European Affairs


Transatlantic relations are traditionally based upon two pillars: NATO and the bilateral relations between the European Union and the countries of North America, the US, Canada, and, for the sake of completeness, Mexico, with the EU/US partnership occupying a central role. While the EU has concluded comprehensive bilateral agreements with Canada (an early Framework Agreement for economic and commercial cooperation, in force since 1 October 1976; to be followed up by a new Comprehensive Economic and Trade agreement – CETA - under negotiation since 2009) and Mexico (an Economic Partnership, Political Coordination and Cooperation Agreement in force since 2000) no such comprehensive legal framework is yet in place between the EU and the US.

1. The “big picture”

Today’s EU/US relationship is still the most powerful, the most comprehensive and the strategically most important relationship in the world, despite the rise of new power centers.

The most powerful: The EU and the US combine over 50% of the world’s GDP (US 15; EU 17,5 out of 62 trillion worldwide). The 17 member states of the Euro zone alone with 13 trillion equal the combined GDP of the BRIC countries (Brazil 2,5; Russia 1,8; India 1,6 and China 7,2). The highly interdependent transatlantic market stands for more than 40% of world trade in goods and services. Each of the two partners directs between 60 and 70% of all direct investments into the other’s market. Together, they hold 80% of the global capital market. They are each other’s main trading partner and consequently assume the main responsibility for the shaping of the rules based global trading system in the WTO.

The most comprehensive: In addition to trade, there is scarcely a policy area or an issue that does not involve the transatlantic relationship. From foreign policy to biotech, from privacy to aircraft, from counter-terrorism to climate change – the EU and the US are involved bilaterally, regionally or globally. During my time in Washington, our team of some 100 members interacted with Commissioner’s cabinets and Services, Council, European Parliament and autonomous agencies in Brussels and elsewhere in the EU in explaining, consulting, negotiating, signing or implementing close to 50 sector or issue specific agreements, a transatlantic legal “acquis” of a size without comparison with any other third country, and against a decision making process in the US (Congress, Administration, state authorities, Government Agencies) comparable in complexity to  the Brussels set-up.

Strategically the most important: Europe matters to America, and America matters to Europe, because of major converging concerns, largely compatible values and overlapping interests. The EU and the US share common objectives with regard to coherent strategies for the promotion of peace, stability and economic development around the globe. There is – in the short and medium term – no alternative to the EU and the US throwing their combined weight into the global balance.
2.  The transatlantic partnership – an early driving force for the international recognition of the European Institutions (From the 1950s to the 1973 “Year of Europe”)

From its inception, the process of European integration had a transatlantic dimension and benefitted from American political and institutional support. Pooling sovereignty through common rules and institutions was a concept resonant with the spirit of the “Federalist Papers” and the pioneering work of the “Founding Fathers” assembled at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.4  According to an anecdote, Benjamin Franklin, a Convention member from Pennsylvania and American “Minister” in Paris from 1777 to 1785, sent a letter to a European friend after the successful outcome of the Convention wishing that one day the same might happen in Europe.

In the early 50th Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet closely consulted with the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations. George Ball, a renowned American lawyer and later Undersecretary of State under President Kennedy, had an office at the “Commissariat du Plan” advising Monnet on the anti-trust dispositions of the ECSC Treaty.5  Jean Monnet on his first day in office as the first President of the High Authority of the ECSC in August 1952 in Luxemburg received a dispatch from President Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson.6  This was the first formal diplomatic note addressed by a foreign government to a European Community institution. The statement to the effect that the US “henceforth intended to deal with the ECSC High Authority on all matters of its competence” constituted the first act of international recognition by a third country. President Eisenhower followed up in 1953 with the accreditation of a US Ambassador, the first full diplomatic representative ever to a European Institution.7  Monnet reciprocated by opening an ECSC information office in Washington in 1954. This office started to operate initially from within the premises of George Ball’s law firm to evolve over the decades into today’s European Union Embassy. Again, the US was the first third country to establish full diplomatic status by act of Congress in 1972 and to accredit the EU Ambassador to the US President in 1990.

The regular visits of the first European Commission President Walter Hallstein to Washington and his conversations with President Kennedy inspired the latter to deliver his visionary speech on Independence Day July 4, 1962, in Philadelphia with the twin proposal of a “transatlantic partnership of equals” and a “Declaration of Interdependence”. The US rationale included the consolidation of a strong alliance at a time of rising east-west tensions and a pace in European economic integration that offered  increasingly lucrative business opportunities.

