U.S.-EU Relations Under the Hungarian Presidency
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
I would like, in the time we have, to talk about U.S.-European Union relations and the role that the Hungarian Presidency can play in strengthening our cooperation over the next six months. As much as anything, I’m here to hear from you. So I will give a brief address, but be very much interested in your reactions and your thoughts.
It is a particularly opportune time to be talking about U.S.-European Union relations. Of course, at the beginning of the month, Hungary assumed the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union and I think the fact that Hungary’s assumption of that role seems such a normal development to us really tells us a lot about the profound transformation of Hungary and its relationship with Europe over the past twenty years. Stable democracies in this region have replaced Communist dictatorships. Free markets and the free movement of goods and people have dramatically increased the quality of life for all people in the region over the past twenty years. Central and Eastern Europe today is firmly anchored in the Euro-Atlantic community, the Euro-Atlantic system of institutions and contributes to global security. Certainly Hungary’s contribution to Afghanistan and other international efforts amply demonstrates this.
The Hungarian people have been at the vanguard of all of these changes. We share with all Hungarians an immense pride in the progress that Hungary has made in the past twenty years. Through its courageous efforts, Hungarians have transformed this country into a mature democracy and allowed it to take its rightful place in Europe. This success, of course, was mostly due to the efforts of Hungarians, but we like to think that the United States’ role was important as well in fostering freedom throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
The friendship between the United States and Hungary was formed on a foundation of shared values and freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Today, the power of your example also provides a model for countries to Hungary’s east and south that are building their democratic institutions. And so, we in the United States take a special interest in the continuing development of Hungary’s democracy. The project of democratization in some ways never ends – maintaining a vibrant democracy requires, for all countries, constant vigilance and continuous efforts to protect liberties, ensure a vibrant opposition, and foster media freedom. Together we share aspirations for a better world, and the United States is proud to count on the Hungarian people as a close partner in that effort.
This partnership means that we are extremely pleased to see Hungary, taking over for the first time, the rotating presidency of the EU. The European Union is of critical importance to the United States and to its transatlantic agenda and indeed to its efforts to bring stability and prosperity to the entire globe. The EU represents the collective potential of its 27 member states, who are among the most prosperous and militarily-capable democracies on the planet. They are key partners and as President Obama put it at the Lisbon summit, “Europe is the cornerstone for our engagement with the rest of the world.” On nearly every issue of importance to the United States– from the war in Afghanistan to the Iranian nuclear challenge, from the ongoing global economic troubles to relations with Russia– Europe and the European Union are our indispensable partners. We believe we are vastly stronger – in terms of legitimacy, resources, and ideas – when we join forces with Europe.
The EU Presidency means that for the next six months Hungary will operate on a broader stage and assume greater responsibilities and greater global attention than is normally the case. It will necessarily mean greater scrutiny of Hungary’s policies at home and abroad, and a lot more work for its officials, but it also means Hungary has a unique opportunity to bring its experience and expertise to bear and to bring its priorities to the top of the European and Transatlantic agendas. We can already see Hungary seizing the opportunity in the ambitious agenda the Hungarian government has laid out for its presidency.
From our discussions over the past several months, we believe Hungary’s Presidency priorities will help advance U.S. goals and interests as well. That is not a surprise as we share so many common pursuits.
I would like to mention a few of Hungary’s priorities and how they fit with our own. We are pleased, to start, by the emphasis that Hungary is placing on the Eastern Partnership Initiative. This is an initiative that we have fully supported from its inception. We believe the enhanced political and economic relationships with the countries of the Eastern Partnership Initiative are important to the EU’s future and to the stability and prosperity of a part of Europe that has often faced significant challenges. In 2010, the United States provided $311 million in assistance to the EPI region. We pledged $262 million over five years to Moldova in a new Millennium Challenge compact, and completed the process of disbursing $1 billion to Georgia as part of the assistance to that country in the wake of the war of 2008. Our efforts are focused on support for democratic actors and civil society capacity, building economic growth and stability, promoting health and education, and bolstering peace and security in the region. These are goals that are very consistent with the four EPI platform areas, which are people to people contacts, governance and stability, economic integration, and energy. We hope therefore that the initiative that will provide additional funds and programs to the region and that, by closely coordinating our assistance, we can leverage our contributions and maximize our impact. For these reasons, we welcome the planned EU Eastern Partnership Initiative summit in May and hope to be able to participate at a senior level.
