United States–European Union relations

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United States–European Union relations
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United States
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European Union Delegation, Washington, D.C. United States Mission, Brussels
Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis Ambassador Gordon Sondland

Relations between the United States and the European Union are the bilateral relations between the country and supranational organization. The US and EU have been interacting for more than sixty years. US–EU relations officially started in 1953 when US ambassadors visited the European Coal and Steel Community (EU precursor). [1] The two parties share a good relationship which is strengthened by cooperation on trade, military defense and shared values. [2]



They dominate global trade, they play the leading roles in international political relations, and what one says matters a great deal to much of the rest of the world. [3] Both the US and the majority of EU member states are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). [4] [5] And yet they have regularly disagreed with each other on a wide range of specific issues, as well as having often quite different political, economic, and social agendas. Since the EU does not have a fully integrated foreign policy, relations can be more complicated when the member states do not have a common agreed position, as EU foreign policy was divided during the Iraq War. Understanding the relationship today means reviewing developments that predate the creation of the European Economic Community (precursor to today's European Union).

On 2 December 2020, following the 2020 US presidential election, a joint communication published by the European Commission lined up a proposal for a new agenda of improvement of the EU–US relations with the incoming Biden administration, seeking for partnership in four major policy areas: health response, climate change, trade and tech, and security. [6]


Flag of Europe.svg  European Union Flag of the United States.svg  United States
Population [7] 447,206,135 (2020)328,239,523 (2019)
GDP (PPP) [8] $20,366 trillion(2019)$21,439.453 trillion (2019)
GDP (Nominal) [9] $18,705 trillion (2019)$21,439.453 trillion (2019)
GDP Per Capita [10] [7] $45,541 (2020)$67,426 (2020)
Global merchandise exports [11]

$ billion and world % and rank

1932 (2016) 15.4% (2)1455 (2016) 11.6% (3)
Global merchandise imports [11]

$ billion and world % and rank

1889 (2016) 14.8% (2)2251 (2016) 17.6% (1)
Global commercial services exports [11]

$ billion and world % and rank

917 (2016) 24.9% (1)733 (2016) 19.9% (2)
Global commercial services imports [11]

$ billion and world % and rank

772 (2016) 21.1% (1)482 (2016) 13.2% (2)
Area4,233,262 km2 (1,634,472 sq mi)9,826,630 km2 (3,794,080 sq mi)
Population density106/km2 (274.5/sq mi)35/km2 (90.6/sq mi)
Capital Brussels (de facto) Washington, D.C.
Global cities [12] Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Madrid, Warsaw, Stockholm, Vienna, Dublin, Luxembourg, Lisbon, Prague New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston
Government Supranational parliamentary democracy based on the European treaties [13] Federal presidential republic based on the United States Constitution
First LeaderHigh Authority President Jean Monnet President George Washington
Current LeaderCouncil President Charles Michel
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
President Joe Biden
Current Vice LeaderVice Commission President Frans Timmermans Vice President Kamala Harris
Legislature Council of the European Union and European Parliament United States Congress
Official languages 24 official languages, of which 3 are considered procedural (English, French and German [14] )English (de facto national language only)
Main religions72% Christianity (48% Catholicism, 12% Protestantism, 8% Eastern Orthodoxy, 4% other Christianity), 23% irreligious, 2% Islam.70.6% Christianity (46.5% Protestantism, 20.8% Catholicism, 1.6% Mormonism, 1.7% other Christianity), 22.8% irreligious, 1.9% Judaism, 1% Islam.
Ethnic groups Germans (ca. 75 million), French (ca. 65 million), Italians (ca. 60 million), Spanish (ca. 47 million), Poles (ca. 40 million), Romanians (ca. 16 million), Dutch (ca. 15 million), Portuguese (ca. 11 million), Greeks (ca. 11 million), and others 77.1% White American, 13.3% African American, 5.6% Asian American, 2.6% two or more races, 1.2% Native American, 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 17.6% Hispanic and Latino Americans (of any race)


Euro-American relations are primarily concerned with trade policy.[ citation needed ] The EU is a near-fully unified trade bloc and this, together with competition policy, are the primary matters of substance currently between the EU and the US. The two together represent 60% of global GDP, 33% of world trade in goods and 42% of world trade in services. The growth of the EU's economic power has led to a number of trade conflicts between the two powers; although both are dependent upon the other's economic market and disputes affect only 2% of trade. See below for details of trade flows. [15]

