Ambassador James Melville
It is a real pleasure to join all of you today. I’d like to thank you, Mr. Kapanadze and everyone from Tegusad Eesti Noored who helped organize this event. I’d also like to welcome the foreign delegates to Estonia. It’s a pleasure to see so many young people from all over Estonia and from other EU countries, excited about the workings of the European Parliament.
You may wonder why the U.S. Embassy is supporting what is really a European event; it is because of the importance we place on our relationship with Europe. What the European Union, its institutions and members states decide has a significant impact on the United States and on the rest of the world. We can accomplish together significantly more than the total of what either of us could accomplish on our own.
The support and nurturing of a Transatlantic Community of strong, free, prosperous democracies is one of the greatest triumphs of American foreign policy over the last 70-plus years. It has been a tremendous privilege for me personally to serve as an American diplomat through these historic times, and to have dedicated my professional life to the cause of helping build a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.
Unfortunately, we see our vision of the European community — and the very principle of national sovereignty guaranteed by international law — challenged today in new and unexpected ways. But I have great confidence in the ideals that both the United States and Estonia represent and champion:
–Peaceful cooperation and understanding,
–Human rights and dignity, and
These ideals embody what it means to live in a democratic and free society and give us hope for the future. They lay behind our belief in the Estonian people’s right to independence and self-governance, a belief that stayed unchanged throughout the period of Soviet occupation. I’m confident our ideals will remain predominant in the future because of the strong alliance and partnerships the United States and Estonia have built together and with others around the globe.
A strong, united, free Europe based on these values is an example to the rest of the world and an indispensable partner for the United States. I’d like to highlight some of the issues the U.S. and EU are currently working together.
Our unity on Russian aggression in Ukraine has remained. There are number of actions being taken in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilizing actions in Eastern Ukraine. We welcomed the European Union’s decision to rollover sanctions. As we and our EU partners have made clear, these sanctions targeting key economic sectors will remain in place until Russia and the separatists they back completely implement their Minsk commitments.
On refugees, as my boss Secretary of State John Kerry has said, this is the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War. President Obama will host a summit on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in September to coordinate global efforts. To date, the United States has provided more than $4.5 billion of humanitarian assistance to help relieve this refugee crisis. Over the last decade, we’ve resettled approximately 600,000 refugees while, every single year, the United States takes in around one million new, legal immigrants.
We do this because it is a fundamental value of the United States to help those most in need; I’m confident it is for Estonia as well. We do need to find better ways to integrate and help refugees build self-reliance and contribute to their new communities through meaningful employment and civic participation. After the attacks in Paris and Brussels, I fully understand the unease and apprehension that many people have. It is the same debate and discussion that we are having in the United States.
But we don’t turn our backs on individuals fleeing situations of war. And we don’t conflate the victims of terrorism with the terrorists themselves. Helping to create those opportunities for refugees to integrate and make meaningful contributions – and avoiding radicalization – is critical. Education is an extremely important component, and I’m pleased that we are working with the Ministry of Education on this issue. In fact, a group of Estonian experts traveled to the United States a few months ago to exchange views and experiences with their American counterparts on exactly what works in grappling with refugees and their resettlement.
We are also very pleased to have strong Estonian support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. The strategic and economic benefits of T-TIP are clear and compelling. Achieving a far-reaching economic agreement will send a strong signal to the world that the broader US-EU partnership is steadfast. It will also bring real benefit to our economies and our workers. Lowering the costs of doing business can unlock opportunity, especially for small businesses both here in Estonia and in the United States.
Moving ahead you probably know that there are presidential elections going on in the United States, and also one here in Estonia. This is a time when democracies like ours allow many voices to be heard, and together decide on the shape that we want the future to take. Many things are said during our long and complicated election process, which as you know is very different than the one here in Estonia. We are working with our partners to bring a political analyst to share information about our process. I hope many of you can join for that event, which will be hosted later this month by the Estonian Business School, and by Tartu and Tallinn Universities.
As Estonians and Americans are looking to the future, we are not going to wait until new administrations take office to address the important challenges in front of us. Both of our nations still have presidents and we have a lot to accomplish.
So, to sum it all up, U.S.-Estonian relations are strong. We face many global challenges, but we face them together. I am committed as U.S. Ambassador to do everything I can, working together with you, to expand our economic cooperation, promote our shared values, and strengthen prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. I would definitely encourage you to be active advocates of our shared values on the EU and international arena, and take a leadership role to foster our shared goals.
I welcome comments and questions. Thank you.