An Interview with Ambassador Anthony Gardner

Ambassador Gardner

2nd November 2016

Anthony Gardner became the United States Ambassador to the European Union in early 2014. One of his main objectives in this position is to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. In 1994 and 1995, he was Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council, and before becoming Ambassador was managing director at private equity firm Palamon Capital Partners.

Q: Do you think that Brexit is the beginning of the end of the European Union?
A: No, not at all. I’m often asked that question. Clearly, Brexit poses a challenge, not only for the European Union, but also for the United States across the gamut of issues on which we deal with the EU. The list is long: it includes data privacy issues, digital single market issues, sanctions, trade, and many others. We spoke out before the referendum. The results of the referendum, however, need to be respected, and we will obviously respect the decisions that were expressed in a democratic process. However, we do have interests at stake, and we won’t be shy in expressing our views, given that these interests are significant, including in the economic field. Many of our businesses are following this with keen interest, especially given rising concerns about a hard Brexit, meaning a disorderly process by which the United Kingdom could eventually find itself without privileged access to the single market. However, despite these concerns, we still think that the European Union is an important partner of the United States, and will remain so. We intend to continue working closely with the European Union post-Brexit to ensure that we can make progress on all the issues that I mentioned, and others

Q: What are your views on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?
A: This is an important deal, not only for economic reasons, but equally for political and even geostrategic reasons. Many critics are saying that this deal is on life support, but that is not true. We have made important progress in negotiations. We’re not where we thought we would be after three years of talks, but we’re hopeful that discussions will continue into the next administration, and they should, because the economic and political benefits are substantial. It would be a real shame if the United States and the EU, the world’s two largest trading blocs – that share the same values and high standards when it comes to environmental issues, health protections, and consumer protections – are unable to come to an agreement that would set the standard for 21st century trade.

Q: How easy have you found it to negotiate with the EU? How do you think the UK will fare when it does so?
A: These negotiations were never going to be easy or fast for the following reasons: trade negotiations are never fast or simple, the US and the EU are the world’s largest trading blocs and very sophisticated partners, and there are many difficult issues at stake, including the agricultural sector, government procurement, data flows, and maritime services, just to cite a few examples. We are just three years into our transatlantic negotiation, so it’s still ‘early days’.
The UK has expressed an interest in coming to some sort of a free trade agreement with the EU, but these negotiations can only start once it has left the European Union. The process of exiting the EU will take time, possibly even more than the two years after the Article 50 withdrawal notice has been sent. And once the UK is out, an agreement is not going to be a simple thing to negotiate, partly because the deal will have to be approved, not only by the European Parliament, but also by 38 national and regional parliaments. So the idea that this will be an easy deal to negotiate and ratify is unfortunately incorrect.

Q: In your opinion, is there anti-American sentiment in the EU?
A: Many ask me that question. I have not felt it in general, certainly not from the EU institutions. I don’t believe it’s the case either in the competition field, including in the state aid investigations into a number of US companies. That’s not to say that we don’t have significant concerns: we do have concerns, particularly in the case of the Apple investigation, and we have expressed them in the form of a paper published by the US Treasury. We do not comment on competition cases as a matter of policy, for the simple reason that these are legal cases. In the case of the Apple investigation, however, we felt that a number of specific US government concerns were at stake, so we took the unusual step of publishing that paper.
More generally, in a number of member states, we are concerned at some anti-Americanism that has manifested itself as a particular focus about US technology companies. But one should be very careful about generalising this anti-Americanism. There are parts of several member states’ governments that we feel are excessively focusing on the United States, when they should be focusing on more general principles, or other countries. So the short answer is, no, I don’t see anti-Americanism in the EU, or generally speaking across Europe.

Q: How could a Clinton or Trump victory next week impact on the relationship between the US and the EU?
A: As you can imagine, first and foremost, as the US government official, I need to be non-partisan. Secondly, it’s really hard to predict the outcome of the election and the impact this would have. If Hillary Clinton were to win, I feel confident that there would mostly be a continuation of the policies of the current administration with regard to Europe, including the European Union. There may be some changes, for example, policy on Russia, but with regard to the European Union, I think we would continue to build on the good progress we have made over the last 8 years. For example, we’ve made significant progress with our relationship data privacy issues, which went through a troubled patch post-Edward Snowden’s revelations, and we’ve made good progress in our cooperation over digital issues. We’ve cooperated extremely tightly on climate change negotiations, on the negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, also on sanctions on Iran and, more recently, on Russia after its illegal annexation of Crimea. So we’ve had very tight cooperation with the EU and I expect that would continue under a Hillary Clinton administration. If she doesn’t win, it’s really impossible for me to speculate as to what the impact would be.

