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Bruton discusses US-EU relations

Eva Binda | Friday, March 23, 2007

There wasn’t an empty seat Thursday in the Jordan Auditorium as students and faculty members packed in to hear European Union (EU) Ambassador to the U.S. John Bruton deliver the lecture “The Future of Economic and Political Relations between the European Union and the United States.” The lecture was as much an explanation of the nature of the European Union as it was an analysis of current political problems facing Europe and America.

Bruton, formerly the youngest prime minister in Ireland’s history, began his address by providing background information about the European Union. Founded 50 years ago this Sunday, the EU is composed of 27 member nations and is the only multi-national democracy in the world, he said.

“The 700 members of the Parliament are elected directly by the European people,” Bruton said. “It’s without precedent and proving to be a very good model.”

In addition to direct elections, Bruton said, the EU Parliament requires “full agreement of each member” before any measure is passed. This means that if one country does not agree to a treaty, it will not be approved, he said.

“We’ve created a political union that has expanded with the agreement of its members at every stage,” the ambassador said proudly.

Bruton also discussed certain requirements of membership in the EU. A country must “pass 80,000 pages of legislation” that includes everything from environmental regulations to workplace safety standards, he said. The country must also be a democracy and not allow the death penalty.

In return, countries reap the economic benefits of a common market. For example, a citizen from any EU country can work anywhere in the EU and goods from any member country can be sold anywhere in the Union. Bruton said Ireland, a rapidly growing economy known as the “Celtic Tiger,” would never have transformed itself into an economic power if it had not joined the EU.

Bruton, however, said the United States should not view the EU as a rival because both bodies are heavily invested in each other.

“We’re not rivals. We own part of the United States, and you own part of the EU,” he said referring to the fact that the U.S. is the largest investor in the EU and the EU is the largest investor in the U.S.

“U.S. companies make more profits in the EU than anywhere else,” Bruton said. “American companies make three times more from investments in Ireland alone than in China.”

But he didn’t deny there is a feeling of natural competitiveness from both sides.

“Europeans may feel superior when things go badly for the U.S.,” Bruton said. “You sometimes have the same feeling about Europe, but it’s important that we get on.”

Not only are the EU and United States conjoined by economic interests, but also by other issues such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the conflict between Israel and Palestine and global warming.

Bruton said the EU and U.S. are “working very closely” to deal with the issues of nuclear proliferation and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“If we can work together with energy, commitment and vigor, we can find the answers,” Bruton said.

Regarding global warming, Bruton said the EU and the United States needed to accept responsibility for past actions that may have contributed to the crisis.

“The bulk of the greenhouse gases that are causing problems haven’t been put there by the Chinese, by the Indians, the Africans or anyone other than us – the U.S. and Europe,” he said.

Bruton stressed the importance of taking the lead and making sacrifices to solve environmental problems.

The ambassador also said Europeans would be willing to strive for lower greenhouse gas emissions if the United States agreed to the same standards.

Finally, Bruton said the period during which Europeans and Americans have the steering wheel and can set their agenda probably won’t last more than 20 or 30 more years.

“After that, other countries will be sharing the predominance with us,” he said.

Bruton challenged students to make a difference during the remaining supremacy of the EU and U.S.

“Your generation has a choice. Are we going to use our power to make sure everyone has the same chance to be free, to live in a world with peace?” he asked his audience. “We, Europeans and Americans working together, can do more than any people in history to change things in the next 20 years.”