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The Transatlantic Relationship: Partners for the Long Haul


I certainly am well aware, as I travel, of the concerns and differences that Europeans—inside and outside of government—have with the United States (US)-European Union (EU) relationship. Many of the people I meet let me know they disagree with what the US is doing with our Iraq policy, the Middle East and our homeland security measures.  Of course I listen and factor these views into reporting to Washington. But you know, I tend to look at these differences with a longer-term perspective. Some historic changes are affecting the way we work together as partners.

Europe is expanding, as a political and economic union and as a power on the world stage. The changes in Europe demand adaptations by all of us. Just as the changes are creating strains in the politics of Europe, it is no surprise that our relationship is experiencing growing pains that must be addressed.  Many issues require our thoughtful attention as partners. In fact, I would say that the daily task of the US Mission to the European Union is to hear the European Union’s concerns about our policies, explain our rationale for doing things and find ways to resolve any differences in approach.

I’d like to share with you briefly my views on:

  • The fundamentals of the relationship;
  • Finding common ground in such difficult issues as Iraq;
  • And focusing on practical outcomes.

The Fundamentals of US-EU Relations

Let me give you my view on that much-discussed topic: Can the US and the EU actually get along?  It is often repeated that the US and Europe share the same values.  Our common history and shared experiences in two World Wars has crafted a bond that runs deeper than cooperation between the governments of the day. But the strength of our relationship is, and must be, about much more than shared democratic values. It is about shared objectives: we want the same things to happen in the world. Our societies share the same key foreign policy goals. Just look at the results of recent surveys on our public attitudes:

  • We both favor a stronger role for the EU in international affairs.
  • We agree international terrorism followed by Iraq and its development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are the most important threats we face.
  • We are equally enthusiastic in support of global institutions—especially the United Nations.
  • We view the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as an essential element in our security.

Where opinions differ is in the approach to these goals. If we manage our differences over tactics in a constructive way and keep the focus on our common objectives, we can accomplish a great deal.  As an example, our work together against the forces of terrorism has been extraordinary in many different areas: diplomacy, financing, police cooperation, airline safety, and so on. When we focus on our common objectives, it makes us look at actions, not rhetoric. And if you look at our actions, I think you see that the EU and the US are the two greatest “forces for good” in the world.

Finding Common Ground in Difficult Policies

Let me describe to you where I see our common interests in the current important policy issues.


We are united in seeking to disarm the Iraqi regime. We are both working within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This remains our starting point. The February 24 extraordinary EU summit accomplished something very crucial. The leaders kept the pressure exactly where it should be: on Saddam Hussein. The more we present a united front in the international community, the more likely we are to take those deadly weapons out of his hands.

War with Iraq is not inevitable, as President Bush has said. We would prefer to bring Iraq into compliance diplomatically and peacefully. This is a more likely outcome if Saddam is convinced he has no hope of dividing the international community in its determination to disarm him. None of us want a war. Having grown up in Nazi-occupied Holland, I know the pain of war. But sometimes we have to stand up and make the tough judgments. If force were eventually used, the US goal afterwards would be to help the Iraqis rebuild their country—a concern we share with the EU.

Middle East

The Quartet mechanism has provided focus for the international community’s efforts to bring peace in the Middle East. The Quartet’s “road map” provides a way forward to achieve President Bush’s vision of two states living together side-by-side in peace. Israel does have a right to defend itself, but at the same time it needs to take effective steps to prevent civilian casualties and ease the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza. It is clear that the US and the EU have some differences in what we think are the most effective ways to achieve our goals.

But this is yet another case where we cannot let differences over tactics somehow distract us from the fact that we share the same goals. And we all agree that only an end to violence and terror, including real security reform and sustained, effective security performance from the Palestinians will enable us to progress. To build the institutions for Palestinian statehood, we will continue working with the EU and other donors to support Palestinian political, civil and economic reform.

War Against Terrorism

As I said earlier, this is an area where we have taken many actions together, and with great success. We have had close cooperation on the issue of Passenger Name Records—the passing of personal data on travelers to US Customs to help prevent terrorists and other criminals from entering the US by air. We have an interim arrangement with the Commission to provide that data, while they work out how the requirements of EU data protection law can be met; a practical solution to an urgent security concern for both sides.

