Today (9 May) is Europe Day, and “perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved.”
That quote is from U.S. president Barack Obama, and comes from his “address to the people of Europe” at the world’s largest industrial fair in Hanover, Germany, on 25 April 2016.
Later in his speech he joked: “You may argue over whose football clubs are better, vote for different singers on Eurovision,” before continuing: “But your accomplishment — more than 500 million people speaking 24 languages in 28 countries, 19 with a common currency, in one European Union — remains one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times.”
Given the currently sometimes challenging reputation of European collaboration, Obama must have thought it was time for a morale boost. But he also had an urgent message: “I’ve come here today, to the heart of Europe, to say that the United States, and the entire world, needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe,” he said.
One of the reasons he named? Climate change.
Hope For The Many
First, he reminded Europe of it’s relatively recent, yet for many emotionally very distant past.
“In the last century — twice in just 30 years — the forces of empire and intolerance and extreme nationalism consumed this continent. And cities like this one were largely reduced to rubble. Tens of millions of men and women and children were killed,” he said.
He continued: “But from the ruins of the Second World War, our nations set out to remake the world — to build a new international order and the institutions to uphold it.”
“As [former German leader] Adenauer said in those early days, ‘European unity was a dream of a few. It became a hope for [the] many. Today it is a necessity for all of us,'” he said.
You Can’t Take it For Granted
If you’ve ever had to fill out EU paper work, Obama feels your pain: “Yes, European unity can require frustrating compromise. It adds layers of government that can slow decision-making.”
“I understand. I’ve been in meetings with the European Commission,” he joked.
“And, as an American, we’re famously disdainful of government. We understand how easy it must be to vent at Brussels and complain,” he added.
But he said: “This continent, in the 20th century, was at constant war. People starved on this continent. Families were separated on this continent. And now people desperately want to come here precisely because of what you’ve created. You can’t take that for granted.”
It Wouldn’t Have Happened
Obama went on to focus on the recent achievements of collaboration between the U.S. and Europe.
“Consider what we’ve done in recent years: Pulling the global economy back from the brink of depression and putting the world on the path of recovery. A comprehensive deal that’s cut off every single one of Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb — part of our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons,” he said.
The president then mentioned Paris Agreement on climate change: “In Paris, the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.”
He continued: “Stopping Ebola in West Africa and saving countless lives. Rallying the world around new sustainable development, including our goal to end extreme poverty.”
“None of those things could have happened if I — if the United States did not have a partnership with a strong and united Europe. It wouldn’t have happened,” said Obama.
He concluded: “As you go forward, you can be confident that your greatest ally and friend, the United States of America, stands with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, now and forever. Because a united Europe — once the dream of a few — remains the hope of the many and a necessity for us all.”
Europe is All of us
Following Obama’s addres, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini travelled to Washington D.C. last week to address the Going Green conference, which focused on transatlantic opportunities for economic growth, innovation, and climate action.
“I think the best words that we can use to celebrate Europe Day, are actually the words that president Obama mentioned in Hanover last week,” she said, quoting: “Perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved.”
“Instead of blocking reforms and then complaining because Europe doesn’t work, we have to understand collectively that Europe is all us,” she said.
— EU External Action (@eu_eeas) May 4, 2016
To find out why, according to Obama, a strong and united Europe is also important for your security – against the backdrop of American voters getting increasingly wary of picking up the bill – watch the full address or read the full transcript on the White House website.
Climate-KIC and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology are examples of how people unite across Europe to work with colleagues in the United States and around the world to solve common challenges such as climate change. Find out how you can get involved!