Cloos: ”You cannot end a 2.5 trillion dollar relationship”

The transatlantic relationship is of a far too wide ranging importance to be destroyed by squabbles such as the run-up to the Iraq war. The USA needs the EU and vice versa, argues Council director Jim Cloos.

Jim Cloos is Director in the Council of the EU with responsibility for transatlantic relations, Latin America, the UN, human rights and counter-terrorism. He was Commission President Jacques Santer’s chef de cabinet in 1995-99, and was very much involved in EU-US relations through the launching of the New Transatlantic Agenda in 1995. In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV Cloos looks at the important trends in European foreign policy. 

The crisis over Iraq in 2003 seemed like a very important flashpoint in EU-US relations. How important is it today? 

“The EU-US relationship is developing extremely fast. Iraq was of course a crisis – both internally and in the transatlantic relations – but in my view, this was a parenthesis more than a paradigm shift in the relationship”. 

“I say this not primarily for sentimental reasons; it is more a matter of interests. We need the Americans in many areas. If you go around the world, and look at what the problems are, you rarely, if ever encounter cases where it would be better to work without or against the Americans. But the reverse is also true, even though this took a little more time to be registered in some quarters in Washington The second Bush administration has clearly come to the conclusion that EU-US relations matter and has acted on that.” 

“One of the things which we criticised under the first Bush administration was the utterance that the mission defines the coalition. Why? Because that basically meant that Washington decided, and then asked others to follow. This together with the statement that ‘who is not for us is against us” was not conducive to a true partnership. Incidentally, it was bad for NATO, too. But you don’t hear those things any more in the US nowadays. “

“Journalists naturally look at expressions of disagreement and negative comments, that’s their job. I look at trends. I look at the fact that when the Assistant Secretary for South East Asia goes to see the Pakistanis or the Indians, she usually stops over in Brussels before flying out or on her way back and talks to us. The Assistant Secretary for European affairs Dan Fried is a very frequent visitor here. Almost every single Council working group in the CFSP has Troika meetings with the US side. This incidentally never stopped in 2003, never.”

“So back then when I went to conferences and people spoke of ‘the end of transatlantic relations’, I said ‘I am very sorry but you don’t know what you are talking about’. First of all because you cannot end a relationship which is built on 2.5 trillion dollars in terms of investment and trade, even if you wanted to. Number two, we have never stopped working with the Americans on most issues, because it is in our interest, and theirs.” 

Could you be more specific on the point that the Americans need the EU as much as we need them?

“First of all in terms of legitimacy. One of the problems for the Americans in 2003 was not having the EU on board for the action in Iraq. In the modern world it’s already difficult enough to solve problems when Americans and Europeans are together. It becomes almost impossible when they are divided.”

“Secondly, who has got the means to actually work together with the Americans in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in the Middle East? In terms of economic means, the EU is the biggest donor in official development and provides huge amounts of economic assistance In terms of manpower: who’s got trained soldiers, policemen, judges, in the quantities and in the quality above all. The development of crisis management tools and structures has been quite spectacular over the last few years. This greatly enhances the efficiency of the EU’s external action. And who else can show up with 25 votes in the UN plus the votes of the associate countries?” 

“So, yes, the US needs the EU, and that is why the Bush administration has taken the very conscious decision to work with the EU. The Americans do not take such decisions lightly. They discuss things, they have a strategic look at them, they weigh the pros and cons and then they go ahead.” 

How important are the remaining differences between EU and US?

“We have sometimes different methods, take Iran. They don’t have relations, they have sanctions. We don’t, we engage. But we share the same objective: We don’t want Iran to develop nuclear weapons. We want Iran to democratise, we want Iran to respect human rights. Actually, over the last year, our positions have come much closer together on this issue; that shows that it is possible to narrow differences and to move forward. Before the Bush visit in February 2005, we looked at the major international challenges and put them into three categories: agreement, agreement on objectives but some differences on methods, and disagreements. None of the present geo-strategic issues figured under the third category. That’s a good basis to build a relationship upon. What is really important is to talk about problems before they develop into transatlantic disagreements.”

