Low expectations for Bush’s last EU-US summit

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Climate change and trade will top the agenda of the EU-US summit on 9-10 June. But no real progress should be expected before the new US President takes over next year, predicts President George W. Bush’s former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta in an interview with EURACTIV.

A divisive climate 

Europeans are not really expecting any major breakthroughs at the summit in Slovenia either. “On climate change, the positions are split,” Slovenia’s foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel said ahead of the meeting. The EU’s Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen agreed that positions on both sides “are still pretty far apart”. 

While EU nations have set themselves the ambitious goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 – or by as much as 30% if the US and other large industrial nations enter into a global deal – the United States is still refraining from setting binding targets (see LinksDossier on EU climate change policies).

Last Friday (6 June), American lawmakers blocked a climate change bill that would have required the US to cut total greenhouse gas emissions by 66% by 2050 after Republican warnings that it would push up energy costs even higher. 

Hope for the future 

Many Europeans are hoping that whoever succeeds Bush – be it the Democrat Barrack Obama or the Republican John McCain – will be more open to a compromise on the issue. 

Norman Mineta, who served as United States Secretary of Commerce under Bill Clinton and as Secretary of Transportation under George W. Bush, also believes this is the case. “I think that maybe in the United States, we’ve been AWOL – away without leave – on this issue in the last six or seven years. It will definitely change. 

“Two things are going to happen after the November elections, regardless of who wins. One is there will be much more focus on the need to rebuild all of our relations with the international community. And the other is that we will be much more active in the area of the environment and of the whole greenhouse gas issue. I mean, you know we never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and it just seems to me that we’ve got to pay much more attention to those two issues. And I think we will.” 

Trade irritants dominate 

Trade will also be high on the agenda, with pressure rising to ensure the WTO Doha Round of negotiations reach a successful conclusion. But a row about an EU ban on imports of American chicken treated with chlorine solutions could exacerbate tensions. 

The US is threatening to take the issue to the World Trade Organisation after the EU last week rejected a move by the Commission to lift the ban (EURACTIV 04/06/08). Commissioner Verheugen will be pushing for a compromise. He has warned member states that they will make it even more difficult for the bloc to obtain much-needed concessions from the US on other issues of importance to the conclusion of a global trade deal, including American farm subsidies (see LinksDossier on Doha Round). 

“I don’t think we should adopt an arrogant stance that only our decisions are good for consumers,” he said, warning that if the EU refuses to lift the ban, then “we won’t have the remotest chance of dealing with the major agricultural problems where we want to get some concessions from Americans”. 

According to Mineta, it is important for both sides to look at the greater picture. “Essentially, I think of the EU-US relationship as being very strong. Sure there a number of individual little issues between us – and I think of them as little, even though each of the sovereign nations or maybe the EU thinks of them as very important – but I believe they are mostly negotiable, with the sufficient dialogue that exists between the two sides.” 

Visa rows 

Another key topic on the agenda of the summit will be the question of visa-free travel to the US for European citizens from the eastern countries. “We will remind the American President of his promise to lift visa restrictions,” said Verheugen. 

But Washington is pushing for even stricter conditions, such as obliging passengers to provide personal details via an electronic form 72 hours before boarding a plane to the US in order to be able to travel without a visa. But many Europeans believe this could violate EU privacy laws (EURACTIV 21/04/08). 

To read the interview with Norman Mineta in full, please click here.

The annual EU-US Summit takes place every year in June. This year's edition will be the last that US President George W. Bush will be attending as he prepares to leave office on 20 January 2009.

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