With the completion of the EC’s Customs Union, the December 1969 The Hague Summit and the January 1973 enlargement (UK, DK and IRL) the Nixon/Kissinger Administration launched a diplomatic initiative known as the “Year of Europe” in April 1973. Intensified consultations were to be part of this exercise, with, however, the US assuming global responsibility, while Europe was confined to the pursuit of regional interests.

Although Kissinger strongly emphasized the traditional support for European integration, his concept was a clear departure from Kennedy’s partnership of equals, as expressed in the following paragraph: “Diplomacy is the subject of frequent consultations but is essentially being conducted by traditional nation-states. The United States has global interests and responsibilities. Our European allies have regional interests. These are not necessarily in conflict, but in the new era neither are they automatically identical”.8 

The Europeans heard the condescending tone. They did not need to proclaim a “Year of America”; for them every year was a year of America. But the main problem was how to organize the dialogue. While Kissinger almost asked for a place at the European table, the French Foreign Minister, Michel Jobert,9 unhelpfully complicated, to the point of sabotaging,10 the endless discussions about conduct and intensity of the consultations between the US and the Europeans, and about the right interlocutor for economic, political and defense matters on the European side. Kissinger bitterly described his perception of Europe’s insufficient state of affairs: “Europe had responded to the Year of Europe initiative with a procedure in which those who talked with us were not empowered to negotiate while those who could have negotiated with us no longer had the authority to talk.”11   Ultimately, for Kissinger, the Year of Europe became “The year that never was”.12  What has been left to date is his famous complaint about the absence of a single European telephone number.

For the Europeans,  the “Year of Europe” ended on 14 December 1973 when the European Council adopted a document on “European Identity”, in which they also included a chapter on their identity vis-à-vis the US: “The close ties between the United States and Europe of the Nine – we share values and aspirations based on a common heritage – are mutually beneficial and must be preserved. These ties do not conflict with the determination of the Nine to establish them as a distinct and original entity. The Nine intend to maintain their constructive dialogue and to develop their cooperation with the United States on the basis of equality and in a spirit of friendship.”13   The legal terminology referring to “The Nine” reflects the fact that the Declaration was agreed in the context of EPC, the European Political Cooperation, as its substance fell outside the realm of the European Community Treaties. EPC was still in its infant stages, based informally on the Davignon report of 1970, amended by the Copenhagen report, agreed at the same European Council meeting in December 1983, before being institutionalized for the first time in the Single European Act of 1987.

Needless to stress that the duality of Community matters and nascent intergovernmental cooperation on foreign policy issues did not facilitate the conduct of a transatlantic dialogue in its early stages.

3. The Emergence of an Institutionalized EU/US Dialogue -from the “Year of Europe” via the 1987 Single European Act (SEA) to the 1990 Transatlantic Declaration (TAD)

In the run-up to the SEA, signed in 1986 and entered into force in 1987, the web of consultations and agreements of all sorts got richer with the ongoing completion of common policies under the Paris and Rome Treaties. The European Commission conducted regular, but not formalized consultations with the US Administration in its capacity as the executive body of the European Communities.

From 1970 to 1982, “High level” consultations, led by the member of the Commission in charge of external relations and by the US Secretary of State or another senior member of the US Administration, took place twice a year, alternately in Brussels and Washington. Both delegations comprised other members of the Commission and members of the US Cabinet, according to the respective agenda, such as trade, commerce, agriculture, energy, and economic and financial matters. When agendas became too long, bureaucratic preparations too cumbersome and the problem solving impact less efficient, both sides agreed on one general high level “round table” per year, as from 1983, co-chaired by the President of the Commission and the US Secretary of State, to coincide with the annual December NATO ministerial in Brussels.  The meetings took place in the Commission’s meeting room at the Berlaimont building. With the presence of the respective members of the Commission and US Cabinet members, these meetings covered a wide range of substantive issues and reviewed the state of play of various bilateral and multilateral ongoing negotiations. The coincidence with the NATO meetings was seen as a symbol that defense and economic matters constituted equal parts of the transatlantic dialogue. In addition, as Monnet and Hallstein had visited Washington in the early years, Commission Presidents, from Ortoli via Jenkins to Thorn, visited the United States for informal exchange of views. In turn, the Commission welcomed the visits of President Carter in 1978, Vice Presidents Mondale in 1977 and Bush, several times from 1985 to 1988. Members of the Commission and of the US Administration travelled regularly across the Atlantic, as well as members of the European Parliament and their US Congressional counterparts.

