Speech on transatlantic relations at AmCham


On 8 March 2017, Marietje Schaake spoke at an AmCham event on the occasion of the launch of the 2017 transatlantic economy report.

Thank you Susan, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I appreciate the invitation to share some thoughts on the transatlantic relation.

I could tell you about the unchanged importance of our cooperation, about a deep frozen TTIP, and whether it may defrost...

About what may be the consequences of hastily imposed tariff walls, or the opportunities for Europe as the US seems to take a step back from the global stage under President Trump.

I could also underline the reassurances I heard from Vice President Pence in Munich; words that were certainly welcomed, especially at a moment when many are searching for reassurances and silver linings.

But the reality is that it is disturbing that we need reassurances from our most important ally at all. The reality is that on the ground, from the Balkans to the Middle-East, from Israel to Ukraine, the impact of a nationalist President is felt more strongly than here in Brussels, and has real consequences on life and death, on war and peace.

Although transatlantic relations are a topic I have thought and talked about endlessly, I find myself weighing my words this evening. I am sorry if you had expected something else.

The reason is not surprising. President Trump has challenged and even attacked values we cherish, that seemed unshakable. Principles that need extending, and strengthening, to make sure that promise and practice come closer and closer.

The attacks on the rule of law, on media and journalists, and those on minorities, immigrants and women, impact me more than only as a politician.

That is because, the Transatlantic relationship is about more than agenda┬┤s, priorities, security and trade: for me, and I know for many of you, the relationship and our commitment to it, is personal. It is woven into the fabric of our families and friendships, the transatlantic relation has become a part of who we are as individuals and as societies.

Graves of soldiers in Margraten remind us of the boys and men that died way too young, and that liberated this continent, ensuring that the generation of my parents grew up rebuilding a democracy. They enjoyed the freedom that allowed them to be hippies not soldiers, and to demonstrate freely against the Vietnam War. Yet this would never change their understanding, that the US was a key liberator of our continent.

When I started my career looking into war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, the Dayton accords and the value of peace and justice, became more evident. Without transatlantic cooperation, the war would have lasted longer.

And in 2001, when the US was hit by the horrific terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, European NATO partners stood ready to fulfil their obligations to the transatlantic alliance after article 5 was invoked for the first time in history. To this day, European and American troops are stationed in Afghanistan under a NATO-led mission.

In Syria today, Russian bombs and Iranian militia with the Assad Regime cause bloodshed and destruction of unprecedented scale. The absence of both American and European leadership to end the war is costing lives and hurts our common strategic interests. The people fleeing true carnage, have deeply impacted politics on our continent too.

I can recommend to you all to travel to Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, to visit refugee camps and see with your own eyes what the real price is.

Many in policy circles know very well what the significance of good transatlantic cooperation is.

We also know, leadership does not only come from the White House.

Two weeks ago when I visited Washington as Vice President of the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue, it was remarkable to see how explicitly we were welcomed, instead of going straight into the agenda, and discussing differences. It was clearer than ever that the transatlantic relation is understood and valued.

We have come a long way, and should not fall into a trap of viewing the situation in oversimplified terms. Under President Obama the relationship was not always peachy, with topics such as Guantanamo, the Iraq War, the Snowden revelations and TTIP causing many heated exchanges.

They revealed that some of the deepest dividing lines do not run parallel to the Atlantic, but cut straight through our societies:

-Creating a gap between the rustbelt and the beltway

-Between Silicon Valley and the NSA

-Between students and retirees

-Between the boardroom and the mailroom

That brings me to my conclusion:

The transatlantic relation will be more horizontal, based not as much on government to government relations, but rather on connections between companies, civil society and citizens that are likeminded. The connection between Farage and Trump, Le Pen and Bannon are also examples of this horizontal linking.

I believe the best thing to do is to use this moment of uncertainty and change, as an opportunity to reassess what must remain unchanged, and to energetically build to fortify these principles. Political leadership is key, but there is more:

If we agree that the value of open societies, open economies, the open internet and open minds are essential, what can we do as individuals, and what must be the role of the private sector to follow through?

Some of the anger that is currently directed at politicians, and the establishment, is rooted in a deep sense of unfairness over how society is organized or how income is distributed, not only globally but also within countries and within companies.

It requires leadership and in many cases drastic reforms that can only be made by your leadership, it requires the fundamental choice to be a corporate citizen, and to place principle before profit.

As we are reminded that nothing can be taken for granted, let us not be complacent and choose for values over value, principles before profit, inclusiveness over self-interest.

Considering that the transatlantic relation is not only relevant for most of us professionally, but has a personal resonance, we must engage not only with our heads but also with our hearts. If we do that, I am cautiously optimistic.

Thank you