European Union Policy Studies

Interview with Antoine Ripoll

Antoine Ripoll

Current EUPS student Sara Leming sat down with Antoine Ripoll, Director of the European Parliament Liaison Office (EPLO), for a live interview about the European Union, current affairs, and transatlantic relations. The following is a transcript of their conversation:

Sara Leming: What is it like to work at a European institution within the United States?

Antoine Ripoll: Europeans and Americans share the same fundamental values, we stand for human rights, the rule of law, respect for minorities and those who are different. In this, we feel that we are part of the same adventure in life. At the same time, there are differences in the way in which we organize our society, such as the role we want the government and public authorities to play. Especially in the last year, with the new President in the White House, the positions are more contrasted, which makes the relationship more challenging. Although most of my interactions in Washington continue to be the same in terms of the values we share, the tone has changed and we have had some difficulties, but this also keeps the relationship in Washington interesting.

Sara Leming: How are the dynamics of the US Congress in Washington, DC different from the European Parliament in Brussels?

Antoine Ripoll: Even if Europe is an old continent, the integration process is relatively young and just celebrated 60 years. Compared to it, Congress is an old institution that has developed certain habits and cultures. In Brussels, by contrast, we are in the process of inventing our institution, the Parliament, and its culture. This allows us to be more innovative. For example, we have created the new parliamentary research service (EPRS) along the lines of the CRS, but instead of keeping the studies for ourselves we have decided to put them online, which we can do because we have still a more flexible system than on the Hill. Also, the European Parliament is a multinational environment, not a national one, and a multiparty one, with more than 100 parties represented, unlike Congress which has a two-party structure. The EP is therefore multi-faceted, we have to deal with eight caucuses and work in 24 languages. Consequently, we need interpreters present at our meetings, which means we have to be incredibly organized and plan weeks ahead, unlike Congress where there is a much bigger flexibility to schedule meetings even last minute.

Sara Leming: What is the most challenging aspect of working with the US Congress as the Director of the European Parliament Liaison Office?

Antoine Ripoll: Even in Europe it is hard to make the EU decision process understood due to the fact that it is very different from the national systems. I would say the same is true in Washington. Many in the US do not understand how the EU functions and there is much information and education work to be done. The second aspect is that members of Congress spend many hours fundraising and working for their district or constituency and have to deal mostly with national policies, so it can be very difficult to get their attention on transatlantic issues. We do get their attention only by talking “shop” which is, for example, talking about specific issues like cybersecurity, digital privacy, trade or foreign affairs with Iran or North Korea. It is definitely easier to get them interested when you talk about nitty-gritty details versus talking about broader issues.

Sara Leming: How have recent events such as the announcement of Brexit and the 2016 US Presidential election changed the relationship between the US and the EU?

Antoine Ripoll: I think that many Europeans after Brexit have started questioning themselves about the purpose of the EU and why they should stay in it or not. It has triggered an existential debate in Europe on the advantages and disadvantages of EU membership. Of course, I would have preferred that the British people had voted to stay. But if they believe that they are better off outside the EU, that’s democracy, and it’s respectable. At the same time, Brexit had the great merit to open this necessary and overdue democratic debate about membership of the EU. Actually, the populations in most member states now have become more pro-European than they were before Brexit, which is an interesting development.

In terms of the new President of the US and the administration, there are a number of issues about which we disagree. The new administration has different views on policies as essential as migration, trade, foreign affairs, human rights and the responsibility of America in the world. These changes trigger some questions from Europe but at the same time we respect the choice of Americans and are dealing with the President that has been elected. Also, we understand even more that we are attached to certain principles. Like with Brexit, also with this new President, Europe questions itself about what we stand for and what our principles are. If we do not like certain things in America right now, that means we see them as important. So, in a way, it is helping build a certain narrative in Europe. Finally, we are asking the right questions: what are we doing together in Europe? What is it to be European? What is a European identity vs. other identities in the world? When there is a rupture or major change, such as these two events, we are forced to think collectively about our common project. In a way, it is a good thing we are obliged to stop for a minute and reflect and start again from a more secure grounding.

Sara Leming: What do you think the future relationship between the US & the EU looks like and what should the top three priorities of cooperation be?

Antoine Ripoll: I believe that in the long term this relationship will last. If you look at the map of the world, the values that we collectively represent and stand for are essential and even if sometimes we take these for granted we need to realize that these values are a luxury and have to continue to promote our ideas of freedom and dignity of the person. In the short term, there may be some bumps. In Europe, we realized that America is not monolithic but a very diverse and a complex entity, a country composed not just of the presidency, but also of states, cities, NGOs, and mayors, who’s views do often diverge. The three main policies I would recommend we prioritize in our relationship are: 1) the promotion of our model of human rights; 2) the increase in trade and the pursuit of a common trade agreement; and 3) cooperation on the key issue of privacy protection in regards to technology.

Sara Leming: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for current EUPS students and alumni looking to apply their knowledge of the European Union in their careers?

Antoine Ripoll: My biggest piece of advice would be to try to do what you want in life, build your passion into your career which I was lucky enough to do. As Americans, you can help other Americans gain a different perspective.

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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