Together, the United States and the European Union can also have a decisive impact in this region. In fact, a test of that potential is presently before us in Belarus. We need to work together to make very clear to the government of Belarus and to Mr. Lukashenko that business as usual cannot go on so long as members of the opposition and peaceful protestors are detained. In these circumstances, that is to say their continued detention, we would be obliged to consider them political prisoners. As you know two years ago the United States eased some sanctions against Belarus because of the release of political prisoners. We will be obliged to re-impose those sanctions if there’s not a change in the coming days. The EU has even more levers at its disposal and we are much more effective if we work together. Travel bans, for example, on Mr. Lukashenko and other responsible officials will have a greater effect if widely imposed. We hope that the EU will consider financial freezes and review Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership. Working together, we can send the message that if there’s not a change in behavior very quickly, especially again regarding the detainees, there will be negative consequences for the government of Belarus. I know that we, the European Union, and the people of Hungary stand with the people of Belarus and want to help them live in a free and democratic Europe, which is what they deserve.
We also welcome Hungary’s commitment to further the EU accession process in the Western Balkans. As Secretary Clinton made clear during her visit to the Balkans in October, the United States is unfaltering in its commitment to the stability and development of the Western Balkans. The strongest possible motivator for enhanced progress in the Balkans region remains the prospect of EU membership, along with NATO membership. Of course, meeting requirements of membership is the responsibility for each candidate and the decision to grant admission rests with the member states of the European Union. But the United States, as a friend of the European Union and with such a great stake in the Balkans, fully supports EU accession for the entire region – not only because it will contribute to a more stable region, but because it will contribute to the social and economic development of each country. We have focused our development assistance in the region on helping the countries to meet the key technical requirements of membership. We closely coordinate with Brussels in designing these policies and we look forward to supporting Hungary in whatever way we can in its efforts to conclude the accession talks with Croatia and to give a greater membership perspective to the other countries in the region.
We are also glad to see the emphasis that Hungary is putting on energy security and the development of a common EU energy policy. The United States has long been very active in this area. Together with the EU, we formed the U.S.-EU Energy Council in 2009. As Secretary Clinton noted at the Council meeting in November, that effort has already accomplished a great deal, including working to secure new sources of natural gas for Europe by expanding cooperation with partners in the Middle East and Caspian Region and working with Ukraine as it tries to chart a path toward being a more reliable partner for Europe. But clearly this is not just an external problem. As the Secretary pointed out at the Energy Council meeting, there is an extraordinary opportunity here for the United States and the EU to lead the world in developing new and more efficient technologies that will provide a more secure and cleaner energy supply. To do so, we both need to ensure that our internal markets are interconnected, transparent, and competitive. The EU efforts to establish a common energy policy and the upcoming EU energy summit in February are important steps in that direction. We will continue to support the EU and EU leaders like Hungary in these efforts.
Finally, we are very pleased to see the emphasis that the Hungarian Presidency is placing on the development of a European Roma policy. As Secretary Clinton said in April, “protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for me, and under the Obama Administration it is a priority of the United States.” Roma have been part of every wave of European migration to the United States. They have come seeking jobs and opportunities, religious freedom, and refuge from war and conflict. They are part of the fabric of the United States. Unfortunately, ethnic minorities in the United States can also face prejudice and discrimination, as they do elsewhere. But it is the job of our governments to combat prejudice, marginalization and the exclusion of all persons, including Roma.
