In the middle of all of the hype surrounding South By Southwest, the European ambassador to the U.S. has landed in the Texas capitol city.
“We have a big European Union presence at South By Southwest,” O’Sullivan says. “Texas is a hugely important state for us. It’s the second largest exporter to the European Union. There are $26 billion worth of exports to the EU and over 320,000 jobs created here by European investment. So Texas-EU relations are very strong.”
O’Sullivan says SXSW is an opportunity to exchange ideas.
“One of the important themes of this South By is the importance of cities, and the environment in cities for our citizens, and the role of technology in improving,” he says. “We’ll be taking forward this conversation because we face many common challenges and can share good solutions.”
The ambassador’s visit to the festival is about building bridges, though President Donald Trump’s announcement last week about new tariffs on steel and aluminum indicated that U.S. policy might be headed in an opposite direction.
“Frankly, because we feel these new tariffs would not be justified,” O’Sullivan says, “we would put in place what we call ‘rebalancing tariffs’ on a number of American exports if we had to. We’re hoping we can find a solution through the possibility for exemptions.”
The ambassador listed products like motorcycles, whiskey and Levi’s jeans as examples of U.S. exports that could be affected by potential rebalancing tariffs.
“We hope we won’t need to do this, that we can find through dialogue with the U.S. administration a mutually acceptable solution in the next week or two,” he says.
Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for President Trump, was in Europe over the weekend, making headlines in France. While trying to energize that country’s far-right wing party, he urged French populists, “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”
O’Sullivan says that, in Europe, the response to Bannon is not warm.
“We are not going to, we hope, go down the road of populism and a return to nationalism,” O’Sullivan says, “because we know where that brought us two times in the 20th century.”
Still, he says that Bannon’s talking points are unlikely to change the relationship between the U.S. and the EU.
“I think it is a deep and longstanding relationship which can endure many ups and downs and occasional disagreements,” he says.
Written by Jen Rice.