Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It is an honour and a pleasure to speak at the Kennedy Summer School.
Every morning as I enter the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, I pass a glass monument which contains a fragment of the Berlin Wall. Painted on that fragment is a mural depiction of John F Kennedy.
This daily ritual brings many things to mind.
The piece of the now destroyed Berlin Wall reminds us of a time when walls divided Europe.
The smiling image of JFK reminds us of the strength of the Transatlantic bond – in particular, of course, the bond between Ireland and the US.
And they serve as a timely reminder that nothing is permanent.
John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, who died 50 years ago, knew the horrors of war and they understood that populism and nationalism can act as petrol on the flames of the worst instincts of human nature.
They were confirmed internationalists and transatlanticists, who believed in a global system of order and peace based on universal human rights, free trade, and trust between like-minded nations.
Now, sadly, we live in a time where the post-war order is more fragile than ever before. And the ugly ghosts of the past – nationalism, populism, nativism and politics based on fear rather than hope – are very much in evidence once more.
We are becoming accustomed to our new political environment. In the EU, it is the era of Brexit. And in the US, it is the era of Trump.
At first it was a strange place. We wanted things to work in the old way, we wanted to work in the way we understood.
To begin with, we were outraged by America First, and by the lies told by the Brexiteers. Now our outrage has turned to acceptance, our resistance to resignation.
We are learning to deal with the "new normal".
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We are learning to distinguish between President Trump's policies and the wrapping paper they come in.
One explanation is that President Trump is a businessman. Yes, that’s true but he is not a producer, he is a trader. He is not a farmer, he’s a cattle dealer.
There are differences. Producers and farmers are for the long-term. They don’t bet the business because, if they go under, it is forever. Dealers and traders are for the short-term. They can go for bigger bets – if they go under, all they need to start again is enough money from a different source to buy a few head of cattle.
In the pre-Trump world, everyone negotiated carefully because trade agreements were for the long haul. Partners adopted negotiating positions that took account of a distant future.
Trade treaties under America First will be richer in short-term safeguards. If the trade world evolves against America, the remedy will be “Renegotiate and re-establish the position that suits America First.” For example, we already see sunset clauses in the negotiations for a new NAFTA with Mexico and Canada.
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So how should we proceed in this "new normal"? The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker went to the White House in July and reached an agreement with President Trump. He managed to build a rapport with the President and identified an agenda that both sides can work under.
Since their meeting, the EU has offered tariff-free access for US automobiles to our internal market of 430 million people – a market 25 per cent larger than the US market. These actions show that while we may find the rhetoric of "America First" objectionable, we have to remain pragmatic and work for our common interests, as well as our long term interests.
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The EU favours the rules-based trading system, where the rules are decided multilaterally, by negotiation, and where disputes are settled in a judicial manner. A system that is fair to all nations.
The EU does not welcome the America First bully. It will deal with him where it can, but will always stand four-square against the idea that America can put its elbows on the table and dictate terms.
Farmers sometimes have to buy their cattle from such traders. But most of them leave the transaction with the determination to only deal with that trader when they have to. Hard-driven bargains are no foundation for long-term relationships.
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So, while we will continue to find pragmatic solutions in our work with President Trump, we will continue to raise our objections to some of his language. After all, friends have to be able to tell each other the truth.
We don’t like it that America is steering away from a multilateral rules-based trading system.
We don’t like it that President Trump's current policies are amplifying America’s rogue trader status.
We don’t like it that Making America Great Again seems to mean making Europe – and indeed everyone else - weak again.
We don’t like it because we don’t believe that a responsible trader takes the attitude of strike first, talk second.
We don’t like it because we don’t agree that the world’s super-power should pursue policies that self-harm. We want our friends to be strong, and to flourish economically. But the current policy impoverishes us all.
We don't like it when the President of the US treats its long-time ally, the EU, as a "security threat".
And we don’t like it because, without a shadow of a doubt, America’s present attitude is weakening the global trading system – a system built up over generations in which nations accept restraints in order to maximise mutual advantage. A system which American leaders like JFK did so much to build.
America is steering away from the long-term, but why? The answer, in President Trump's transactional world view, is because it can. The European Union could too. But we won’t. Every day our internal market teaches us that mutuality pays, multilateral rules pay, and judicial dispute settlement pays.
The rules-based multilateral approach ultimately aims to benefit all nations who participate in it.
And because we in Europe have learned the hard way that working together is better than working against each other, we will be the last person standing in the fight to defend today's international trading system. Have no fear of that.
The EU experience of 60 years has meant a peaceful continent with Member States benefiting enormously from our shared single market.
That is why we have measured our response to America First.
Yes we have matched strike with strike, but we have sought clarity and judgement through appropriate WTO panels.
President Juncker expressed to President Trump the Union’s willingness to talk about our trade arrangements, and in a way that made rapid progress possible – I already mentioned the Union’s offer on automobiles.
The Union does not approach America First wearing blinkers. It is aware of the risks, of the downside, but it steps forward ready to engage in constructive conversations.
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The worst of president Trump's rhetoric represents nothing less than an attack on the European Union, on its very existence. To anyone engaging in this attack, our message is simple: DON'T. And that goes for both sides of the Atlantic.
Don’t be misguided by those extremists riding the wrecking ball and calling for the EU's disappearance. Don’t be misled by the rhetoric of Mr Johnson, Mr Farage and Mr Rees Mogg. They like to see themselves as the Three Musketeers. They are more like the Three Stooges.
They are merely playing with a mood, not making an argument. Their language is the language of the sound bite. They are light on facts, and heavy on fake news. Their arguments have more to do with ego-tripping than with the well-being of the people for whom they claim to speak.