Against the background of the “Year of Europe” episode, and of the first steps taken on the European side in the area of European Political Cooperation (EPC) the beginnings of a US/EPC relationship started to take shape. The transatlantic irritation over the management of the oil crisis, the bitter aftertaste of the Washington energy conference and the initiation of a Euro-Arab Dialogue after the oil boycott, underlined the obvious need for closer foreign policy consultations between the United States and “the Nine”. During their informal meeting in Gymnich in 1974, the nine foreign ministers decided, “the country holding the (rotating Council) Presidency will be authorized by the other eight partners to hold consultations on behalf of the Nine… The Ministers trust that this gentlemen’s agreement will also lead to smooth and pragmatic consultations with the United States which will take into account the interests of both sides.”14 Not only was the semantic fine line drawn between “external relations” under Community rules, with the Commission in charge, and “foreign policy” matters, falling under intergovernmental proceedings, with a change of actor on the European side every six months (hence the Kissinger call for a single telephone number), a recipe for confusion. Also, the Gymnich meeting avoided any initiative towards agreement on fixed procedures, leaving matters to a case-by-case approach.

When the former Belgian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans presented his Report on the European Union on 29 December 1975, a report commissioned by the European Summit meeting in Paris a year earlier, one of his key proposals was to combine all aspects of foreign policy and external relations in a single decision making center. He addressed the EU/US relationship as one of the four major issues to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, suggesting “that the European Council should take the initiative to delegate one of its members to hold talks with the United States in view of initiating a common reflection of the character and scope of relations between that major power and the European Union.”15  While this suggestion was not taken up as such, it was nevertheless agreed that henceforth the Head of State or Government holding the rotating European Council chair would meet the US President once during his term of office. Furthermore it was agreed that the Presidency country would inform the US Embassy in its capital before and after a Political Committee meeting about the agenda and the results of the meeting, thus maintaining the distinction between EPC and Community affairs.

A next phase in the US/EPC dialogue was agreed to by the European Council in March 1982 in Brussels, in the aftermath of a new deterioration of the transatlantic climate as a consequence of the June 1980 Venice Declaration of the European Council on the situation in the Middle East (“land for peace”), and, later on, of the Russia pipeline dispute in the summer of 1982. While France continued to resist regular meetings at ministerial and working levels because of fear of US interference in EU decision making, and the Commission, for its part, wanting to avoid duplicating contacts, it was agreed to hold Political Directors Troika (former, present and next rotating Presidencies) meetings at the level, on the US side, of the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs at the US State Department.

A significantly new momentum in the transatlantic relationship occurred with the start of the first Delors Commission in January 1985. Commission President Jacques Delors swiftly managed to turn the tide from the Euro pessimism of the late Seventies/early Eighties to a new spirit of “getting things done” (e.g. completing the dragged out negotiations about the entry of Spain and Portugal in March 1985; putting behind the “my money back” European budget crisis; and engineering a new dynamism around the project of completing the Internal market). This, in turn, once again raised the level of attention in Europe’s newly found momentum and broadening agenda in Washington DC. Delors’ early White House visit with President Reagan in April 1985 and subsequent frequent consultations at the highest levels during his ten years term16 greatly facilitated the understanding by three consecutive US Administrations, (from Reagan’s second term ending in 1988, the crucial 1989 to 1992 term of Reagan’s Vice President and then President George H. Bush into the Clinton/Gore Administration),  of the Commission President’s “Agenda 1992”, with the Single European Act signed in 1986 as its necessary legal underpinning, and the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, as the consolidation of Europe’s momentous geopolitical transformations.

