DECEMBER 14, 2009


Thank you for timing out of your busy schedules to join us.  I look forward to our discussion and exchange of ideas.

As some of you know, I undertook my responsibilities as Greece 's Ambassador to the United States relatively recently. I have been in the Foreign Service for more than 30 years, and have spent the last 16 consecutive years in NATO, the European Union and the U.N.  I like to think that this experience in these multilateral institutions (?) has enabled me to see the bigger picture when it comes to international relations. I believe this is important, since bilateral relationships are inevitably impacted by the global picture.

Today, I like to talk a little bit about the EU-US relationship.

By all accounts, this is a great timing for the EU-US relationship:

Whatever the reason, the election of President Obama has taken the drama out of the way Europeans see the U.S. , resulting in a greater degree of convergence and practical cooperation on most international issues.

The Treaty of Lisbon is now ratified and finally come into effect, hopefully enabling Europe to become even more assertive and effective in the international arena.

More specifically, the Lisbon Treaty will enhance Europe 's ability to speak with a single and clearer voice, with direct and far-reaching consequences for EU-U.S. cooperation:

With the end of the EU rotating Presidency, ascertaining Europe's full potential will not depend on the whims and capabilities of each six-month Presidency.

The U.S. will have permanent interlocutors in both Brussels and Washington .

The new President of the European Council will ensure continuity and appropriate follow-up to E.U.-U.S. Summits, by keeping track of decisions and making sure that Heads of State and Government regularly come back to them.

As Vice-President of the Commission, the new High Representative will be able to pursue a more comprehensive approach to the E.U.'s foreign policy, combining political leverage with the necessary financial and development resources.

In the long run, the European Defense Agency and the Lisbon Treaty provisions on Permanent Structured Cooperation in Lisbon Treaty could be very helpful in creating more military capabilities for Europe , by pooling and reducing intra-E.U. duplications. 

Of course, not all problems will be automatically resolved – the U.S. will rightly continue to be frustrated over certain things:

Firstly, Europe 's inability to substantially shore up its military capabilities, particularly given current economic difficulties and ensuing budget pressures;

Secondly, the fact that the European method of compromise and the lowest common denominator is often ineffective, with much too much time spent on institutional and technocratic niceties;

Third is what is perceived as the EU's helplessness to lay out a broader strategic vision and seek ways to improve burden-sharing.

At times, the perception is that Washington 's interest in E.U. affairs is dwindling, while many in the U.S. perceive the E.U. as a collection of weak and ineffective states, which are neither malleable nor collectively helpful. This perception is wrong:

As we speak, American and European diplomats are actively joining forces on foreign policy. Among others, they are joining efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear program issue, to secure a better future for the Western Balkans, and to revitalize the Middle East Peace Process;

In Afghanistan , while there are misgivings in Washington about the quantity and quality of European contributions, European countries do participate, individually as well as collectively, in the effort to stabilize the country.

There is also close cooperation in the fight against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The E.U.-U.S. work plan on crisis management and conflict prevention, concluded in March 2008, is implemented through concrete steps in many related key areas, including early warning. In fact, for the first time, the U.S. is making an important contribution to an E.U. crisis management operation (the EULEX rule of law mission in Kosovo).

In today's world, global security threats can be addressed mainly through the right combination of civilian and military capabilities, including a vast array of governance and post-conflict instruments and means; there is also emphasis on early warning and conflict prevention, in order to tackle security challenges before they reach a critical stage.

In light of the above, the European Union is gradually becoming a uniquely-equipped crisis management actor, and, consequently, an ideal strategic partner for the United States . In addition to the $36 billion that the European Union allocates to foreign aid, its engagement in crisis management is continually increasing, considering the number of ESDP missions and operations, and the global security outlook of its contributions, as demonstrated in Aceh, the Middle East and Africa .

In my view, to make the partnership even more effective, we must deal with two important paradoxes:

On the American side: while the US often criticizes the EU's formalistic approach, it sometimes appears obsessed with a need for a fitting structural framework that will govern the transatlantic dialogue and a common strategic concept to guide all our common actions;

On the European side: individually and on a bilateral basis, all EU Member-States try hard to impress the US (and this is particularly obvious in this town), overlooking the fact that the best way to do business is to become collectively more coherent and more capable.

