I mentioned earlier that I saw U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue speak before the Atlantic Council Wednesday. One of the issues he pushed quite forcefully was a free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. I was struck by his bare knuckles assessment of the politics surrounding such an agreement. The key, he said, was "fear."
"This is a great time to do it because the need's there, the fear is there," he said. "I go around talking to a lot of these heads of state and the fear is in their eyes. They're not afraid of national security issues—they're worried about putting people to work, they're worried about getting their economy going, they're worried about what's going to happen to the euro zone."
The main obstacle he saw to such an agreement was an array of bureaucratic issues, but he added that they can be overcome. "This is a simple, complex issue. Simple that if we can get it moving we'll deal with all those bureaucracies. Complex [because] if all we do is talk about it and think about all the reasons it wouldn't work we're not going to get there."
In November the United States and the European Union agreed to look at closer economic ties, including, possibly such a pact. Reuters reported earlier this month that business groups, like the Chamber, are pushing for a formal announcement of negotiations on a broad trans-Atlantic free trade pact at next month's G-8 summit at Camp David.
Interestingly, Donohue said that the Chamber's strategy has focused on the European side rather than the domestic side of the equation. The Europeans, he said, "desperately need some growth—as we do but we have some movement here—that maybe that would work everybody up and maybe we could do it after the [U.S.] election." The notion being that if they build momentum in Europe, the Obama administration will go along for the ride.