As the last votes were being tallied, and as Donald Trump was being confirmed as President-Elect of the United States of America, Ambassador of the US to the EU Anthony Gardner spoke to a small group of journalists about what the Trump victory means.
“We have rules in place in that sense for people like me in public office to maintain the nonpartisanship and neutrality and I strongly believe in those rules,” Gardner told the journalists at a room in the residence of the US Ambassador to Belgium where the US election reception was being held.
“At the same time I think it’s fair to say, that although many could be unhappy with the type of language that was used in this elections, the violence of the language in some of the expressions, the views… we need to understand what lies beneath, we need to understand that things dramatically changed in politics, and I would say on both sides.”
Gardner spoke about the elections coming up in Europe.
“There are many upcoming elections here in Europe, France Germany and others, and we are seeing a similar phenomenon, and a lot of the frustration is based on things we need to understand, we need to draw proper conclusions about it. This is again a strictly bipartisan statement, and clearly, candidate Donald Trump has tapped into something important, and we need to understand exactly what that is.”
Asked about whether the work that he has done as a diplomat could be reversed under a Trump government, Gardner was optimistic. Gardner talked about the importance of EU-US relations in the past 50 years regardless of the change of administration.
“Who are you going to call (the Administration in Washington) when you have to deal with critical issues like those on a regional basis in Europe and on a global basis. It will be Europe, not a few member states in Europe, but it will also be the EU institutions, so I am confident that that won’t change and I’m also an optimist by nature, not only because I am American, but also because optimists get a lot more done.”
On Trade and TTIP
Talking about trade and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Gardner conceded that the atmosphere has gotten tougher.
“The atmosphere wasn’t easy when we started TTIP 3 years ago, and now it got harder. But TTIP remains really important not only for economic but also for strategic and political reasons, that’s’ the ‘P’ in TTIP, that’s the partnership, which is not as often as talked about as the second T (trade) or the I (investment).”
“There is no denying that free trade deals are going to be difficult in this atmosphere, now clearly one of the key words in US elections but also in EU elections is the word fairness. People want to feel that they are participating in the benefits of globalization, in the benefits of free trade. And clearly many people do not feel that’s the case. So I think together, the US and EU, have a challenge in rethinking how we can convince people that globalization is a source of opportunities not just a risk, that free trade is not just a risk but also a huge source of opportunities, and what I mean specifically by that is we need to look at trade adjustment assistance … we need to look even harder at multinational tax evasion. There are a lot of issues in our Free trade agreement in which we have to think about the issue of fairness, cause if we don’t’ address that fundamental issue, we are going to have a hard time passing any free trade agreement.”
What a Trump win means for the image of the US and diplomatic ties
Asked by New Europe about the number of EU leaders and government that have expressed reservations about Donald Trump, and what this means for America’s image and diplomatic efforts going forward, Gardner urged that Europe is not too quick to judge.
“It’s really too early to tell. I remember seeing Donald Reagan elected, I was in high school then and I felt pretty down about the world, but the world went on, EU-US relations certainly went on. When George W. Bush won, I also felt concerned but the world went on, we got through that period. It’s too early to draw conclusions, so I would just be cautious against overreactions, I believe what I said, the foundation is there and is important, any administration is going to be able to understand the importance of US-EU relations, I think we should give this administration time to figure out its priorities.”
“A lot of things were said during the campaign…”
Asked about the series of diplomats and statesmen in the US who have signed an open letter saying they would not work with this a Trump administration, and whether amnesty is needed in this regard, Gardner took a step back: “A lot of things were said during the campaign. Things may change, most of these people will change their mind, once again let’s be cautious not to jump to conclusions, I always believed in giving people the benefit of the doubt, wait to see what the Trump administration will look like.”
Gardner agreed that there were a lot of open issues that Trump will have to deal with. The willingness of the US to stand by Ukraine, the future of NATO, the future of sanctions Russia, policies to the Middle East, policy towards Cuba, terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade, were some of the areas Gardner indicated may be affected. “All of this may change. If he does what he says about china and Mexican imports, and free trade agreement; let’s wait and see.”
How other diplomats reacted to a Trump win
Other diplomats have also expressed concern to Gardner, who is the US’ top diplomat when it comes to the European Union. “There is concern. There is always concern in any time of changes. It’s fair to say there is more concern now, because the two visions of American that have been expressed throughout this election campaign are radically different. We haven’t quite seen that before. I just tell my EU colleagues to withhold judgement for the time being.”
The upcoming elections in Europe
Gardner dwelled further on the possible impact of the US results in upcoming European elections.
“Some EU politicians will take this result as proof that they can overturn the status quo. First we had Brexit, now we are having a result that is coming as a surprise for many, and I think there were some politicians in EU saying that both these results are a sign of what they can achieve in Europe, saying that the elites are not in touch with the people, and that the people that are expressing frustration can achieve big results. Whether or not they are correct we have to see but there certainly is this possibility.”