan if other countries have problems?

Ambassador Kennard: Nothing formal that I could disclose with you today.

Question: Jim Wolf, Reuters.

There’s been a final ruling by a WTO panel on the U.S.- EU dispute over subsidies to Airbus, and now we’re waiting for a ruling on the EU case against the United States over alleged subsidies to Boeing -- federal, state and local. When do you expect that ruling? And what’s the timetable as far as you can tell for next steps and any U.S. countermeasures that might be taken?

Ambassador Kennard: I will happily refer all the questions in that area to my very able colleagues at the U.S. Trade Reps Office.

Question: Nothing you can say at all about --

Ambassador Kennard: No.

Question: Chris Wernike from Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Another German, yeah.

You started with some rather fundamental remarks about the development of the European Union and the transatlantic relationship and there were indeed quite some encounters in this week here in town. For example, the President of the European Parliament who, let’s put it this way, in rather undiplomatic terms pointed out that there are quite some serious differences. When you listen to several seminars during this week it was pretty obvious that on the one hand yes, we are all happy that Europe and the U.S. in style are much more closer than two years ago, but in substance is it really that the Europeans deliver what the U.S. are hoping for in Afghanistan? Or is it that the U.S. are at all in concrete terms delivering anything on climate change that the Europeans are waiting for?

So how is the relationship evolving? Are we reaching the stage of kind of like disillusionment and lost expectations?

Ambassador Kennard: I’ll take climate first. But your overall question is no, I don’t think there’s a sense of disillusionment. One need only think back to where we were in the state of transatlantic relations before the Obama administration on the issues that you just mentioned to understand that I think we’ve made a huge amount of progress in terms of our engagement and alignment on key issues.

On climate there is no question but that the President of the United States is serious about climate change, and that’s not politics. He believes it to his core. He campaigned on it.

The challenge that we have on the climate change issue, which I’m sure you appreciate as foreign journalists in the United States is the complexity of moving climate change legislation through the United States Congress. The plan of the administration as it came into office was to get meaningful climate change legislation through the U.S. Congress so that the President could come to Copenhagen in December with the ability to make concrete commitments on emission caps. Now things didn’t play out the way we would have hoped. We got legislation through the U.S. House but we couldn’t get it through the U.S. Senate. So he did not go to Copenhagen armed with the negotiating power that he would have liked.

We were not going to repeat the Kyoto experience where we negotiated a major climate change agreement and then couldn’t get it ratified in the United States Senate. So we made the best of what we had which was the Copenhagen Agreement, which is significant.

Again, think of how far we’ve come on the climate change issue in a matter of just a few years. This has moved to the top of the international agenda. And we give the Europeans a lot of credit for moving it there. Because they took a strong position of global leadership on this issue.

It’s a tough issue. We have a lot of work to do. But you can’t look at the outcome of Copenhagen or where we are on climate and conclude that we should be disillusioned or that we don’t have fundamental alignment on issues. It’s just the politics are hard and they’re getting harder in the midst of a recession. That’s not just an issue for the United States. It’s an issue for Canada, it’s an issue for Australia, it’s an issue for any country that hasn’t yet adopted emission caps. These are very difficult issues.

Afghanistan, another difficult issue. We have been very heartened, the President was very heartened by the immediate response of many European countries after he announced his Afghanistan review some months ago, that many stepped up immediately with commitments for additional troops. But look, it’s a war that’s dragged on for a long time. It’s going to be tough. It’s tough in European politics, it’s tough in U.S. politics, and on that one we’re just going to have to muscle through it together. I’m confident that we can.

But I think it’s important in looking at the state of this relationship to put it in the context of history and how far we’ve come and how much there’s still an incredible alignment of issues on the important things that we’re working on together.

Question: Corine Lesnes, Le Monde, France.

Talking to some foreign ambassadors in Brussels, the situation created by the Lisbon Treaty is messy. Could you elaborate and explain what you meant?

Ambassador Kennard: Sure. The Lisbon Treaty is a fairly ambitious undertaking because it’s fundamentally about shifting power between and among the main EU institutions. Not only power, but people. And having been in government before and having been a student of government here and elsewhere, I recognize that for people in government, people in power, one of the hardest things they do is to give up power and authority that they had, and the Lisbon Treaty forces that.

It also, because it is a political document, it didn’t outline every conceivable, or didn’t answer every conceivable question that would come up in its implementation. One wouldn’t expect it to.

So as a result, as it’s being implemented, everything is a case of first impression. So there is a lot of institutional muscle flexing and a lot of concern about how that precedent is going to be set going forward.

This is to be expected. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it. We go through our transitions here in the United States and they’re hard. Lisbon is a lot harder in many ways than say a presidential transition here because not only do you have a change in personnel, but you have a change in the fundamental offices that those people will hold.