At the April 1985 White House meeting President Reagan had been clearly briefed to remind the incoming “French” Commission President of the high US stakes in the agricultural chapter of the upcoming Uruguay Round multilateral trade negotiations 17 and to impress upon Delors the need for his “Agenda 1992” (the completion of the EU’s internal market through the intended adoption of some 300 legal instruments), not to end up with a “Fortress Europe”.18

The agreement on the Single European Act (SEA) at the European Council meeting in Luxemburg in December 1985, and its signature on 28 February 1986 under the Dutch Presidency also provided an opportunity for a major step in strengthening the procedures with respect to the US/EPC dialogue. Art. 30 of the SEA for the first time codified, and thus institutionalized, EPC within a single Treaty, while strengthening the legal provisions relating to Community competences for completing the internal market.19 According to Article 1, “The European Communities and European Political Cooperation shall have as their objective to contribute together to making concrete progress towards European unity.”20  Consistency between the external relations of the Communities and EPC policies was to be ensured by the Presidency (of the Council) and the Commission. To this effect the Commission was henceforth “fully associated with the proceedings of Political Cooperation21, including the organization of the EU/US transatlantic relations in all its aspects. After consultations between US Secretary of State George Shultz and Hans van den Broek, the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands (and later European Commissioner) a new set of procedures22 was agreed to by the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve at their informal meeting at Brockett Hall in September 1986, under the UK Presidency, and later confirmed by Secretary Shultz to British Foreign Minister Geoffrey Howe.

“Eleven Nine”, November 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall, marked a high point in the quality of the transatlantic relationship, compared to “Nine Eleven”, September 11, 2001, the terrorist attack on the US and its aftermath, which would later stand for its most divisive moment. On substance, the fall of the wall symbolized the greatest common achievement of the US and Europe; a result of the successful combination of US power and determination, and of the attraction of European integration to the people under communist rule. The post 11/9/1989 agenda, “Europe whole and free”23 would not have been possible with the US or Europe acting alone. In terms of effectiveness and closeness of the transatlantic relationship, it benefitted from an exceptionally intimate interaction between the Bush/Baker and the Delors teams at all levels. President Bush and President Delors met three times bilaterally during 1989, in addition to participating together in international fora, such as the G7 “Sommet de l’Arche” chaired by President Mitterand of France in July 1989 in Paris.24  The most memorable of these bilaterals took place in the discretion of Stuivenberg Castle outside Brussels on December 4, 1989, when President Bush stopped over from his meeting with USSR President Gorbachev in Malta to brief NATO and the Commission, and to discuss the next steps. Bush sought Delors’ personal support for what would later be known as the four basic principles of the Europe whole and free agenda: equal respect for the two not so easily reconcilable Helsinki principles: recognition of existing borders and the right of self-determination; German reunification in the context of European and Atlantic structures; and a massive, coordinated economic and financial support for the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. President Bush placed full confidence in the Commission President to help mobilize the European Communities behind this concept, and Delors did so immediately  at the mid-December European Council meeting at Strasbourg.

The end of the Cold War led to significant transformations of the geopolitical environment. A complex, much more unpredictable multipolar security landscape, had replaced the bipolar confrontation of two rival power blocs. Transatlantic relations saw themselves confronted with new security threats: international terrorism; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; failed states; regional conflicts; the first Gulf and the Balkan wars. In this new international environment the Bush Administration considered a stable European Union to be the indispensable partner on the other side of the Atlantic.

As an almost logical consequence, both sides considered the time ripe for a first comprehensive legal document, outside and next to the NATO Treaty, to incorporate agreed to language on common goals, and principles, areas of cooperation and an institutional framework for consultations between the United States, on the one side, and, on the other, the European Community and its member States. The Transatlantic Declaration (TAD) of November 23, 199025  was finalized and agreed upon in the margins of the CSCE Summit at the Paris Kleber Conference Center. Thus, interestingly enough, the TAD saw the light at a moment and at a venue where the CSCE (C standing for “Conference”) was replaced by the OSCE, a pan-European/transatlantic Organization based on the “Charter for a New Europe”, also agreed to and signed in Paris.26

The TAD’s introduction clearly marks a break with the “Year of Europe” squabbles, stressing a “partnership on an equal footing” and noting the European Community’s “own identity in economic and monetary matters, in foreign policy and in the domain of security”.

On areas of cooperation the agreement covers a wide range of issues from economic and trade, at the bilateral and global level – with the US putting an end to the “Fortress Europe” criticism and recognizing its role, together with the EC, to strengthen the multilateral trading system; from energy, the environment etc. to transnational challenges. While “Security” issues, such as the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were covered, military matters were excluded at the explicit request of the US.27 While this was perfectly in line with the SEA, as its Art. 30 paragraph 6 limited coordination in EPC to “political and economic aspects of security”; the problem became more acute, and almost ideological on the part of the US, with the negotiation of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty.28 

On procedure, the TAD establishes to date the most elaborate mechanisms of regular consultations at the political and senior officials level, including bi-annual summits in the US and in Europe between the US President, on the one side, the Presidents of the Council and of the Commission, on the other side; bi-annual and ad hoc consultations at the level of the US Secretary of State with either all EC foreign ministers, the Troika or the Presidency’s Foreign Minister, with the participation of the Commission. As to the Commission’s own dealings with the US Administration, the earlier format of “High Level Consultations” were replaced by a web of meetings at Cabinet and “sub-cabinet” level to cover the many areas of Community competence.

