I believe it is time for new EU approach to transatlantic relations. That new approach can only come about if the EU itself works out, as 27 countries together, what we want for ourselves, and then identify how we together can harness our collective weight to achieve that through the transatlantic relationship, or through such other means as we decide.
The transatlantic relationship is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That is how the US sees transatlantic relationship, and it is how we should see it too.
The norms for EU foreign policy making are clear, and binding. The Lisbon Treaty, in article 21, obliges the EU to follow a policy based on “democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights …., respect for human dignity…. and respect for the UN charter and international law “.
The EU is a treaty based organisation, so while EU foreign and security policy is not reviewable by the ECJ, it has to be consistent with these words in article 21 of the treaty, and these treaty obligations supercede other considerations including the preferences of individual member states..
The Treaty also obliges the European Council, in Article 22, to identify “the strategic interests and objectives” of the Union . This means that the European Council is obliged by the treaty to work out ,among its 27 members, what are the strategic interests and objectives of the European Union as a whole in regard to issues like
- military action in Afghanistan,
- the nature and dimensions of a Palestinian state,
- a fair regime to govern the non proliferation of and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons and
- security and energy relations with Russia.
I believe that the necessary new approach to transatlantic relations can only come about after, not before, we have worked out robust common agreements binding all 27 of us on these strategic issues. This will not be an easy task. Some of these issues have yet to be discussed in a really profound way in the European Council. But that is task that is imposed on the Council by the Treaty.
In short, the work on EU foreign policy must first be done in Europe, not in Washington, Beijing or Moscow. Of course that is not going to be easy. We have decided that policy on this issue will have to settled by unanimity, and the more members one has, the more difficult does it become to achieve unanimity. That is an unavoidable mathematical fact. But is in recognition of the difficulty of reaching unanimity that the Lisbon Treaty has introduced new arrangements and given the Union new fulltime leadership of a kind that could not be provided by Presidencies that rotated every six months.
Having represented the European Union for five years in Washington, I have concluded that the United States would welcome a hardheaded relationship with the European Union. I believe the United States understands that it will disagree with the European Union from time to time. It may not place the same emphasis as we do on some of the norms we are obliged to follow by article 21 of our treaty. Inevitably, US interests and EU interests will diverge occasionally. When this happens, I believe will welcome a honest debate followed by a realistic compromise.
In contrast, I do not believe that the United States is particularly interested in a relationship with the EU that is based on drafting long declarations or on launching new processes and institutions. That consumes a lot of bureaucratic time, but does not deliver much that is concrete. Nor is the United States impressed by EU member states competing with one another to show which of them has the more special relationship with it, who can get the earliest meeting with new US office holders, and who gets the longest meetings in the White House.
Speech by John Bruton , Former EU Ambassador to the United States, former Taoiseach, and former vice President of the European Peoples Party at a meeting at the EPP Congress in Bonn, Germany at 9am on Wednesday 9th December