European Commission VP talks free trade

On Wednesday afternoon, European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding spoke on campus about the benefits of a free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, as well as her vision for the future of the EU.

Reding — who serves as the first European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship — addressed an audience of roughly 40 in the Hall of Graduate Studies on Wednesday. She spoke to the potential benefits of a first free-trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU, which have two of the largest economies of any country or region in the world. Reding’s hourlong talk also delved into her views on U.S.-EU relations and the need for political and fiscal centralization within the EU.

“If [the U.S. and the EU] want to work even more [closely] together, the only way not to [make] too many mistakes is to know more about each other,” Reding said.

Reding outlined a variety of potential benefits of a U.S.-EU free trade agreement, highlighting the financial benefits. According to the EU website, the proposed free-trade agreement — which was formally called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — has been in the works since July 2013 and would generate more than $120 billion a year in revenue for the U.S. and more than $160 billion a year for the EU.

In addition to the projected revenues from the free trade agreement under negotiation, Reding spoke about the proposed combination of industry standards between the U.S. and the EU.

“For the United States, [the proposed agreement] would mean the addition of another Oklahoma to the national economy,” Reding said.

Reding said she has been working with American officials for a long time to combine different industry standards, adding that if the U.S. and the EU continue down this road of collaboration, the two entities could set a “golden world standard.”

Jolyon Howorth, a visiting professor at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs who was present at the talk, said in a Wednesday email to the News that the harmonization of U.S. and EU standards may prove difficult.

“[The different standards] go to the very heart of the cultural and lifestyle differences between the two sides of the Atlantic,” he said. “Europeans and Americans want and expect rather different products.”

Reding also spoke about potentially harmonizing customs standards between the U.S. and the EU. She praised the recent increase of supervisory power given to the European Central Bank and advocated for a direct election for the European Commission President in place of the current parliamentary election procedure.

Many audience members came away impressed by Reding’s passionate defense and vision for the EU.

“I enjoyed her spirited defense of the European project, which ran counter to most American ‘doom and gloom’ portrayals of the situation across the pond,” Fil Lekkas ’14 said. “I was pleasantly surprised at her good sense of humor and rhetorical flair.”

Igor Mitschka ’15, the editor in chief of Accent magazine — the group that organized and hosted the event — said he hopes Reding’s talk will inspire Yale students to continue the debate on the future of the EU. Mitschka added that he hopes students can contribute towards narratives and policies that will ultimately make Europe a role model for other areas of the world.

Before becoming vice president of the European Commission, Reding was a member of the European Parliament.

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