We have signed two agreements with Europol on cooperating to fight organized crime and terrorism globally. These accords include the exchange of personal data, and sharing of strategic information, including criminal trend analysis and forensics. We are also working hard on an unprecedented agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition that would add value to the current bilateral agreements we have with Member States.

We see the real results of our cooperation every day—with the help of the EU and other governments, we have blocked over $120 million in terrorist assets, we have deterred donors and supporters from providing financial aid to terrorist groups, we have improved law enforcement coordination in ways that have led directly to arrests and disruption of actual cells involved in planning attacks.

The issues we refer to as Homeland Security are another where we share common goals—ensuring that our populations can live, trade and travel in safety. We have had good coordination on measures to improve safety in the shipping of containers and to make air travel more secure. We do take seriously EU concerns about our efforts in this area having unintended consequences, but ask that our concern to move quickly be understood.

Other Areas

In other areas, such as the Balkans, proliferation concerns in North Korea, addressing conflict in Africa, or rebuilding Afghanistan we are perhaps even closer in not just our shared objectives but our tactics for achieving them.

Economic Issues

The logic of shared objectives also explains much of the work we do together in the economic sphere. We share the same goals in competition policy and in financial regulation. Again, there are differences on how best to achieve these goals. But the experience of the past few months has reinforced the message that we can coordinate our approaches. We support the Commission’s efforts to liberalize the telecommunications sector, for example. We see it as important as a way to bring greater competition into the market, especially for new entrants. On other competition issues, Department of Justice officials have exchanged strategies and best practices with their EU counterparts. And the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has visited Brussels to discuss the recently passed Sarbanes-Oxley bill.*


Let me apply this same logic to another issue in the headlines: biotechnology. We must find a way to resolve our divisions on this emerging science—to agree on shared objectives. We think this is important for the sake not only of technological advance, but also for those around the world who could benefit from the products of biotechnology.  There are scientific and humanitarian issues at stake. The developing world cannot afford pseudo-science to take the place of real scientific findings on the benefits and risks of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). This is having real costs around the world. We have made our views clear on the EU’s moratorium on biotechnology approvals for four years. It significantly hurts our trade with Europe and, we believe, violates agricultural trade rules. Our goal is to resolve this issue as expeditiously as possible.

Focusing on Outcomes

While we are each other’s best partners on the whole range of issues we face, none of it comes easy.  Partnership is hard work. We have an enormous array of meetings to do that work, and my Mission is constantly hosting administration officials from Washington.  But, as you know, it is also important that groups other than US administration officials and Member State government or Commission officials get involved in the US-EU relationship.  We have been working with the European Parliament to enlarge the dialogue between our respective legislative bodies with regular exchanges and visits. At the Transatlantic Business Dialogue in Chicago last November, alongside Commerce Secretary Evans and Commissioners Lamy and Liikanen, I listened to real-life problems raised by business from both sides of the Atlantic. We are working with both US and European CEOs on many pressing issues—chemical regulation, for one, where we are attempting to reduce the costs of these EU-proposed regulations while maintaining our shared objective to safeguard the environment.


In short, the US-EU global partnership is different from any in history, sharing 50 percent of the global economy and a $1.4 trillion a year trade and investment relationship. Our businesses, companies and firms are certainly economic competitors, but that is all to the good for us and our publics in terms of economic growth. But we are not political competitors, much less rival superpowers. And that is not only because we share the same values, but we have the same goals on issue after issue, and crisis after crisis, across the globe. That fact means that we need to view our relationship with Europe as a partnership for the long haul and that should be the guiding philosophy of our work.*

* Editor’s Note: According to the Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, among other things, “creates an oversight board to monitor the accounting industry, toughens penalties against executives who commit corporate fraud and increases the Securities and Exchange Commission’s budget for auditors and investigators.”

* Editor’s Note: This text is based on a speech presented by Ambassador Schnabel to the Centre for European Studies Advisory Board on February 21, 2003.

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United States Ambassador to the European Union