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Europe Through the Eyes of an American

Hon. Stavros Lambrinidis, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States of America

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Ask most Americans what comes to mind when they think of Europe and the answer is usually vacations, historical places, extended family, and great food. Some may have even done a tour of duty as part of their military service and have proud memories of that time. But ask what comes to mind when you mention the European Union (EU), and these positive, even heart-warming, associations sometimes give way to uncertainty and perhaps even a hushed confession about not really knowing how the EU works, except that it’s complicated.

It is natural that Americans whose ancestors came from Europe have a strong association with "the old country," whichever one it may be. But since returning to Washington, D.C. as the EU Ambassador to the United States (US) last March (after a hiatus of over two decades working outside the US) I have — at times — been baffled that the EU’s collective strength and significance to the US has yet to fully register. Mention World War II and everyone has visions of Americans and Europeans joining forces to defeat fascism and maintain democracy, both at the core of US ideals and security. Yet the EU — which is vitally important to the economic security and prosperity of the US — is still less understood, despite its positive effects on businesses, workers, and families in every single US state.

Numbers may not excite people in the same way as palaces, cathedrals and soldiers in uniform do, but the fact remains that we — the EU and the US are the lifeblood of each other’s economies. We are the two biggest, most open and most free and fair economies in the world, and we trade with and invest in each other more than we do with any other country or region. Together, the EU and the US comprise close to 50 percent of the world’s GDP and make up roughly one-third of the world's trading volume. Our relationship amounts to a total of US $2.2 trillion when goods, services, and income from investments — the three pillars of international trade — are accounted for. It is also highly balanced, with the US even enjoying a slight surplus.

This thriving relationship didn’t just happen. The EU Single Market — the crowning achievement of the EU’s economic integration — has made doing business in Europe highly practical and profitable for American companies. Apart from the EU itself, the US has been the biggest beneficiary of our huge, open, borderless market, giving US commercial entities a pipeline to 500 million potential customers no matter which individual EU country they choose to engage.

Sometimes the EU is painted as “closed” or “highly regulated” but this myth is simply not true: the Single Market is in fact a huge deregulatory exercise, replacing 28 individual countries' disparate laws and regulations with one single set of open market rules. As a result, today 47 out of 50 US states trade daily with the EU more than they do with China, and nearly half export more to the EU than they do to any other place in the world.

Put another way, a strong and united EU is one of the best guarantees for present and future US prosperity. Every year eight million American jobs are created by EU-US trade and by EU investments in all 50 states, where a full 70 percent of all foreign investment comes from EU firms. The livelihood of millions of American households depends on our unparalleled economic partnership, just as seven million EU jobs depend on fair and open US trade and investment in Europe.*

This prosperity is not limited to purchasable items that result in direct income — tangibles like Irish whiskey and Kentucky bourbon, German cars and cars made in Detroit, and Italian herbs and Iowan soybeans. Much of the backbone of the transatlantic economy lies in the intangibles, which focus on people and values. With our goods, services and foreign investment, we export to each other, and to the world, key values we both hold dear.

As leaders in the global market, the EU and the US need to work together now more than ever to ensure that this culture continues to thrive beyond the shared waters of the Atlantic Ocean. If we are united, we can ensure that all players comply with the values of the international trading system. In spite of the inevitable glitches and disagreements between us, trade for both of us has always been a win-win proposition.

And so, in my visits throughout the US, I always encourage others to look at the EU through the lens of US prosperity, and to see our EU member states not just as beautiful destinations but as invaluable trading partners — ones that increase the quality of life on American soil through the benefits brought by EU-U.S trade. Our shared ideals have united us for decades and remain true to our core today. The transatlantic relationship is the embodiment of these interests and values, the avenue for our financial success, and the vehicle for guaranteeing our future security and prosperity.

*Curious to learn more? Check out our EU-US Trade website at www.euintheustrade.org