President of European Parliament Supports EU-U.S. Trade Pact (11/28)     Print Email

By Michael D. Mosettig, former foreign editor of PBS News Hour

In the weeks since the U.S. presidential election, there  has been growing talk in Washington policy circles and think tanks that it is time for a new push for a trans-Atlantic trade pact. But the idea runs into the practical question of whether the Washington political and policy machinery can handle two big trade deals at the same time, especially amid a still-faltering economic recovery.  "A good idea whose time has not come," said one wag, recently,  of a EU-U.S. trade agreement.  Currently, the international trade community in the American capital is consumed with negotiations already well advanced on a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that would stretch from Canada to Chile and across to Southeast Asia and possibly Japan.

But the trans-Atlantic pact received a strong and public boost in Washington this week from one of Europe's top politicians, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.  Speaking to an overflow crowd of Washington policy wonks and graduate students at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the German socialist party member said:

"The European Parliament supports a free trade zone between the US and EU to be set up by 2015 -- this would be a major boost for economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic."

Support by the European Parliament is important since, as a result of the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament must approve international agreements made by the EU.

Schulz acknowledged the task would not be easy, mentioning different views on food safety, consumer protection and environmental standards. He did not mention agriculture, which could be a major stumbling bloc for both sides. But he added:

"Still, if we succeed, it would be to the huge benefit for 800 million people."

In a talk that included moments of eloquence and humor, Schulz acknowledged that if he were simply a socialist member of parliament he would be a far more outspoken critic of German and European austerity policies to cut deficits. Instead, he said that austerity alone cannot bring back European economic growth.

"Thankfully, however, the mood in Europe though is now changing. More and more European governments are saying yes to sustainable budgets, but also yes to investment and to boosting growth."

In a speech laced with appeals for trans-Atlantic cooperation and reminders of the American role in rebuilding Europe after World War II, Schulz acknowledged frustration with the European decision-making process, such as last weekend's failure to come up with a EU budget. To an audience consumed by the "fiscal cliff" negotiations between the U.S. Congress and President Obama, Schulz said compromise is required, and "this is not a dirty or negative word." In a European Parliament of 27 countries with members speaking 24 languages, it is a daily necessity.  An MEP since 1994, Schulz was elected president this year.

While the world is no longer defined by Cold War divisions and must deal with a rising China and Asia, the trans-Atlantic  cooperation forged in the post-war era is still essential, Schulz said;   "In the era of globalization we need to cooperate more than ever to defend our democratic and societal model. We cannot take what has been achieved for granted; we need to continue fighting for it on a daily basis."

Schultz ended on an upbeat note while noting he was far from neutral in the U.S. presidential election:

"I am convinced that as partners and friends we have to offer a lot to each other and to the world. To quote your President, whose re-election I personally welcomed whole-heartedly: The Best is still to come!"