US Secretary of State, John Kerry, spoke to an audience of 300 EU politicians, diplomats, and policymakers on Tuesday, October 4, calling for an ever-stronger relationship between the European Union and United States of America. In his hour-long speech, Kerry talked about the UK referendum and future of the European Union, strongly backed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, took a stern stance against Russia’s tactics, and talked about the importance of ending the war in Syria. The event was organized by the German Marshall Fund, whose President, Karen Donfried, introduced Kerry and spoke of the love that the Secretary of State has for his work.


Recognizing the historical EU-US relationship, Kerry set the tone by discussing the roots of the current historical era that the two sides have helped shape since World War II. “ The most indelible connection we share is the miracle of 70 years ago when, from the ashes of global devastation and genocide, the United States and Europe built institutions that would help prevent the repeat catastrophe of another generation of young European men being lost in yet another global conflagration,” the Secretary of State remarked.

Recognizing the historical EU-US relationship, Kerry set the tone by discussing the roots of the current historical era that the two sides have helped shape since World War II. “ The most indelible connection we share is the miracle of 70 years ago when, from the ashes of global devastation and genocide, the United States and Europe built institutions that would help prevent the repeat catastrophe of another generation of young European men being lost in yet another global conflagration,” the Secretary of State remarked.

Kerry did not shy away from talking about the currently most sensitive topic in the European Union capital of Brussels: the UK referendum. “Some even regret that the United Kingdom gave its citizens the right to opine on their future relationship with the EU,” Kerry told the room. “As much as some of us may wish the UK vote had gone the other way,” he continued, “the lesson we that we have to take from this democratic choice is not that we need less Europe or less UK; rather, we need more of both – more security, more prosperity, more collaboration among the U.S., the UK, and the EU to address the demands of our citizens and the challenge that our democratic societies face.” His words, reminiscent of European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address in 2015 where he called for “More Europe in our Union,” and “More Union in our Union.”

When it came to picking sides, Kerry took a step back, saying that the USA will support its friends “on both sides of the channel”, in what was one of the more UK-friendly approaches the Obama administration has made since the referendum. Kerry said the interests of the US are to have the strongest possible EU, and the strongest possible UK, and “a highly integrated, collaborative relationship between them.”

We need to firmly and boldly reject the cynics and the destroyers who think that the many challenges we face are somehow too much to handle. We need to prove that we can and we will maintain our unity. It’s not going to surprise you – the doubters don’t believe that we have what it takes to adapt. I believe they’re wrong. I believe they underestimate the power of the ideals that brought our societies together in the first place. They forget how many times in the past we have faced and overcome similar or far worse trials. They underestimate how seared those experiences are in the collective minds of Europeans. They’ve been listening too closely to the loudest voices, and not paying enough attention to the millions of people in our nations who will not abandon the principles that have defined us in the past – people who are eager to work for even stronger and more effective partnerships and institutions.


On entrepreneurship, and a deregulatory climate

Kerry talked about the future of employment and commerce as being deeply connected to entrepreneurship. It must become easier, Kerry said, “for our entrepreneurs to turn their good ideas into new companies that will pick up the employment slack as older industries phase out.” Kerry used this as a springboard to support a less-is-more approach to legislation: “And that means mostly and often getting government out of the way or streamlining decisions, and not driving people nuts with the chase through bureaucracy so you can’t make timely decisions and move with the rapidity that the modern marketplace demands.”


On Energy and the environment

Kerry sidestepped for a moment, to discuss the importance of the environment through the prism of the energy market: “Energy – the single solution to climate change is energy policy and it is the biggest market ever conceived of by human beings. And we can do that so that green technology becomes both a driver of economic growth and a means of preserving the environmental health of our planet.”


On corruption

 Kerry was clear when it came to the issue of corruption. Progress, in Kerry’s view, is connected to banishing corruption and cronyism. Every step taken in this direction “will shed massive amount of deadweight and it will increase public confidence. Few things are more discouraging to any young person than the conviction that no matter how hard they work, the top rungs of the economic ladder are reserved for the unscrupulous or the better connected. And few things are more destructive to relations among states than to see governments outside their borders actively seek to corrupt their citizens through pay-to-play schemes, rigged contracts, and secret offshore bank accounts. Corruption costs the global economy more than a trillion dollars a year and it has to be defeated globally.”

