Ambassador Gardner’s July 4 Remarks

Welcome to this July 4 celebration, two days early. Here at the U.S. Mission to the EU and the U.S. Embassy to Belgium, we like to stay ahead of events.

Out team played well last night, but we are gracious in defeat: I would like to congratulate our host country for the magnificent performance of their Red Devils in last night’s game.

I’d also like to thank our sponsors, without whom this event would not be possible. And I’d like to acknowledge the terrific SHAPE International band.

My arrival at post on March 3 was a welcome return to a city I know well. I arrived for the first time in October 1990 to work as an intern in the European Commission. I was lucky enough to find my first apartment on the third floor of the Wittamer building on the Place du Grand Sablon. Every day I would return from work to find chocolates and pastries on a tray outside my door.

Perhaps this sweet experience explains why I became a believer in the European project, and why I have remained so ever since – in spite of the existential challenges the project has faced. At no time in the past 23 years that I have been studying and involved in EU affairs has this project, and U.S.-EU relations, been more relevant and indeed so crucial.

Whether it is because of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea or the barbaric attack on the Jewish Museum just a few blocks from here, we are reminded nearly every day that democracy, tolerance and the rules-based international order are under threat.

When these values are attacked, they must be reaffirmed. When the unity of allies is questioned, they must intensify their cooperation; when their resolve is tested, they must act. The world is watching; the world is judging.

As President Obama reminded us in Brussels at the end of March, our freedoms are not free; they need to be defended. And those who wish to be free deserve our support.

My family history reminds me every day that values matter. In my office behind my desk hangs a small black and white photograph. It was taken in 1938 in the Veneto region of Italy at the inauguration of an aluminum plant designed by my grandfather. A visiting delegation of Fascist officials dressed in black is striding down the factory floor; to the side, conspicuously dressed in khaki, is my grandfather.

His own father had resigned as director of one of Italy’s largest insurance companies rather than join the Fascist party. Mussolini’s regime had just passed racial laws in an effort to ingratiate itself with its German ally. Soon after the picture was taken, my grandfather and grandmother took the painful decision to leave Italy for the United States with my mother and uncle; their family had lived in Venice for nearly five centuries.

Writing in an Italian newspaper in 1986, the centenary of the Statue of Liberty, my mother described her emotions when she saw the statue for the first time on April 1, 1941. She, my uncle and my grandparents were in New York Bay aboard the Serpa Pinto, a Portuguese ship that they had boarded in Lisbon.

“When we passed in front of the Statue in the grey dawn of that morning,” she wrote, “we were all on deck with our eyes directed at Her… I still remember vividly how I was holding fast to the railing; my head barely reached above it. Everyone around me was crying; they were embracing each other… However, Lady Liberty gave me hope and I made a pact with Her… I wanted at all cost to succeed. I wanted to become a real American. I wanted Her to be proud of me.”

My mother did become a real American. And soon after his arrival in Washington, my grandfather went to work for the Board of Economic Warfare. Together with other émigré engineers acquainted with Italy’s economic and industrial infrastructure, he recommended what sites to target in the allied aerial bombing raids. They successfully argued to spare key installations in order to facilitate Italy’s post-war reconstruction. Several decades later my mother returned to the country of her birth to accompany my father, newly appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Italy.

This is not a unique story; it is an American story. It is a story of hope and renewal. It is one reason why I am proud to represent the United States at this time and in this place.

It is my hope that I can play a small role in ensuring that the United States and the European Union defend their common values, that they stand up for what is right and that they deepen their cooperation in the face of so many global challenges.

I look forward to the work we have ahead of us. Thank you for being here today.