US-EU relations are worse than managing three small children

You know all hope is lost for a normal life when a paper from the US Chamber of Commerce drops into the inbox at midnight and you decide to read it on the iPad before getting some sleep. You would have thought three young children were enough to keep one awake. Damn those good people at the Chamber.

During my brief sojourn in the United States the US Chamber’s European programme was a revelation. It may not be the part of the Chamber that grabs the headlines, but it’s chock full of thoughtful Atlanticists (Gary Litman, Peter Rashish) who are doing their bit to ensure that the trans-atlantic agenda does not disappear into the equivalent of a political Bermuda triangle. A triangle that’s somewhere between the intercine warfare of Washington, an almost morbid fascination with the rise of China and an attitude of ‘benign neglect’ from the Obama Administration.

Yesterday’s paper – which you can find here – provides yet another policy option for restarting what is generally thought to be a generally dormant EU-US relationship. It’s a variation of mutual recognition of standards, which starts with integrating the impact on both sides of the Atlantic through each jurisdictions’ regulatory impact assessments. Its starting point is that in terms of product safety the desired outcomes of our regulatory regimes are pretty similar – even if our routes to achieving them are somewhat different. Something which I reflected upon by suggesting last year that we may be able to agree that neither the EU nor the US wants to kill its citizens. It seems from reading to be a decent approach.

My problem (US readers: I mean challenge) with the Chamber’s paper is two fold. First, I wonder whether there is a risk that the Chamber is diluting its own focus and that of those it is trying to convince by coming up with too many ideas at once. It’s only this time last year that the Chamber heralded a zero tariff agreement as the way forward on US-EU trade issues.  Is this now yesterday’s failed idea? Secondly, I’m of the opinion that it is not a lack of policy options that is the issue but a lack of political space. It doesn’t matter how many policy options we come up with. A clear message and an identified constituency needs to be created in Washington that will allow EU-US trade to rise up the agenda and take root there. Frankly speaking, outside of our good friends at the Chamber the educated and influential people I met in my time there just didn’t have Europe on their radar. It’s a non-issue. We may be fascinated by policy in Brussels, but I’d suggest in Washington politics is somewhat more important. It’s the latter that the Chamber and the EU need to get right.