Belgium- Brussels : Common values, overlapping interests and shared goals are the foundation of what is often described as the transatlantic partnership between the United States and Europe. Both sides are proponents of democracy, open societies, human rights and free markets. In terms of security and prosperity the United States and Europe have grown increasingly interdependent. Both sides of the Atlantic face a common set of challenges, including a broad range of economic concerns, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and armed conflict or other forms of instability in many parts of the world. Neither the United States nor Europe can adequately address the wide array of global concerns alone. We share a huge and mutually beneficial trade and investment relationship. The track record shows both sides can accomplish much more and much better when they work together. Let me touch a few key issues in US-European relations.
The fight against ISIS
President Barack Obama sought to calm Americans after the latest terrorist attack in California, insisting that his administration’s expanding campaign against ISIS will succeed in reducing threats of terrorism. He described his plan for defeating ISIS after the latest terrorist attack in California in four parts:
1. Continue the bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria where airstrikes are taking out its leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers and infrastructure.
2. Help ISIS’s enemies by continuing to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIS on the ground.
3. Work with allies to prevent ISIS’s ability to conduct attacks abroad. Since the attacks in Paris the US has surged intelligence-sharing with European allies and it’s also working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria.
4. Broker a solution to the civil war in Syria so as to allow the Syrian people, US allies but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying the common threat that is ISIS.
The situation between Russia and Ukraine is still deadlocked. The most recent and immediate issue is the suspension of Ukrainian electricity supplies to Crimea.
In the meantime, Russia has ordered his government to suspend a free trade zone with Ukraine from 1 January 2016, when the economic component of Ukraine’s association agreement with the Union comes into effect. Russian, Ukrainian and EU officials have held trilateral talks over the course of the year to avoid such restrictions, but no progress has been made.
Russia and Ukraine have made very little progress in broader strategic negotiations. The Minsk talks saw some success in September and October, when the cease-fire between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian security forces was observed almost completely, but fighting has more recently increased along the line of contact between the two sides in eastern Ukraine and there is still a failure to advance the political components of the Minsk agreements. Russia is pushing Ukraine and the Europeans to give the separatist territories more autonomy with constitutional amendments, but Kiev and the West insist that Moscow must give back control of the border between Russia and the separatist territories first. The two sides are interpreting the Minsk agreement differently, making it difficult to move toward a lasting resolution of the conflict. The EU has now extended sanctions against Russia for six months.
Since the last round of negotiations in October 2015, the progress on TTIP has been mainly in what concerns transparency. Commissioner Malmström announced better access to consolidated negotiation documents for all Members of the European Parliament, as well as to members of national Parliaments, in reading rooms in the respective Ministries.
The TPP agreement and the WTO are more present on the Congress agenda. The US is largely perceived as having no interest in pursuing WTO negotiations. Countries like India and China put the blame on US and Europe for the collapse of the Doha Round and in pursuing parallel negotiation tracks.
Safe Harbour Agreement
On 6 October 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the Commission’s adequacy decision on the EU-US Safe Harbour arrangement was invalid. Thus the Safe Harbour framework – regularly criticised and to which the Commission had submitted 13 recommendations to the US side – was ruled invalid, opening the way for renegotiation.
Faced with the criticism of creating uncertainty for the transatlantic flows of information essential to many businesses, the Commission has issued Guidance on the possibilities of transatlantic data transfers following the Schrems ruling until a new framework is put in place.
Following Article 29 Working Party, the 28 national data protection authorities negotiating for a new Safe Harbour have to find a solution by the end of January 2016. If no appropriate solution is found with the US authorities by then the Data Protection Agencies will take all necessary and appropriate action, including coordinated enforcement action. Until then, the Safe Harbour scheme negotiations will continue, so that a new version can withstand court rulings in the future. There is still significant work to do so that our data transfers across the Atlantic can be done safely. The EU and the US are each other’s most important trading partners. Data flows between our continents are essential for people and businesses. While alternative tools exist, a safer new Framework is the best solution to protect our citizens and cut red tape for businesses, especially start-ups.
Passenger Name Record Directive
The provisional deal reached by Parliament and Council negotiators on 2 December 2015 on an EU directive regulating the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime was endorsed by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee on 10 December 2015. The draft directive will be put to a vote by Parliament as a whole in early 2016. Member States will have to transpose the EU PNR directive into their national laws at the latest two years after its entry into force.
Visa waiver programme
The European Parliament is keen on reciprocity which the EU has worked for, but again the Paris attacks have led the Congress in another way. It is understandable that the US counterparts wish to protect their citizens. Nevertheless, any visa complications will have huge implications for business travellers and tourists.
All in all: There is quite a lot on our plate to solve. But we are at a crossroads and challenging times require determination and the ability of seeing the big picture. The big picture in my view is one in which the United States and the European Union work together, led by common values and a joint belief in individual liberty and democracy.