Ambassador Sondland Remarks at the College of Europe
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Hello, and thank you for having me here today. It’s great to finally be at the College of Europe. First off, I want to thank Rector Monar and Angela O’Neill for inviting me and making this event possible.
I had the opportunity to meet a group of students from the College earlier this year on a visit to the U.S. Mission to the EU in Brussels. It’s great to be able to meet with this larger group.
I know that you will all soon be influential players in EU and transatlantic relations, and so I appreciate having this chance for us to engage.
Let me start with a bit of background about why I am here today. I have now had the pleasure of serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union for close to nine months.
When President Trump was gracious enough to honor me with this appointment, I readily accepted.
It is a job I wanted, because of the strong policy components and because I truly believe the transatlantic relationship has been a powerful driver of positive change that benefits all of our citizens.
I like to say that we have a president who looks at his watch and not his calendar. We want to get things done.
As Secretary Pompeo said last week, we also want to make sure that every place we go, we’re honest and candid. We’re prepared to reevaluate positions that have been taken before, including by previous administrations.
We are honest and direct with our friends, as only good friends can be. We don’t like multilateral institutions that are failing and not delivering against their stated objectives.
When they’re working, we’re happy to reinforce them, and where they’re not, we’re happy to dig in and try and make them better – and the EU is no exception.
So what does all this mean for my job as Ambassador? My role is to make the U.S.-EU relationship stronger and fairer for the American people.
As a Chief of Mission, I have one of the most interesting jobs in Federal Government.
It is a huge responsibility managing both people and policy, especially when we are often building the airplane as we are flying it.
As the President’s personal representative with only a certain amount of time on the clock, I try to make every day count.
On a daily basis, I engage with the most senior representatives from the EU’s 28 (for now) member states and with the most senior leadership of the EU itself.
On a personal level, I have really enjoyed meeting and working with my counterparts. On a policy level that’s not always the case.
I also spend a lot of time on the phone with the National Security Council, Cabinet Secretaries like Mike Pompeo, Steven Mnuchin, and Rick Perry, and, of course, President Trump and his closest advisors.
My role comes with a great degree of latitude. I love the variety.
One day I am standing next to a U.S. warship in Odesa, Ukraine delivering remarks on our support for that country, and the next day flying back to DC to participate in meetings with the heads of German carmakers at the White House. I would call it a front row seat to history.
However, it’s not all happiness and light in Brussels. I think the media overstates some of our differences, but if everything were perfect, I wouldn’t need to be there. When I arrived, I pledged I would not try to sweep aside our differences.
That’s not useful. It’s not realistic or productive. And, most important, it’s not necessary. One of the key strengths of the U.S.-EU relationship is our ability to talk candidly and often about our differences.
In a moment, I will take some time to talk about trade and a few other parts of our relationship.
But before I do, let me make one thing clear. While the United States and the EU sometimes disagree about tactics, we always, always share the same goal: to improve our mutual security and prosperity. Our differences make for exciting headlines, but what is very often overlooked is our cooperation.
U.S. and EU cooperation in areas of common interest is astounding. From counterterrorism, to preventing global drug trafficking, to standing unified on sanctions, we make each other more secure.
Through our businesses and investments, and our scientific, educational, and cultural exchanges, we make each other more prosperous.
Since I arrived in Brussels, I have tried to make one thing clear: the United States and the European Union work best when we work together.
Unfortunately, that simple idea is too often lost in the noise as we go running to put out one fire after another—and these are fires of our own making.
At the same time, I have also made clear that nothing in this world is certain. If we don’t fix what are now small irritations in the relationship, before long we will risk them tearing the relationship apart.
At our best, the U.S. and the EU set global standards that ensure safety and health. We provide an example for fledgling democracies.
We collaborate to counter the threat of terrorists, isolate rogue regimes, and deliver developmental assistance and disaster response to those countries most at risk.
At our worst, we are distracted by challenges that are readily solvable. We waste time locked in endless discussions that produce no results, despite the fact we seek the same goal.
As an example, the EU expends far too many resources complaining about U.S. suspension or withdrawal from international agreements.
Let me tell you, we will never accept the premise that doing something differently from the EU is inherently wrong. If we are party to a bad agreement that doesn’t work, we will either fix it or leave—and our strong preference is to fix it.
We are always willing to engage other parties in this effort, but at the end of the day agreements must be effective and benefit the people of the United States.
More importantly, when the United States withdraws from an agreement, we don’t do so on a whim. When a partner the size and importance of the U.S. makes a move like that, it should give pause and then raise real questions, rather than producing an uninformed, knee-jerk reaction.
The United States and EU both recognize Iran’s behavior is deeply problematic, yet we argue about whether it’s better to be in or out of the flawed JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) rather than focusing on how to solve the underlying problem together.
