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Restoring the trans-Atlantic relationship on Obama's visit to Brussels

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Restoring the trans-Atlantic relationship on Obama's visit to Brussels

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US President Barack Obama arrives in Brussels on Wednesday. The last time he met with EU Presidents was at the launch of negotiations on a trans-atlantic trade deal known as TTIP. Work on hashing out an agreement is slowly moving forward.

Those against TTIP say the deal is being driven by the interests of big business. Protesters claim that instead of benefiting citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, TTIP represents an attack on social, environmental and economic standards.

Although the furore has died down, the issue of privacy concerns many Europeans and may be unavoidable for Obama after Edward Snowden’s NSA spying revelations almost a year ago.

Nevertheless, the drama over Crimea could push the EU and US together, with both closing ranks to support Ukraine and put pressure on Russia. Sanctions have been imposed by both Brussels and Washington, and they may coordinate with each other on more against Moscow.

euronews spoke to the EU ambassador to the US, João Vale de Almeida.

euronews:
“Knowing that the EU and the US have different levels of interdependence with Russia, how can the two blocks coordinate their actions, especially concerning economic sanctions?”

EU Ambassador to the US João Vale de Almeida:
“The US has been engaged with us (EU) in the efforts to democratize Europe, to make Europe more open and to consolidate the “end” of the Cold War era. What is at stake here is very simple: a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by Russia. We condemn this act and do not recognize the annexation of Crimea.”

euronews:
“But the secessionist threat continues and we’ll have to see what happens in eastern and southern of Ukraine, where pro- Russian forces are still very active… “

Almeida:
“Obviously we – Europeans and the Americans – are very attentive. The European Council was very clear regarding the increase and extension of sanctions – which is line with the American position.”.
euronews:
“Let’s talk now about the free trade agreement that is being negotiated between the US and the EU. The US is making, as we know, an important investment exploring shale gas, but at this point it doesn’t export it. Do you think that this could now be included in the negotiations and, in the medium-term, Europe could import American shale gas?”

Almeida:
“You are right to imply that energy is becoming a decisive factor in foreign policy. America has undergone a kind of energy revolution in recent years, with new technologies, new geological discoveries. The US is fast-approaching self-sufficiency when it comes to energy. America’s ability to take advantage of this new capacity by exporting is restricted by U.S. law. I think this issue has to be put on the negotiating table.”

euronews:
“What worries many Europeans are possible technical and legal changes to rules on importing goods, in a way that they could jeopardize Europe’s high standards on workers’ rights, public health, the environment. Some common examples are food products with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and hormones…”

Almeida:
“All those fears are baseless. Europe will not decrease its level of protection – in environmental, or social, or consumer rights – because of a trade agreement. Not even with the US.

“On the contrary, if the US and EU find a common platform about how all these issues will be regulated, they will be sending a message to the rest of the world – to China, Brazil, India, emerging countries, Russia – that they have addressed these issues in the international arena in a very rigorous way.”

euronews:
“Even though the tension over electronic espionage has calmed down, cyber security is still very important for Europeans. Is Obama’s administration willing to revise its internal legislation so that it addresses the privacy issue or, at least, to participate in an international treaty with the UN mediating?”

Almeida:
“Obama’s administration recognises European sensitivity to such issues and recognizes that there’s a problem. Progress has already been made, but the work will continue. In this trip, the President will certainly touch upon this matter. Citizens ask for security, but they also want the respect for their privacy”.