TCS Daily

A Conversation with Boyden Gray

By Craig Winneker - July 7, 2006 12:00 AM

On his recent visit to Vienna to meet with EU leaders, US President George W. Bush was met with angry protests and tough, sometimes belligerent, questions from the European Press corps. But is all as bad as it seems? TCS Europe Editor Craig Winneker talks to Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel to Bush père and now the US Ambassador to the EU. Despite persistent worries about the EU's regulatory zeal, Gray, who was present at the Vienna talks, is upbeat about the transatlantic partnership.

TCS: You were just in Vienna with President Bush and with EU leaders. What do you think was the most important thing to come out of the EU-US summit and how do you assess what was achieved there?

Ambassador Boyden Gray: Well, I think it went very well and I think the Europeans got a much better understanding of some of the difficulties we have on issues like Guantanamo. That was part of it. In other areas, I think the energy package -- and the climate change dialogue that we've begun is what was really new in it -- was important. It didn't get much attention because there was not much disagreement but it's still a very important accomplishment. All told I would say it went very well; the relationship between the US and the EU is probably as good or better now than it's maybe ever been. And that's something that the Europeans will tell you.

TCS: The press coverage always seems to focus on protesters who are there, or disagreements between the EU and the US, but just beneath that surface...

Amb. Gray: The cooperation on the diplomatic level, on the Middle East, Iran, the Balkans, Darfur, the level of cooperation on these issues is better probably than it's ever been.

TCS: Where are the trouble spots, the misunderstandings? Obviously there are still disagreements, like on airline passenger data.

Amb. Gray: Well, we're working through that. I think it's going to go very smoothly. Sure, there are differences on both sides, like their frustrations over the visa waiver [program], but I think the Europeans understand better that it's not something the President can do with a magic wand, that Congress has a very big hand in setting the agenda. It's not just the President. A Democrat taking the White House wouldn't change the Congressional view. Not even a shift in parties in the House would change the view on some of these issues, like visa waiver. So they know it's a more complex and nuanced problem.

TCS: You've been in Brussels five months now. What's the level of anti-Americanism that you have to deal with as the foremost representative of the US here?

Amb. Gray: I don't really confront it at all and I don't detect any of it in my dealings officially. And I frankly don't run into it when I travel around from ordinary Europeans that I run into. Of course I sense it when I get asked about it by the media. That's always the first question they ask is about Guantanamo. But when I'm with Europeans I don't sense it -- when I'm on a plane or a train or I'm sitting in a cafe. Maybe I don't look American.

TCS: What is the state of play right now on cooperation with the EU on the war on terror? Obviously there you have some sharp differences.

Amb. Gray: It's very good. It's complex, of course, because of how much the EU competence is versus the member states, the bilateral-multilateral piece of it is complex. Passenger name records is one example of that. It can get very complex sharing data with Europol and Eurojust can be complicated but on the whole it's very good.

TCS: Do you get the sense from the people you're dealing with that they understand how important these things are to the US in terms of security? They're not dismissive of that?

Amb. Gray: No, they are not dismissive. They are not dismissive at all of what we're trying to do. Maybe it would have been different pre-Madrid, pre-London, but certainly since then there is no disconnect on the priority that is placed by either side on that issue.

TCS: How do you assess -- now that you've been here and seen how Brussels works -- how well the EU is prepared to move on something like that?

Amb. Gray: As I say things are going very well -- knock on wood. There isn't much daylight, if any, [between us] on any of these diplomatic, security and counterterrorism issues. There are differences, ironically, or paradoxically, or counterintuitively, on the economic side.

TCS: You mean, for example, on trade?

Amb. Gray: Yes, trade. REACH [the EU chemicals testing directive]. Certainly the antitrust stuff. Microsoft -- I'm not personally engaged in it, but you read the papers and see that there is a very adverse decision coming down. So on the regulatory side there are differences.

TCS: You mentioned the climate change dialogue. Do you get the sense that Europe is coming around a little to understanding the US position on that?

Amb. Gray: And vice versa. I think both sides are becoming more appreciative of the other. It comes from different vantage points but ends up in the same place. In Europe climate change has almost become a surrogate for environment and for discussion of the environment. On our side climate change has become a surrogate for energy security. You end up in the same place, but the starting points are different. By the way, on the environment, I don't know why the US allows itself to be portrayed as some sort of recalcitrant protector of the environment. We have a very good record domestically on air quality, water quality. We pioneered the notion of trying to protect the rain forest.

TCS: The U.S. plants more trees than anybody else...

Amb. Gray: We plant more trees than anybody else.

TCS: On trade do you see any chance for a Doha agreement?

Amb. Gray: It's very tough, but we shouldn't give up. I'm not a trade negotiator and never have been. But the pattern is that things look the darkest just before they break open. Negotiating has a dynamic of its own and there's a certain amount of brinksmanship going on, but I feel confident.

TCS: You mentioned REACH, the EU's chemicals directive. How serious of an issue is that for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic?

Amb. Gray: I think it's going to hurt everybody. There's concern that in the REACH implementation plan, if you're not a member of a European trade association you're not included and you don't know what's going on, which would tend to disadvantage smaller niche innovators in every other country who aren't big enough to be a member of an international trade association. So we're very worried about the fact that not being present here in Brussels will be a disadvantage for companies in the United States and elsewhere. But beyond that it's going to be bad for the economy unless some changes are made. I'm still hopeful we can get some changes. We have quite a consortium of countries that are pressing the EU.

TCS: Fortunately it's one of those EU issues that tends to go on and on and on so there's lots of opportunities to change it....

Amb. Gray: Well, the Finnish want to get it done during their presidency, and they have a lot to gain because the agency doing the work is going to be in Helsinki. So they have a built-in incentive to get it done. It may be that the Germans -- although they say they support it, I'm not so sure -- the Germans don't think it's really going to be helpful for the economy. So the Finns may think they need to get it done while they can, strike while the iron is hot [before the Germans assume the EU presidency in January 2007].

TCS: What are your impressions after being here for five months in Brussels? How it works, or doesn't?

Amb. Gray: It's very complicated. Very complicated. And it's changing, too. The role of the Parliament is changing practically as we speak. It's a mystery as to how it all works. If you're on the inside it's not a mystery at all and you're happy to trade on that and keep it inside. Everybody would benefit if it were more transparent. I think [European Commission President José Manuel] Barroso wants it to be more transparent. People don't fully understand the EU and that's a debit not a credit.


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