EU-US relations after the Summit

30 June 2004

Only days after the EU-US Summit in Ireland, the European Policy Centre welcomed Günter Burghardt, Head of the European Commission Delegation in Washington DC, who assessed the outcome of the meeting. Fraser Cameron, EPC Director of Studies, chaired the Policy Briefing. This is not an official transcript of the meeting and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.


The EU-US relationship was "back to normal" after the tensions of the early years of the George W. Bush administration, Ambassador Burghardt said. EU leaders had come to the Summit site in Ireland over the weekend, with a "clear added assertiveness," but had been listened to by the US President and his cabinet members. The productive talks had resulted in the signature of a number of joint-declarations ranging from the Middle East to Sudan to the transatlantic economic partnership.

Event Report

Opening the meeting, Fraser Cameron highlighted the timeliness of the Briefing, which took place in the midst of the “summer of summits” and ahead of political changes on both sides of the Atlantic. “The EU and the US must do more to understand one another as misunderstanding negates the enormous joint potential we have economically and politically,” he said.
The EU-US relationship – now and then 

The summit had been marked by a “clear added assertiveness on behalf of EU leaders,” Ambassador Burghardt said. They were strengthened by the recent EU enlargement that finally fulfilled the mantra of the 1989 transatlantic agenda of achieving a “Europe – united and free.” There had also been movement on the US side, with increased willingness to listen and reach out to the European partners. The momentum caused by the recent international changes and the acceptance by the US of the constraints it faced particularly in the international security arena had brought “us back to normal.” EU officials had also signalled a clear willingness to engage further with the US, with Commission President Romano Prodi and External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten publishing a joint Op-Ed in the Washington Post underlining their desire to “work together despite our differences.”

With respect to the Iraqi situation, leaders on both sides committed themselves to addressing the new situation – rather than revisiting the hardened lines of opposition from the past - in an effort to prevent further catastrophe. “Step-by-step the US has come back to normal and it now sees the EU as an important – if not the most important partner,” Ambassador Burghardt said.


Looking back briefly over the changes in the transatlantic relationship since President George W. Bush’s election, Ambassador Burghardt said that it had in part been the first joint summit in Göteborg, which had left the President with a very negative impression of European leadership. As each EU Head of State questioned the President about his stance toward the Kyoto Protocol at this summit, Bush felt “unloved and distrusted,” according to Ambassador Burghardt. This had had a largely negative effect on all subsequent negotiations. “Not a month would go by without the US ‘un-signing’ or negating agreements made by the previous administration,” he said. This left Europeans questioning the type of internationalism guiding US policy.

9/11 and its impact on the EU-US relationship 

The shocking terror attacks on the US on 11 September 2001 prompted President Bush to declare that this “is a new opportunity to work together,” giving European leaders the impression that this was the end of the negative US policy stance. However, this had not been the case. Subsequent Washington Summits in 2002 and 2003 had been tense and important economic issues had been overshadowed by lingering questions about President Bush’s radical internationalism, in which the camps were divided simply into “good and evil.” The lack of compromise in the US and the  “if you’re not for us, then you’re against us” stance had sent a clear message to EU leaders critical of the US foreign policy direction.

Progress in Ireland

Despite this negative history, the weekend meeting in Ireland had been productive, with joint-declarations on issues such as the Middle East and Mediterranean, the fight against terrorism, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Sudan, longer-term plans on HIV/AIDS and Malaria and finally a declaration on support for the Iraqi people. The declaration on economic partnership was particularly remarkable, as both sides had agreed to be more ambitious on regional liberalisation and in the Doha Development round of WTO negotiations. “Now we have a declaration, which calls on all stakeholders to undertake a full inventory of the barriers to economic activity. This will be accompanied by a road-map that goes beyond these questions and issues a comprehensive recipe on how to remove barriers to trade.”

At the summit, President Bush had acknowledged that “some issues were misunderstood” previously, but that this summit had taken place overall in a spirit of “seriousness and honesty in a plea for understanding,” Ambassador Burghardt said. The next year would be a watershed in the relationship, with fundamental political changes on both sides. The new EU Commission was set to take office on November 1, 2004, while US voters prepared to elect the next administration in the US. A reassessment of US policy would be undertaken regardless of whether President Bush was re-elected or Senator Kerry won his first term. Ambassador Burghardt suggested that the second half of 2005 would be the time for concrete policy recommendations to be put forward for the next summit.

Finally, Ambassador Burghardt said that the focus of the TABD had been to formulate a priority list for the administrations on both sides to assure a “barrier-free transatlantic market.”

The following open discussion with the audience covered issues ranging from the US visa waiver programme, the American stance on the International Criminal Court and Turkish membership in the EU.

Concluding the meeting, Chairman Fraser Cameron thanked Mr. Burghardt for his comprehensive analysis of the summit and said that the message was clear for the EU: “It had to get its act together” to be taken seriously as a genuine partner of the US.