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EU ambassador to US not worried about effect of midterms on transatlantic relations

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the EU's top official in Washington explains why he is not afraid the US midterm elections will have a negative impact on relations between the EU and the US.

EU Ambassador to Washington João Vale de Almeida

João Vale de Almeida

Ambassador João Vale de Almeida is the Head of the Delegation of the EU to the United States. Prior to his appointment, he served as the Director General for External Relations at the European Commission, the European Union's executive body. From 2004 to 2009 Vale de Almeida was the Head of Cabinet for European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Deutsche Welle: The midterm elections last week resulted in major losses for the Democrats and the Republicans taking back the house. What impact will this have on transatlantic relations?

Ambassador João Vale de Almeida: It is maybe a little bit soon to make a final judgment on this. I don't expect any negative impact. I think we must respect the choice of the voters in the United States. We will need to see how the congress will organize itself. But I am not worried about the impact of these elections on transatlantic relations. I think the importance of this relationship is common to both political families in the United States and I look forward to a good cooperation with the next congress.

The President is of course the primary foreign policy actor in the US. But congress can exert great influence as it has to approve the budget and it is needed to ratify most international treaties like a bill on climate change which is very important to Europeans. President Obama couldn't get a climate change bill through congress with a large Democratic majority. Does this mean a global climate change treaty is now officially dead?

If I base myself on commentators and analysts on the political situation in the US then the likelihood of us having a bill coming out of congress is less obvious than before. Let's be clear about that. Having said this, President Obama has reaffirmed once again his commitment to the climate change agenda, to the renewable energy and energy efficiency agenda and new and green technologies to develop our energy security. So we look forward now to engage with him in the next cycle, but also to engage with the new congress. We won't give up in our attempts to get across our arguments to the United States. I think we need also to act internationally. We need to revive the negotiations. Let's see what we can do in Cancun. But we also have to think beyond Cancun and in 2011 we need to have a good cooperation with the US. Without that good cooperation nothing will move on the international level.

Another issue that is crucial for Europe is the new START treaty which also requires a two-thirds majority in the senate. It might be put to a vote during the lame duck session of the out-going congress or could be voted on by the in-coming. What chance do you see for that to go through congress?

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shake hands with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, right, after signing the newly completed New START treaty reducing long-range nuclear weapons at the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic Thursday, April 8, 2010.

The EU is encouraged by Obama's commitment to START

As you know we support the START treaty and would like to see it ratified and implemented. We have noticed that the Obama administration wishes to get it through congress in the lame duck session and we are encouraged by that attempt. We will have to see whether it gets passed. If that isn't possible, we would like to see it get ratified by the next congress. I have been in meetings and discussions where Republicans have given overall support, but maybe wish some amendments to be introduced. Let's see how it goes, but for the moment, we are happy that the Obama administration is focused in trying to get it through congress in the lame duck session.

Can Europeans do anything to support the Obama administration's efforts on climate change and Start or could that even by counterproductive in this environment because it could be perceived as meddling in US affairs?

I think on climate we have stated our position and it is well known. We have been leading the world action against climate change and we been having a creative and critical discussion with the United States. I think we have to recognize President Obama's change of position in terms of climate as compared to the previous administration and we should be supportive of that. We should recognize that maybe he will have a political situation inside the US which is difficult, but we also have difficulties inside the European Union to move forward on the climate change agenda. Most of all I think we need to discuss and debate and have a constructive dialogue with the US on climate change. On START, I think the European position is known. I understand from the Republican side that people basically support it. We will see what kind of discussion this will entail.

It is of course easy to criticize the US for failing to implement a climate change treaty and the difficulties with START, but some scholars argue that Europeans could have lent more support on important transatlantic issues, such as Guantanamo or Afghanistan, and perhaps supported President Obama more. Do you agree?

US President Barack Obama delivers his public speech in front of thousands of people on the Hradcanske square near the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, on Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Europeans still think Obama is going in the right direction

I think being self critical is a good demarche and good attitude and I support it. The European Union is not perfect, our system is not perfect and we should try to improve it.

Having said this, what I am most interested in is creating a solid basis for dialogue between President Obama, President Barroso and President Van Rompuy and all the other leaders in Europe as individual, national leaders. And I hope that the summit on November 20 in Lisbon, but also the energy council the day before and the transatlantic economic council in December will provide the right basis and the right foundations for a new dynamic in the transatlantic relations.

As the US is still suffering from high unemployment and huge economic problems, do you worry that it might now turn more inward to focus on domestic issues and scale back its international engagement?

It's too early to tell. The new members of congress have not yet taken office and therefore it is too early to see how the political debate will evolve. One thing is for sure though: The world needs the US, the world needs the European Union and the world needs the US and the European Union to talk a lot and to agree on as much as possible and to reinforce their relationship. And that's what we are looking forward to doing.

The interview was conducted at the EUISS Washington Forum.

Interview: Michael Knigge

Editor: Nick Amies

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