Looking to the future of the relationship, the TAD commits both sides “to develop and deepen these procedures so as to reflect the evolution of the European Community and of its relationship with the United States.”

4. From the New Transatlantic Agenda of 1995 to a future EU/US Partnership Agreement?

On 3 December 1995, at an EU/US Summit held in the margins of a landmark European Council meeting in Madrid, US President Clinton, Spanish PM Gonzales in his capacity as President of the European Council and Commission President Santer signed the New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA). The coincidence of its signature with the European Council’s adoption of a far-reaching EU roadmap, entitled “Agenda 2000”, gave it additional symbolic significance. Europe’s “Agenda 2000” comprised a forward looking roadmap for revisiting major EU common policies, including agriculture and structural reforms, in prolongation of the successful completion of Delors’ Internal Market agenda; a negotiation on the EU’s multiannual budgetary framework for 2000 to 2006; and pre-accession and accession policies that primed both candidate countries and members states of the EU to be prepared for meeting expectations and fulfilling  commitments for what would become the 2004 enlargement into central and eastern Europe.  Austria, Finland and Sweden had just joined on 1 January 1995.  

The NTA, in the logic of the TAD's evolutionary clause, further developed and reinforced the 1990 agenda and mechanisms in response to additional steps in European integration and to a number of major international events, such as the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, signed on 7 February 1992 and entered into force on 1 November 1993 and the gradual implementation of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), with a first set of “joint actions”29 decided by the European Council as early as December 1993 under Belgian Presidency on policies with regard to the Balkan crisis, relations with post-Soviet Russia and the situation in the Middle East. Again, progress in transatlantic relations went hand in hand with the dynamics of European unification. The NTA was concluded three years into US President Clinton’s first term30 and was a response also to his Administration’s decisive involvement in the Balkan wars, the first of which was brought to an end, the same year, with a peace accord negotiated on a US military base in Dayton, Ohio. The NTA’s objective was to move from consultation to a new level of cooperation and common action, including, for the first time, all aspects of security and defense policies.31

Until today, the NTA constitutes the most elaborate and comprehensive constitutional basis for the EU/US transatlantic relationship.

On procedure, it has essentially left in place the framework for consultations as agreed under the TAD32, with the understanding that levels and periodicity of meetings must be result oriented and handled flexibly. Bi-annual Summits were reduced to one regular meeting a year in the first year of the Bush (Jr.) Administration in 200133, with special meetings, as required. A major innovation was the creation of a High Level “Steering Group” at the Undersecretary of State level, on the US side, the Commission Director General for External Relations and his opposite number in the Council Presidency country, on the European side. With speedily advancing technological progress, meetings could be called at short notice by videoconference.

On content, the NTA reaches much more deeply and broadly in defining the substance of the relationship, in a language reflecting the spirit of joint responsibility, organized in an ambitious preface introducing a “Framework for Action” with four major goals: promoting peace and stability, democracy and development around the world; responding to global challenges; creating a Transatlantic Marketplace and contributing to the expansion of world trade and closer economic relations; and “building bridges across the Atlantic” through “Dialogues”, including a Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), a Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a Transatlantic Environmental Dialogue (TAED), a Transatlantic Labor Dialogue (TALD), and encouraging a Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD) among members of the US Congress and the European Parliament. Together with the signing of the NTA, leaders agreed on a Joint EU-US Action Plan detailing some 150 specific actions to which special attention was to be given in the immediate future. A first meeting of the TABD took place in December 1995 in Seville, co-chaired at the CEO level on both sides.

Over the years, the 1995 NTA was reinforced and renewed, partly to be adapted to circumstances, and partly to satisfy the particular ambitions of Member States eager to leave their mark during their Council Presidency terms.

The London Summit on May 18, 1998 saw the launch of the “Transatlantic Economic Partnership” (TEP). Bilaterally the TEC aimed at tackling technical barriers to trade through the expansion of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs). Multilaterally its purpose was to further stimulate trade liberalization by joining forces internationally. The TEP also provided for an “early warning system” through sharing information on regulatory initiatives with a view to contain disputes, particularly in the area of food safety.