Direction of tradeGoodsServicesInvestmentTotal
EU to US€260 billion€139.0 billion€112.6 billion€511.6 billion
US to EU€127.9 billion€180 billion€144.5 billion€452.4 billion
Representatives from the EU and US sign a trade deal in 2019 President Trump Announces Trade Deal (48442590476).jpg
Representatives from the EU and US sign a trade deal in 2019

In 2007, a Transatlantic Economic Council was established to direct economic cooperation between the two. It is headed by the US. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs and the EU's Commissioner for Trade. However, it is yet to produce solid results. A Transatlantic Free Trade Area had been proposed in the 1990s and later in 2006 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in reaction to the collapse of the Doha round of trade talks. However, protectionism on both sides may be a barrier to any future agreement. [16] [17] Recent developments have seen the proposal of a new agreement called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU. This agreement has the aim of fostering economic growth through bilateral trade and investments. [18] In August 2019, Trump announced an accord to increase beef exports to the European Union. The US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer signed agreement with Jani Raappana, representing EU Presidency, and Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis of the EU delegation. [19]

EU is one of the main trade partners of the US: In 2016, European-Union (28) is 18.7% of US merchandise exports, and 18.9% of US merchandise imports. In 2016, European-Union (28) is 30.9% of US commercial services exports, and 35.3% of US commercial services imports [9]

The US is one of the main trade partner of the EU: In 2016, the US is 20.1% of European-Union (28) merchandise exports, and 14.2% of European-Union (28) merchandise imports. In 2016, the US is 27.2% of European-Union (28) commercial services exports, and 30.5% of European-Union (28) commercial services imports [9]

In August 2020, the EU and US agreed, for the first time in two decades, to reduce certain tariffs (on a most favoured nation basis, meaning the tariffs are dropped for all trading partners). [20] [21]

US and EU-28 GDP in euros billions
Sources: EU sources (European commission, DG Trade [22] )
build from third sources:
IMF (World Economic Outlook, April 2017),
EUR/USD exchange rate from Eurostat


Energy and sustainability

The US and EU cooperate on the topic of energy and sustainability. The general aim of both parties is to liberalize and enhance sustainability in the global energy markets. This cooperation officially started in 2009 when the EU-US Energy Council was founded. This institution regularly meets and addresses topics such as: energy security challenges, climate change, renewable energy, nuclear safety and research. [2] [23]

Defense contracts

In March 2010 EADS and its US partner pulled out of a contract to build air refueling planes worth $35 billion. They had previously won the bid but it was rerun and EADS claimed the new process was biased towards Boeing. The European Commission said it would be "highly regrettable" if the tendering process did prove to be biased. There was substantial opposition to EADS in Washington due to the ongoing Boeing-Airbus (owned by EADS) dispute. [24] [25]


EU–US summits

Annual summits are held between United States and European Union policy makers. When these take place in Europe, they have historically taken place in the country that holds the rotating Presidency of the European Union.

List of summits [26]
YearHost countryLocation
1995Flag of Spain.svg  Spain Madrid
1997Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands The Hague
Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
1998Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom a London
1998Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
1999Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2000Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal Queluz
2001Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden Gothenburg
2002Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2003Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2004Flag of Ireland.svg  Ireland Shannon
2005Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2006Flag of Austria.svg  Austria Vienna
2007Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2008Flag of Slovenia.svg  Slovenia Ljubljana
2009Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic Prague (informal summit)
Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2010Flag of Spain.svg  Spain Madrid
Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C. [27]
2011Flag of the United States.svg  United States Washington, D.C.
2014Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium Brussels

^a The United Kingdom was a member of the EU at the time the summit took place.

Boeing and Airbus subsidies

The two companies are the major competing aircraft manufacturers, and both Boeing and Airbus are accused of receiving forms of subsidy from the United States [28] and from some of the European Union member states respectively, which both sides have criticized each other for doing so.

In December 2020, the United States announced plans to impose additional tariffs on certain products from France and Germany, particularly aircraft parts and wines, in retaliation to tariffs imposed by the European Union. [29]

Genetically modified food

Genetically modified food is another significant area of disagreement between the two. The EU has been under domestic pressure to restrict the growth and import of genetically modified foods until their safety is proven to the satisfaction of the populace.


