This is the first piece of a series of interviews with U.S. Ambassadors or Consuls in the EU and EU Ambassadors in the USA that sheds light on our diplomatic relations and how NATO, the free trade partnership (TTIP) and the NSA impacts them. This interview was held with the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy in Vienna on behalf of Ambassador Wesner.
OE (One Europe): Unlike most EU member states, Austria is not a member of NATO. How does this affect your work during times of international crisis when NATO is more active than the EU?
U.S. Embassy: Austria and the U.S. share a long-lasting and fruitful tradition of diplomatic and cultural relations, having celebrated the 175th anniversary of our diplomatic relations in 2013. Obviously, the world has changed significantly in the past decades, but Austria always remained a strong ally and an important partner. Apart from that, the country makes valuable contributions as a member in the NATO Partnership for Peace, and has proven to be a highly active OSCE member.
OE: On the same topic, how does Austria’s choice to remain out of NATO make your job during the crisis in Ukraine different than that of your colleagues assigned to EU states that are also in NATO?
U.S. Embassy : Recently, in the course of the current crisis in Ukraine, Austria agreed to send its experts on monitoring missions. The two countries are bound by strong family, social and cultural ties. Indeed, one should take into account that the majority of Americans are of European origin.
OE: Does the United States still consider the EU as its ‘’primary’’ trading and political partner? How would you compare this relationship with the one, say, 60 years ago?
U.S. Embassy : Europe and the U.S. share many common goals and values. Despite the fact that global power relations are shifting, for U.S. companies, Europe remains the most profitable region in the world. Last year, U.S. companies’ earnings in Europe reached a record high of $230 billion. In fact, American companies earned more in Europe than they did in Asia and Latin America combined. At the same time, America is also the most profitable market for European companies. Estimates show that European companies based in the U.S. earned $119 billion in 2013.
In addition, the U.S. and Europe are each other's primary source and destination for foreign direct investments. Since 2000 Europe has attracted 56% of all U.S. global foreign direct investments. The ongoing TTIP negotiations are proof of this, as the free trade agreement will further deepen our relations. Finally, just like sixty years ago, NATO remains our most important military alliance in the world.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
OE: Many major European news outlets are critical in their coverage of TTIP: Investment clauses, lowering environmental and nutritive standards and deeper market liberalization are big issues for EU member states. What is your opinion of the current state of negotiations and the possible content of the treaty?
U.S. Embassy: TTIP is going to be a historical landmark agreement. It will increase trade, jobs and economic vitality in Europe and in the U.S.. Already today, goods and services worth more than two billion Euros are traded between the U.S. and the EU every single day. An independent study by the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research predicts that by 2027 a comprehensive free trade agreement will result in an annual GDP growth of € 68-119 billion in the EU and € 50-95 billion in the U.S.. In the past weeks we have seen significant progress being made, especially during the third and fourth round of negotiations. Thus, we are optimistic that in the end both parties will reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
OE: There are many who believe, both in Europe and the US, that TTIP will not have as large of an economic impact as suggested because tariffs are already so low between the US and the EU. What is your response to this scepticism?
U.S. Embassy: A major reason for much of the current criticism of TTIP is the lack of accurate information. This is why we try to reach out to the general public as much as possible. Recently, the chief U.S. TTIP negotiator, Daniel Mullaney, paid a visit to Vienna, meeting with Austrian social partners and discussing the opportunities of the free trade agreement. In Austria, export-orientated small and medium enterprises will certainly benefit from the agreement.
OE: NAFTA received a great deal of media attention and faced public opposition in the US and Canada. Why is the EU-US Trade Agreement receiving so little coverage in the US-American media when NAFTA received so much?
U.S. Embassy: Already in 2012 transatlantic trade represented 30% of global GDP in 2012 and around 5 million EU jobs were supported by exports to the U.S. (2008). However, the TTIP agreement seeks to eliminate all tariffs and other duties and charges on trade in agricultural, industrial and consumer products between the United States and the EU, with substantial duty elimination on entry into force of the agreement, transition periods where necessary for sensitive products, and appropriate safeguard mechanisms to be applied if and where necessary.
OE: Being an ambassador demands adhering to certain diplomatic rules in addition to maintaining a positive image. In your perspective: Would you consider monitoring the telephones or emails of European heads of states to be in-line with these rules and expectations? Don’t you think that European governments/societies have the right to learn how many terror acts have been prevented, how many lives have been saved?
U.S. Embassy: There is an ongoing debate in the U.S. and in the EU on how we could find a reasonable balance between security and privacy. We can assure you that President Obama is taking this issue very seriously. He has launched significant reforms and taken first measures to change the legal framework of our intelligence. Recently, he formally proposed an end to NSA's bulk collection of telephone data. He also announced that he would like to implement legislation that would require the NSA to seek an individual court order before phone companies turn over data on their customers. However, intelligence agencies cannot function entirely without secrecy.
OE: In 1971, the whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg succeeded in publishing secret documents about the Vietnam War in cooperation with US-newspaper. Afterwards he faced charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 carrying a total sentence of 115 years, which were only dismissed due to illegal evidence gathering. In former interviews of yours, you argued that Snowden did not use legal alternatives to reveal his knowledge of information. Which legal possibilities did you consider? Could Snowden trust in the American legal system, if he knew that NSA’s spying methods were unconstitutional in the first place?
U.S. Embassy: We believe, by revealing classified information,
Edward Snowden put our national security at risk. In our opinion, he should
return to the U.S. and stand trial before a court of law. We do have multiple
laws protecting whistleblowers that raise their concerns in a legal and
productive way and President Obama has further strengthened these laws even
before the Snowden incident (see Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and
Presidential Policy Directive 19).
OneEurope is very thankful to the U.S.Embassy for the detailed interview.