“Decline” of West hot issue at Transatlantic Week
By Brian Beary in Washington | Thursday 10 May 2012
“We need to accept the relative decline of the EU and the US.” The conclusion of Alvaro de Vasconcelos, director of the EU Institute for Security Studies ,which has produced a new report on long-term global trends, caused quite a flutter during a discussion at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington DC, on 9 May. The EU Ambassador to the US, Joao Vale de Almeida, strongly contested his assertion, saying “talk of relative decline is dangerous and misleading”. Cautioning against focusing purely on quantitative data like GDP growth and ignoring qualitative metrics, Almeida said “I don’t see what is replacing us is better than what we have”. Equally irked by the comment, the head of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office, Piotr Nowina-Konopka, said “what I have seen in Central and Eastern Europe - you cannot call it decline,” adding “the EU is not a weak partner within these trends”. But British MEP James Elles (ECR), who helped earmark EU funds for the report, felt that unless the EU and US created 5-6% annual growth over the next 20 years, “we will see a power shift”.
Clarifying his provocative conclusion, de Vasconcelos said that “in Europe, leaders have more difficulty in accepting relative decline than citizens do”. The rise of Asia means that the EU’s share of global GDP “will be less in five years that it is today. That’s normal. That’s not bad news. So let’s accept it”. De Vasconcelos said that the world was becoming “polycentric,” meaning that great powers, middle powers like Turkey and Indonesia, big cities in emerging economies and privacy companies will each play powerful roles in the new world order.
GROWING SUPPORT FOR EU-US FTA
As for more short-term issues, foremost in the minds of the lawmakers, experts and officials gathered for Transatlantic Week was whether the EU and US would launch talks for a free trade agreement. MEP Christian Ehler (EPP, Germany) told
Europolitics that the majority of MEPs were “very favourable” to launching talks. Ehler felt that any future agreement would need to cover several sectors in order for the two sides to be able to sign up to it. British MEP Syed Kamall (ECR) said “a zero tariffs on goods agreement is the minimum we want”. While he was open to agriculture being covered, he said “I do not want agriculture to block an overall agreement” given that it only accounted for 2-3% of the EU economy. Unveiling their new study, ‘The case for investing in Europe’, Peter Rashish, vice-president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said he favoured an “ambitious and comprehensive” agreement that covered industry and agriculture as well as tariffs and regulatory obstacles. Awareness and interest from the US Congress in an agreement was growing and it was not a partisan issue, Rashish said. The EU and US administrations are due to present an interim report, by June, on how to boost jobs and growth, which may chart the path forward.