The Bonn Declaration, agree to at the June 21, 1999 EU/US Summit in Bonn presented yet another step forward under the NTA. On the eve of a next century, both sides wanted to shape their relationship over the decade ahead and explicitly committed themselves to a “full and equal partnership” in economic, political and security affairs.

A profound change of direction in the overall transatlantic relationship marked the start of President Bush’s (Jr.) first term in early 2001.34 Tensions had already grown during the first eight months preceding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC, when the Bush Administration started off by disavowing an number of international commitments, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court Treaty. As already mentioned above35, the unsuccessful Goeteborg EU/US Summit was a first low point in the relationship. However, when the Belgian PM and President of the European Council, Guy Verhofstadt, and Commission President Prodi visited President Bush in the Oval Office on 27 September 2001, both sides agreed, that this unprecedented attack on the US was a challenge to the entire civilized world and “a new opportunity to work together”. Cooperation on justice and home affairs, indeed, became a new complex chapter on the transatlantic agenda over the next years. Moreover, the May 2, 2002 EU/US Summit in Washington, with the Spanish PM and European Council President Aznar, one of President Bush’s most trusted followers in his ill-conceived “war on terror” and attack on Iraq, on the EU side, agreed on a Positive Economic Agenda (PEA), Guidelines on Regulatory Cooperation and Transparency and the Financial Markets Regulatory Dialogue.  Thus the economic relationship became a stabilizer of the overall relationship.

President Bush’s visit to Brussels on 22 February 2005, at the beginning of his second term, and his meeting with Commission President Barroso preceded the launch of an EU/US Initiative to “Enhance Transatlantic Economic Integration and Growth”, agreed at the subsequent Summit meeting in Washington on 20 June, 2005. Two years later, at the Washington Summit meeting on April 30, 2007, and on an initiative by Chancellor Merkel of Germany, a “Framework for Advancing Transatlantic Integration between the EU and the US” was signed by President Bush, Chancellor Merkel and President Barroso, which in its Section IV established a “Transatlantic Economic Council” (TEC). The TEC is to date led by a Cabinet level official from the US President’s Executive Office, putting the White House in charge of coordinating the relevant US Government departments, and a member of the Commission (currently Karel De Gucht in charge of trade), in close cooperation with the Council Presidency, on the EU side. 

As a result of the TEC’s report to the 29 November 2011 Washington Summit (where a similar ministerial level body, the Transatlantic Energy Council established) a Joint US-EU Statement was released on June 19, 2012 tasking a “High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth” (HLWG) to explore new initiatives “with the goal of reaching a recommendation to Leaders later this year on a decision as to negotiations”. 36

The re-election of President Obama in November 2012 led to an acceleration of events immediately after his inauguration for a second term on January 21, 2013.

In a well orchestrated scenario by both sides the HLWG, co-chaired by Ron Kirk, the US Trade Representative, and by Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner for Trade, submitted its “Final Report on Jobs and Growth” on 11 February, 2013. The Report concludes with a recommendation “to US and EU Leaders that the United States and the EU launch, in accordance with their respective procedures, negotiations on a comprehensive, ambitious agreement that addresses a broad range of bilateral trade and investment issues, including regulatory issues, and contributes to the development of global rules.”  The next day, in his traditional “State of the Union Address” to the US Congress on 12 February, President Obama included the following sentence: “And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union”.  Again, one day later, on 13 February, the three Presidents of the US, the European Council and the European Commission, in a joint declaration, pledged to “initiate the internal procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”. Henceforth, TTIP will have to be remembered as a novel abbreviation in the transatlantic dictionary of acronyms. Finally, the newly appointed US Secretary of State, the former Senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry, at his first meeting in the US State Department on 14 February with the EU High Representative Cathy Ashton, herself a former European Trade Commissioner, remarked that this major transatlantic initiative was to “rebalance” the first Obama presidency’s strong focus on Asia, and the so-called “Transpacific Partnership”.


