Rep­re­sent­ing the EU in Wash­ing­ton

David O’Sul­li­van, the new EU am­bas­sador to the US, is as­sum­ing the role at an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal mo­ment

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - Suzanne Lynch Euro­pean Cor­re­spon­dent

Sit­ting in his of­fice in the Euro­pean Ex­ter­nal Ac­tion Ser­vices (EEAS) head­quar­ters in cen­tral Brussels, David O’Sul­li­van apol­o­gises for the bare­ness of the room. Most of his be­long­ings have al­ready been shipped to Wash­ing­ton, he ex­plains. The dis­tinc­tive blue flag of the Euro­pean Union is still there, how­ever, soon to be joined by the stars and stripes of the US flag as the Church­town na­tive pre­pares to take up his new role as EU am­bas­sador.

O’ Sul­li­van is in many ways the ar­che­typal Brussels bu­reau­crat, hav­ing spent almost 35 years at the Euro­pean Union, in­clud­ing a spell at the top of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

He joined the EU from the depart­ment of for­eign af­fairs in 1979, part of the first wave of Ir­ish peo­ple who joined fol­low­ing Ire­land’s ac­ces­sion in 1973. “It was the usual story,” he says. “I thought I’d go to Brussels for two years and then re­turn to Ire­land, but I ended up be­ing of­fered, out of the blue, the chance to go to Tokyo. I spent four years there, and loved it. To go to Ja­pan and see what was hap­pen­ing there at the time was an eye-opener in terms of Europe’s place in the world.”

On re­turn­ing to Brussels he was ap­pointed to the cab­i­net of Ir­ish com­mis­sioner Peter Suther­land. He swiftly moved up the ranks, work­ing with Pádraig Flynn for a spell be­fore be­ing ap­pointed as di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing di­vi­sion in 1999.

A year later he was ap­pointed by Ro­mano Prodi as sec­re­tary gen­eral of the com­mis­sion, the ex­ec­u­tive’s top job, and was suc­ceeded by another Ir­ish EU of­fi­cial, Cather­ine Day, dur­ing the Bar­roso com­mis­sion. O’Sul­li­van then moved to DG Trade, the com­mis­sion’s trade di­vi­sion, work­ing closely with EU trade com­mis­sioner Peter Man­del­son.

The transat­lantic cor­ri­dor is still the most im­por­tant eco­nomic cor­ri­dor in the world. I think there’s a huge op­por­tu­nity [in a trade deal]

It was there that O’Sul­li­van met Bri­tish com­mis­sioner Cather­ine Ash­ton, who suc­ceeded Man­del­son in the fi­nal year of his man­date.

When Ash­ton was ap­pointed as the EU’s first for­eign-pol­icy chief a year later, O’ Sul­li­van went with her to set up the EU’s new for­eign-pol­icy wing, the EEAS. Ear­lier this year he was ap­pointed by Ash­ton as EU am­bas­sador to the US.

O’Sul­li­van as­sumes the role at an im­por­tant mo­ment in EU-US re­la­tions. The in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous in­ter­na­tional pic­ture, from Ukraine to the Mid­dle East, has re­newed calls for a strength­en­ing of transat­lantic se­cu­rity and de­fence co-op­er­a­tion, de­spite con­tin­u­ing US frus­tra­tion at low Euro­pean spend­ing on Nato and fears that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has side­lined Europe in its pivot to­wards Asia. The threat to en­ergy se­cu­rity in Europe, and the US en­ergy boom boosted by the shale bo­nanza, has also fo­cused at­ten­tion on po­ten­tial en­ergy co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the two blocs.

Trade deal

But it is the EU-US trade deal that is likely to dom­i­nate the first few years of O’Sul­li­van’s man­date. While there have pre­vi­ously been at­tempts to form a transat­lantic free-trade zone, the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Pack­age (TTIP) is the first time for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions have been ini­ti­ated. Launched dur­ing the Ir­ish pres­i­dency of the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union 18 months ago, the agree­ment could give a ¤120 bil­lion boost to the EU econ­omy an­nu­ally, the EU es­ti­mates.

With tar­iffs al­ready rel­a­tively low be­tween the two blocs, much of the fo­cus of TTIP is on re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers by stan­dar­d­is­ing reg­u­la­tions, open­ing up pub­lic pro­cure­ment mar­kets and tack­ling the thorny is­sue of ex­port­ing goods such as agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.