These presidency priorities for Hungary – the Eastern Partnership, the Balkans, the energy issue, rights of Roma – match up very much with our own and it is by working together we believe we can help Hungary promote this agenda during its presidency of the EU. These are, of course, only a sample of Hungary’s priorities and issues. The United States-Hungarian partnership has achieved a great deal in the past few years and, together with the rest of our common European partners, we have an extensive agenda that we will continue to pursue. It will clearly be a very active and busy winter and spring. This is only appropriate given the full U.S.-Europe agenda and the many pressing challenges and opportunities that we have together. At the core of meeting these challenges is U.S.-European cooperation. We look very much forward to working with the Hungarian presidency in all of these areas. And I look very much forward to your questions and comments. Thank you.
Q: Mr. Secretary, would you share with us some thoughts on your expectations in terms of shifts, positive shifts, in NATO-EU cooperation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There’s been progress in EU-NATO cooperation, but frankly, not as much as we would wish. These are two organizations with significant overlap in their membership; they are both headquartered in the same city; they both are pursuing very similar goals in terms of global stability, defense and promotion of our values and interests. And, so, the United States is a strong supporter of greater cooperation between the two. I think at a practical level, the growth in cooperation between individuals, such as the Secretary General of NATO and the High Representative of the European Union, is positive and pragmatic. I think that the majority of member states support increasing cooperation between the two organizations, but at the institutional level, there is much more work to be done. As you know, Secretary General Rasmussen took an initiative in the run up to the Lisbon Summit to see if further institutional cooperation could be promoted, but ultimately there are limits to the degree to which this was achieved. We in the United States continue to support the development of institutional cooperation, but obviously only when there is a consensus among member states of both organizations are we going to be able to take that to the level where we think it should be.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary. What’s your opinion; the Washington Post published a letter at first day of this year, full of dirty slanders like racism and anti-Semitism, chauvinism against Hungary. The letter was written by Hungarian pianist from Italy. But in the letter was no facts, no proof, of course. And what do you think, what is the purpose of the campaign that has been carrying on by the Washington Post, New York Times, the [inaudible] Zeitung and papers in Britain and Canada even, promoting similar dirty slanders for the last decade. Again without any proofs, any facts; what do you think of the purpose of the international slander campaign that has started against the new Hungarian media law? It started before the law was issued even in Hungarian, so of course it is without any reasons and proofs. Thank you for your patience.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. I have to say I’m not familiar with the letter in the Washington Post that you are referring to so I cannot comment specifically on that. As a general point, I think Hungary’s reputation in the United States and around the world is excellent. I will come to the current debate about the media law, but just as a general issue of perception, Hungary is seen as having been at the vanguard of the spread of democracy throughout Europe, standing up to communist dictatorships and the Soviet Union and the Soviet empire and played a critical role in the ending of the Cold War and the liberation of millions of people throughout Central Europe. In addition to that historical legacy, it is seen as a critical partner of the United States, as a responsible NATO ally, and as a responsible member of the European Union and as a great friend of the United States. So in terms of perceptions or what you defined as slander, I don’t share that assessment and I can tell you that the perception in the United States in general of Hungary is a very positive one.
You are right that there has been considerable discussion internationally, including in the United States about the media law and I think that reflects a genuine concern of a number of observers that the mechanisms, the elements in the media law could restrain freedom of expression in a way that would be inappropriate for a democracy. And I think it is a reflection of a value that we all, the United States, the members of the European Union, those who are engaged in this debate, place on the importance of free media and expression. And it’s not for me to get into the details of what Hungary’s laws look like, but I think I can say as a friend of Hungary that Hungarians should take this debate seriously. For the United States, free media and free expression is a core part of democracy; it’s an important element of a healthy society and I think that the fact that many Europeans and other friends of Hungary are paying particularly close attention to this should be cause for debate and examination of the situation.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how do you see Turkey’s accession into the European Union? I think it is a disputed and controversial issue in many EU countries. I believe that the leading force of the NATO, the United States, and NATO itself is more interested in further consolidating Turkey’s position [inaudible]. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. Turkey’s accession to the EU is an extremely complicated issue but the shortest answer I can give you is that we support it and we continue to support it. The United States has long supported Turkey’s eventual accession to the European Union when it meets the criteria. And that is obviously something for European Union members to decide and it’s for Turkey to decide whether it wants to join the European Union and as we have said before and as President Obama has said, it’s not up to the United States whether Turkey can join the European Union, we don’t get a vote and we shouldn’t. But as a friend of the European Union and of Turkey, we can share our view with our European allies that it would be in the long run a positive thing for Turkey and a positive thing for Europe if Turkey ultimately joined the EU. In the past, the incentive of Turkish membership in the EU has been positive for reform efforts in Turkey.
