Two EU Commissioners fire at will against the US

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship (on left, speaking in the rostrum), went to Heidelberg where she participated in a debate about the future of Europe with Winfried Kretschmann, Minister President of Baden-Württemberg (on the right). Around 400 citizens were present to discuss about democracy in Europe.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship (on the left, speaking in the rostrum), went to Heidelberg where she participated in a debate about the future of Europe with Winfried Kretschmann, Minister President of Baden-Württemberg (on the right). Around 400 citizens were present to discuss about democracy in Europe.

From both sides of the Atlantic Ocean two European Commissioners, Michel Barnier from Washington and Vivian Reding from Heidelberg, while addressing yesterday quite different audiences, sent out converging messages criticising the US. They both expressed novel views vis-à-vis EU–US relations in general, which can be interpreted as hardening of Commission’s position in reference to on-going Euro-American talks covering very important policy issues.

Barnier insisted strongly once more that a chapter with common EU-US financial regulations must be included in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the ground-breaking free trade and investment package the two sides are currently negotiating. The EU Commissioner brought up again this issue on Tuesday, despite the abrupt denial of U.S. Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, to even discuss Barnier’s proposal during their meeting on Monday.

Several thousand miles eastwards Vivian Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Justice, engaging in a Citizens’ dialogue in Heidelberg suddenly stated that the International Monetary Fund should be ousted from Europe. It must be mentioned that the IMF participates in a ‘troika’ together with the European Commission and the European Central Bank in financing and auditing the three Eurozone countries following austerity programmes that is Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Given that the IMF is extensively echoing the views of the US government on world financial issues, this Reding statement can be interpreted as critical to US.

Financial regulation

Let’s return to Washington where Michel Barnier delivered a speech in the Transatlantic Policy Network on Tuesday entitled “Time for a new Transatlantic Partnership”. Barnier, while discussing the inclusion of a financial regulation chapter in the EU-US free trade agreement, was much less diplomatic than on Monday speaking at the Brookings Institution. The Commissioner stressed that, “I arrived Sunday night in Washington. Since then, I’ve heard suggestions that Europe’s real reason for wanting financial regulation in TTIP is to delay and/or weaken implementation of G20 commitments. Let me be very clear: nothing could be further from the truth… Common standards on trade, intellectual property rights, public procurement and financial regulation will make it possible to create a true transatlantic market place”.

In short Barnier told his American audience that a true partnership must contain also a chapter with common financial regulation, otherwise it will remain incomplete. If this position is adopted also by the Commission as an EU institutional body, the negotiations on TTIP will run into problems. The EU Commissioner though had other equally important financial issues to raise. For the first time an EU dignitary told the Americans quite openly and directly that they discriminate against non-US banks. To this effect he stressed that the “Draft US rules on Foreign Banking Organisations should be revised. They do not recognise non-US prudential rules. And they discriminate against non-US banks”.

US guarantees

Barnier however had more news to air in his second Washington speech this week. This time it was a much more sensitive issue of wider interest. It was a more advanced EU position in relation to the bugging of the EU mission’s building in the US and the monitoring of hundreds of millions of telephone and internet communications in Europe. Barnier after telling his US audience that “America must give the EU explanations on the surveillance schemes in place” he rushed to add that “the US should also give guarantees on data protection. As Chancellor Merkel called for yesterday, Europeans are giving themselves proper safeguards”.

Until yesterday the Europeans were officially asking the Americans only for ‘explanations’ over the surveillance issue. Now Barnier is asking for “guarantees on data protection”. This is a quite different approach because those guarantees have to be agreed between the two sides. There is no other way to struck an agreement than negotiations. Obviously those new negotiations between the EU and the US will be conducted in parallel with the other ones about the TTIP. Who is to say that there won’t be an interconnection between the two lines of talks?

Reding asks IMF to go

Coming back to Europe and to Vivian Reding, in Heidelberg she couldn’t be clearer while commenting on IMF’s position in Europe. She said “Getting the IMF on board in recent years was an emergency solution. In future, we Europeans have to be able to resolve our problems on our own. People have the feeling that the Troika is working behind closed doors, not subject to any form of control, and that the IMF technocrats are miles away from any form of democratic control. The Commission is the economic Government of Europe. Together with the European Central Bank and the Member States, we can make sure that, in return for solidarity, countries hit hardest by the crisis implement reform. We do not need the Troika for this. Its time is over”.

Obviously according to Reding the only part of the troika which lacks democratic legitimisation is the IMF, “whose technocrats are miles away from any form of democratic control”. Understandably Christine Lagarde, the general manager of IMF and ex-minister of Finance of France is included.

There is no doubt that the two Commissioners didn’t plan their interventions to coincide in confronting the US on one or two very important, delicate and of wider interest issues. Still the conclusion is that two high-ranking EU Commissioners concentrated simultaneously their fire on US targets. It remains to be seen if the Commission as a body and its President Manuel Barroso will follow Reding and Barnier in their very critical stance against the US.

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