Remarks at AmCham Annual General Meeting

E-Estonia Showroom

Thank you, Andrus.

It’s a real pleasure to join all of you today.

When I first arrived in Estonia, I heard that the Amcham here was a top quality organization. Well, after listening to the report of your activities last year alone, I’m really impressed.  I think you could give AmCham Germany a run for its money, and they have a lot more staff! It’s a privilege to be your honorary president.

As I’ve begun to get to know Estonia,  its people, its achievements, and its values since arriving last December, it’s hard for me to think of Estonia as anything but a dynamic Nordic country and close ally of the United States.

But when I began my diplomatic career over 30 years ago, Estonia was in a very different situation. The transition to a prosperous, sovereign, independent European nation has been your great success.

Of course, I know it has been far from easy, and there’s always more to do as expectations and ambitions expand.  But you now control your own destiny.

Estonia is an integral part of Europe.  And you are having a positive impact on people’s lives well beyond your own borders.  It’s always a challenge with the constant distraction of our day-today concerns, to step back and fully understand  and appreciate this achievement.  So I would like to take this opportunity to share how I view it from my personal perspective.

On August 13, 1986, I was a newly minted Foreign Service Officer on my first tour in the German Democratic Republic.  I walked from our apartment to Alexanderplatz in East Berlin to see the GDR’s commemoration parade marking the 25th anniversary of what the East German Communists called the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.”  Watching the tanks roll by, the Communist Youth League marching along with posters of Marx and Lenin, and seeing the Politburo of the Socialist Unity Party shaking their fists in approval, I knew I wasn’t in New Jersey anymore!

Ten months later, when President Reagan came to West Berlin to commemorate the 750th anniversary of that great city, I was there before the Brandenburg Gate when The President demanded that Secretary General  Gorbachev demonstrate his seriousness about reform by removing the barrier  dividing the city.  I was standing right in front of the President on the press rise when he said “Mr. Gorbachev, “tear down this wall.”

A couple of years later, I was serving in Leningrad in 1991 when it became St. Petersburg again, and was privileged to watch from nearby when Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian heroes took back their freedom, sovereignty and independence just before the Soviet Union fell.  When thinking back to President Reagan’s speech in Berlin, at that time it wasn’t seen as particularly significant or likely to lead to meaningful change.  Many of his critics even dismissed it  as a provocative political stunt.  Of course, thanks to the courageous actions by Germans, both in the East and West, the Wall did come down and November 9, 1989 is a date that will always be very special to anyone who loves freedom and liberty.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that President Reagan was on the right side of history and that his clear articulation of U.S. policy sent an unambiguous message to Moscow.  In one of the more serendipitous occasions  in my career, a little over a year ago while serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Berlin, I was asked to participate in the city’s ceremonies celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  It was a very moving moment for me to complete that circle – to have been at both the 25th anniversary of the construction of that hateful symbol of the division of Europe, and at the 25th anniversary of its fall.

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 years.  For me personally, it’s been a tremendous privilege 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
–Shared prosperity

These ideals embody the very best interests of our children, the global community, and 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.

We marked the 75th Anniversary of the Welles Declaration last year and will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the restoration of Estonian independence this year.  Estonia’s resolute commitment  to restore its nationhood and its democracy is an inspirational example to all nations.  And Estonia has proven its unwavering commitment to a better world  by standing side by side with the United States and our allies and partners, for example, to promote stability in Afghanistan  and to counter-ISIL in Iraq and to provide assistance to Ukraine.

Fortunately, times have changed and the world we face today is far different from the Cold War.  Still, when I reflect on the symbolism of President Obama’s visit to Tallinn in September 2014,  I can’t help being reminded of President Reagan’s speech in Berlin.  Some of you were likely at Nordea Concert Hall when President Obama said  in no uncertain terms that the United States and NATO would be here for Estonia should the need ever arise.  He said “We have a solemn duty to each other.  Article 5 is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all.”

NATO will defend the territorial integrity of every single ally – that is the fundamental nature of our alliance.  There are no new members; no old members; no junior or senior partners.  No state matters any more than any other.  There is just NATO and it is the strongest security alliance that the world has ever seen.

President Obama has outlined a number of actions being taken in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilizing actions in Eastern Ukraine.  Let me highlight some of these.

First, he said that the United States is working  to bolster the security of our NATO Allies and further increase America’s military presence in Europe.  For Estonia,  that has meant a continuous rotation of combat units since May 2014.  Altogether,  over five thousand U.S. service members have rotated through Estonia gaining and sharing experiences with their Estonian counterparts.

Second, we are working with the Ministry of Defense and the Estonian Defense Forces to boost Estonia’s defense infrastructure and capabilities.  The United States has allocated $37 million to infrastructure improvements at the Tapa Central Training Area and Amari Air Base.

Third, at the Wales NATO summit in 2014, the alliance agreed to create a NATO rapid reaction force.  NATO Force Integration Units were established in several European capitals. The Tallinn unit opened last June.

And fourth, our unity on Russian aggression in Ukraine has remained.

We welcomed the EU’s decision to roll over 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.  That’s what we have done, now let’s look ahead.