Q: Which books would you recommend to someone my age?
A: Well, let me recommend a couple of books I’ve just read that had an impact on me, and I think are relevant for someone of your age because they touch on really critical issues that we’re going to be facing over the next couple years.
The first book is called Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. It’s about how automation in the workplace is going to have an absolutely fundamental impact, not just on blue-collar workers, but increasingly, on white-collar workers, and on society as a whole.
The second book deals with crucial issues and it’s also a very uplifting book. I think we need uplifting books because there’s so much pessimism about the future. It’s called The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman, and it’s about how certain countries have successfully addressed big challenges. The examples are very varied. It discusses Botswana, which has dealt with its diamond industry successfully – they managed to harness that industry without squandering it. It talks about Mexico, and its successful economic reforms. It also talks about Singapore, a country that had very few natural resources, but managed to become a giant in financial services. I really like the book because it reminds us that with good management and good policies and government, we can fix many of the problems we’re facing.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: That’s a tough one. There are a few, and this may sound a bit strange coming from me, a diplomat, former lawyer, and businessman. The first is don’t underestimate the power of passion. We can’t let just the extremists have passion, because if we do, we’re in trouble. The moderates, the people who care about facts and about making progress in the world, also need to be passionate in defence of their vision. We don’t often learn that at school, because we learn from books. I can tell you from my defence of this trade agreement all over Europe, that when pure facts meet pure passion, passion normally wins. We need to be fact based, but we also need to be passionate.
The second lesson is believe in what you do. It’s related to the first point. Many of us have very challenging careers. If you don’t believe in what you do, it’s difficult to put up with the rigor of the workplace and the work day.
The third is that keeping an appropriate work/life balance is critical for the longer term. If you don’t feel satisfied in your personal life, it becomes very difficult to be successful professionally.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: Well, I think that’s an easier question for me. I grew up in an international family. My mother was Italian, I lived abroad when I was young, and that formed me fundamentally from an early age. I knew then that an international career was something I wanted. I learnt that understanding foreign cultures and speaking foreign languages was important to having an open mind, and it was culturally enriching. So I would say all those things had a fundamental impact on my future career.

Q: Is there anything that you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: That’s an interesting question. There were things that I wish I had done more of, formative experiences that were a bit outside the box. For example, I went to Poland in 1983. It was a very unusual time, because Poland was under martial law. My parents sought to dissuade me from going to study at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. But I decided to do it because I wanted to be in a special place at a special time, and not just doing a typical summer job. Well, I can tell you that experience was something that will live with me forever, because I met some extraordinary people. I ended up meeting Lech Wałęsa, who was under house arrest, in his home in Gdansk. I interviewed him for the Harvard International Review, and I had a terrific time.
I also studied at the Leningrad State University for a summer program in 1982. This was early days, before Gorbachev. Again, it was an odd thing to do, but the experience stayed with me for the rest of my life.
I would urge any young person to consider doing things that are unusual, that challenge you and open your horizons, because I think as you get older, it can only be positive to look back at those experiences, and say you did something at a time when you were young and able to benefit. And I think that one’s mental flexibility is a skill for the future.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met and why?
A: Well, there are three people. Firstly, Bill Clinton. I worked with Bill Clinton in the White House in 1994 and 1995. He is a very unusual person; unusual in the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and his ability to interact with people from many different walks of life. He’s extremely intelligent, with an ability to absorb information rapidly. I witnessed this on many occasions, including when we travelled together and I had to brief him. He’s a truly skilled politician, who I think will go down in history. I should note that I had the opportunity to work with Hillary Clinton, who also impressed me with the depth of her knowledge and ability to absorb information quickly.
The second person is Jeffery Immelt of General Electric. I worked with him at GE for a number of years. He struck me, not only because of his breadth of knowledge, but also because of his international outlook, which I thought was unusual for a CEO.
The third person is our current President, Barack Obama, with whom I’ve worked now for years – I supported him from an early stage. Initially, many people thought I was naïve, and that he would never win. But I thought Obama was extraordinary from the outset, for some of the same reasons that I mentioned with respect to Bill Clinton. Also, Obama is a very cool, rational analyst of every situation. I’ve never heard him say something that was not thoroughly thought through. I’ve never seen him lose his cool, even in tough situations. And again, I think he will go down in history as a great President.

Leave a Comment