The EU Inside Out: A Panel Discussion with João Vale de Almeida, EU Ambassador to the US, and Michael Collins, Irish Ambassador to the US
On Tuesday, March 5, the Center for the Study of Europe, in collaboration with the Center for Finance, Law, and Policy at Boston University, launched a series of conversations with European Ambassadors entitled “The EU Inside Out.” João Vale de Almeida, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, and Michael Collins, Irish Ambassador to the United States, participated in the inaugural event, which was moderated by Alan Berger, retired editorial writer for international affairs at the Boston Globe.
The series takes place as part of a larger project, funded by a grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, exploring the prospects for democratic politics in Europe against the backdrop of the profound transformations taking place on the continent in response to the global financial meltdown and ensuing crisis in the Eurozone. The exploration proceeds from two vantage points: from the “center,” through the conversations with the ambassadors, and from the “edges,” through a parallel series of conversations with European artists and writers, intellectuals and activists. Our focus, as the idiom in the project title implies, is on the transformations occurring in the “constitution” of the European Union and its citizenry.
Our goal in the conversations with European Ambassadors is to address the theme of democratic politics under conditions of globalization from an “inside” point of view. We believe that centering the conversations around global challenges, which by their nature do not yield to nation state solutions (whether economic crisis, transnational terrorism, or global warming), highlights the value of the European Union as a model for transnational cooperation, regional integration, and cultural coexistence. Questions to be pursued include what the EU is becoming, how its policies and institutions are evolving, how its role as international actor is enhanced (or not) in response to new global challenges, and why, under conditions of globalization, its relationship with the United States remains more important than ever.
The “EU Inside Out” series reprises an earlier series, entitled “Getting to Know the EU,” which took place at Boston University in 2007, featuring conversations with the Polish, German, French, Danish, Dutch, Austrian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Greek Ambassadors.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador João Vale de Almeida expressed his pleasure at seeing our European Commission grant being put to good use, in particular, through our involvement of “people from the cultural world” into the discussion of Europe’s future. In terms of transatlantic relations, he emphasized the importance of looking beyond the political and economic issues which divide us and to consider what we have in common, not only in terms of our heritage and our values, but what we want to do in the world. Our negotiations, he said, should be driven by our goals for the future, namely, strengthening and deepening the Transatlantic partnership on all fronts, from foreign policy and security to finance and economics. He expressed his strong support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as a way of increasing our capacity to jointly influence the global economy. Finally, he stressed the need to work together in confronting climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber security, energy security, food security, and other global challenges.
If Ambassador de Almeida focussed his remarks on the transatlantic relationship, Ambassador Michael Collins, while noting the “unique” relationship between Ireland and the US (and Ireland and Boston in particular), focussed his remarks on the importance of the European Union, whose presidency he is representing, and on Ireland’s EU membership. By way of underscoring Ireland’s EU credentials, he described the enormous transformation his country has undergone since it joined the EU in 1973. Despite the setbacks of recent years, he said that Ireland sees itself unambiguously “in the heart of Europe. He reassured listeners that Ireland has turned a corner and is emerging from the crisis stronger and more competitive. In fact, Collins stated, by this time next year, Ireland is expected to be one of the strongest growing economies in Europe. Even through the crisis, Ireland has retained a strong export market (this year, it will export 106% of its GDP), and continues to be attractive target for US investment. Collins summarized by reiterating that Ireland’s EU membership, despite the “existential crisis” of recent years, remains, overwhelmingly, cause for celebration. He expressed his country’s “deep commitment to remain part of continually emerging phenomenon that is Europe, for itself and also for role it can play in global politics as well.”
Taking up the notion of “existential crisis,” Alan Berger opened the discussion by asking to what extent the demand for austerity from some members is creating pressures on that put the notion of political union in question. Ambassador de Almeida responded by addressing the nature of Europe’s crisis, which he defined as an opportunity to reassess, take stock, and start again. The integration process, he said, wrought enormous changes, including loss of national sovereignty, loss of national currencies, and public opinion has not always kept pace. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 exposed a number of vulnerabilities in the Euro-area, and political reverberations have been pronounced. However, de Almedia emphasized, Europe has reacted to the crisis in ways that have strengthened the political union, introducing structural reforms and mechanisms to prevent a reoccurrence. Defending current policies, he said that despite the difficulties in some societies, Europe is doing what is necessary to return to growth, to regain its fiscal footing, and to increase competitiveness. Ambassador Michael Collins, addressing the austerity question in context of Ireland’s experience, explained that in 2010, Ireland did not have many choices – it had been shut out of the bond market. The challenge in Ireland, he said, has been to maintain social cohesion.
Next Berger asked whether, as George Soros and others have maintained, the crisis was inevitable. Ambassador de Almeida said in response that the integration process has been incremental by definition – there was never a “blue print” or a “road map.” When the Euro was launched, it was on the basis of what was possible at that time, but it was always understood, he said, that it would have to evolve. Ambassador Collins, blaming a confluence of circumstances following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, said that he did not think the crisis was inevitable, and moreover, that it did not have to unfold in such a catastrophic way.
Subsequent questions addressed the middle East peace initiative, misuse of structural funds, diverging attitudes toward other cultures, enlargement plans, in particular, with regard to the Balkan countries, and also Turkey, and finally, whether, in retrospect, Ireland would have been better off defaulting. View the entire conversation on BUniverse.