Atlantik-Brücke Dinner

Ambassador John B. Emerson

Friedrich, thank you for that warm welcome.  We already feel that we have made many friends.  I can tell by looking around this room and seeing the smiles on your faces that we are going to make many, many more.  I want to thank everybody for the wonderful warm welcome that you have all extended to us really from the second we stepped off the airplane from Los Angeles.

The second thing, Friedrich, I want to thank you for is introducing everybody because, as you know, one of thef most dangerous things to do as a speaker (and all the politicians here know this) is to start introducing people for fear that you might forget someone.

Notwithstanding that, however, there are a couple of folks I want to acknowledge. First of all, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy, Jim Melville, who is sitting right here.  And being the new Ambassador of the United States to Germany, I think it is only appropriate that I acknowledge my counterpart, Peter Ammon, who was here earlier.  He is attending a conference at the Foreign Ministry.  I want to let him know (and you can all tell him that I said this) how much I appreciated the fact that he and his wife stopped by.  He was so welcoming to all of us back in Washington when I was there for my confirmation and swearing-in.  I also want to let you know how much I appreciate the fact that his distinguished predecessors, Wolfgang Ischinger and Klaus Scharioth, are here tonight.  It means a great deal to me.  Thank you so much.

What an exciting day this has been.  This afternoon, I presented my credentials to President Gauck.  We had an interesting discussion.  For me, it was particularly special since, like the President, both my father and grandfather had been pastors.  We had a very wide-ranging, almost philosophical, conversation.

I also want to thank you, Friedrich, for commenting on the fact that I speak German. I took it in high school and college; and I understand a lot more than I can articulate.  My line is, “Ich habe mehr Deutsch vergesssen als ich gelernt habe.”  But I am going to get started here with a little bit of Deutsch, so bear with me.

Meine Damen und Herren, meine Frau Kimberly und ich sind besonders stolz, diesen Abschnitt unseres Lebens mit Ihnen von der Atlantik-Brücke zu beginnen. Jim Melville hat uns begeistert von der guten Zusammenarbeit berichtet. Auf dieser guten Arbeit möchten wir aufbauen – und zwar soweit möglich auf Deutsch. Hoffentlich nehmen Sie es mir dennoch nicht übel, wenn ich gleich auf Englisch fortfahre.

My family and I have been preparing for this assignment for a number of months and we are extraordinarily happy to finally be here in Berlin.  Kimberly and I are accompanied here tonight by our three daughters. Jackie, the oldest, will be leaving in about two weeks to begin her studies at Stanford University as a freshman.  She will be majoring in Mandarin Chinese and East Asian studies; and she is also a film actress and a singer and a songwriter.  Taylor and Hayley who are soccer, or Fussball, players will try to help promote lacrosse in Berlin.  They have just started 11thgrade.  The five of us actually visited Berlin several years ago.  We have  been having so much fun over the past ten days re-discovering this fascinating and historically important city; and we just can’t wait to get out and see the rest of the country.

I also bring you the fond regards of our dear, dear friends, Phil and Tammy Murphy.  Candidly, I wish Phil had been a worse Ambassador.  What an act to follow!  But he was great; and I’m glad he was great – for our country and for Germany.

Phil spoke to you here at the Kupfergraben for the first time as Ambassador almost exactly four years ago.  I know that he joined you on many subsequent occasions.  On that first evening, however, Phil recalled another Atlantik-Brücke event in honor of the then newly credentialed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  That dinner took place 20 years ago, in the fall of 1993, in Bonn.  All present were inspired by the strength of the new Ambassador’s commitment and the breadth of his vision.  I share those feelings about Dick Holbrooke.  In fact, I was privileged to be part of the Oval Office discussion when President Clinton decided to nominate him to be the Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.  And it is an even greater privilege for me to follow in his footsteps, and the footsteps of his extraordinary successors.  It is also a joy to be a part of this wonderful Atlantik-Brücke tradition.  I guarantee you that just as Phil told me, I will tell my successor, that this is where he or she needs to speak after the credential ceremony.

Like Ambassadors Holbrooke and Murphy, I am committed to furthering and strengthening the German-American partnership.  I grew up in New York and Kimberly is from LA; and we both  worked in DC during the 1990s. California has been, however, our family home for well over three decades.  We promise to bring a West Coast brand of energy and orientation toward the future to our work at the Embassy and to our cooperation with this organization and our other strong partners here in Berlin and throughout Germany.  Both Kimberly and I have deep German family roots, and it is an honor to serve as Ambassador here.