The Washington Post claimed on November 2, 2005, that the United States was maintaining several secret jails (or "black sites") in Eastern Europe. Poland and Romania, however, have denied these allegations. Also, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) planes carrying terror suspects would have made secret stopovers in several West European countries since 2001. Belgium, Iceland, Spain, and Sweden have launched investigations. The Guardian calculated on November 30 that CIA planes landed about 300 times on European air ports. Most planes would have landed in Germany and the United Kingdom as a transit point to East Europe, North Africa (possibly Morocco and Egypt), or the Middle East (possibly Syria and Jordan). In the meanwhile, the European Commission, on behalf of the European Union, asked the United States for a clarification. The US has refused to confirm or deny the reports. [30] [31] [32] [33] [34]

Extraordinary rendition flights through Europe were investigated over a number of years by the European Parliament and it held a temporary committee on the matter. The EU has also opposed the use of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and offered to host some former inmates when its closure was announced by the administration of US President Barack Obama.

Capital punishment

In the United States, capital punishment is a legal form of punishment, whereas all European Union member states have fully abolished it and consider its use to be a violation of fundamental human rights. This occasionally causes problems with EU-US relations, because it is illegal in the European Union to allow the extradition of a citizen to a country where the death penalty is a legal punishment, unless a guarantee is given that such punishment will not be used.

International Criminal Court

Positions in the United States concerning the ICC vary widely. The Clinton Administration signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but did not submit it for Senate ratification. The Bush Administration, the US administration at the time of the ICC's founding, stated that it would not join the ICC. The Obama Administration has subsequently re-established a working relationship with the court. [35] [Broken Citation]

Iraq War

The Iraq War divided opinions within European nations and within the United States, with some states supporting of military action, and some against. The European public opinion was staunchly opposed to the war. This caused a major transatlantic rift, especially between the states led by France and Germany [36] [37] on the one hand, who were against military action, and the United States with United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Poland. [38]

Kyoto Protocol

The European Union is one of the main backers of the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to combat global warming. The United States which initially signed the protocol at its creation during the Clinton Administration, never had the measure ratified by the United States Senate, an essential requirement to give the protocol the force of law in the United States. Later, in March 2001, under President George W. Bush, the United States removed its signature from the protocol, leading to much acrimony between the United States and European nations. In 2008, President Barack Obama said that he planned on setting annual targets to reduce emissions, [39] [40] although this doesn't include the Kyoto Protocol—likely because developing nations are exempt. [41]

Visa waiver reciprocity

The EU is requesting from the US reciprocity regarding the visa waiver program for all its members. The European Union has threatened with the possibility of imposing visas for American citizens that would extend to the entire EU, excluding France in respect of its Outermost Regions, and Ireland, which operate visa policies distinct from the Schengen acquis. In 2008, many of the EU's new Central European members were granted visa-free access to the US, and currently, four out of 28 EU members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania) lack such access.


In the autumn of 2015, in the wake of the Snowden revelations in Europe (see details), the dissimilar interpretations of privacy prevailing in the United States and Europe came to the surface in an upset of the International Safe Harbor Privacy Principles by a court ruling of the European Court of Justice.

Nord Stream

In mid-June 2017, Germany and Austria issued a joint statement that said the proposed anti-Russian CAATSA bill heralded a "new and very negative quality in European-American relations" and that certain provisions affecting gas pipeline projects with Russia were an illegal threat to EU energy security. [42] [43]

On July 26, 2017, France’s foreign ministry described the new U.S. sanctions as illegal under international law due to their extraterritorial reach. [44]

At the end of July 2017, the proposed law's Russia sanctions caused harsh criticism and threats of retaliatory measures on the part of the European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker. [45] Germany's minister for Economics and Energy Brigitte Zypries described the sanctions as illegal under international law and urged the European Union to take appropriate counter-measures. [46]


Germany's BND has covertly monitored European firms and officials at the request of the NSA. -FsA14 - Freiheit statt Angst 060 (15062050686) (2).jpg
Germany's BND has covertly monitored European firms and officials at the request of the NSA.

Secret documents obtained by German news magazine Der Spiegel in 2013 state that European Union offices in the United States and United Nations headquarters have been targeted for spying by the National Security Agency (NSA), an intelligence office operated by the United States government. The reports revealed that the United States bugged offices, accessed internal computer networks, obtained documents and emails, and listened to phone calls. [48] Subsequent reports from the media further state that domestic European Union offices in Brussels have also been targeted; along with EU offices, embassies of India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey are also listed as targets in the documents. [49] On June 30, 2013, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz demanded for a full clarification from Washington and stated that if the allegations were true, EU and US relations would be severely impacted. [48]


EU-US summit at Brdo Castle in 2008 20080610-US-EU summit.jpg
EU-US summit at Brdo Castle in 2008

