Atlantik-Brücke Annual Meeting

Berlin, July 1, 2013
Ambassador John B. Emerson

Vielen Dank. Heute ist ein wichtiger Tag für mich. Ich habe vor zehneinhalb Monaten das erste Mal bei der Atlantik-Brücke gesprochen.  Es war mein erster offizieller Termin als Botschafter.  Kimberly, unsere Töchter und ich haben uns gefreut, an diesem Abend so viele von Ihnen kennen zu lernen.  Und ich habe die enge Zusammenarbeit mit Friedrich Merz und Eveline Metzen genossen, die gute Freunde von mir geworden sind.

Over the past ten months, we have had a number of opportunities to meet and get to know many of you  and we have already made many wonderful, personal friendships.  My family and I have been overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception that we have received since arriving –a clear indication that the German American relationship is deep, heartfelt, and profound.  But on a broader level, I would like to take this opportunity to commend all of you, the members and supporters of the Atlantik Brücke, for your commitment to the shared values and interests that define our partnership – even during very difficult times, such as last Thursday’s Fussball game.

When I spoke to you last August, I addressed three themes that I said would be my top priorities.  I thought today would be a good opportunity to take a measure of the progress we have made – or  not – in each of those areas.  They are: re-building trust; setting the groundwork for the successful negotiation and enactment of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and building new trans-Atlantic bonds with those Germans who came of age after the fall of the Wall.

In addressing what I called the “elephant in the room,”  I said my top priority would be re-building the trust that had been “shaken” by the NSA metadata disclosures.  Who knew that 10 weeks later that word would be woefully inadequate to describe the state of the situation?  We went through some challenging weeks and months, and we have a ways to go.  Rebuilding trust will take a long time, as it does in any relationship where trust has been broken.  But I believe we are moving in the right direction.  Let’s consider what we have done.

We have heard the concerns here in Germany and responded to those concerns.  We are engaged in a robust debate back in the United States about the right balance between Sicherheit und Freiheit.  We have made clear that we don’t spy on ordinary citizens; that we don’t collect intelligence for the purpose of trying to suppress free speech; that we don’t collect intelligence to give commercial advantage to American companies – as a number of other countries do.   We don’t collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, as was the terrible experience in Germany for much of the 20th century.   or to disadvantage people based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.  The President conducted an unprecedented, comprehensive review of our intelligence services and has narrowed bulk signals intelligence collection to specific security threats, counter-proliferation, cyber security, the protection of our troops and those of our allies, and combatting transnational crime.

And with that in mind, let me make clear that taping the Chancellor’s phone has absolutely nothing to do with protecting anyone, and President Obama, in word and in deed, has made clear it is unacceptable.

The President has initiated reforms of the bulk data collection process, whereby intelligence agencies will no longer collect or maintain such data and will only be able to access it after a court order.  And, as was formally announced last week, the President has asked Congress to extend unprecedented privacy protection to non-U.S. citizens.

Fundamentally, the United States is not in the business of spying on ordinary people who do not threaten our national security, and is taking steps to make sure that the privacy rights of the citizens of the United States and of our friends and allies are respected.

That is important.  But, in all the heated conversations around this issue, it’s also important that we not forget the extent to which U.S. and German intelligence services work closely together to protect all our citizens.  We live in a world where non-state actors, such as the “foreign fighters” who are returning to Europe from Syria, seek to harm us – either through the traditional tools of terror, or through cyber-attacks on our financial, air traffic control, or energy grid systems.  And these folks have become very adept at using technology to recruit, train, plan, and carry out these attacks – and it is essential that we continue our work together to stay one step ahead of them.  Our successes go unreported; and yet, failure would be catastrophic.  That is why the Cyber Dialogue, begun here in Berlin just last week, is so important.

A lot has happened in these past ten months.  Another thing I said in that August speech was that even as we address the weekly barrage of Snowden related new stories, we cannot let that distract us from the important work we do together.  And during my time here, whether it was in dealing with the Ukraine, or Afghanistan, or Syria, or NATO, or EU related issues, or Iran and the Middle East – our vital partnership with Germany has been front and center in almost everything we do.

The crisis in the Ukraine is but one example of the close cooperation between our two countries.  More than that, it is an example of the constructive, forward-looking approach that Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier bring to the global issues that are not strictly within the purview of the 20th century trans-Atlantic relationship, but that are of concern to us all.  I have said that in dealing with the Ukraine, America has no more significant ally than Germany; and President Obama has no more important partner than Chancellor Merkel.