As I said at my Senate confirmation hearing, I began to study German at the age of 12.  My parents thought it was because I wanted to become a scientist, but the real reason probably had more to do with the fact that my father and grandmother spoke German when they didn’t want me to know what they were talking about!  But while my German is rusty today, I plan to work hard so that I am able to better hear what you have to say –and learn from your perspectives.

Based on my experience in government, and in civic and private sector initiatives, I know that the strongest partnerships are built on exactly the kind of solid foundation that, together, Germany and the United States have established over the past six-plus decades.  The track record of German-American and trans-Atlantic cooperation speaks for itself.  It is the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.  As President Obama said here in Berlin last June, Europe is America’s partner in almost everything that we do.  He was not just referring to the way that governments work together.  He was also referring to the way that businesses and universities and research organizations work together.  He was referring to the strong people-to-people connections that were established and nurtured and developed during the 20th century.  And President Obama noted the very basic fact that all of these facets of the trans-Atlantic relationship can now be channelled to address the very different challenges that the world faces today.  Ours is a partnership based on common values and common ideals – and also common action.

Think about it:  our partnership has transitioned from one with an almost singular focus on the very real security challenges and threats defined by the parameters of the Cold War to a broader, more encompassing relationship.  I first came to Berlin just after college in the 1970s to visit a former professor, who at that time was the executive director of the Aspen Institute Berlin.  I will never forget seeing the Wall, imposing and gray. That powerful, singular symbol of those times served as an apt metephor for the black and white and gray relations of the Cold War.  I returned a decade or so later to take part in a young leaders exchange organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.  There were signs then that things were beginning to change.  That gray wall was covered with vibrant colorful graffiti.  Today, the Wall has been reduced to a thin brick line running through the streets of Berlin—and the vibrant signs of our partnership are everywhere throughout this reunified city and country. That single note of shared national security has grown into a symphony of cooperation across  political, economic, and cultural spheres.

People call the United States the indispensable nation, yet from the new roles that NATO has embraced, to the engagement of trans-Atlantic partners in Afghanistan and Kosovo, to developments in the broader Middle East, to our partnership in humanitarian and development efforts around the world, to our efforts to keep our citizens safe from the very real threats posed by terrorism, it is the close cooperation between our two countries that is indispensable.

Our views are complementary – which is not to say that they always coincide.  Of course there are sometimes differences of opinion across the Atlantic, just as there are within the United States or Germany or Europe.

And at this particular moment in time, there certainly is a very large elephant in the room, and that is the NSA story.  As I stated in my Senate confirmation hearings, I intend to listen and to engage with government officials, political leaders, and the German people on this topic.  There is one underlying message: we need to work together to combat terrorism in order to keep our countries and our citizens safe; and we need to do it in a way that reflects our shared respect for the rule of law.  You can be assured that the vital ongoing cooperation between our security agencies will continue.  It is important to remember that, as Foreign Minister Westerwelle said again today, the United States is a parliamentary democracy, with an independent judiciary; and he also reiterated the importance of our partnership, a strategic partnership based on common values.    Our intelligence agencies operate under the oversight of all three branches of the American government.  The recent allegations have engendered vigorous public discussion not only within Germany, but also within the United States, regarding our efforts to achieve the right balance between freedom and privacy, and security. These discussions will obviously continue for some time.

But in light of yesterday’s news stories, let’s step back for a minute:  I think we can assume that this pattern of leaks to Der Spiegel and other news outlets may well continue over time.  Every time this happens, we have a choice: we can either stop in our tracks, wring our collective hands, and put a hold on all the other critical work we are doing together, or we can move steadily forward on all fronts, including this one, simultaneously.  I strongly urge this latter course.  The important point to remember is that our world views are complementary.  We share the same values; we share the same goals; and we are indeed working on policies to achieve those goals together.

The good news is that at this point in our common history and that of the globalized world, we face a truly unique opportunity to create a new strategic, political and economic framework for the 21st century.  I am talking about TTIP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment PartnershipAgreement.  By creating the largest allied market in the world, TTIP will strengthen economies on both sides of the Atlantic and create jobs for Americans, for Germans, and for all Europeans.  It will reduce regulatory barriers.  And perhaps of greatest importance, I am convinced that it will provide the strategic foundation for a broader, global pronouncement of the common values we share.  The evolution of NATO transformed international relations.  Just as the new NATO transcends security issues, TTIP is more than a trade agreement.  And like NATO, TTIP will be a cornerstone of trans-Atlantic relations.  The broad economic cooperation that it represents will also put in place a new framework for global peace and prosperity.  It goes without saying that this is in everybody’s best interests.