Banana wars

The EU and the US have had a long-running dispute over the EU's banana imports. [50] [51] As part of their international aid, the EU offered tenders, on a first-come-first-served basis, for bananas from countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The United States argued that it favored local producers in former colonies of EU member-states over US-owned corporations in Latin America. The Clinton administration responded by imposing heavy tariffs on luxury goods created in the EU. [52] Such goods included cashmere from Scotland and French Cognac brandy, made in the original constituency of then Prime Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The Clinton administration then took the banana wars to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999, after Chiquita made a $500,000 donation to the Democratic Party. [50] The two sides reached an agreement in 2001. [53]


Diplomatic relations are maintained between the US and the EU, as an independent body, as well as all EU member states.

The EU is represented in the US by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States in Washington, D.C. Opened in 1954, it was the first overseas delegation of the EU's forerunner, the European Coal and Steel Community  (ECSC). [54] The current EU ambassador to the United States, since 2014, is David O'Sullivan. [54] Additionally, all 27 EU member states have an embassy in Washington, D.C. [55]

The United States' diplomatic mission to the EU is the United States Mission to the European Union in Brussels. The current US ambassador to the EU, since 2014, is Anthony Gardner. [56] The United States established a diplomatic mission to the ECSC in 1956 in the city of Luxembourg and, in 1961, the United States Mission to the European Communities in Brussels. [57] The US has embassies in all 27 EU member states. [58]

The Transatlantic Economic Council is a bilateral forum for economic cooperation between the EU and US established during the 2007 US-EU Summit. It meets at least once per year and is jointly headed by the US Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs and the EU's Commissioner for Trade. [59]

Trump administration

Angela Merkel criticized the draft of new sanctions against Russia that target EU-Russia energy projects. Plenaria - Dia 2 (44316130490).jpg
Angela Merkel criticized the draft of new sanctions against Russia that target EU–Russia energy projects.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen meet with U.S. President Donald Trump with World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, 21 January 2020 President Trump at Davos (49419286943).jpg
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen meet with U.S. President Donald Trump with World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, 21 January 2020

In a 60-minute interview in mid-January 2017, with Michael Gove of the Times of London and Kai Diekmann of Bild , U.S. president Donald Trump criticized the European Union as "basically a vehicle for Germany" claiming that it was a "very catastrophic mistake" on Angela Merkel's part to admit a million refugees - whom he refers to as "illegals". [61] In a letter to 27 European leaders, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, called these "worrying declarations" and claimed that the Trump administration seemed to "question the last 70 years of American foreign policy," placing the European Union in a "difficult situation". [62] The relation soured even more when Jean-Claude Juncker jokingly said it will support the independence of the US State of Ohio and the city of Austin, Texas after Donald Trump backed the Brexit and encouraging other European Countries to follow its example. [63]

In May 2017, Angela Merkel met with Trump. Trump's nationalist sentiments had already strained relations with several EU countries and other American allies, to the point where after a NATO summit, Merkel said that Europeans cannot rely on United States' help anymore. [64] This came after Trump had said the Germans were "bad, very bad" and threatened to stop all car trade with Germany. [65]

In July 2018, Trump stated in an interview with CBS that the European Union is one of the United States' greatest foes globally, citing "what they do to us on trade". [66] He followed this up with a tweet protesting the EU's fining of Google $5.1 billion for a violation of antitrust laws, commenting that the EU continues to take advantage of the US. [67]

In December 2019, the United States urged the European countries to blacklist Hezbollah. Its ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell asked these countries to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, after a US civil contractor was killed in a rocket attack in Iraq's Kirkuk Province, which the US official said involved Kata'ib Hezbollah. [68]


EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell Fontelles (left center) meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right center) in 2020 Secretary Pompeo Meets with High Representative Borrell Fontelles (49407785783).jpg
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell Fontelles (left center) meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right center) in 2020

The US and the EU share two different approaches to diplomacy. The scholar Michael Smith defined the US as a "warrior state". This refers to its diplomatic approach based on sovereignty, state action and the use of military capabilities. On the other hand, the EU displays a diplomacy which is one of a "trading state". This means that EU diplomacy focuses on soft power, negotiation and trade. The EU diplomatic style reflects the fact that there is not a strong and cohesive foreign policy among its member states. [69] The US and EU diplomatic features are also reflected in their relations with the United Nations. The EU relies more on the permission of the UN in order to use force abroad while the US adopts a position of opposition towards UN authorization for interference. [70]

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Further reading