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Public Affairs Programs

Ireland, the EU, and the U.S. – Relationship in 2021 and Beyond

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Thursday, November 18, 2021, 12:00 - 1:00 PM

On Thursday, November 18, the Kennedy Institute and the Consulate General of Ireland hosted a compelling program about the relationship between the European Union and the United States, how Ireland can play a positive role in sustaining it, and why the transatlantic partnership is still needed in 2021 - and beyond.

The United States and the European Union have always had an important relationship based on close personal ties, trade and shared values. Ireland, as an EU Member State with especially strong historical, political and trade links with the US, works to play a positive role in building a strong and productive EU-US relationship.

Moderated by Dr. Robert Mauro, Director of the Global Leadership Institute at Boston College, the conversation featuredAmbassador Bobby McDonagh, author and Former Irish Ambassador to the EU, UK, and Italy; Tom Wright, Director of the Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institute; and Fiona Creed, Lead Faculty, Global Studies & International Relations, Northeastern University.

On the topic of what role the European Union plays in the transatlantic partnership between Ireland and the United States, the panelists agreed that the EU hasn’t played as large a part in transatlantic relationship in part because the US finds it difficult to grasp exactly the key role of the EU plays. “In the United States people are much more comfortable looking at NATO, or the individual countries and those bilateral relationships. The EU seems like a strange sort of actor to Republicans and looks like a multilateral organization [that] they’re not huge fans of,” said Tom Wright. “Even Democrats, I think, struggle to really sort of grasp the scope and scale of the EU’s role.”

Fiona Creed, who’s organization has been working in partnership with the U.S. State Department, said that they’ve seen a shift away from the United States’ focus on the E.U. in favor of a focus on China, Russia, and India. “In this instance the State Department wants to examine how these perceptions impact the US’s credibility when it speaks out against human rights abuses in other countries, and ultimately how that impacts its ability to achieve its own foreign policy goals,” said Creed. “From our perspective, the primary interest from the State Department was: What were the perceptions in China, Russia, India? We initially pitched the EU, and it was relevant, but not essential. And I think ultimately the takeaway being that the perceptions of the US in China, India and Russia is a growing in importance, compared to the EU.”

Ambassador Robert McDonagh thought that part of the problem was the difficulty the European Union has with explaining its role and function with countries outside of the European Union.

“The bilateral relationship with the US is arguably the greatest friendship on Earth, but it’s a different thing from the relationship that Ireland has with its 26 partners in European Union, because of the areas where we decided to pool sovereignty. And perhaps the single symbol that explains that best to people outside [of the EU] is that we also have a European flag … So it’s not just an organization to which we belong, it’s part of what we are. And that’s why it’s essential for the United States to, as the Biden administration is doing, interact not just with individual member states … but also with the European Union; because you cannot separate a country like Ireland or a country like France from the membership of the European Union.

In the end, the panelists agreed that incredible progress has been made between the EU, US, and Ireland relationships – especially from the current Presidential administration. Particularly, in terms of the global COVID pandemic responses and the relationship to countries in Asia.

“Part of that does come out of the pandemic. If you look back to where we were in January 2020, one might have expected China to try to drive a wedge between the US and the EU, to say that with the Trump administration that they were being the responsible ones,” said Tom Wright. “But instead, with the ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’ that we saw in Europe, European countries realized that it was important to have a unified approach, vis-à-vis Beijing, and that was the best way of protecting European interests overall at the individual country level and collectively … The EU and US will never see this identity, but there’s enough common ground there to have a lot of room for cooperation.”

Video Resource