But the deal has hit sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic op­po­si­tion across Europe, fea­tur­ing in the Euro­pean elec­tion cam­paigns in May in a num­ber of coun­tries, not least Ger­many, where the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency spy­ing scan­dal se­verely dam­aged re­la­tions be­tween Berlin and Wash­ing­ton.

Fears about all man­ner of is­sues, from the pub­lic own­er­ship of the Na­tional Health Ser­vice in Bri­tain to the pos­si­ble ar­rival of chlo­rine-washed chicken on Euro­pean shores, have taken hold in the pub­lic con­scious­ness. There has also been a call for greater trans­parency from EU Om­buds­man Emily O’Reilly, one which, in part, led to the de­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the EU’s ne­go­ti­at­ing man­date ear­lier this month.

Does O’ Sul­li­van feel he has lost pub­lic support for the process? “Look, I think this is pro­foundly im­por­tant for our re­spec­tive economies,” he says. “We talk about the rise of Asia, about Euro­pean in­vest­ment in China, about US in­vest­ment in China, and so on, but the re­al­ity is that we are much more heav­ily in­vested in each other’s econ­omy than ei­ther of us are in any other econ­omy. The transat­lantic cor­ri­dor is still the most im­por­tant eco­nomic cor­ri­dor in the world, by a long shot. I think there’s a huge eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity in this trade agree­ment, and frankly very lit­tle down­side risk to ei­ther econ­omy, be­cause we are both very open economies al­ready.”

Con­cerns about food safety and stan­dards have emerged as a fo­cus for dis­con­tent on the Euro­pean side. The is­sue has long been a bone of con­tention be­tween the EU and the US, with the lat­ter in­sist­ing that it reg­u­lates on the ba­sis of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, in con­trast to Europe’s more pre­cau­tion­ary ap­proach. Are reg­u­la­tory stan­dards in food a red-line is­sue for Europe in the ne­go­ti­a­tions?

“Well, the first thing to say is that, in terms of out­comes, we have sim­i­larly high stan­dards,” O’Sul­li­van says. “I don’t think Amer­i­can tourists com­ing to Europe feel very wor­ried about the safety of the food they eat in our restau­rants. Sim­i­larly, I don’t think that Euro­peans trav­el­ling in the United States don’t or­der steak or chicken be­cause they’re wor­ried if it’s fit to eat. It is true that we some­times have dif­fer­ent means of reach­ing th­ese stan­dards, and we don’t al­ways agree. That’s what we have to talk about.”

Nonethe­less, he sug­gests that cer­tain con­sumer is­sues will be non-ne­go­tiable for Europe. “One area where I think we will not be able to agree, for ex­am­ple, is the use of hor­mones in beef,” he says. “I think that it’s very clear that after a very long de­bate in Europe and a lot of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, we de­cided to ban hor­mones in beef. I don’t be­lieve that, as part of any trade deal, we are go­ing to change that.”

Beef con­cerns for Ir­ish farm­ers

How­ever, he says that open­ing up Euro­pean mar­kets to non-hor­mone US beef is on the ta­ble, some­thing that is likely to raise con­cerns for Ir­ish farm­ers.

“Back in 2009 I ne­go­ti­ated with the Americans a quota for non-hor­mone beef, and the Amer­i­can beef in­dus­try be­gan pro­duc­ing hor­mone-free beef for sale in Europe, which is very prof­itable,” O’Sul­li­van says. “They make a lot of money out of it be­cause we’re a valu­able mar­ket. So I don’t think this needs to be a big prob­lem be­tween us: we can of­fer the Amer­i­can farm­ers op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell non-hor­mone beef, which they will make money out of, and we can get high-qual­ity Amer­i­can beef with­out hor­mones.”

Sim­i­larly, he says that the EU po­si­tion on ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GMO) crops is non-ne­go­tiable. “With GMOs, it’s clear that we have our leg­is­la­tion. The Americans don’t like it, but I don’t think we’re go­ing to change this as part of a trade deal.”

The US also has its own red-line is­sues. While Europe is keen to in­clude fi­nan­cial ser­vices as part of a stream­lin­ing of reg­u­la­tory stan­dards, the US is resistant, un­will­ing to re­open the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Re­form and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act .

