Dear Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am told that I always have to start my speeches by saying that I am happy to be there. It is not always true, but tonight it is true, because we needed years to come together, although I was watching you with sympathy from afar. But it is better to see you live and in colour.
It is a pleasure to be here tonight, because I am honoured to receive this award. This award is important to me, because it symbolises a lot of what I have tried to achieve the last five years, in fact all my life.
I must say that building bridges is not a one-man job - although … One cannot succeed alone, there must be support from every side. Building bridges, either in politics or in business, is about people and about personal relationships.
The first thing to know about our transatlantic relationship and what makes it so special, is that it is first and foremost a friendship.
Allow me to tell you a story close to my heart.
Not far away from where I was born in Luxembourg - I know that you have more employees than Luxembourg has inhabitants; it does not matter, the quality is what matters! Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy worldwide - the only one. Not far away from where I was born in Luxembourg is a small town called Wiltz.
During the Second World War, Wiltz was hit very hard, during the Battle of the Bulge, which for the Americans was the deadliest single battle of the Second World War. When Wiltz was liberated, a young Corporal from the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division called Richard Brookins decided to bring cheer to the children of the town by dressing up as Saint Nicholas.
That day in December 1944, Mr Brookins became a hero for the people of Wiltz. He was such a rare beacon of hope for a town that had lost everything. Mr Brookins went back to Wiltz many times to fulfil his duty as the 'American Saint Nicholas'. Just three years ago, at the age of 94, he was awarded the highest military honour of Luxembourg, joining by the way the likes of President Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle - you the cortège Mr Brookins was part of.
It is important to remind ourselves of stories like this. The people of Wiltz - like so many other Europeans - have a very special and profound friendship with the United States of America.
The second thing to know about a friendship like ours is that there is always something that we can learn from each other.
The United States and the European Union are the biggest economic powers in the world. We are allies and we often think alike. But we also regularly disagree with each other - and sometimes have a very different political, economic or social agenda. This is why we need to build bridges.
Over the years, I have travelled to the U.S. many times and I have met with a number of Presidents, as I am a veteran - President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama and now President Trump.
I remember my first visit to the White House in August ‘95. I was then a rather young Prime Minister. President Clinton had been in office for over two years. And he said: ‘Please could you explain Europe to me.' I was trying. I said: ‘It is ununderstandable, but it works.' And I started to explain to Bill Clinton the Economic and Monetary Union, the internal market, stuff like that. He said: ‘No, no, no. What about Turkey? When will Turkey become a member of the European Union?' In '95. There is bigger progress in the world than on that very point.
But I have discovered over the years: Every American President wants to know how Europe works when they are about halfway through their term. By the end, they know us better than we know ourselves.
In July last year, I met with President Trump at the White House and as a gift, I offered him a photo of a military cemetery in Luxembourg, where General Patton is buried. And I wrote: ‘Dear Donald, let us remember our common history.' I wanted to remind President Trump that I was there as a friend.
By the way, this American cemetery in Luxembourg was given as a gift, as a territory, to the U.S. If a small country like the Grand Duchy is offering part of its territory to the leading nation of the world, you can see what friendship really means. We did not do it with Germany - for obvious reasons -, we did not do it with Belgium - for understandable reasons, because Belgium is preventing Luxembourg from having direct access to the ocean. And we did not do it with France - and we would have had good reasons to do so.
I also wanted him to know that when the European Union stands on the international stage, we do so with the backing of every Member State and of our 500 million citizens - at least that is the explanation I am giving to U.S. Presidents when I am at the White House. This is how the European Union does business. And I was in Washington last year in July to do business.
At that point, we agreed to launch a new phase in the transatlantic relationship. For example, we agreed to strengthen our cooperation on energy and to increase trade in several areas. And we are sticking to our words: A year after my meeting with President Trump, the European Union has increased its imports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. by over 350% and the U.S. has become Europe's number one supplier of soybeans.
We are delivering on what we agreed to do, as friends and partners do.
This tells a story of a relationship that can work for both of us. And at a time when stability comes at a premium, we must hold on to what works.
This is the third thing to say about a friendship like ours - we both need it. We share the same challenges - from climate change and migration to peace and security. We have different views on some of these issues, but that should never prevent us from looking for global solutions. Today, our economies are more intertwined than ever before. We trade roughly one trillion dollars' worth of goods and services every year with each other. This is nearly a third of total global trade.
The President is always saying that the balance between Europe and the U.S. is not fair when it comes to trade. He forgets to mention that if you include financial services in the comparison, the picture is totally reversed. I am telling him this again, again and again. He listens. But he does not believe it. So when I was at the White House in July last year, I was mentioning these figures and he said: ‘Do not trust your figures.' I said: ‘These are the figures of the U.S. administration, please believe them.'
But trade is so much more than simply numbers. Trade is about people's livelihoods and jobs. Trade wars are easy to start, but escalate quickly and usually end badly. Whoever starts a trade war will end badly in his own camp. Europe will always defend free and fair trade, based on a level playing field and reciprocity. We will not be naïve, but we are ready, willing and determined to do business. If someone is imposing tariffs on our aviation sector, we will do exactly the same - exactly the same.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe there is no better place for you and for your companies - eight times the number of Luxembourgers - this is nevertheless a good place for you and for your companies to do business, here in Europe.
It is a pleasure to receive this award tonight. And all of you here at the American Chamber of Commerce are yourselves building bridges, day after day, between American companies and their European counterparts. This award is in fact yours.
Our continents have been through thick and thin together, through different political cycles. But our friendship runs deep - just ask the people of Wiltz. The American-European friendship is not about hopes and dreams. It is a necessity.
Thank you for listening.