You find that Messrs Johnson, Farage and Rees-Mogg are strangely quiet when it comes to policy recommendations. Their one and only idea is simple, or rather simplistic: ‘destroy the status quo and good is sure to follow.’
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How to react to this fact-free populism on both sides of the Atlantic is becoming an urgent issue for the EU.
One of our conclusions should be that we must work doubly hard to protect and enhance the international rules-based system, not only in trade but in all aspects of national behaviour. We must become more conscious of our soft power and use it intelligently.
In trade, America’s new practices will throw new light on the EU. Already, our internal market is bigger than that of the US, the standards we set for our products are increasingly world standards, and our trading partners know that we honour our agreements. These factors make us an attractive trading partner, and increase our power in trade.
As President Juncker pointed out, partners across the globe are lining up at our door to conclude trade agreements with us.
This year alone, we secured new agreements with Canada and Japan, and we aim to do the same in the coming years with Mexico, the Mercosur bloc of South American countries, and Australia and New Zealand.
In present circumstances, we have a responsibility to use this increased power honestly, and in a balanced way. The EU must chart a course that protects our interests and we must, at the same time, seek to maximise the common good of all trading nations. In the absence of leadership created by America’s new trade policy, Europe must step up to the plate.
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Let me next turn to Brexit. More than two years after the referendum, the United Kingdom remains in a pickle. And by pickle, I mean that the UK is trapped in a recurring cycle of silly behaviour.
Several times Prime Minister May has courageously dragged the UK factions into some sort of line of battle and turned it to face Brussels. Because, after all, it is with Brussels that the UK’s exit deal must be done.
But the factions in her own party will have none of it. Mr Johnson and Mr Rees Mogg say, in effect, “Prime Minister, you must negotiate Brexit with us.”
This is leading to absurdist politics. Michel Barnier, on behalf of the EU, has repeatedly said that the UK cannot cherry pick parts of the internal market by wanting a market for goods but not services, and that the UK cannot split the EU's four freedoms. This is the clear and unequivocal message of the EU 27.
So what is the reaction of Mr Johnson and Mr Rees Mogg? It is certainly not to shut up and let Prime Minister May get on with her work.
But what they also don’t do, because constructive criticism is not a concept they recognise, is offer some alternative suggestions.
They see their task as pouring negativism on all suggestions apart from a clean break from the dreaded bureaucrats of Brussels.
So we are stuck – at least publicly – where we were before the summer.
The acid test is to judge whether the Prime Minister has stepped away from any of her red lines.
If not, the EU's offer on a future trade deal will be the one it put forward months and months go, which is essentially a Canada-type trade arrangement.
There is nothing new in this.
Each time she is asked about her red lines, the Prime Minister repeats them, making a Canada-type trade deal more likely.
And that brings us to Ireland’s land border with the UK. The UK has promised that the border must remain invisible, as it is now. A Canada-type agreement therefore necessitates some form of backstop border arrangement.
The EU's first offer, reflexively rejected, was a significant departure from our internal market policy. And it was meant for Northern Ireland only. It was that Northern Ireland could remain in the single market with the EU 27.
The UK’s reply was: Let’s restrict the single market to goods and generalise it for the whole UK. The EU's answer has already been given: No.
We will not damage the EU's great achievement of the internal market just to save the UK from the consequences of its own silliness.
Does anyone think that, when the world trading system is drifting back to brutalism, the EU will expose its signal achievement to risk? No. There will be no cherry picking. The four freedoms will not be separated.
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If the UK attitude is Chequers and only Chequers, there will be no agreement before March next year on the future trade relationship.
We come back then to the Withdrawal Treaty pure and simple, part of which is the backstop arrangement for Ireland’s border.
The big question for Ireland is, “Will the UK stand by its promise that its border to Ireland will remain invisible?”
I think we can be sure that, at this stage, the UK intends to honour its promise – the border will remain invisible.
How can it be achieved outside a general trade agreement ?
The first, and most obvious point, is that it can be achieved if both sides want it. The EU says it wants it and has made a proposal. The UK says it wants it but does not like parts of the EU proposal.
The second point is that for an agreement to take place, the issue needs to be , as Michel Barnier said, de-dramatised. The invisible border is essential for peace – don’t listen to the Three Stooges, they don’t know the first thing about it.
In trade terms, maintaining the invisible border will be good for the UK, good for Northern Ireland, good for Ireland, and good for the EU. Dialling down the rhetoric would allow these incontrovertible facts to come to the fore.
The third point is that borders are symbols but they are also technical administrative matters. It is usually the symbol that is the difficult matter. Here, the symbol is the invisibility of the border and it is accepted by everyone. If the symbolic nature of the border is settled, let’s turn to the administrative aspects.
Let’s do so in the full confidence that administrative matters can be resolved. Bureaucrats do it all the time.
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Ladies and gentlemen, these are difficult times, but they are not without hope.
Yes, Brexit will be negative for everyone involved, but there is still time to reach a deal which minimises the damage on all sides.
Yes, populism is on the rise in the EU, but the political mainstream is fighting back, conscious of the fact that what we have built is precious, and worth defending. Our young people, who are massively pro-European, want us to succeed.
Yes, the international order is creaking at the edges, but the foundations remain strong.
The bottom line is that we must be prepared to stand up and fight for the things we believe in.
We must be prepared to resist the forces of populism and nationalism. Indeed, such a resistance is growing every day on both sides of the Atlantic.
This, for me, is the "tiny ripple of hope" that Robert Kennedy spoke of. And if enough people contribute to this ripple of hope, perhaps before too long it can grow into a mighty wave.
Let me concluding by echoing the words of President Kennedy himself, which seem as appropriate today as they did in the 1960s: "Courage — not complacency — is our need today. Leadership — not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously."