Book review by Christopher Murray
Stars with Stripes: The Essential Partnership between the European Union and the United States
By Anthony Luzzatto Gardner
What to do about the European Union has long flummoxed American policy makers. Should the U.S. view the EU as a rival, which protects the farms and factories of its 27 member states with creative trade barriers? Or should the U.S. view the EU as a partner, whose shared values can advance and multiply American interests?
Ambassador Anthony Gardner is an ardent believer in the second thesis. His book is a memoir with a message. The memoir is of his service, from 2014 to 2017, at the United States Mission to the European Union in Brussels. The message is that the United States and Europe have ever more to gain through ever greater cooperation in a globalized world. The title of the book derives from the two sides’ flags, the EU flag of twelve stars on a blue field, and the American stars and stripes.
At the outset of this fine book, Gardner describes his personal, and his family’s, intimate links to Europe. His maternal grandparents, a distinguished family from the north of Italy, fled anti-Semitism for refuge in the United States. His father served as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy and to Spain.
Gardner, while in graduate school at Oxford, seized upon the subject of European integration. He has never let go. He worked for many years in Brussels and London. In the Clinton Administration, he directed EU affairs at the National Security Council. Ultimately, he was nominated by President Obama to serve, with the rank of Ambassador, as the U.S. Representative to the European Union.
Gardner’s early experiences with the EU coincided with the EU’s own watershed event, its adoption of the European Single Act in the late 1980’s. This was the landmark legislation that provided for a single market, defined by the four pillars of free movement in goods, services, labor and capital among the EU’s member states. It sought to harmonize European standards via 300 pieces of legislation to be implemented in all member states. The Single Act provoked fears in America of a protectionist Fortress Europe.
Yet the American belief remained that European integration promoted European prosperity, and that European prosperity was a good thing for America. American policy for decades supported the principle of European integration, while leaving the scope and pace of that integration for the Europeans to decide. Anthony Gardner would agree with these points. The Trump Administration would not.
Gardner devotes an early chapter to Brexit, in which he lays open his differences with what came to be Trump’s pro-Brexit policy. He writes that during the run-up to the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, he argued to Washington that Brexit, as a step back from European integration, would not be in American interests. In this chapter, Gardner also recounts some colorful stories involving UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom he has known since their days together at Oxford.
The main body of Stars with Stripes is an account of how Gardner worked toward closer U.S.-EU relations across ten fields of endeavor. He writes in a conversational tone that is laced with anecdotes and avoids the tedium of EU institutional arcana. Gardner makes reference to hundreds of encounters, often spirited, between U.S. and EU officials.
At the top of those U.S.-EU fields of endeavor is trade. For decades, a U.S.-EU free trade agreement has been the Holy Grail of transatlantic commercial ambitions. It remains elusive. Gardner, with admirable candor, explains why talks on a free trade agreement, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), ran aground during his tour in Brussels.
“Two key lessons stand out. The first is that both sides must realize that TTIP is unlike any prior trade negotiation either side has undertaken because the parties are of equal size and negotiating leverage. The second key lesson is that such a significant enterprise will not occur without more political will… While President Obama and many members of his administration frequently endorsed TTIP, the president did not appear willing to invest sufficient political capital to get TTIP over the line.” (p.122)
The U.S. and EU found more success in the related fields of data privacy and the digital economy. There is a long history of the U.S. and the EU trying to reconcile billions of commercial transatlantic data transfers with each side’s protection regime for personal data. To this end, the successive programs known as Safe Harbor and Privacy Shield have functioned well, despite adverse European court rulings.
U.S. and EU attitudes on privacy seem to be converging. In 2016, the EU adopted a new privacy regime, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This was a comprehensive piece of legislation that sought to give citizens control over their personal data. Issues in play bear on citizens’ consent to collection of their personal data, and how that data is processed including onward diffusion. Gardner writes that while the GDPR was in the EU’s drafting stage, executives of U.S. technology companies complained to him that GDPR would unduly constrain their operations. As GDPR progressed, however, the sentiments of tech industry leaders changed considerably. They came to agree that protection of personal information, and clear rules about it, were a good thing. One month after GDPR took legal effect in the EU, the state of California in 2018 adopted its own data privacy law, which tracked closely the content of the EU’s GDPR.
Gardner’s discussion of the digital economy presents a race between advancing technology and the slower pace of laws that govern that technology. The subjects span antitrust, international taxation, copyright, and the application of digital technology to existing goods and services. They imply a fifth pillar of the single market. And in fact, the EU Commission announced, in 2015, its Digital Single Market (DSM) program.
DSM aims at enhancing e-commerce and creating conditions in which digital enterprises can thrive. It is an economic growth initiative, comprising sixteen elements. Gardner is bullish on DSM, and he reports that the U.S. government and the U.S. business community also like it.
The U.S. and EU share compelling interests in global internet governance. But they have yet to organize a system for finding mutually advantageous solutions to shared concerns. The issues deal, for example, with permissible on-line content, duties of internet platforms such as Google and Facebook, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. Gardner commends his much-admired predecessor in Brussels, Bill Kennard, for leading a 2016 study that endorsed the creation of a White House level U.S.-EU Digital Council.
Gardner’s book has further chapters on sanctions against Russia and Iran, energy security for Europe, law enforcement, military security, protecting the environment, and foreign assistance. Each of these chapters, like those recounted above, contains material updated through 2019. Stars with Stripes makes for essential reading by students, at all levels, of transatlantic relations. From another angle, aspiring diplomats can learn much about their career ambitions by observing in this book how a first rank American ambassador operates.
Given Gardner’s rich experience in Europe, it would have been interesting to get his take on how much permanent damage the Trump Administration has done to U.S.-EU relations. The Trump camp comes in for harsh treatment throughout Stars with Stripes. Will the common challenges of globalization and of China bring the U.S. and EU back closer together? Or has too much water passed under the bridge, despite so many pressing common interests?
The EU and its predecessors have existed for little more than two generations. Our respective publics on both sides of the Atlantic do not perceive the deep roots of shared accomplishments and sustained historical reflection. Ambassador Gardner’s book goes far in the worthy aim of putting those roots on record.
Christopher Murray, a career diplomat, was U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Congo. He served at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels from 1988-92, and as Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007-10. He also served as Political Advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander for NATO Forces in Europe. His other postings included Beirut, Algiers, Lubumbashi, and Kingston. He resides in Brussels.