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Speech by His Excellency Dr. Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz

His Excellency Dr. Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz

On: Germany, Britain and Europe; what matters is the Future….

27 June 2001

“I know that some of you have to get away very promptly so I think we had better begin before you’ve finished your pudding and had a look at your coffee cups. It gives me very great pleasure indeed to introduce Lord Watson. For many many years he has been the Guiding spirit and driving force of the English Speaking Union. I am the first and perhaps the last person who has actually been expelled from the English speaking Union though I had the best intentions. The English speaking Union was sponsoring a large exchange program for teachers between Great Britain and the United States and as a very young member of Parliament I thought 50 years ago that it would be a good idea to send a questionnaire to the teachers who had been on this program and find out what they thought about the program and what their experiences were. I sent out a great questionnaire and the answers came that all the British teachers who had been to America enjoyed the trip and thought that the schools were excellent and had learned a lot. Virtually all of the Americans who came over here thought that the schools that they went to were dreadful and had a horrid time and so I fear that I put all this into a pamphlet and when the English speaking Union headquarters received a copy they pointed out that this was probably sabotage of the exchange teacher program and that I would no longer be welcome at any hereto meeting or on any hereto premises. Well, I’m happy to say that times have changed. The old teacher exchange program was, in fact, scrapped and there are now bigger and better programs in their place and I’m sure that all those who take part in them are extremely happy. Meanwhile of course in Lord Watson’s interest, I’ll expand far wider than the English speaking union. He has been president of the Liberal party and certainly when it comes to East England is concerned he has been president of an organisation that commands even more support which is the East Rail Association for the control of Aircraft noise. But whatever his many interests are he has expanded all of them with great eloquence and it gives me great pleasure to introduce Lord Watson.”

Lord Watson: “Well, Sir Phillip, let me start as Chairman, International Chairman Emeritus of the English Speaking Union; I grant you absolution. (Laughter) Its’ all in the past worry not.

Well, my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen it’s a great pleasure to be here. I see there is an uncertainty about headwear. I see some of you are in festive moods and are wearing caps. I have to tell you that Sir Robert and I, as co-chairs of the British Jamestown Committee, we share a certificate of commendation from the governor in Virginia, but I got the headdress and Bob feels quite seriously about this so next time we appear we will both appear in the suitable headdress. Well, you’ve given me an enormous subject and we don’t have very much time so let me start with three vignettes which maybe tell something about the transatlantic relationship. Now the first actually does relate to the anniversary in May this year of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, which I remind you was the first permanent English settlement in the New World thirteen years before the pilgrims followed. Her majesty the queen went out to celebrate this and made a wonderful impression. Incidentally the training of being head of the Commonwealth pays huge dividends I noticed because when she got to the capital in Richmond, Virginia there were the 13 tribes, I think there were 13. Of course they all have challenging names, both the individual chiefs and the individual tribes, and the queen without a second hesitation went and greeted each of them by name and got it all right. It made a huge impression and incidentally those tribes which were there when the English first arrived are still in a treaty relationship with the British crown which is quite an interesting aspect. Anyway I’m not here to talk about Jamestown but I brought my extremely good valued book called Jamestown the voyage of the English because the fact is when the English settlers landed in 1607 there were roughly 3 and a half million people in the world who spoke English, here and in the West Indies, and by the end of this decade two billion people will be using English. So the voyage of English from that first precarious transatlantic journey to its present position as the working language of the global world is really the subject of the book and if anybody wants to buy it afterwards I’ll be very happy to sign it. Now to the vignettes.

The first was actually not in May but in November because we had the conference of the ESU in northern America in the United States and I flew into Dulles and stood in the queue for the immigration and had my fingerprints taken and all the rest of it and I gave the immigration officer my passport which has a House of Lords accreditation on the front of it and being a perceptive young man he looked at the passport and said “are you a member of the house of Lords?” I said, “Yes indeed. As a matter of fact there are two other members of the house of lords on the flight from Heathrow this afternoon.” There were three of us. He said, “Let me have that again. Three members of the House of Lords on one flight into Washington DC? What’s with you guys you want to take the place back?”