Regarding the first paradox, the objective must be to ensure the necessary political engagement between the E.U. and the U.S. , while avoiding an overly bureaucratic, cumbersome and, therefore, ultimately not result-oriented process:

The structural machinery of the E.U.-U.S. relationship is, incidentally, extremely dense and solid, as indeed it should be;

Regular and direct dialogue, at both high and expert levels, has been enhanced on key strategic themes, resulting in useful exchange of information, coordinated action and joint consideration of security challenges at an early stage. This dialogue is not required to produce automatic alignment of one side's views with those of the other. But it has consistently generated pragmatic and workable solutions (see the cases of Kosovo , Bosnia , piracy off the Somali coast);

There is no denying that dialogue between the E.U. and the U.S. at the strategic level should be conducted as often as possible and necessary. But rather than spend precious time and energy in attempts to reach a common theoretical understanding, which will de facto be overtaken by events, we need to be pragmatic and improve focused, sustained and action-oriented cooperation wherever possible;

In Washington and in many European capitals, there is a natural tendency to emphasize NATO's role as the primary, if not exclusive, framework for conducting transatlantic relations. Obviously, one in his right mind would question the crucial role of the Alliance and, despite some well-known difficulties, the EU-NATO relationship has developed, in recent years, through good practical cooperation, both in Brussels and on the ground. But direct strategic US engagement with the E.U. is equally useful. If Americans and the EU disagree on a particular issue, this can be dealt with through direct contact, rather than within some heavily institutionalized framework in NATO. Experience has also proved that there are cases where NATO cannot provide the appropriate option, not least because the E.U. can be more palatable in many parts of the world.

As regards the second paradox:

On the E.U. side, it is imperative that we achieve greater institutional and political integration, strengthened military and civilian capacity and better working relations with key partners.

It is an established fact that, on the basis of their national capabilities alone, individual E.U. member-states cannot effectively tackle today's complex challenges and their global implications. Coordinated action of the "27" can and does provide considerable real added value to individual national efforts. On many justice and home affairs issues, for example, I have always been startled by the fact that there is better cooperation between the U.S and individual E.U. member-states, than among the "27" EU members themselves. More E.U. is better for both Europe and the U.S.

In short, the precondition for a revitalization of the security architecture is that the Europeans speak with one voice. This is the only way to make the E.U. a more reliable and authoritative partner when responding to America 's commitment around the world.

Here in Washington , there is a blatant need for more public diplomacy and an overall stronger E.U. presence; the Union is not adequately prepared to do as the Washingtonians do in promoting its foreign policy among U.S. domestic actors.

If the E.U. wants to become better known as a foreign policy player to be reckoned with, we also must reach out to and engage all those who participate in the U.S. decision-making process: the legislature, think-tanks, academic centers, the media and public opinion.

Finally, we ought to do a better job of explaining the internal workings of the E.U. and the role and competencies of its various organs; too often, American interlocutors are rightly confused about who in Brussels does what and how.

In conclusion:

Today, the E.U. – U.S. relationship is more crucial than ever;  the European Union and the United States  are each other's natural allies; they are each other's most obvious and important political and trade partners, united by common values and threat perceptions. Thus, a better future for Americans, Europeans and, I might say, for the rest of the world, demands a more comprehensive and operational EU-US partnership.

We are confronted with a very tall order, indeed. Helping solidify democracy and the rule of law, combating international terrorism, stabilizing failed states and resolving regional conflicts, setting out the new modalities of global economic governance, alleviating poverty, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, tackling climate change and energy security, working for the stability and openness of the global economy.

There is no doubt that a more coherent and capable European Union is good news for the United States . Despite occasional misunderstandings, mainly on tactics, very few are the areas in which European and American interests and objectives do not coincide.

Only a collective political approach, based on our common transatlantic values, can provide the key to achieving satisfactory and long-lasting solutions to the many problems we are faced with. By working together across the Atlantic , bringing on board other major players and cooperating effectively in international institutions, the E.U. and the U.S. can continue to make a positive global difference.

One major problem is that, while the U.S. has understood the importance of a comprehensive approach to crisis management and is already strengthening its civilian capabilities, Europeans, accustomed to defense on the cheap after World War II, are finding it harder to develop their military arsenal in a way that will make the EU a more credible actor on the international scene.

Finally, past experience has shown that while Europe needs to be more effective, both internally and in its dealings with the U.S., this irreplaceable transatlantic relationship will be better served not on the basis of more formalistic machinery or rigid definitions of burden-sharing, but on the basis of sustained and results-oriented coordination.