Notice & Comment

A Transatlantic Tribute to Richard Parker, by Alberto Alemanno

I had the privilege to meet Richard Parker in the early days of the negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), possibly the most ambitious, though ultimately aborted, “new generation” trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. While this was only the start of our friendship, it laid the groundwork for years of shared enthusiasm for public interest scholarship, legal education and democratic innovation.

Richard was tasked by the European Commission to assist the EU negotiating team, by providing an initial legal study. As he needed someone to help him out on the EU side, he contacted me to check my interest. Thus, in Summer 2013, an ice-breaking call brought us together and forged a fruitful and intense collaboration that peripatetically bound us across both the Atlantic and the Channel. It ultimately transcended the TTIP negotiations and brought Richard and his family to visit my own family, notably in the Basque country in 2015, where we finally met in Bilbao, Spain.

To facilitate the start of the negotiations, our initial task was to provide a comprehensive, step-by-step analysis of the US and EU legislative and regulatory processes. That was a cornerstone of enabling the framing of the most delicate and ambitious TTIP chapter: aimed at building a permanent regulatory cooperation framework between US and EU regulators intended to reduce trade frictions. While electoral politics and geopolitics had other plans, I was immediately struck by his insights and commitment to transatlantic relations.

Thanks to his two-decades of experience working for and consulting with both the federal government and several of its agencies – for whom he acted as convenor/facilitator of “reg-negs” – Richard immediately revealed to be not only a frank, and articulate interlocutor, but also an extremely motivated, affable and conscientious co-author. He realized well before me that what was at stake was more than just a legal endeavor. Our chief assignment wasn’t the mere production of a legal study providing guidance to the EU negotiators on the intricacies of the US and EU legal systems. Rather, it was crafting a “common language” that would have enabled TTIP negotiators coming from both sides of the Atlantic to exchange in a well-informed, productive, and structured way along the whole negotiating process. This was a pedagogical, cultural, possibly anthropological, endeavor as much as a legal one. Before becoming a challenge for the two negotiating teams who were then approaching the negotiating table, we carried the dialogue into our respective summer breaks!

Richard, a dedicated educator with excellent pedagogical skills, often joked that our own mini-transatlantic dialogue was a little experiment within the broader TTIP’s experiment. If the two of us would not have been able to profoundly understand one another, by building a mutual understanding of US and EU decision-making processes – and their intricate procedures – the trade negotiators coming from our respective jurisdictions would have never been able to move forward. By taking full advantage of our respective time zones, I’d share my draft by midday CET (before going to the beach for a few hours) so that Richard would receive it when getting up in DC. He would then send it back later in the day, thus allowing us to make further iterations before the end of the day. This research and writing process, which led to the preparation of an in-depth study and possibly the first side-by-side, step-by-step comparative analysis of both the US and EU legislative systems as well as their respective rulemaking processes, was punctuated by long transatlantic calls and lively discussions. Beyond that, they reflected a deeper partnership: one based on trust, values, and ultimately our beliefs in the future of transatlantic cooperation.

Over the previous decade, Richard and I – each in our own corner – have been studying previous transatlantic attempts at reducing trade barriers that emerged since the 1970s. We have also witnessed how parliamentarians as well as regulators from both sides of the Atlantic have since the 1990s been working to institutionalize such efforts through a variety of dialogues and committees, as epitomized by the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue (TLD). The widely-agreed conclusion regarding those past attempts at regulatory convergence is an overall lack of success: regulatory differences remain (even today) as neither side has the incentives to consider the extraterritorial effects of its regulations.

Against this backdrop, in 2013, for the first time in history, the US and the EU declared their political desire to bring that transatlantic regulatory co-operation to the next level, by establishing a permanent, agency-to-agency regulatory cooperation. That would have led – according to a variety of economic studies – to a significant reduction of trade frictions, by even preventing their emergence, and a gain in the jurisdictions respective GDP.

Richard shines bright in my memory, as one of both the early proponents and innovative advocates for the transatlantic policy space, both professionally and personally. At the core and as highlighted by our individual meetings with a wide range of political actors, Richard and I truly believed (and – I guess – still do) that both the EU and the US could have much to learn from each other legislative and regulatory systems, and that regardless of the immediate trigger represented by the horizontal disciplined discussed within TTIP. It is against this backdrop that our small epistemic community has been preparing the groundwork for such a transatlantic rapprochement for a long time. Richard knew that each of us had much to contribute to such an historical, transatlantic endeavor. He proved extremely skilled at identifying the right people, both in our community and respective governments, who could contribute to our collective effort and start some myth-busting on how things actually worked on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Indeed, amid an unprecedented mobilization of a few civil society organizations in Germany and beyond, TTIP – and its horizontal regulatory chapter – quickly became one of the most contentious aspects – together with the state-investor mechanism – of the entire negotiations. Contrary to the widespread concern that regulatory co-operation would lead to a race to the button, Richard and I strived to demonstrate how TTIP would have not substantially altered the parties’ separate ways of making legislation or rules. The US and EU authorities would have merely committed themselves to ensuring that there is synchronization between their regulatory systems. In other words, they would have never regulated jointly, or per se be nudged to lower their respective standards.

Considering the growing misinformation surrounding the TTIP negotiations, Richard became as frustrated as I did. We therefore expanded our academic focus towards greater public engagement. We strived to hold the media as well as some political leaders accountable on their public statements regarding TTIP’s negative footprint on people’s social rights

That level of academic engagement was relatively new to me, as it was the strategic approach embraced by Richard in his stance towards all stakeholders inhabiting the “TTIP circus.” Aaron Nielson is right: Richard Parker was a doer as much as a scholar of Administrative Law.

I owe a lot to Richard, the scholar, the educator, and the man. I’ve learned from every single email we exchanged (over a 1000 still in my inbox), from every telephone call we had and even more so from the less frequent in-person meetings.

My dearest memory of him?

It’s February 2014, seven years ago today. Richard and I are guests at Wilton Park, West Sussex, the executive agency of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office “convening discreet dialogue on the world’s vital issues since 1946”. After a two-day, intense closed-door meeting interacting with the negotiating teams from the US and the EU, Richard proposed to have a celebratory moment after dinner. We sat in the beautiful library surrounded by thousands of books and portraits and felt the magic of history. Richard knew that regardless of TTIP’s ultimate fate, our work, albeit modest, had somehow contributed to advance a mutual transatlantic understanding of how our respective governments work.

Our best contribution to Richard’s memory is to pursue such effort towards mutual understanding and dialogue through our daily scholarly, teaching, and public interest work.

Let’s try to do so with the same fervor, rigor, and enlightenment as Richard.

Alberto Alemanno is the Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law at HEC Paris and the founder of The Good Lobby, a nonprofit committed to equalize access to power through a combination of advocacy, pro bono support and scholarship.

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