Today, after some 60 years of intense interaction, the EU/US transatlantic relationship is based on an immense “acquis” of legal texts, organizational decisions and policy statements. However, no single overarching Treaty, under whatever name, had so far been a realistic option. Initiatives for a “Transatlantic Partnership Agreement”37 have been discussed in the past, e.g. in the European Parliament and in academic circles. Yet, the sheer weight and global ramifications of the world’s two major post-Cold-War economic powerhouses entering into an overall bilateral, and institutionalized, relationship was traditionally considered to be a negative factor, particularly in light of multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization. However, with no successful end in sight for the Doha round of negotiations, opened as far back as 2003, the rise of new powerful actors emerging on the global stage and because of the need to fully mobilize US and European efforts to cope with economic and financial problems on both sides of the Atlantic, the time might just  be ripe for a serious attempt at an overarching transatlantic agreement. ( Interestingly enough, the 19 June, 2012, Joint Statement was agreed to in the margins of the G 20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, by Presidents Obama, Van Rompuy and Barroso, to address the need for the EU and the US to combine their bilateral efforts for the creation of jobs and growth, in addition to shouldering their global responsibilities.)

It is too early to speculate what outcome a comprehensive EU/US negotiation might produce. TAD, NTA and its successive updates, as well as the TEC have prepared the ground. The High Level Group’s work and intense consultations with the many stakeholders have more recently further deepened those efforts. And, if over the next two years or so, negotiations could be brought to a successful conclusion, ratification will not be an easy task.  The US Congress, in particular, is famously known for its record in this respect. 




[1] The author is a former European Commission Director General for External Relations and EU Ambassador in the US. The text will also be published in a liber amicorum in honor of Marc Maresceau, Professor at the Law Faculty of Ghent University, where the author has lectured as a guest professor.

[2] Art. 1 paragraph 2 of the Treaty on European Union, OJ, 2010, C 83/ 16

[3] Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America

[4] A phenomenon reemerging later with the European Convention in 2002/2003.

[5] George Ball describes his intimate relationship with Jean Monnet and his active involvement “as a private American lawyer” with the Schuman Plan negotiations in a detailed chapter of his memoirs: “The Past has another Pattern, Norton, 1982, Part Three, pp.66-99

[6] Dean Acheson’s memoirs “Present at the Creation”, Norton, New York, 1969, is another invaluable source of information about the US role during the early stages of European unification

[7] David Bruce, the first US Ambassador to the ESCS, was a top professional diplomat, having been Ambassador to Paris, London and Bonn. His almost daily reports to the State Department and to the White House about the implementation of the ECSC Treaty and the ongoing negotiations on a European Defense Community are an invaluable source of information.

[8] Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, Little, Brown & Company, Boston/Toronto, 1982, p.153

[9] As a secretary of the Commission delegation to the Washington Energy conference in February 1974 I personally witnessed Kissinger’s frustrations when Jobert, during three days and two nights in the conference rooms of the State Department, was responsible for endless coordination meetings of the “Nine” while Kissinger restlessly walked through the corridors, waiting for a common position of the EC foreign ministers to emerge, before being able to resume the plenary meetings. Cf. Kissinger’s detailed account, op. cit., pp. 896 to 925

[10] Henry Kissinger, op. cit., pp. 701 to 706

[11] Henry Kissinger, op. cit., p. 189

[12] Henry Kissinger, op. cit., p. 192

[13] European Political Cooperation (EPC), 4th edition, published by the Press and Information Office of the German Federal Government, Bonn, 1982, p.62

[14] European Political Cooperation, op. cit., p. 69

[15] Bulletin of the European Communities, Supplement 1/76, p. 17

[16] Jacques Delors served two full terms from, respectively, 1985 to 1988 and 1989 to 1992, extended by two more years from 1993 to 1994 in view of the nomination of a new Commission under the rules of the Maastricht Treaty (which entered into force on 1 November 1993) to take office with the EU enlargement from 12 to 15 members on 1 January 1995. During those 10 years I had the privilege to serve as his deputy Chef de Cabinet, Political Director and Director General for External Political Relations, including as his “note taker” and advisor at all of his major bilateral encounters, third country summits, European Councils and EU Foreign Affairs ministers meetings.

[17] The negotiations were to be opened officially at Punta del Este in September 1986 and brought to conclusion at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994, an almost decade long process, transforming GATT into the WTO, and obviously a major issue continuously on the bilateral EU/US agenda as the two major global stakeholders

[18] Those – in hindsight unjustified - initial US fears could never been entirely dissipated, after Delors had set out his plans in his first program speech to the European Parliament in January 1985, shortly before travelling to the US.