Will it be easy?  Of course not; we all know how hard it will be; but it represents  a huge and important vision.  Each and every one of us has a responsibility to work towards a successful conclusion of this agreement.  While serving in the Clinton White House in the 1990s, I had the privilege of managing efforts to secure Congressional approval of the Uruguay Round of the GATT.  I worked closely with Michael Froman, who at the time was a White House Fellow.  I now look forward to working with U.S. Trade Representative Froman on TTIP-related issues.  But perhaps more importantly, I look forward to working, together, with all of you.  One of the lessons I learned from this White House experience was the importance of open and honest discussion – and the critical need to start with the vast areas upon which we find agreement, and then build on those throughout the course of negotiations.

In terms of TTIP and discussions regarding standards, yes, here too, the US and Europe have some differences of opinion.  But think of how far we have come.  For instance, in the trans-Atlantic context, there is is much more agreement today on the environmental and labor issues that dominated the GATT negotiations more than twenty years ago.

Think also of food standards.  Last year,the United States and the European Union signed an historic agreement regarding the equivalent recognition of organic food standards.  This new agreement will not only expand market access for organic producers and companies by reducing duplicative requirements and certification costs on both sides of the ocean, it will help develop a better and stronger foundation for promoting organic agriculture.

There are, of course, ongoing differences in perception and opinion about food standards in other areas.  But let’s be honest:  both in Europe and the United States, we are fortunate to be able to sit down to very good and very healthy meals—with food that may have gotten to the table differently, but that is perfectly safe.  Let’s remember that we share the same basic goals of protecting health through food safety; and as one of my favorite philosophy professors used to say, “there are many roads up the same mountain.”

And so, in that vein, as we continue to evolve our partnership for the 21stcentury, we together can identify opportunities to explore the many roads where Germans and Americans can come together.  In the business context, hundreds of thousands of German citizens are employed by American firms, and vice versa.  We need to build on that. We have much to learn from one another in the areas of environmental technology and renewables, and can be partners in confronting the growing dangers of global warming.  And, in one area that is very important to Kimberly and me as the parents of three wonderful teenage girls, we need to reach out and build bonds between young Americans and young Germans.

I thought it was very telling that Chancellor Merkel commemorated the 52nd anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall by giving a history lesson to a group of high school students.  Her goal was to emphasize and to bring to life the principles of freedom and democracy in that period of Germany’s history.  When reading about her visit on our plane ride to Berlin, it struck me that there is an entire generation of Germans and Americans who did not live through the searing experience of the second half of the 20th century that bonded our two great nations together.  And if we are going to keep strong the bridge created by those bonds, we need to reach those generations.  Our vibrant trans-Atlantic relationship is not an inherited trait; its value needs to be transmitted from one generation to the next.

Certainly over the coming years, when talking to young Germans about our relationship, Kimberly and I will seek to bring to life our common values, based on freedom and democracy, and the incredible history we share.  We can do this is by connecting the energies of young entrepreneurs and innovators, whether from California’s Silicon Valley or Silicon Allee here in Berlin; and by celebrating the dynamism of our respective movements in film and the arts, which are so often driven by young people.  There is much we can learn from each other by building on the creative energy and the innovation, training, and exchanges of our post Cold War generations..

As parents, Kimberly and I are very well aware that the early interests of young people are important, and that we often see them come full circle as lives progress.  We intend to include youth in all of our public diplomacy efforts.  I understand that the Atlantik-Brücke has an excellent Young Atlanticists program.  Count on us to help you expand that network.  And we hope that we can count on you to brainstorm with us how we can engage young people in new and creative ways.

So this will be our priority: to strengthen and multiply the bridges between our two countries and across the Atlantic through renewed strategic, economic and interpersonal initiatives.  Working together, we can ensure that the ties that bound us during the second half of the 20th century will be transformed in ways that will guarantee the evolution of our indispensible interconnectedness throughout the coming years and decades.  And finally, on a personal level, I spoke of people’s lives coming full circle. Well, I started studying German in junior high, because of my family.  A few weeks ago, Secretary Kerry swore me in to this office on a German family bible that my grandmother passed down to my now 87-year old father, who is a pastor.  Here, too, my family and I have come full circle, as Kimberly and I in turn pass down our German heritage to our three daughters, and I, with all humility, proudly embrace the honor and the responsibility of the important tasks before us.

Es ist eine ganz besondere Freude, diesen Tag mit Ihnen zu verbringen. Ich freue mich auf unsere Zusammenarbeit in den kommenden Jahren. Vielen Dank.