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Europe, America -- Cool It and Get on With the Free Trade Agreement

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The single most important development in transatlantic relations this year is without
doubt the announcement of the start of the negotiations of TTIP, the free trade agreement between the United States and Europe. Our Center has long argued for the strategic implications of such an agreement and its positive and long lasting effects on the rules and regulations of global trade.We have also insisted, while knowing of all the reasonable and unreasonable reservations to the inclusion of some aspects of trade, that it should be comprehensive. Put everything on the table, and leave on it as many of the elements as "politically and socially" possible. So Europe and America keep your eyes on the ball...please!

Why were we not surprised when at the last minute of preparations of the EU's negotiating mandate, France introduced an exclusion clause for "cultural exceptionalism"? It wasn't elegant, it wasn't a beautiful, but it was French home politics. And it is not a disaster either, and shouldn't be treated like one. However, don't be surprised, Europe, when the U.S. will ask something in return. There are plenty of issues starting from the Jones Act to Public Procurement, which the U.S. might want to exclude.

Arriving back to Europe this week one is taken aback by the furor in the wake the Snowden leaks. A forcefulness, which one could not really feel over the web. To be sure, I need to state that I am not a supporter of Snowden. I am of the view that he has harmed the interest and safety of the United States and its allies. Of course the administration has been clumsy at what it did. But then it's one of those events which will not bring down the United States and it might make it stronger, prompt it to strengthen democratic oversight of its institutions. Perhaps the person whose political instincts have never ever betrayed her (my wife) said it best: "Not a big deal. With the advancement of technology, this was bound to happen." ( She is a Snowden sympathizer.) Still, it has had the unfortunate side effect having tarnished the European image of the U.S.

Now here is this newest scandal, the alleged eavesdropping on the European Union's officials and allies' communications, hacking their emails by the U.S. It is bad, but the venom with which some European politicians have taken on the U.S. is unwarranted. Leading European politicians suggest that "this might threaten the talks between the U.S. and the European Union on free trade." The French president was outraged, and his minister called for a delay of the talks " for two weeks until the full scope of the scandalous U.S. acts was revealed."

Ho, ho,hooooo... Cool it everyone and take big, deep breath! This, again, is not a beautiful sight, but, yet again also not a disaster, and definitely not a crisis, therefore it should not be called that and also it should not be treated like one.

Things like this have been happening in the past. As a citizen of the European Union, I would be surprised if the communication, that is really important to our Europe-wide interests, was not done on highly encrypted communications equipment, which we Europeans are so good at producing and selling to the world. (At times to countries with less than impeccable democratic credentials.) If, however, the surprise is for real, than it displays either a level of incompetence or naïvité, which would be somewhat worrying to me.

It might be that the harsh words from political circles are driven by the public outrage, which is genuine, to which politicians have no willingness or the guts to react but with outrage. Also, there is a reason to believe that the statements by European politicians is part due to the upcoming election season. A little U.S. bashing has come in handy before, and the allegations are a blessing in disguise for some parties or politicians, who see this as an opportunity to have their voice heard from the North to the South.

It would be good to know that the leaders of the U.S. and Europe are seriously and confidentially discussing the issue for real (on secure phones, not involving contractors, and college dropouts).

It is unwise, and risky, to connect in any way TTIP [the free trade agreement] and the Snowden affair. This would be a mistake that could poison the talks. The aftermath of the leaks will be long forgotten, Snowden will hardly be more than a mere footnote when we and generations after us could still be enjoying the fruits of a transatlantic free trade agreement.

The U.S. must do its part. It must explain what it did, have a discourse with not only its own public but the European as well. Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic must show some grown up behavior. The U.S., by showing empathy for European concerns; Europe by showing real leadership and push back on the anti-American sentiments, even if the U.S. clearly made huge mistakes. Show the rest of the world that we are one family and that's the manner with which we deal with problems.

And get on with the talks without delay. It is an opportunity not to be missed!