Congressman: EU, US parliaments must collaborate on issues of mutual interest

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The US Congress and the European Parliament could hold parallel hearings and produce joint communiqués as part of efforts to cooperate on areas of strategic interest, according to a senior Washington policymaker.

Bart Gordon is chairman of the United States House of Representatives' science and technology committee.

He was speaking to Gary Finnegan.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

You have suggested the US and EU should collaborate on science and technology issues of strategic importance. Can you elaborate on this idea?

We face the real possibility that the next generation could inherit a lower standard of living than we enjoy now. The idea that each generation does better than the next is central to the American Dream – I suspect it's a European dream too.

Europe and the US have common goals and values but our living standard is at stake. We cannot compete with emerging economies on wages so we have to look at the role of research in energy security, clean water and the other issues we face.

What role can the European Parliament play?

In the past, the biggest barrier to concrete results from cooperation between parliamentarians has been the conflict of jurisdiction. The Lisbon Treaty has helped change the role of the European Parliament and I'd like to see more cooperation between our committees. We can jointly coordinate on key strategic issues like rare earth minerals by holding parallel hearings and producing a joint communiqué.

We're trying to institutionalise this. Some of my staff will stay for a few days to work with people here in Brussels.

Why do you suggest rare earth minerals as a good pilot issue for such collaboration?

China now has between 90% and 95% of rare earths and has made early hints at limited exports. It's very troubling for our alternative energy and telecoms industries. You don't want any one country to have all these resources – you become a hostage to them.

My hope would be that we could then look at other issues – like synthetic biology – and I know chairs of other committees [in the House of Representatives] would be open to parallel hearings on IPR, cyber-security and other issues.

Rare earths are a good starting point because both parliaments are looking at it. But the benefit is in the model – it's something we want to expand to other areas of mutual interest.

The EU, US and others are working together on big-budget initiatives like the ITER nuclear fusion project and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). There have been rumblings of discontent in Europe over the rising costs of ITER. Are these concerns shared on your side of the Atlantic?

Look, fusion is going to be tough but we have to go further with high-risk, high-reward projects. As much as we like wind and solar energy, the sun doesn't shine all the time and the wind doesn't blow all the time, so we need other sources of baseline power.

Personally, I have some scepticism about getting fusion to the productivity we need, and there are uncertainties about how widely deployed it can be. But we have to take risks. And on ITER, we will meet our commitments.

There will also be coordination on carbon capture and storage (CCS). We're trying to push that forward because we know coal is going to be around for a long time in the US, in Poland, in China. We need some kind of CCS and a multinational approach is needed.

The future direction of NASA is also under debate in the US. What next for NASA?

We are having a very difficult time deciding the future of NASA. It has a $17 billion budget but a $23 billion mission. When it was established in the 1950s it was an exciting time and inspired a lot of you people to get into science. We hadn't been in space, we hadn't put a man on the moon. Now, NASA needs a mission.

What is your position on the US Congress having an office in Brussels?

Well, I say 'let's do it'. I have legislation that would do it. But right now it's very difficult politically to increase our bureaucracy. So, it's not going to happen right now but in the future I hope it does.

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