In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama stated that “Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.” While I agree that EU-US relations are strong, I do not get the sense that the US is doing enough to assure our European allies that that is indeed the case.
In the wake of the NSA scandal, our European allies have spoken of trust issues in relations with the US. During a recent discussion about the future of the Polish-American relationship, Bartosz Węglarczyk, a Polish journalist, voiced concerns that not only was the US turning away from Poland, but that Poland was doing the same to the US. He believed that possible causes of the deteriorating relations were a lack of US public diplomacy in Poland and the NSA affair. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, discussing US surveillance of current Chancellor Angela Merkel and recent discoveries that his phone had also been tapped while he was in office, stated that “The US has no respect for a loyal partner and the sovereignty of our country.”
The most recent event, however, that might give the EU cause for concern over the transatlantic relationship, were recent remarks by the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland. In a phone conversation with Geoffrey Pyatt, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Nuland, apparently frustrated with the way the EU was handling the ordeal with Ukraine, is heard saying the US might be able to get the UN involved which would “have the UN help glue [an agreement], and you know, fuck the EU.” Those are not exactly the words our European allies want to hear from an American diplomat.
When asked about the remarks during a press conference, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, Spokesperson for the European Commission, said, “We don’t comment on the content of alleged intercepted communications…Intercepted private conversations is not part of the toolbox that we use in our efforts to assist Ukraine.” She went on to say that the EU will “remain fully engaged with all our international partners.” The European External Action Service had no news about the remarks on their website. Not exactly strong responses to Nuland’s powerful words.
On Twitter, Gareth Harding, Managing Editor of Clear Europe and a lecturer at the Missouri School of Journalism tweeted his concerns that the EU did not give a proper response, saying that if German Chancellor Merkel could call the remarks “absolutely unacceptable”, then the EU should as well. In a later tweet, Harding referenced the Commission’s “No comment,” using the hashtag, #growsome. Eva Peña brought up larger issues behind the lack of response, tweeting about the EU’s lack of influence and its impotence when it comes to relations with the US. The EU Delegation to the US did not tweet at all about the remarks. Berlaymonster attempted to infuse humor into the situation with a tweet referencing an old American rap group, NWA–
I must say that I am a bit puzzled by the “No comment” from the Commission. I expected something along the lines of “Obviously, we are disappointed, but we will move forward…” What does this tell us about how the EU views its role in the transatlantic relationship? Are Harding’s and Peña’s tweets characteristic of broader European public’s frustration over the EU’s relationship with the US? If so, how is the US going to resolve the problem? While it is clear that official diplomatic relations need to be smoothed over, this also necessitates an increase in American public diplomacy in Europe.
An NPR story quoted Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, as saying, “The video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government; I think it says something about Russia’s role,” perhaps alluding to the idea that Russia was trying to interfere with EU-US discussions over Ukraine. Asst. Sec. Nuland has since apologized to EU officials; however, during a February 7 press conference, instead of addressing her gaffe, she also pointed to the role of Russia, saying they used “pretty impressive tradecraft” in recording the conversation between Amb. Pyatt and herself. US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki added in a different press conference that Nuland’s remarks “[don’t] reflect how she feels about our relationship with the EU. It’s also important to note that she’s been in close touch with EU officials since then – not about this, but about work we’re doing together on Ukraine.” In the wake of the NSA scandal, is the US government in any position to call out Russia for tapping phone conversations?
On Twitter, the only response by the Office of Press and Policy Outreach in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs was a tweet about Nuland’s press conference. The US Mission to the EU had no response on their website and tweeted only about wetlands as part of their #GreenFriday series. Similar to Berlaymonster, the EU Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign put a humorous spin on the whole ordeal–
Should private conversations matter in diplomatic relations? Was Sec. Nuland blowing off steam to a colleague, (as I’m sure many of us have at some point in time about one issue or another), or are the remarks indicative of general US sentiments towards the EU? Will this affect TTIP negotiations? How will the US rebuild trust with its European allies?
Thanks for reading.
Update: I have since realized that while the EU Delegation to the US did not explicitly tweet about the remarks, Ambassador João Vale de Almeida is responsible for the tweet with the graphic of the heart that says, “L*** the EU.”