California, the EU and the Future of the Transatlantic Relationship

by Evan Gong

On February 27, the Institute of European Studies was honored to host a panel discussion with Stavros Lambrinidis, the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, and Eleni Kounalakis, the current Lieutenant Governor of California and former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary (2010-2013). Moderated by IES Director Jeroen Dewulf and Berkeley Law Professor Katerina Linos, this timely conversation focused on the social, political, and economic challenges currently facing the EU, as well as opportunities for closer cooperation between California and Europe.

Opening on the topic of transatlantic relations, both Lambrinidis and Kounalakis expressed deep concern over the current state of United States-European Union cooperation. Stark differences in values, noted Lambrinidis, particularly over trade and security, have been the primary factor straining relations between the two powers. Despite these tensions, both Lambrinidis and Kounalakis emphasized the interconnectedness of both economies. The EU is a major exporter to the United States and investor in American jobs, while the U.S. provides significant security contributions to Europe. Indeed, the need to reaffirm common ties and mutual benefits between the two powers has never been more important than now, especially in the face of populist appeal.

The conversation then shifted to relations between California and the EU, particularly on the impacts of technology and of immigration. Kounalakis expressed optimism regarding areas of active cooperation, such as the joint push for increased data security and privacy. Indeed, California enacted a data protection law this year that closely resembles GDPR protections entitled to European citizens regarding their data privacy. Kounalakis also underscored the importance of immigration to California’s economic success and noted the state’s success in bolstering some protections from deportation despite the anti-immigrant rhetoric from Washington DC. Lambrinidis, in analyzing Europe as a whole, stressed the importance of fostering openness among the EU’s sixty million residents and communicating the EU’s commitment to improving the quality of life for every citizen. As for immigration, the EU continues to face a migration crisis and sees a humanitarian responsibility to assist displaced persons.

During the final segment of the discussion, questions were selected from the audience, which consisted of over one hundred faculty, students, diplomats, and community members in the Banatao Auditorium. Questions for Lambrinidis and Kounalakis touched on Europe’s social welfare programs, climate change, and on the EU’s response to some Eastern European member-states, which have challenged democratic institutions.