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U.S. willing to get its relationship with the EU “back on track again”

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Gordon Sondland, right, the US ambassador to the EU, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are welcomed to Brussels by the European parliament president, David-Maria Sassoli. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

By Guido Lanfranchi.

In the wake of the European elections of last spring, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held meetings with the four incoming EU leaders. Commenting on the meetings, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU expressed satisfaction, stressing how everyone agreed on “the necessity to get our relationship back on track again”. 

This spring, the European elections and their complex aftermath have eventually determined the names of the four incoming European Union leaders: Ursula von der Leyen for the Commission, Charles Michel for the Council, David Sassoli for the Parliament, and Josep Borrell for the External Action Service. At the beginning of September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Brussels and – together with the U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland – met with all four incoming European leaders. 

In the wake of the meetings, Ambassador Sondland expressed a great deal of satisfaction, widely praising the warmth and friendliness that characterized the talks. He noted that both sides agreed on the “necessity to get our relationship back on track again”, and he wished that the relationship between the U.S. administration and the new European leaders will be more productive than in the past year. 

Answering questions from the press on the policy differences between the U.S. and the EU on a number of relevant topics, Ambassador Sondland stressed that such differences “are not necessarily as great as they are portrayed in the media”.

While there might be differences in how to reach certain outcomes, the U.S. and the EU largely share the same objectives – the Ambassador explained, citing Iran as a prime example of this phenomenon.

To restart the relationship between the U.S. and the EU on a new foot, Ambassador Sondland proposed a number of short-term measures, such as “to dispense with some of the invective that’s been going in both directions”, as well as “to identify some low-hanging fruits” where the two sides could reach some preliminary agreement, thus enhancing trust and paving the way for discussions on more difficult issues. 

For now, the points of friction between the U.S. and the EU remain significant: from the proposed new legislation on European defense to trade frictions and WTO issues, from the EU’s energy dependency on Russia to Huawei. Yet, Ambassador Sondland stressed, “with the right personalities these difficult issues can be worked through”. 

To put it with Mr. Sondland’s words: “The basic partnership is unshakeable. We’re like a married couple that is going through some serious questions about each other, but at the end of the say we’re going to stay married and we’re going to make the marriage work and it’s going to be stronger for it.”

About the author:

Guido Lanfranchi is a student and young professional in the field of international affairs. He has pursued his studies both at Leiden University and Sciences Po Paris, where he is currently enrolled. In parallel, he has been gaining professional experience through internships (first at the Council of the European Union, and currently at Clingendael Institute), as well as by working as reporter and associate editor for Diplomat Magazine The Netherlands. His research and work focus on the Middle East and Africa, and especially on conflict situations in these regions.

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