[19] Single European Act, Bulletin of the European Communities, Supplement 2/86, p.18

[20] SEA, op. cit., p. 7

[21] SEA, Art. 30 paragraph 3c)

[22] At the beginning of each half year a visit of the Foreign Minister whose country holds the Council Presidency to the US; a meeting of the Political Director Troika with their respective US counterpart during each Presidency; regular contacts between the US Administration and the diplomatic Missions of the Twelve in Washington

[23] A notion coined by President Bush and Secretary Baker in their 1989 pronouncements

[24] At the 14 July leaders’ dinner in the Hotel de la Marine President Bush and Chancellor Kohl surprised the not so enthousiatic French President and UK PM Thatcher with the proposal to entrust Jacques Delors and the Commission with the coordination of the first financial support program in favor of the Europe’s new, later known as the G24 financial assistance

[25] EPC, European Political Cooperation, Press Release, P. 83/90 of 23 November 1990. As Political Directors of EC member states (and the undersigned for the Commission) were accompanying their Principles at the Conference, and since it was at that level, with Robert Zoellick on the US side, that a last negotiating session, at the request of President Mitterand, had to review the chapter entitled “Institutional framework for consultation”, the document happened to be released, not entirely correctly, under the EPC heading

[26] The “Charta for a New Europe” was signed on behalf of the EC by President Delors and by Foreign Minister Dini of Italy, exercising the Council Presidency.

[27] Although the US had actively supported the European Defense Community Treaty in the early Fifties, their attitude had changed with the subsequent incorporation of Germany into NATO and WEU. Henceforth US negotiators maintained that military security matters were issues to be discussed with Allies in NATO.

[28] A particularly robust and unusually undiplomatic expression of this stance was the Dobbins/Bartholomew memorandum in the spring of 1991, addressed to EU Member States members of NATO during the Intergovernmental Conference leading to the conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991. That demarche strengthened the hand of those Member States that took minimalist positions towards the common security and defense articles of the Treaty, in particular its Art. J 4, the complex architecture of which can be partly attributed to pressure exercised by the US.

[29] Art J establishing CFSP and, in particular, Art J.3 TEU on joint actions

[30] It was the product of intense work at senior officials level. I remember my first meeting in my office, in early 1993, as the Commission’s Director General for External Political Affairs, with President Clinton’s newly appointed Ambassador to the EU, Stuart Eizenstat. Stu, a former aid to President Carter and later Deputy at Commerce and at the Treasury Department, with whom I enjoy sincere friendship ever since, visited me after his introductory meeting with Commissioner Hans van den Broek, in charge of External Relations. He looked at me and said: “You have been longer in this business than me. Can you tell me what we can do better?” From this followed three years of discussions and intense internal coordination, as so many Commissioners and services, on both sides, needed to come to agreement. The state of play was reviewed during Delors visits to the White House with President Clinton and VP Gore in 1993/94. President Clinton took personal interest, and Delors found meetings with him, in particular on global issues and challenges to modern society, as intimate and challenging as with President Bush before. The Madrid EU/US Summit in December 1995 was a memorable reward, including for those “at the working level”.

[31] For which the Maastricht Treaty, in its Article J.4, provided the legal base on the EU side

[32] P.13 above

[33] The Goetheborg EU/US Summit on 14 June 2001 had been a complete failure. The Swedish Prime Minister Persson had – against established rules - invited all other EU member States colleagues, with all 15 plus Commission President Prodi, one after the other, criticizing President Bush for his position on the Kyoto Protocol. As Condoleezza Rice told EU Ambassadors at a subsequent lunch at the Swedish Residence in Washington, her President would not accept such treatment again, and, moreover “Kyoto was dead upon arrival”.

[34] For a more complete “on the record” assessment of the most divisive years in the overall transatlantic relationship, from 2001 to 2005, coinciding with my term as the Commission’s Ambassador in Washington, I refer to my presentation at the College of Europe in Bruges, edited in “EU Diplomacy Papers, 2/2006”. At Professor Maresceau’s invitation I also presented an oral presentation in the form of a “Jean Monnet Lecture” at Ghent University in 2006.

[35] See above, p. 15

[36] Press release, The White House Office of the Press secretary; available on both, the White House and the European Council, web-sites

[37] Reports by MEP Elmar Brok on improving EU-US relations in the framework of a Transatlantic Partnership Agreement of May 8, 2006, A6-0173/2006 and by MEP Erika Mann on EU-US Transatlantic Economic Relations of April 20, 2006, A6-0131/2006