At present, if you look at public opinion polling, the number of Turks, who believe that Turkey will eventually join the EU, is declining, it’s now below 50%, and in part as a consequence of that, not exclusively, but in part, the number of Turks who want to join the European Union is declining. Our outside view is that it’s not a good thing and a Turkey that believes in the promotion of democracy at home, and good neighborly relations and strong relations with Europe, that sort of Turkey is the Turkey we want to see and the aspiration to join the European Union helps to bring that sort of Turkey about. So again, it’s not for us to tell Europeans what to do, but we believe just as the EU’s open door was critically important in fostering democracy and stability in Central and Eastern Europe for all of those countries who eventually walked through that door. We believe the same holds for Turkey. The European Union accession process has arguably been the greatest democratization strategy anywhere in the history of the world, not to be too hyperbolic about it. And Turkey’s future and integration is hugely important to democracy, to Europe and to the United States. So there are hurdles that need to be overcome, there’s work that Turkey needs to do, but as a general principle, we think the door should remain open.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, my question is if there is any exchange of ideas between the U.S. and the European Union or individual members of the European Union about the future governance of international economy, and first of all I have in mind the international monetary system. If yes, what is the main direction of those ideas?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: To that, I can also start with a short answer, yes, there is a lot of discussion of the future of the international monetary system, the future of the international financial system, that is taking place vigorously within the G7, within the G8, within the G20 and bilaterally and within the United States and the European Union. You don’t go through a financial crises such as the one we have just faced without asking yourself the best way for the international monetary and financial system to be organized. I think I can also say however, that we believe the focus at the moment should be on restoring growth, balance international growth and getting out of what has been a very difficult recession and financial crisis, and that any talk of longer term or fundamental changes in the international monetary system should be carefully thought through, deliberately assessed and considered in due time with the priority for now being dealing with the current crisis that we’re all facing.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] I’d like to ask you regarding the EU energy summit on February 4. What do you expect more concretely as a result of this summit? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think vis-á-vis this summit or similar meetings on the subject one should be expecting deliverables on the sort of decisions on major energy policies or pipelines or anything of that sort. What is necessary is a constant examination of the technologies and policies that will help promote energy diversity and security throughout Europe. That’s in the interest not only of the Europeans but of the United states as well.
It’s obviously an energy security issue, because we’ve seen countries who don’t have energy security suffer during the winter and I’m thinking particularly of the region we’re in right now. It’s critically important in that regard; it’s an important economic issue because the more energy diversity you have the better prices you get and you can spend your money on different things that we all need; and it’s also an issue of political security because countries that are dependent for energy economics are inevitably dependent politically; that’s why the United States strongly believes in the principle of diversity. It’s not directed at any particular country and it’s not for any particular country. I think we all benefit if countries have more energy diversity. That’s a question of supplies, diversity of supplies, I’m talking about different pipelines, different routes to get energy whether it be oil, gas or other, and of technology which can lead to efficiencies which also helps improve the energy picture. Those are the areas that the US-EU energy dialogue focuses on and we think, as I mentioned, we’ve had some success in that area. The United States continues to support a southern corridor to Europe, which will help promote energy diversity which should help in all the areas that I mentioned.