So I thought that was quite interesting. And Bob and I, actually during the meeting, when the queen visited we had two extraordinary moments like that. One was I had to introduce the members of the British Jamestown committee to Her Majesty the Queen which I did and then a gentleman suddenly stood in front of me with his dark classes and a bulge under his arm and a thing in his ear and he said “Lord Watson I’d like you to introduce the members of your Committee to the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Cheney is here!” I could tell he was here because there was a sort of gunship hovering above his head and we were all relieved that he wasn’t carrying one of his shotguns. I said “Mr. Vice President may I have the honour to announce the members of the British Jamestown Committee?” “The British Jamestown Committee?” I said, “Yes, Mr. Vice President.” “Why the British Jamestown Committee?” So I was directing chant over the neo-con philosophy. And I said well we’re celebrating, Mr. Vice President, 150 years of colonial history and he smiled. But after the event we were interviewed by U.S. television, one of the networks, and they said, and it was an interesting question, “seriously now what are you celebrating you lost the colonies?” And of course the answer was we were celebrating the birthday of America but not of the United States because that came much later and we were celebrating the voyage of England to its present political status. So that’s the first vignette.

The second vignette came in 2004 after the Iraq invasion and I was travelling around the United States and I was boarding one of those horrible little feeder aircraft, in this case going from Richmond, Virginia to Dulles and my luggage had been opened and examined 4 times. Now they said that this, of course, had nothing to do with me not being an American but it did seem to me a coincidence too far. And so when I finally boarded the plane and this enormous man who was armed like a platoon said open your bags I was really irritated and I put my House of Lords passport on the case and I said you know this is the 4th time my luggage has been examined in this small airport to board this extremely small aircraft and I think it’s a pity because after all we’re your main ally and I’m a British Parliamentarian. “Spread your legs,” he said.  laughter:. So I did that and then something extraordinary and uniquely American took place. When he had gone through all of my luggage he stepped back, and they were all looking from the aircraft because we were just on the steps boarding the aircraft. “Sir! I’d just like to say, Sir, how much we appreciate the fact that you’re our ally in Iraq, Sir!” Now, explain that.

And then the final vignette I want to share with you takes place in 1976. I had just gone to work for the European Commission, for Roy Jenkins. My passport expired and there were no European passports in those days so I was issued a passport by the British embassy in Brussels and it had on it ‘Member of the Staff of the European Commission’ and I arrived in Kennedy about two weeks later. I landed, at my body time, 2:30 in the morning and you know what a very existential moment that is. I got up to the immigration officer and he looked at my passport and he saw this European Communities thing, by now it is 3:30 in the morning. “What’s that? What’s that?” So I said right, well if you really want to know it started in 1956 with the Conference of _______. I took him through the whole thing and he glazed over a bit and we were approaching 4 o’clock and he handed me back my passport and he said, “Sir, it sounds like a mighty big company to me.”

I share those vignettes with you because they all illustrate the shared complexity of European Atlantic Relations. So in the time that I have I just want to share two fundamental observations with you about this relationship. The first is that the United States has been extraordinarily slow to awaken to the real impact of the European Union. Now there are all sorts of reasons for this. I would say the former Soviet Union, for example, would never recognize the European Union at all, it only talked to it’s constituent parts but there has been something of the same instinct on the American side and Henry Kissinger’s excuse that he never knew who he was to telephone is really rather a weak excuse. Actually they’ve been very slow to get the plot. Now there are partly ideological reasons for that and I was just looking the other day at Jeremy Redkin, I think, the Neo-Con from Cornell University, his book The Case for Sovereignty, and he says that the European Union is projecting its aims into the larger world independent of the United States and often in direct opposition to it and he quotes Kyoto and Human Rights legislation and a whole raft of other things. And it is quite interesting that one of the reasons why the profile of the European Union is now rising dramatically in the United states is because it is becoming increasingly obvious to the regulators and to the legislators in Washington and also New York that Europe is increasingly setting the rules on a whole host of things from environmental standards through to accountancy centres and they have to deal with this.

Now the argument also of course got hugely blurred at the beginning of the Iraq War when you remember that there was this basically rather silly nonsense about Venus verses mars. Venus was European soft power and Mars was American hard power and that was the moment if you remember when French fries were replaced by freedom fries and there was this wonderful delicious moment of this American investor in Paris who was asked aggressively at a press conference by an American journalist, “in the present circumstances are you getting rid of your French wines?” to which he replied, “yes of course one at a time.” .:laughter:. Now most of that silliness is at an end but the fact is there’s a long way to go in terms of the real importance of the awareness of the European Union on the American side and you’ll have to see what happens with the next administration. I would like to see a democratic administration in Washington but I’m also well aware that democrats have a more robust tradition of protectionism than the republicans and we may find that the early reactions, if the democrats do win, to Europe could be stiffened by that. On the European side we have been very slow to acknowledge the centrality of our relationship with the United States. I’m not talking about the British so called special relationship. I’m talking about the fact that nearly one third of world trade is between the two sides of the Atlantic, that the economic importance and weight of this relationship is unprecedented.

