Belgium’s ambassador to the United States, Johan Verbeke, in a visit Tuesday analyzed the U.S.-Europe relationship, particularly given economic and cultural ties between Pittsburgh and the continent.
The Belgian capital, Brussels, houses the executive portion of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In remarks to the World Affairs Council, Mr. Verbeke refused to apply “declinism” to Europe, the United States or their relations, which he sees as strong and evolving. He stressed the importance of the European Union, which he called “an exceptional, historical experiment,” neither a state nor a nation. He cited its gross domestic product and external trade, larger than America’s or China’s, yet noted that the EU was hit harder than the United States by the 2008 recession. The EU growth rate is 1.7 percent, versus 2.2 percent in the United States; EU unemployment is 9.5 percent and America’s is 5.5 percent.
Anticipating criticism of European nations for their tepid support of NATO spending, Mr. Verbeke acknowledged that Europe has been for the most part a consumer, rather than a provider, of security. He said the tacit understanding had been that the United States led in the security domain, in return for bearing the bulk of the expense since World War II.
He noted that in the talks on Iran’s nuclear potential the political differences in Washington, between the executive and the legislative branches and between Republicans and Democrats, were “a problem.” But that’s something Americans already understand.