QUESTION: My question would concern Russia, in two parts. One part is that you mentioned Belarus and sanctions against Belarus. Do you think that, is there any effect on them as long as they have their big friend with the subsidized oil and gas supply and raw material supply; and the other part of the question, which also relates to energy security or energy policy of Russia. Is it a kind of a new game in this region, in Europe that you have Russia coming back to the so called near abroad countries, like Belarus, Ukraine, you name it so what should be the strategy of the EU and the United States in these areas or questions? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you for raising that and you’re right and I appreciate you having noticed that I put particular emphasis on Belarus in my prepared remarks, because I wanted to draw attention to that critically important issue. To answer your specific question about where Russia fits into that, I think that Belarus over the past few years has been interested in a different relationship with the West. There have been sanctions on Belarus for some time both from the European Union and from the United States which has led Belarus to be exceedingly dependent on Russia for economic support, for political support and for energy and it has been our perception that Belarus is not comfortable with such a future. We wanted to offer to Belarus a potential path in a different direction. And we have done so – we have presented to Belarus a road map to a better relationship with the West that starts with them changing their practices on democracy and human rights and could end with Belarus like so many others throughout Eastern and Central Europe becoming a stable and more prosperous democracy.
On December 19th they seemed to choose a different path. And that’s why I wanted to stress in my on the record remarks that they need to understand that there are consequences of that choice and to the extent that they want to have a different and better relationship with the West whether it be Europe or the United States the crackdown following the election is inconsistent with their ability to follow through with that choice. I don’t think Belarus wants to be entirely dependent on Russia. Our view as you know toward the region as a whole is that there should be no spheres of influence anywhere within Europe, and countries should be free to choose the alliances that they want to join. And for the most part that has been true and respected throughout Europe and particularly in Eastern and Central Europe, but Belarus apparently is choosing not to avail itself of the possibilities of becoming a more independent country and joining Europe as so many of its neighbors and others in the region have and that’s why I think it’s important for the United States and the European Union to stand together on that issue particularly in the shortest term on the question of detainees some of whom seem to be guilty of nothing else other than running for President and are being held and that’s why I said that we would be obliged to consider them political prisoners if they are not released very soon.
QUESTION: With regard to China, I wonder whether there are any issues that you in the United States would like to see progressed in the EU-China relationship over the next six months under the Hungarian Presidency I’m thinking both of international security issues such as the Korean peninsula but also the international financial sector are there any particular issues in case that question is just a bit too far out of the field for the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs I did have a reserve question which is about Russia. And the previous question has touched on that. But nevertheless if there are any particular issues that the U.S. has in mind for EU-Russia relationship over the next six months and how would you like to see the EU Presidency and other leaders of the European Union take this particular relationship forward I’m interested in your comments on that. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. No it is not too far afield, indeed one of the reasons I‘m in Budapest is for dialogue with the European Union. Under the Hungarian presidency, EU Political Directors have come together, as we do every six months under different presidencies, to have a dialogue on global issues and it so happens that Asia was one of them. Today, which I think reflects what I tried to describe as the overall US-EU partnership, it’s a global partnership now. That’s not to say that it’s not only about Europe, because there are challenges in Europe not least Belarus, but also the others I mentioned like the Balkans and Russia and obviously still some issues in Western Europe itself, but more than anything it’s a global partnership. So, we do sit together and we talk about how together we deal with rising powers like China on the economic front and on the security front. There are some areas where there’s more to talk about than others. Europe is not a major military power in Asia like we are, but there are security issues that come up not least the issue of the arms embargo to China. In economic terms Europe is much more of a player and there’s plenty for us to talk about and we do and we do it in a positive way. And why do we do that? We do that because the United States knows that it can’t deal with these global issues like China and Russia alone, and as it looks around the world for partners, it turns out most of the most important ones are in the European Union. Together the European Union members are the most prosperous democratic and likeminded partners we have out there and that’s why we have and we need dialogue on all sorts of global affairs and these days that certainly includes China which whether we like it or not is looming larger and larger on the international stage. The rise of China as a geopolitical power is more directly, I was going to say a challenge but don’t over interpret that word, but a challenge to the United States which has been responsible for security and stability in Asia together with partners like Australia and others than to the European Union, but on the economic front, we find ourselves dealing with the question of Chinese currency and trade and the management of the global financial system and have an awful lot to discuss with the Europeans and it forms a key part of this partnership.
Just very briefly on Russia. I think we have a good US-EU dialogue on Russia as well, as you know because just like on China, we have common interests and that’s why we can work on these things together.