“We also must be fair to the Americans. In order to define the mission together and to do joint strategic thinking, the EU itself must have a strategy and think strategically. We have not always done that in the past, but we are learning fast. The more we do it, the better it is for the transatlantic relationship, even if we disagree from time to time. Whenever the Europeans go all over the place and are divided, how do you want the Americans to work with the EU? Of course they are then going to work with the individual countries. It is a bit easy to say that they divide us. We divide ourselves.” 

The Constitutional Treaty was set to strongly enhance the profile of EU foreign policy with the creation of a foreign minister and a diplomatic service. How much of a setback is it that the treaty is now on hold?

“The failure of the Constitution is of course bad news. But it is bad news in terms of opportunity costs. In other words, it would have allowed us to become better and stronger more quickly. That is not happening for the time being, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going backwards or worse. Eventually the moment comes and we implement some of the stuff.” 

“I am utterly convinced that this will eventually happen, in some form or other, because it makes sense. We need more coherence. We need more a better link between the budget and the political decision making. We need a sounder system of external representation.” 

What are the concrete reasons for you relative optimism in spite of this setback? 

“The easy answer is to simply note that the EU has always known crises and has always built on them to make further progress. One should never draw over-hasty conclusions in those matters; I am often reminded of the answer Chou en Laï gave to a question about the effects of the French Revolution: ‘My young friend, he said, it is far too early to tell’”.

“But let me be a bit more precise and concrete. If you take the Balkans that was a failure of policy of the Americans and of the Europeans in the early 90s. On the American side because they wanted to wash their hands of it and said it was for the Europeans, we’re not interested, and things like that. And on the European side, we simply had a lack of everything: will, muscle, philosophy. Now, from the second part of the nineties onwards, one can qualify our Balkan policy as a relative success, even if there are still many unresolved questions.” 

“It is interesting to ask why. I see four reasons. And from those four reasons you can extrapolate and say what we need to have a really good functioning foreign policy. The first is: You do need a philosophy and a strategy. We didn’t have one at the beginning of the nineties. We were hopelessly divided. We have one now for the Balkans. The second is: You need means, political, economic, and sometimes military. We have money, we have people on the ground – 7,000 soldiers in Bosnia, soldiers in Kosovo under different arrangements, police forces in Bosnia and Macedonia – and we have the lure of EU membership. The third element is more delegation. It is quite clear that the Balkans is an area where Solana is very much in charge, together with the relevant commissioners. Running the policy does not of course mean defining the policy on one’s own, because we define it together in the Council. And the fourth element is very important: very close transatlantic co-operation in the Balkans. We discuss all the times, we sometimes fight, but basically we try to sort out things together. If you take those four elements, I think you have the recipe for a successful foreign policy for the European Union.” 

What are the internal changes that have allowed the EU to move on? “Generally things have moved on a lot since the Maastricht  treaty of 1992. The latter was the crowning of the economic integration of Europe with the creation of the single currency. It was also a new departure, the beginning of the transformation of the EC into a more political Union with a foreign policy. Now we have structures for a foreign policy. It makes a hell of a difference having someone like Solana who impulses, who is visible and who represents. What also makes an enormous difference is that you have Political and Security committee ambassadors in Brussels meeting at least twice a week. That creates a totally different spirit from political directors meeting once month in capitals.”

“And not only have we created structures and capabilities, we have actually acted on the ground. We have now launched more than a dozen operations in the last three years. The most recent operations are the Aceh monitoring mission and the Rafah border crossing mission in Gaza. That is quite important and it changes the way the other countries are looking at the EU. What is extremely striking is that when you go outside Europe the “demande d’Europe” is very strong, and we are only just beginning to respond to that demand.” 

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