Together, countries like Germany and the United States have the responsibility to seek common ground and forge common responses to serious challenges, many unforeseen.  The vision of Europe that we share is not against anyone or anything; it’s a vision for a Europe, free, whole, and at peace; a Europe with genuine democracy, respect for people and their rights, and most important, a Europe where we take full responsibilities for our interactions.

Another aspect of our partnership I discussed last summer is our mutual commitment to concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I talked about T-TIP creating a political, economic, and strategic framework that would be as important to a 21st century of shared prosperity as NATO is to our shared security.  But while we’re only in the 30th minuteof negotiations, those who oppose T-TIP have been very vocal – voicing their concerns about the impact of globalization generally and raising multiple objections to T-TIP specifically.  Many of their concerns are fear-based and do not reflect what this agreement is all about.  Accordingly, our Embassy, as well as the leaders of the Grand Coalition, and civic and business groups like the Atlantik Brücke, AmCham, BID, and others have begun an energetic effort to bust the myths and move the discussion forward.  Many of you have heard me speak in detail about what T-TIP is about and, importantly, what it is not.
We are making progress, but we have a long way to go – and we must be very careful not to let the T-TIP debate get framed in the public arena on the basis of fear rather than fact.

Finally, I talked about the need to build bridges with younger Germans – those who came of age after the fall of the Wall and reunification.  But I must say, I am concerned.  Many young people question the value of the trans-Atlantic relationship, and question the values of America.  Many would rather see Germany neutral than aligned with the West, even in dealing with the crisis in the Ukraine.  The fact is, ours is a relationship not just of common interests, but of shared values – yet many do not see it that way.
In just a few days, the United States will celebrate Independence Day, our 238th birthday.   Americans like to say that our country was founded on an idea, an idea of freedom and democracy that crossed the Atlantic with the first European settlers.  Through centuries of struggle, of repression and revolution, a set of ideals had begun to emerge in Europe:  The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose.  The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding.  The belief in free assembly, free speech, a free press, rule of law, the right to self-determination, and the need for free and fair elections.  Those ideas – and the values upon which they are based – inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean.  And they wrote them into the founding documents that still govern America to this day, including the simple truth that all men – and women – are created equal.  Those ideas, nearly two centuries later, were incorporated into Germany’s Grundgesetz as well.  And sadly, those ideas and values are not shared by many of the governments with which we interact.
But as the timeline of America’s history has shown many times over and in many different ways, it takes hard-working and dedicated citizens to hold true to those ideals, and to turn the vision of our founders into a reality.  The challenge is ongoing and the ideals at stake have been tested many times over – in the U.S., here in Europe, and throughout the world.  They are being tested today, in places like the Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq.  And it is important for young people to understand that while every country has a history of going over the line and ours is no exception – our democracy is self-correcting.  And we stand up, together, for values of global democracy, free expression, protecting the rights of individuals, fighting against discrimination.

One thing is clear.  Whether it is the security of Ukraine, peace and stability in the Middle East, the energy stability of Europe, our collective response to climate change, or economic prosperity through innovation and entrepreneurship, no one nation can accomplish any of these things alone. That is why our partnership and friendship are so important.  That is why it matters so much, including to the lives of those who don’t see it.

In the end, whether we are able to live up to our ideals comes down to us – including the example of our own lives and our own societies.  These ideals are shared by Germans and Americans – of all generations.  The fact is, the concerns of young Germans are not that different from those of young Americans.  On both sides of the Atlantic, our young people are concerned about jobs, education, taxes, regulatory policies, immigration, the role and responsibilities of government in dealing with challenges and choices facing the country, as well as the sports they like to participate in or the popular culture they like to consume.  Their concerns range from domestic to international, from economic to security, from personal to idealistic.  Obviously, they see some issues from a different perspective but there is a commonality that exemplifies not only the relevance, but also the necessity of the transatlantic relationship.

When we read history, it is by definition from a distance.  In terms of the German-American relationship, we cannot simply manufacture the sentimental ties that developed between older generations based on the past seven decades of our shared history, but we can find ways to promote a new political generation that is invested in trans-Atlantic ties on the foundation of our common interests, our fundamental values, and the mutual priorities they reveal.

To do that, all of us – not only the younger generation – need to be willing to dig deeper beyond the clichés and conventional wisdoms of society and politics – on both sides of the Atlantic.  That, as you from the Atlantik Brücke well know, is the way to build the bridges of trust that are the foundation of any relationship.  Again as I said ten months ago, I look forward to continuing to explore the ways we can do this together.