Why the US and Europe should be working together – an interview with Anthony Gardner.

Anthony Gardner was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union on February 18, 2014 and held this position until January 2017. Prior to assuming his role as Ambassador to the EU, Ambassador Gardner was Managing Director for six years at Palamon Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in London, that focuses on providing growth capital to fast growing businesses in a wide variety of service sectors throughout Western Europe. In that capacity he managed financing, legal and tax structuring issues related to the firm’s acquisitions and divestitures. Tony Gardner has dedicated more than twenty years of his career to U.S.-European affairs, as a government official, lawyer and investor.  He served as Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council in 1994-95. During that period, he worked closely with the U.S. Mission to the European Union to launch the New Transatlantic Agenda, a joint commitment to promoting peace and stability, democracy, and development around the world; responding to global challenges; contributing to the expansion of world trade and closer economic relations; and building bridges across the Atlantic.

Here at Chartwell, we were lucky enough to speak with him this week and get his insight on some of the world’s major geopolitical questions.

How have the relations between the US and the UK been challenged since the EU referendum?

There were unrealistic expectations, especially on the US side, about how quickly a free-trade deal could be wrapped up. The new US administration repeated often that an ambitious deal could be concluded in a matter of months, but it became apparent that this was simply not the case. This was partly for legal reasons: one of the most significant is that, while the UK can hold trade discussions with third countries while it is an EU member, it can’t hold negotiations. And these negotiations are by their nature going to be very preliminary as the US can’t make any significant decisions until it knows what the UK’s final trading relationship with the EU will look like. Then there are a host of detailed reasons why trade negotiations are difficult. It is worth remembering that the US-EU trade negotiations were rather controversial in the UK, including for reasons relating to public services, the treatment of the National Health Service in particular, food safety and the settlement of disputes between states and investors.

Despite efforts by both the US administration and Prime Minister May to trumpet a reinvigorated US-UK relationship, it is apparent that there are clearly very significant philosophical differences between the two governments — on trade, sanctions, and relations with Russia more broadly, immigration, international law and multilateral institutions, and so on. Ultimately there are significant differences in the way these two governments view the world. it’s not going to be easy for London and Washington to be as closely aligned as they may think. Of course the UK and the US will remain natural partners, as in the past; but it is a mistake for London to think that the Trump administration will advance its objectives.

Will the current US bill for sanctions on Russia have irreversible effects on their relationship with Europe?

Nothing is irreversible, but the bill will have negative and lasting effects. We’ve all seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Back in the 1980’s we went through something very similar with Reagan, who applied US sanctions law extra-territorially to prevent European firms from participating in the construction of a Siberian pipeline bring gas to Europe. European governments including in the UK, immediately prohibited these companies from complying with the US law. So they were faced with a difficult conflict of law issue.

This bill will drive a wedge between Europe and the United States at a very sensitive time in transatlantic relations. During my mandate I was very critical about the Northstream pipeline project that will bring more Russian gas to Germany because it is more of a political project than an economic one, will deprive Ukraine of significant transit fees and will make Europe even more dependant on Russian gas. But this bill is not the right way to go. The US and the EU should be working together cooperatively, rather than at cross purposes. Unilateral sanctions applied extraterritorially on our friends are counterproductive.

What do tensions between the EU and Turkey mean for the US, who rely heavily on Turkey for support against ISIS?

Turkey is a major challenge for both the US and the EU. On the one hand, we both need Turkey as an ally in the fight against terror and as key voice in planning for a post-Assad Syria, as a capable ally in NATO with significant military might, (if possible) as one of the few democracies in the Middle East, and of course as a key partner in the control against further mass migration of Syrians. The EU’s deal with Turkey to limit migration is an unsung success story (so far). We also need to recognise that Turkey continues (despite the assistance of the EU, US and multilateral organisations) to take the brunt of housing and feeding a very large number of Syrian refugees.

But the relationship is not easy in light of Turkey’s increasing drift toward authoritarian rule. President Trump expresses admiration for Erdogan, but most of our foreign policy elite is very troubled by his policies. We simply can’t remain passive as we see Turkey’s press, judiciary, as well as human rights more generally, wither. Some observers point out that members of NATO need to remain democracies and that there are risks of sharing confidential military information with a member that is becoming increasingly close to Russia.

I don’t think Europe should take Turkey’s EU accession off the table, even though it is highly unlikely to occur in the near or even medium term. It is important that the “carrot” of accession remain in order to encourage those who are still committed to reform. Careful thought should be given to providing Turkey some form of enhanced relationship that falls short of membership — perhaps an enhanced customs union. Turkey will remain a large economy with a young and dynamic workforce.

Speakers We Admire