During his time as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland from 1994 to 1997, John Bruton oversaw the creation of the "Celtic Tiger" -- the vertiginous expansion of the Irish economy -- and was a significant participant in the Northern Irish Peace Process which resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Since 2004, he has been the European Union's Ambassador to the United States. On a recent visit to Seattle, Bruton served as the Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick's Day parade and took a moment to talk with Real Change.
What are your duties as the European Union's ambassador to the United States?
The EU offers a common market for people to work, and for goods and services. We have rules about trade, quality of goods, services, working conditions. Occasionally the EU and the U.S. must settle differences about these rules. The EU is the biggest outside investor in the American economy and the U.S. is the biggest investor in the EU. We have to minimize obstacles to investment and address other issues.
How is the EU dealing with immigration?
We have substantial immigration. France has the largest Muslim population. Immigrants are rising to important positions, notably in Britain. In Ireland, a Nigerian is one town council's chairman. Change is never easy. We must work to create links between native and immigrant communities on the basis of equality, dignity, and mutual respect, in ways that are not patronizing.
Can you comment on the Bush administration?
As a diplomat, I can't take sides. I expect America's problems have roots that go beyond one administration. One acknowledges the failings, but also the improved level of U.S. aid to Africa, combating AIDS and other diseases.
What about Ireland's economic success?
For a long period in Ireland there was a significant gap between the rich and poor. That's not unique in Europe. Ireland's economic growth allowed people to help themselves. Ireland's educational system provides opportunities. Ireland has the largest number of immigrants proportionate to the native population, and has done a good job welcoming immigrants. Immigrants who work contribute to everyone else in the community.
What role did you play in Ireland's Good Friday Agreement?
I emphasized the need for the British and Protestant Unionists to talk to Sinn Fein, and for Sinn Fein and the IRA to give up violence. You must speak with your enemies. There comes a time when you have to forget about history. And it's important to not impose collective punishment on whole groups of people.
How can global poverty be addressed?
The opening of markets has allowed large numbers of people to get out of poverty. There still is substantial poverty in Africa. But many Asians are immeasurably better off than even 15 years ago. We must avoid concluding that opening markets contributes to poverty. In a global sense, it reduces poverty. Workers are displaced from jobs in the U.S. or Europe sometimes by trade, but more often by technological development. Emphasis must be on training, education, and providing opportunities for new employment. Many necessary services can only be performed at the local level. We have to help people learn the information technology and human relations skills to transition out of manufacturing and into service employment.
What is needed to achieve a just peace at all levels of global society?
Terrorists must be brought to justice as criminals. We are equipping ourselves to do this better by sharing information between police forces and prosecutors across the Atlantic and within countries. To make the world safer, we must find a solution to climate change. Greenhouse gases created in China are as damaging to America as the greenhouse gases produced here. We must achieve an international agreement based on trust, and make the sacrifices and lifestyle changes to reduce environmental damage, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If we achieve that agreement, it can provide a platform from which we can address other problems. So we should look at the environmental challenge not as a burden but as an opportunity to create a better world.