At this Ambassadors’ Forum event chaired by Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of IISS-Americas, David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, gave a summary of the role and value of the EU in an increasingly globalised world.

He noted that Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, had become acquainted with members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. O’Sullivan himself had attended numerous meetings and conferences, including the Munich Security Conference. He stated that political transition in DC ‘takes time’, and that the EU was waiting to see where the new administration planned to go in terms of transatlantic relations.

O’Sullivan said that the US and the EU retained a great deal in common, although there was still room for improved relations. The G20 meeting in Hamburg, scheduled for 7–8 July 2017, would be a good opportunity to work on these improvements, he said. He emphasised the importance of dialogue between the two entities, as it was likely that they would rely on each other for future success.

The EU, said O’Sullivan, was a ‘union of common values’, including democracy and rule of law. The creation of the EU marked the beginning of a new way of dealing with differences ­– through dialogue, not war. He argued that the EU was not about obliterating the nation state, but rather about countering excessive nationalism while celebrating diversity.

‘A strong US means a strong Europe, and vice versa,’ said O’Sullivan. He claimed that the US is tied to the success of a strong Europe, and that this mutual success could be achieved through high standards for commerce, military support and defence. He noted that Europe is the United States’ ‘strongest ally’ within the coalition fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the biggest source of humanitarian aid to Syria.

O’Sullivan argued that Europe did ‘more than [its] fair share’ when it comes to dealing with conflicts in the Middle East and their consequences. He said that because Europe believed strongly in helping its neighbours establish sustainable development, it sought to help foreign nations in need through development programmes similar to the Marshall Plan and through securing its own external borders.

O’Sullivan then spoke on Europe’s role on transnational issues. As the chair of the Joint Commission (JCPOA), which oversaw the Iran deal, he noted that it was the EU's responsibility to make sure that all parties respected their commitments. On the subject of Russia, he said that the idea that Europe did not want to engage with Russia was ‘false.’ Europe’s issue with Russia, as stated by O’Sullivan, was that the EU believed that borders must not be changed by force. The EU saw itself as the backbone of a rules-based system, and thus was reluctant to accept challenges by war or force that would otherwise threaten this system.

In the question and answer session that followed, members of the audience asked about relations with Russia and Iran. They also brought up relations with the UK, Turkey and Taiwan. In respect to EU–UK relations and diversity, O’Sullivan said that there could be many complications, including financial issues, which both parties would have to work out. O’Sullivan answered a question on Turkey joining the EU and explained all the implications that such an enlargement would have. The EU was a strongly integrated economic and political organisation, he said, and accessing it was not as simple as it seems from an external perspective. Several issues would need to be addressed before Turkey could join. A final issue that was brought up was TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). O’Sullivan said it was ‘neither alive nor dead’, but rather ‘suspended.’ He also indicated that the future of TTIP was in the hands of the new administration.

Rapporteur: Maya Camargo-Vemuri

David O'Sullivan was appointed Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to the United States in November 2014. As the European Union’s top diplomat to the United States, Ambassador O’Sullivan oversees the EU’s bilateral relationship with the US and the direction and work of the EU Delegation including political, economic, and commercial affairs. His work supports the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in implementing the EU’s foreign policy. He also represents the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission. Prior to his appointment as Ambassador to the US, he was the Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service and responsible for establishing this new EU diplomatic service.

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Event details

IISS–Americas Ambassadors' Forum
His Excellency David O'Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States
IISS–Americas, Washington DC
Wednesday 22 February 2017, 10–11am EST