Other ar­eas of con­tention are the in­clu­sion of an in­vestor-state dis­pute set­tle­ment (ISDS) clause, which al­lows com­pa­nies to sue gov­ern­ments for loss of earn­ings due to pol­icy de­ci­sions. Is this a valid con­cern for cit­i­zens? “Per­son­ally I’m as­ton-

With GMOs, we have our leg­is­la­tion. The Americans don’t like it, but I don’t think we’re go­ing to change this as part of a trade deal

ished at the ag­i­ta­tion there is around this is­sue,” says O’ Sul­li­van, though he con­cedes that ne­go­tia­tors “clearly haven’t con­vinced peo­ple. ISDS is a fea­ture of ev­ery bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment treaty in the world, and that in­cludes all the agree­ments that all our mem­ber states have, as well as the agree­ments the Americans have . . . It has never been a ma­jor prob­lem.

“Hav­ing said that, if you look at what we have done in the re­cent EU-Cana­dian deal, the com­mis­sion has ne­go­ti­ated a sort of ren­o­vated ISDS which makes much more ex­plicit the lim­i­ta­tions on ISDS, and in­cludes new pro­ce­dural safe­guards, in­clud­ing the abil­ity of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups or other or­gan­i­sa­tions to be­come party to the lit­i­ga­tion.”

O’ Sul­li­van also be­lieves that the real ben­e­fits of the EU-US trade agree­ment will be for small and medium-sized en­ter­prises, as the ne­go­tia­tors try to abol­ish du­pli­ca­tion in reg­u­la­tions in ev­ery­thing from car man­u­fac­tur­ing to med­i­cal de­vices.

“Peo­ple say this is all to the ben­e­fit of the large cor­po­ra­tions,” he says. “Ac­tu­ally, large cor­po­ra­tions can ab­sorb the cost of th­ese reg­u­la­tory dif­fer­ences much more eas­ily than a small company. The big win­ners from a trade sim­pli­fi­ca­tion deal be­tween the EU and the US are small and medium en­ter­pruses, for whom th­ese is­sues present huge chal­lenges in terms of get­ting to the ex­port mar­ket.”

As O’Sul­li­van pre­pares to move State­side, he de­clines to give a date as to when the ne­go­ti­a­tions might con­clude, though he says the US will also want to make progress on its trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with 11 coun­tries in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, known as the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Some es­ti­mates sug­gest that the EU-US TTIP ne­go­ti­a­tions could be con­cluded by the end of next year.

Eth­i­cal ques­tions

The prospect of an en­hanced trade deal be­tween the EU and US , who are al­ready the world’s big­gest trad­ing part­ners, has also raised eth­i­cal ques­tions about the com­mit­ment of the world’s top eco­nomic pow­ers to mul­ti­lat­eral trade and, specif­i­cally, the Doha round of trade talks.

O’Sul­li­van him­self, when he was the EU di­rec­tor gen­eral of trade, was cen­trally in­volved in ne­go­ti­at­ing some of the EU’s first bi­lat­eral deals, at a time when the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO) dis­cus­sions were be­gin­ning to fal­ter. “I was only in the job 10 days when I had to go with Peter Man­del­son to the WTO min­is­te­rial in Hong Kong in 2006, where the EU was un­der a lot of pres­sure, par­tic­u­larly on agri­cul­tural ex­port sub­si­dies. We sensed that this was not go­ing very well. Man­del­son thought we needed to hedge our bets a bit, and pro­duced a pol­icy pa­per called Global

Europe, which launched the idea that in par­al­lel to the mul­ti­lat­eral talks, we would open bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the EU and a num­ber of Asian coun­tries fol­lowed, and have con­tin­ued since then. Just last week the EU signed a free-trade deal with Sin­ga­pore. Nonethe­less, O’Sul­li­van in­sists that both he and the EU re­main com­mit­ted to the WTO process. “I am pro­foundly con­vinced,” he says. “I re­main per­son­ally deeply com­mit­ted to the mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem and I think we will at some point come back to the mul­ti­lat­eral ta­ble, and mul­ti­lat­er­alise, if you like, th­ese bi­lat­eral deals that are cur­rently be­ing ne­go­ti­ated.”

But, for the mo­ment, it ap­pears, the world of re­alpoli­tik is tak­ing prece­dence. “To­day’s re­al­ity, un­for­tu­nately, is that a mul­ti­lat­eral deal does not look like it’s go­ing to hap­pen any time soon, so I think in those cir­cum­stances we need to go for the trade deals we can do.”


Pre­par­ing to move State­side: David O’Sul­li­van in his of­fice in Brussels.

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