Interview: João Vale de Almeida, European Union Ambassador to United States

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Written by C. Naseer Ahmad, Guest Contributor

The Seventh Round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks took place in Washington, DC from September 29 to October 3, 2014. This landmark trade deal has huge impact on both sides of the Atlantic. In an exclusive interview with Diplomatic Courier, Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, discussed a wide range of topics including EU-U.S. trade relations and the crisis in Ukraine.

Before his appointment in Washington as the European Union’s Ambassador, he brought a wealth of experience in senior positions. He served as the Director General for External Relations at the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body. He helped formulate and execute the EU’s foreign policy and played a key role in preparing for the new European External Action Service (EEAS) introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon.

Ambassador Vale de Almeida served as the Head of Cabinet for European Commission President José Manuel Barroso during 2004 to 2009. He accompanied President Barroso in all EU Summit meetings and coordinated with Heads of State and Governments in all 28 Member States, and was also the President’s Personal Representative for the negotiations on the Treaty of Lisbon.

Ambassador Vale de Almeida joined the European Commission in 1982 at its Delegation in Lisbon, after spending seven years as a journalist. He holds a degree in History from the University of Lisbon and has studied and received training in journalism and management in the United States, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Ambassador Vale de Almeida was decorated by the President of the Republic of Portugal with the ‘Grã-Cruz da Ordem do Infante D. Henrique’ (Grand Cross of the Order of the Infante D. Henrique) in 2011.


[Diplomatic Courier:] Are the EU-U.S. trade talks advancing as they should? What are the main issues?

[Ambassador Vale de Almeida:] Yes, they are, but more could also be done. It is a very ambitious project aimed at job creation and economic growth. I believe that trade will provide economic growth and increase in investments. It is good for the people of the countries involved. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States is aimed at removing or reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers. It is a strategic relationship that needs to be strengthened.

[DC:] Should the EU expand sanctions on Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine?

[AVA:] Russian reaction to the crisis in Ukraine is totally unacceptable—for the EU as well as the U.S. So I think we have to demonstrate a firm resolve. I consider the EU-U.S. relationship the “Atlantic Pillar” and so we remain united in our response. We are gauging the situation and if additional sanctions are needed, we will coordinate with the U.S.—our partner in the “Atlantic Pillar”. While we are also ready to engage in any dialogue that contributes to a peaceful solution, we condemn the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

[DC:] What effect are these sanctions having on Russia?

[AVA:] Russia has been isolated and the sanctions are making an impact in sending a clear signal that violations of international law will not be tolerate. (Russian) actions so far have been very detrimental to the Russian economy. Leadership in Moscow needs to hit the pause button to calm the situation.

[DC:] How are the U.S. and EU working together to promote dialogue with Russia?

[AVA:] Diplomatic efforts are always ongoing to promote dialogue with Russia and to emphasize the independence and integrity of Ukraine should not be threatened by aggression.

[DC:] What are European countries and the U.S. doing to provide support to the Kurds in northern Iraq, and how are they working together to respond to the humanitarian crisis there?

[AVA:] We continue to support the humanitarian efforts in northern Iraq and are fully cooperating with the U.S. For us in the EU, the territorial integrity of Iraq as a country remains the focal point. We want to help ensure that there is inclusive government in Iraq where the rule of law is paramount and the rights of minorities like the Kurds and Yazidis are protected.

[DC:] How can the U.S. and the EU work together to support a long-term solution to the situation in Gaza that leads to two states?

[AVA:] We remain engaged in the region as members of the Quartet—EU, U.S., UN, and Russia—and support the rights of the Palestinian people and for a two-state solution that will help bring about peace in the region. But, we also understand that the real solution will have to be worked out by the two parties involved, i.e. Israel and the Palestinian people.

[DC:] Are the EU and the U.S. coordinating efforts to contain the spread of the Ebola virus?

[AVA:] In a globalized world, the spread of virus and epidemics is a real danger to public health. So we continue to work with global institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO), and of course the U.S. It is really important to note that one must not see risks to public health as local epidemics because of the speed with which virus can spread in this modern world. We have to work together to tackle the threats to public health aggressively.

[DC:] What would you consider the highlights of your tenure as EU Ambassador in Washington?

[AVA:] I found this to be a very pleasant experience. Among other things, my goal was to be able to visit all 50 states, and I am so happy that I was able to do so, which made it especially rewarding because of the ability to bring the message of the 28 countries in Europe to the American people. After all, many of them have roots in EU countries. Additionally, the work on TTIP has been particularly a matter of pride because of the opportunities it will bring for all people concerned.

I also take pride in that we were able to bring about President Obama’s visit to Brussels. This was his first visit there and it will help strengthen EU-U.S. ties. Of course, it is also a matter of pride that the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

[DC:] How you feel about Washington as a diplomatic post?

[AVA:] Washington is a world-class city which offers many challenges, but also many opportunities to work with people who want to get things done.

[DC:] What message you would like to communicate to those aspiring to become diplomats?

[AVA:] In my speeches, I always try to stress the importance of having a global perspective. If we understand the world better, we will understand the local environments better. This is because we live in an interconnected world. So having the big picture in mind will help bring about win-win solutions to problems that sometime seem impossible to handle.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier’s November/December 2014 print edition.