As you know, we the Obama administration, put a great priority on changing our relationship with Russia. The one we inherited was deteriorating. We had common interests that weren’t being pursued and we determined to find areas where we could work together without, and this is the important part, without sacrificing the important principles that guide our relationship with Russia and with our other European friends. We said at the start, and I dare say that I think we have stuck to our word, that we would pursue this better relationship with Russia, in areas of non-proliferation like the START Treaty, in economic areas like getting Russia in the WTO, in global security issues like our cooperation on Iran, we said we would do all of that, pursue all of that while also standing by the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our friends in NATO and in Central Eastern Europe in defending their right to choose their alliances and clearly disagreeing with Russia publicly and privately when we do as we have over the issue of Georgia and we’ve been very clear about that and we also said we would pursue that better relationship with Russia without pulling our punches on issues of democracy and human rights. I think we’ve been very clear about that as well. And we’ve done that all in close coordination with the European Union, and just as I said more globally about everything we’re doing, we feel our messages and our policies are stronger when we do them together with the European Union and we look forward to doing so under the Hungarian presidency.
QUESTION: Could I ask you for some comments on two items that you brought up during your speech? One is what you mentioned as a review of the status of Belarus in the framework of the Eastern Partnership, but it already has a special status. A further review of that status would practically amount to leaving Belarus out, at least temporarily, from that partnership. Do you think that would harm the prestige and basically the profile of the Eastern partnership as kind of a discussion center plus geopolitics initiative which is a non-conflictual forum and that’s what it’s meant to be? And the other point you brought up is the Western Balkan; while there’s a general agreement in principle that those countries should at one point join the EU, current trends, regional trends are ambivalent at least concerning Bosnia Herzegovina. Do you think that certain skeptical voices in Europe are questioning the feasibility of the post-Dayton order? Is a review of Dayton in order and going back to scratch and make those countries fit for EU membership is a longer-term, more serious effort than originally planned? Do you think that those points can be addressed during the presidency in the initial phases, what is your opinion on that? And finally, probably the biggest symbolic help the U.S. could give to the Eastern Partnership initiative, in my opinion at least would be Secretary Clinton’s presence at the May conference. Do you think there is a realistic chance for welcoming Secretary of State Clinton in May in Budapest? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. A lot of perceptive comments in what you said; let me just respond briefly. You’re right that I deliberately chose a vague and broad word about Belarus and the Eastern Partnership by just calling for a review, because it’s not for me to tell the Europeans what to do with their initiative. I was simply trying to indicate that as we ask ourselves how we can deal with what really is a dramatic and very serious issue in Belarus that all options should be on the table and we should ask ourselves in every case what can we do to show our support for the people of Belarus and to send a message to the authorities in Minsk that detaining peaceful protestors is not something we can accept. And whether there is anything within the Eastern Partnership that can do those two things is something that I think we should be looking at.
On the Western Balkans, you rightly point to what I think is sometimes called enlargement fatigue and EU members not being so keen in welcoming new countries in. There’s nothing new about that. It tends to rise with economic difficulties, but it seems to me there’s no alternative in the long run to the EU accession path remaining open to all of Europe and all countries of the Western Balkans as difficult as it may be even if there aren’t immediate prospects for entry; in the long run we will not have completely succeeded in our historic project of building security and democracy in Europe until all of the Western Balkans is in. And we need to continue to do what is necessary to keep that prospective alive. It is not easy, you point to problems within Bosnia, for different reasons there are challenges between Serbia and the EU even more for Kosovo and other countries in the region but we absolutely believe that this remains the most powerful factor in getting the Balkans to make the right choices and that it would be in the interest of the countries in the Balkans as well as in the EU to keep that that process alive. If I understood you correctly about Bosnia, just to be clear, in case that’s what you are suggesting some sort of review of Dayton as in the basic structures. As difficult as it is to enforce Dayton and as polarized as the parties in Bosnia remain, we don’t see any alternative and in no way believe that we should start reviewing the basic arrangements of Bosnia Herzegovina as a country. That would be the wrong path for that country and for the region as a whole. The Ambassador is signaling to me that it is almost time for us to wrap up. I can tell you I have no announcements to make about Secretary Clinton’s travel plans but just as soon as I do those announcements will be made.