The External Action Service is a major undertaking. It will involve 7,000 people moving into new positions. Not only new people coming in, but people from DG-RELEX and from the various foreign services moving into new jobs. This is a big deal. And so sure, it’s messy because it’s a bit change.

I find oftentimes when my phone rings in Brussels and people in Washington want to get something done or they want to move something through the EU, I’m counseling patience. The other day I got a question: That External Action Service, it’s supposed to be up and running in June, isn’t it? I said well, let me tell you, it’s not going to happen that quickly, but it will happen.

That’s why I tried in my opening remarks to give a little bit of the history of what’s been accomplished. In that context, in the context of the creation of the Euro or the Common Market or enlargement or the unification of Germany and its membership in the EU, those are huge accomplishments. In that context, Lisbon looks very doable. It’s going to take a little more time, but it will get done.

Question: My name is John Lyndon, from Africa No. 1.

By weighting the remark made three days ago by Secretary Clinton and the President of the European Parliament, it looked like EU and the U.S. have the same challenges but different ways to solve them. So do you see any way both European Parliament, members of European Parliament and members of Congress can sit together face to face and talk about the issues. Sometimes the President of the United States cannot make a decision if he doesn’t have approval from the Senate of the Congress.

Ambassador Kennard: I’m glad you mentioned this because it’s very important and timely with the visit of President Buzek here this week and our Vice President Biden will go to Brussels next week, in fact. He’ll make a major address to the European Parliament.

I think both of these events, in addition the opening of the European Parliament’s office here in Washington, these events, all of them an intensifying, deepening relationship between the United States and the European Parliament, and a deepening relationship between the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress.

We are working very hard to foster more dialogue between Congress and the European Parliament. We’re approaching it in slightly different ways, in that we’re trying to identify issues that are really important for the two bodies to talk about when they’re moving through the respective bodies. Chemical regulation, for example. Hot topics both in the European Parliament and Congress. Financial reform. As you know, our legislation is moving, we’re a little bit ahead in time of the European Parliament and the EU, but this is the time to have that relationship.

So I’m pleased to say that that relationship is deepening. I think it’s in part a reaction to Lisbon because Lisbon did certainly enhance the power and responsibility of the European Parliament. And we really welcome this sort of a dialogue. Members of Congress want it and it’s good for everyone.

Question: Leonard Doyle, the Independent, UN

Henry Kissinger’s famous question has now been answered with who do you speak to, who do you call in Europe, with two people. In the context of the crisis that we’ve gone through in Greece and in the context of the mishandling of it, as has been pointed out already, what’s your view on the way it’s been handled, on the way the new European leadership has handled it? And do you think they’ve come up to the mark sufficiently? Or do you see some missed opportunities?

Ambassador Kennard: Again, I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to be giving sort of play-by-play commentary on how the European leaders are dealing with this issue.

I do think, though, that it is a bit of an oversimplification to think that the way governments best interact is by one phone call between one or two people. And the Greek crisis is a good example.

We are engaged with European Union officials on this issue at multiple levels. Not only at the presidential level, but at multiple levels throughout our Treasury Department and other agencies of our government. It’s the only way that you can be fully engaged on an issue like this.

Actually, Henry Kissinger denies ever having said that, because I think he realizes that it is a gross oversimplification of the way governments interact, particularly governments like the EU and the U.S., who have such a complex and deep relationship on so many different levels.

Question: Christoph Von Marschall, from the German daily, Der Tagesspiegel.

I want to ask you, what is the bigger challenge for you as Ambassador to the EU? To cooperate with an under-coordinated Europe, or to convince the administration back in Washington that the EU is indeed such an important player as you described in your opening remarks? I am now here five years, and my impression here is that the EU is not really on the radar screen of Americans in Washington, it’s too complicated, it’s difficult to cooperate. NATO is on the radar screen. Individual nation states are on the radar screen. So normally when I talk to officials and they say they have Europe policies, they mean NATO or they mean bundling of individual bilateral relationships with specific capitals.

So what is the bigger challenge for you?

Ambassador Kennard: I think your assessment is really insightful because the EU is a complicated institution and it’s a deliberate institution. Things don’t happen as quickly as we’d sometimes like them to happen, but they will happen. The decisions that the EU makes are vitally important to the United States. A big part of my job is just as you said, it’s explaining to government officials here the importance of the EU and how important it is to influence the EU institutions early in the decisionmaking process.

One of the things I’ve learned is because the EU is consensus driven, in order to influence the outcome of decisionmaking you have to be early on in the front end of that consensus making process, because once the EU comes to a consensus, they’re not going to move. It’s like a huge barge. Once it gets going in one direction you’re not going to move it the other way.

So that’s a big part of my job. That’s changing, though. There is an increasing recognition here of the importance of the EU and we’re reacting to it. You’ve seen the engagement this week with President Buzek and Vice President Biden next week; Secretary Clinton has been spending a lot of time with Kathy Ashton. So there is a growing recognition that the EU is more important than ever.