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Almost six months into his tenure as ambassador to the European Union, C. Boyden Gray talked with Legal Times reporter Anna Palmer this week via telephone from Brussels about his transition from Washington lawyer to European diplomat. The former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush answered questions on a range of issues, from the United States’ current relationship with the EU to antitrust and competition differences with multinational companies to the ongoing question of energy security post-Sept. 11. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
LT: How would you describe the U.S.’ relationship with the EU? Gray: I think it is going very well. The level of cooperation is unprecedented in public and in private negotiations.
LT: Do you think the U.S. has a less adversarial relationship with the EU than when your predecessor, Ambassador Rockwell Schnabel, was at the reins? Gray: Things are much better now, in large part because 18 months ago President Bush visited. Then [Secretary of State] Condi Rice maybe has had 10 visits here, and a lot of the Cabinet has been over here. The latest visit by the president was a lot more substantive. The first one was more symbolic; [during his last visit] there was a lot of give and take on issues.
LT: Do you think the role of U.S. ambassador to the EU has become more politicized? Gray: No. I don’t really know how to compare it over the course of history, but I compare notes with [former U.S. ambassador to the EU] Stuart Eizenstat, who was in my place about 10 years ago. The job is a little bigger than when he was here. The economics part is pretty much the same, but the diplomatic part didn’t exist before terrorism came into the EU, which has complicated the job but doesn’t make it more political.
LT: Has being a recess-appointed ambassador hindered your progress working with the EU? Gray: I don’t think so, but I’m not the person to judge that.
LT: Where is the EU as an entity? Will the U.S. be dealing more with the EU or primarily with member states? Gray: More and more things are coming to the EU. These political issues, for example, involving the Middle East, 10 years ago would have been dealt with bilaterally, not in the EU. Counterterrorism five years ago would have been done bilaterally; now it’s primarily through the EU. There’s still a lot of member state involvement in the process, but more and more issues are coordinated in Brussels.
LT: What changes do you see in decision-making at the EU with the ascension of 10 new countries? Does it tilt the balance to a more pro-American stance? Gray: It’s possible. I can’t make an on-the-ground comparison; it’s not that easy to do. The thing most people say to me is, the grounds for change was the president’s visit last February a year ago and the following after that. Most people this side of the Atlantic say that is the turning point.
LT: One of the biggest issues you’ve taken on so far is energy regulation and security. Where do you see the role of the EU and, in particular, your relationship with the EU in promoting a common agreement between the Western countries and Russia on energy and energy security? Gray: I think that the West has to have a common approach to questions of energy security, whether it’s about conservation or alternative fuels. It’s better for all if we have the same standards and approaches. I think it’s also true for Europe. Their energy policy is in a much stronger position to negotiate, especially when they combine forces to magnify that advantage.
LT: So, what is your role in that? Gray: I think we can help them on the margins with their common energy policy because we have developed an integrated electricity [program], for example, which could be of use to them. For our own sake, perhaps we too could benefit from new forms of transportation pipelines and tanker facilities that provide a lot more flexibility.
LT: How do you think the WTO and Doha talks are progressing, and what is your role in that debate? Gray: We don’t have any direct role. That’s pretty closely held by trade negotiators on both sides, but it may be that [EU ambassador to the United States] John Brutun is more engaged than I am. We are, of course, very supportive of getting a round done.
LT: One of the issues you’re most well known for in Washington is your role in judicial appointments. Have you had any role in the appointments since you’ve become ambassador? Gray: No, although I guess that Brett Kavanaugh got confirmed, which is very good. I’m totally divorced from that process.
LT: What will you be focusing on during your next six months as ambassador? Gray: On the energy front there is a lot to be done.

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