How will corruption be stopped? Kerry gave the answer: “using the courts to return stolen assets, and developing and sharing intelligence that will help to put international kleptocrats out of business and behind bars.”


On the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

With the administration of US President Barack Obama being on its last legs, one of the fronts where the drive to keep pushing forward is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, for which negotiations are ongoing but facing opposition on many fronts. “…U.S. and European negotiators are trying to make as much possible on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP,” Kerry said, exalting the work done by diplomats and negotiators to move forward. “Now, the purpose of these talks is not just to give an additional boost to commerce; even more important is the signal our teams can send to the rest of the world about the need for high labor, environmental, and consumer protection standards. Europe has high standards and nothing in this agreement would lower them one iota. TTIP would, in fact, reduce export costs for millions of small and medium-sized businesses and create a foundation for future growth in Euro-Atlantic trade … No matter where you live, most of your customers live somewhere else, in another country, so we all need to trade. The challenge is that more people need to share in the benefits of that trade. And that is not a problem that’s solved by getting rid of trade. It’s a problem that will be solved by domestic and political choices in each country – not by ending the trade itself. Tax policy, social policy, health care policy, education policy – sharing more of the benefits of the work with the people who do it.”


On the Paris climate change agreement

One of the most important victories of both the European Union and United States of America is the success of the Paris climate agreement. Kerry discussed the tremendous significance of this agreement: “In Paris last December … the United States and the EU were among the leading advocates of the most inclusive and ambitious global climate change agreement ever negotiated. And we were able to lay the pathway for that by reaching out to China and changing the disaster of Copenhagen’s failure into a success when President Obama and President Xi stood up together in Beijing and announced that we were going to work with China, and together move towards an agreement and bring other countries with us. A couple of weeks ago in New York, as a result, we reaffirmed our mutual support for bringing the pact into force before the end of this year. And this very day, the EU is making good on that pledge. The European Parliament is voting to give its consent to ratify the agreement, and carry us over the required threshold – a truly historic moment. We are allies, as well, in supporting a critical amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will be considered in Kigali next week, where I will be traveling in order to try to help make certain that we get over the line. An ambitious agreement to phase down the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, if achieved, it has the ability to reduce temperature increase – just that measure alone – by a full half degree Celsius. It would give a huge boost to our efforts to slow global warming and thereby avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.”


On NATO, Ukraine, and Russia

Kerry pointed to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, to talk about the strength of the NATO alliance:

“In the United States, we will never forget that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty was triggered for the first time after 9/11. And I can assure you – that whatever you may have read in recent times – the United States of America will never fail to meet its own Article 5 obligations should any NATO member come under attack.”

Kerry also talked about the additional funding that President Obama is seeking to help improve defensive capabilities:  “President Obama has requested from Congress 3.4 billion in new funding to help our allies improve their defense forces, modernize communications, strengthen command and control, and step up the number and the rigor of our joint exercises.” He also called for increased spending for military and defense, in accordance to what has been agreed at NATO: “Across the alliance, we welcome the efforts that many members are making to augment their contributions, and we urge all of those members to meet the standards that all agreed to set,” Kerry reminded.

Kerry talked about the character of NATO, as a defensive alliance, and sent a first message to Russia: “ … I want to emphasize this particularly in the wake of the news of the last few days – NATO is a defensive alliance. The Russian people, in particular, should know that despite what their leaders sometimes tell them, our alliance does not seek to weaken, to contain, or to divide their nation or any other nation. We want to work with Russia. We want to work with a Russia that is just as committed to solving common challenges. In fact, I have probably spent as much time with the Russian foreign minister as I have with any other foreign diplomat.”