We also spend enormous amounts of energy fixing errors and cleaning up self-inflicted wounds instead of moving things forward productively.
The recent tax haven blacklist comes to mind, which was imposed by bureaucrats in Brussels and then almost immediately reversed thanks to the wisdom of the EU Member States—all 28.
Too many of our problems are the result of this type of lack of vision, bureaucracy, and needless regulation.
Let’s look at trade, for example.
Forty trillion dollars combined GDP. A stock of five trillion dollars in two-way foreign direct investments that fuels annual trade of a little over 1.1 trillion dollars in goods and services, supporting 15 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. Let that sink in to get a sense of how important it is to get this trade relationship right.
I arrived in Brussels highly optimistic. I was pleased that, after years of deadlock, Presidents Trump and Juncker met in Washington on July 25, 2018.
On that day, both men pledged to make the wildly imbalanced U.S.-EU trade relationship freer, fairer, and more reciprocal. President Trump is a man of action, and it seemed as if things were happening.
I was in that room and I saw the great rapport between the two presidents as they discussed where our trade relationship needs to go: zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on both sides.
We have made little progress—in fact USTR Ambassador Lighthizer just told Congress our trade talks are at a complete stalemate. Sure, the EU has become the number one buyer of U.S. soybeans.
We are also making real inroads with LNG to wean Europe off its dependency on Russian gas, but these are very small steps forward, and they won’t fundamentally change the vast trade imbalance that the U.S. has tolerated for far too long. And by the way, agriculture is, and always has been, on the table.
The most important elements the Trump administration brings to our trade discussions are seriousness and urgency. And, to be frank, the more the EU leadership plays the delay game, the more we will have to use leverage to realign the relationship.
But some in Brussels believe they can wait out this President. The problem is that tactic really doesn’t work, because a President of either party is very likely to demand a realignment.
Case in point: I recently escorted some of the Democratic party’s most senior leaders, including Nancy Pelosi, to their meetings with EU officials.
In those meetings it was crystal clear that while the Democrats disagree with the President on many issues, when it comes to fixing our trade imbalance with the EU there is no daylight between them. None.
But our relationship is much, much more than just a trade arrangement. Our partnership is based on shared values such as a commitment to democracy, rule of law, open markets, human rights, and promoting peace and security around the world.
Europe and the United States have a long history of standing together against aggression around the world, and we must continue to uphold that tradition.
Together we must defend the United States and Europe against Russia’s nefarious activities and the Kremlin’s attempts to divide us.
We must continue to work together to end Russia’s war on Ukraine, and address Russia’s increasingly brazen cyber and chemical weapons attacks.
Another cornerstone of the transatlantic relationship is energy security. The threat of Russia using energy for political coercion cannot be overstated.
Europe should not entrust its energy needs to a state intent on undermining European unity and the transatlantic relationship. Rather, Europe must diversify routes and supplies.
Our opposition to projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian gas to Europe, bypassing Ukraine, is longstanding. It is based on geostrategic concerns. Let me repeat that. Our position is based on geostrategic concerns.
A secure Europe is also one in which Allies and partners cooperate on military mobility. NATO Allies and EU Member States must be able to quickly and reliably move military equipment and personnel to respond to threats.
As the EU deliberates where and how to make investments as part of its new defense initiatives, I am working to ensure the EU aligns its efforts with NATO security priorities and to open its tenders to U.S. companies.
The United States government will always seek out the best ideas and technologies, regardless of whether they are domestic or from a trusted partner.
We embrace European companies in this regard, but unfortunately, as the European Defense Fund takes shape, it appears U.S. ideas and technologies will not be so readily embraced
Russia, energy, defense…that’s just a small taste of the issues in my wheelhouse. But I have talked for too long already, and I want to hear from you.
So in conclusion, this is my message: No one should seriously question the United States’ commitment to the transatlantic relationship.
The areas of close and likeminded cooperation are not going to change or be put on hold because we have a few disagreements in a few areas. At the same time, we will not maintain the status quo in areas that so clearly disadvantage the United States.
I firmly believe that engagement with our European counterparts is indispensable and irreplaceable. However, it is no longer 1945.
Today, the United States and Europe are equal partners in a transatlantic market that accounts for about one-third of global GDP. We are both global leaders, and the guarantors of democracy.
With this in mind, I have encouraged the leadership of the EU to step back and reflect on what is truly important—what makes the transatlantic relationship such a potent force for good—and how they can contribute to the future of the relationship.
We will have hard conversations, but we are the best of partners, the closest of allies, and the world depends on us getting this right.
Before opening it up to a discussion, I do want to congratulate the College on the work you do to strengthen the transatlantic relationship, and on the recent launch of the MATA program.
This Masters program has created yet another deep and endurable link between Europe and America, and it’s great to see.
Thank you, and I would be happy to take questions.