You may have heard that there’s a presidential election campaign going on in the United States.  We are working with Daria on a program for later this month, where a U.S. political analyst will share information on our presidential election process.  I hope many of you can join for that event, which will be hosted by the Estonian Business School.  And I’m happy to talk with you this afternoon about both the upcoming U.S. and Estonian presidential elections.

What I would like to stress now, is that we are not going to wait until new administrations take office to address the important challenges in front of us.  Although this is an election year, we have much to accomplish.

On refugees, as my boss Secretary 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 over 600,000 refugees while, every year, the United States takes in around one million new, legal immigrants. We do this because it is a fundamental value of our country 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. Helping to create 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.

I would also like to applaud AmCham’s efforts to encourage diversity and tolerance.  As you rightly noted in your letter with other foreign chambers, what’s at risk here is not only a hit to Estonia’s economy if foreign workers, students, and tourists do not feel welcomed.  It is also the continuation of Estonia’s global reputation for innovation  and forward-leaning policies.

AmCham’s leadership in engaging the business community to work constructively with government and other partners is commendable.

I’ve spoken on the transatlantic security environment and our foreign policy priorities.  Let me turn now to other areas where we are closely working together. In many ways, our cooperation to ensure Estonia’s security underpins our ability to collaborate in fostering economic growth and prosperity.  I know that some investors may be wary about the region’s geopolitical tensions, but I hope that others are comforted by the United States’ unwavering commitment to our NATO allies.  Estonia has had one of the most effective democratic and economic transitions of any post-communist European country, and you have a great story to share with other countries in the region.

Earlier this year, President Ilves was in Washington to launch the World Bank’s new Global Development Report on Digital Dividends.  This report pointed to Estonia as a country that has figured out the right way to deploy technology to promote development and good governance.  And we are collaborating with Estonia to do this in third countries, too.  For example, we have partnered on an anti-corruption assistance program in Ukraine and Moldova that utilizes Estonia’s e-government expertise.  And the other side to e-governance is Estonia’s impressive cyber security and cyber defense capabilities.

I’m pleased to say that Estonia is one of the United States’ most engaging bilateral cyber relationships.

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 here in Estonia and in the United States. I know that AmCham has been a strong voice here in Estonia to raise awareness of the negotiations and to discuss the benefits of T-TIP.  Critiques of T-TIP that we are hearing in some EU countries often stem from myths or lack of information.  So it is important to continue the discussion, to be transparent about the status of negotiations, and to talk about how increased trade could help both our economies.

The U.S. and EU governments can talk all day about why we believe T-TIP is important.  But the most compelling stories are from real businesses, like yours.

When you share the barriers that make exporting too costly or too complicated, and you discuss how lower tariffs or streamlined customs procedures can improve your bottom line, that’s how fellow Estonians can understand the real impact of this agreement.  The Embassy is proud to have supported AmCham and Datel-Ovella to develop a website that does just that: share success stories of current exporters, and provide resources for companies considering exports.  Through AmCham’s hard work, we are seeing other EU countries’ interest in contributing to this website.  We look forward to continuing to partner with AmCham on T-TIP discussions.  Our economic relationship is dynamic and growing.  I was honored to join AmCham in the fifth Estonian-American Innovation Award ceremony in January.

The award celebrates innovative achievements that came from collaboration between Estonians and Americans.  Finalists from the past five years have included joint ventures between scientists, artists, high tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.  It is a testament to the strong commercial and people-to-people ties that are growing between our two countries.

As another example of growing commercial ties, Prime Minister Rõivas led a business delegation to the United States last month. The group covered five states, three universities, and 22 company visits in seven days. It was an exhausting but successful trip, from what I have heard.

AmCham played a key role in helping to organize this visit, and I know a number of you were able to participate.

Education is also an important area of our cooperation.  At the end of last year, we received a report on the number of Estonian students going to the United States and the number of Americans coming here.  I was pleasantly shocked at the rate of increase in students going both ways.  In the last five years, the number of American students coming here nearly tripled.  Going the other way, we see more and more Estonian students getting into not just top American universities like MIT and Harvard, but also regional schools where they can form valuable networks and acquire specialized knowledge.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the Fulbright program, the premier U.S. government exchange program, which has been instrumental in providing many promising Estonian leaders an opportunity to gain a U.S. education.

Our most prominent alum is Foreign Minister Kaljurand, but I’m sure within your business networks there are number of former Fulbrighters who are now quite successful. However, as Estonia has developed so too has this program and we need to find new ways for sustainability. In Finland, for example, private sector donations and Finnish government support make up over 90% of the budget enabling tens of Finns to participate in the program. In Estonia, the U.S. government contribution makes up over 90%.

This is not because we are more generous, but rather because there is a lack of outside support.  I’m not here to fundraise, but I mention this because as business leaders you are in a position to invest in the potential of this country and I encourage you to consider this option.  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, increase two-way trade and investment, and strengthen prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.   As we look forward to celebrating  Estonia’s 25th anniversary of re-independence this year, I also hope AmCham members will join us this July 4th to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

Thank you.  I welcome comments and questions now, and I look forward to talking with you during the reception to follow.