“But the willingness of NATO and EU countries to search for common ground with Russia doesn’t relieve us of the obligation to stand our ground on behalf of freedom and international law, which is why we remain steadfast in our support for a stable, united, and democratic Ukraine. And Moscow should have no doubt on this point: we will stand our ground. Blatant aggression is not something that any of us are prepared to accept, and no place in the world should understand it better than Europe. So we have imposed sanctions and we are insisting on a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Donbas and the illegal annexation of Crimea – even as we encourage the government in Ukraine to stay the course and accelerate the pace of reform.”

“Now, obviously, Russia resents the sanctions, but no one should forget – they were not put in place gratuitously – they are in furtherance of the rule of law and long-established norms of international behavior. They are designed solely to encourage a return to peace, stability, and the recognition of legitimate sovereignty.”


On terrorism and Daesh

Kerry Spoke extensively on Daesh, and the terrorist threats posed to the EU-US alliance:

“Mutual security must also be our watchword in responding to the threat posed to us all – and to civilization itself – by the terrorist group Daesh and by those that affiliate with it – al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, others.”

“Today, every single NATO ally and every member of the EU is contributing to our campaign to defeat Daesh. Our coalition now includes some 67 members. And together with our partners on the ground, we have already liberated much of the territory once controlled by Daesh. From May of a year ago until now, Daesh has not succeeded in one ground offensive that has taken and held one community anywhere. We have not only taken back territory; we’ve killed many of its leaders, we’ve choked its finances, we’ve disrupted its supply lines, we’ve hammered its oil facilities, and we have reduced its recruitment to a trickle. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s over, because we know that for several years now, people have been returning to various countries who went there to fight and we have seen what that begets in sorrowful and tragic ways.”

“But I want to be clear: we will prevail in our confrontation with Daesh. And we will do so without changing the nature of our societies, without succumbing to bigotry or fear, and without betraying the very democratic values that terrorists have vowed to destroy.”

In saying this, I don’t want to say that there isn’t work to be done. Of course there is. In addition to our military campaign against Daesh, we have to maintain a nonstop effort, spearheaded by those with the credibility to do so, to rebut the lies that in today’s world travel around the world in a nanosecond. We have to rebut the false narrative that tries to lure young people into the abyss of terror. And we also have to coordinate our policies and share information openly and rapidly to stop unrepentant terrorists from returning to their home countries and perpetrating yet more crimes.”


On shared intelligence

The US secretary of state also called for more and better information sharing, and asked that the European Parliament also do its part in ratifying the Data Privacy and Protection amendment that would allow for this to happen:

I want to highlight this point here today because it provides a real test of how to fight terrorism effectively while also preserving the rights of our citizens. I think we can agree that government data sharing – what we call connecting the dots – is essential at a time when there are groups actively plotting to kill us. That’s why I respectfully urge the European Parliament to ratify the proposed Data Privacy and Protection Agreement which would enable us to make needed progress in sharing data in criminal and terrorism investigations. Now, let me make it clear – I spent 28 years representing one of the states that cherishes liberty and freedom and individuality as much as any state in America – Massachusetts, home to more than 136 colleges and universities. And we value that great, unbelievable gift which is part of being a democracy and part of being American, part of being European. I know that people in Europe – just like Americans – have a healthy skepticism towards any plan by any government to collect personal data of any kind. I get it. But the good news is that in this case, with proper safeguards, there can be a balance between privacy and security; we can protect both. And this agreement protects and provides the best opportunity that we have to respect the rights of our citizens while also doing what is necessary to stop terrorists from communicating with impunity, crossing borders unnoticed, and then taking innocent lives and disrupting the community and the commerce and trade of a nation-state.”


On the Syrian conflict, Russia, and migration crisis 

The final, and most carefully presented part of Kerry’s speech was on the conflict in Syria, where the Secretary of State talked of a need for the conflict to come to an end, and the need for a political solution. Kerry also criticized the actions of Assad, who has used barrel bombs and chlorine against his own people. In this part of the speech, Kerry also sent a stern second message to Russia:

“Now, finally, we have to persist in our effort to end the conflict in Syria – a battleground that has been a magnet for terrorism and the worst human – humanitarian disaster since World War II. As we know, this tragic war has been made worse by the utter depravity of the regime that doesn’t hesitate to still use gas, chlorine mixed with other ingredients to kill its citizens; that drops barrel bombs on hospitals and children and women; that presents a Syria with a splintered opposition filled with different, complex forces. I sometimes say this is a place where there may be six wars all at the same time – Kurd versus Kurd, Kurd versus Turkey, Shia versus Sunni, people versus Daesh, people versus Assad, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Persian and Arab – I mean, run the confluence and you have about as complex a series of forces as you’ll ever find in a conflict. You also have the irresponsible and profoundly ill-advised decision by Russia to associate its interests and its reputation with that of Assad, a man who has been responsible for torturing more than 10,000 people, photographs of the victims, as well as perpetrating this extraordinary slaughter of his own people.”

“Now, yesterday, as most of you saw, the United States announced our decision to suspend the bilateral discussion with Russia on the reinstitution of the cessation of the hostilities agreement – a decision that, believe me, does not come lightly.”

“But I want to be very, very clear to everybody we are not giving up on the Syrian people, we are not abandoning the pursuit of peace, we are not going to leave the multilateral field. We are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war. And we will do everything possible through the International Syria Support Group, through the United Nations, or even through smaller multilateral meetings in order to try to find a way forward. We remain committed to a peaceful, stable, whole, united, nonsectarian Syria, and we’re going to continue to stay active in pursuit of that peace. We have not suspended de-confliction efforts between our military and the Russian military in order to enhance our fight against Daesh. We will continue, as we have before, to pursue a meaningful, sustainable, enforceable cessation of hostilities throughout the country – and that includes the grounding of Syrian and Russian combat aircraft in designated areas. And Russia knows exactly what it needs to do in order to get that cessation implemented in a fair and reasonable way. We stress that all of the parties have a duty to enable the unfettered and secure delivery of humanitarian assistance, and in my conversations with the opposition forces and our conversations with the armed groups on the ground, they have all agreed to allow that humanitarian passage to take place. It still remains for Russia and the regime to permit that and to guarantee it, and that is part of what has been unanimously agreed to in the United Nations resolution passed with Russia’s vote. We remain unalterably opposed to Daesh and al-Nusrah. Al-Nusrah is al-Qaida and they remain an enemy because they are plotting against the United States and against Europe and others, and so that will remain a tenant of our continued pursuit of this effort. And we are continuing to believe that a political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed and preserve the possibility of a united Syria. So we will work to create the conditions that allow for the resumption of talks between the parties. But Russia and the regime know exactly what they need to do to live up to international law and to meet the agreements that they have already, several times, announced publicly they would adhere to.”

“Now, my government is absolutely convinced that we are correct in the pursuit of the goals of Syria that we are pursuing, but we acknowledge in sorrow – and I have to tell you, with a great sense of outrage – that Russia has turned a blind eye to Assad’s deplorable use of these weapons of war that he has chosen: chlorine gas, barrel bombs against his people – and together, the Syrian regime and Russia seem to have rejected diplomacy in furtherance of trying to pursue a military victory over the broken bodies, the bombed-out hospitals, the traumatized children of a long-suffering land. People who are serious about making peace behave differently from the way Russia has chosen to behave. I can’t help but think of the account that Tacitus, Roman historian, relayed 2,000 years ago about the ravages perpetrated in Caledonia by the legions of imperial Rome: “Where they made a desert, they called it peace.”

“Ending the war in Syria is imperative for many reasons, including the need to reduce the flow or ease the flow into Europe of migrants and refugees. And to some, formulating the right response to refugees is as easy as putting up a green light or a red one. They just think it’s simple. But in fact, the problem, as you know, has many dimensions related to legal responsibilities, resources, security, safe transit, human trafficking, gender abuse and the special needs of children. Chancellor Merkel and other European leaders should be commended for trying to cope with this crisis in a humane way that is respectful of the lessons of history. Ultimately, however, the only fully satisfactory solution to the refugee dilemma is to stop the wars, stop the conflicts that drive people from their homes in the first place.”

Kerry’s speech concluded to a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd; the speech itself left many feeling they had been listening to an address to European Union heads of state and the Presidents of the EU Institutions.