Now it is partly, I’m afraid, irritation with George W and there’s no getting away from that. I looked at the German Marshall Fund Survey in September this year which found that 58% of all Europeans in the EU view U.S. leadership in the world as positively undesirable. And Maury, sitting here, in the UK favourability toward the United States 81%, favourability for George W. Bush 25% and falling. Now, we all know that. What is interesting given the tardiness or alertness on both sides of the Atlantic is there something really changing in the undergrowth at the moment? Well I think there is and I think it’s very important. First we have this extraordinary conjunction in Europe of Sarkozy, Merkel, and indeed god bless him, Brown and that’s just pause on that because I cant think going back quite a long time when the leaders of the big three countries in Europe have all been instinctively atlantics it’s somewhat new and Sarkozy produced one sentence which I think goes to the heart of this and is true to France when he said three months ago that Europe can not be great without France, no surprise there, but then he said France cannot be great without Europe and that’s basically a feeling that Sarkozy and Brown and Merkel all share.

I mean the Mr. Bean factor comes into it of course with Mr. Brown. The truth is that that’s really where brown is and it’s certainly where merkel is. I want to pause for a moment, I was privileged last month to go to a dinner at the American Academy in Berlin and the speaker was Angela merkel and of course she’s on a high because she riding high in the polls the sep basically cant pull an opposition candidate together and there’s no rival in the CSU so she’s heading for a second term. But she spoke vividly at this dinner and she was celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Marshall plan which is this year and she said on both sides of the Atlantic we have to face the fact that we have to proactively protect our affluence, not our alliance, our affluence, because our affluence produces huge envy and sometimes dismay in the rest of the world but it is a characteristic that these two sides, these two economic giants share. And secondly she said, if we look at the immediate future, she sketched out all the economic priorities, to recognize the potential of the economic relationship, what she means regulatory conversions between the EU and the us and I believe that’s going to happen and that will be not just in accountancy but in many other things and it will release a great deal of the potential of one third of the world’s trade.

Secondly, the environment because we have to discuss the successor to Kyoto and it has to be done jointly between the two sides of the Atlantic. The security agenda, where we are dealing not only with the state of Iran but the terror potential of individuals committed to suicide in pursuit of their efforts, which is something we haven’t had before. This is what you call the new global architecture. On the new global architecture she ended like this we have faith, we Europe and the United States. We must shape the 21st century around our values. “Around our values, why because there is no alternative”. You see we can talk about the new commonality of material interests between china and the U.S. and Europe and its real but there is not a commonality of values. We can talk about the whole Brit phenomenon but there is no commonality yet of values. Winston Churchill said, speaking of the Anglo-American relationship, at the end of the 2nd World War, We must have a union of hearts based on common convictions and common ideals and we have to find whatever the next administration in the United States is going to be and whatever the formation of our leadership in the European Union. Over the next 5-6 years we have to revisit common convictions and common ideals. If we find, ladies and gentlemen, that we don’t have them there are indeed trouble. If we find that we still do have them and they are active and we can build on them, frankly the door is wide open.”

Chairman Sir Philip Goodhart: “To ask the first question and to open the discussion I’m going to ask Lord Worcester and can I say that after him priority will be given to those people who are wearing funny hats.”

Robert Worcester: “Thank you Sir Philip. My Lord, or as I’m instructed to call you, Silver Fox, your sachem told me that I must from now on call you silver fox. You see he got a head dress he got a paw wow he even got a certificate. I got the certificate. O well.

Alan, it seems to be that one significant threat that the North Atlantic alliance, that the E.U., the north American alliance is the media because it seems to me that so much of the media in this country in Germany and to some degree in the us although the queen transcended that when we were there last may because she was not just the main news she was about the only new in the Washington post and other newspapers during her visit there. But what can we do to explain to the media in this country for instance, you didn’t speak specifically about the special relationship but every time the special relationship seems to be used the British media make the point that o you ask Americans and they wouldn’t even know what the special relationship was and who it was with that isn’t the point of it. The point of it is that the senior people in the military, and the ministry of defense, the intelligence establishment, the congress of the United States, they certainly know what the special relationship is. Your prescription my Lord?

Well that’s a very difficult question to have to answer shortly. I think that we’re dealing, specifically in the United States and the United Kingdom, with media who perceive the primary objective, as being to sell papers or to hold television and radio audiences and this has become an increasingly perilous mission for them because if you look at the figures are in steep decline and there is no sign that this is going to stop so you are dealing with a lot of media organizations which are battling for a shrinking market and that makes them increasingly ruthless in terms of just creating the stories which they think will sell. And what is disturbing if you look at the pattern is how these stories are becoming more and more insular. We used to laugh in this country about the ignorance of the American mid west the fact that they never knew what was going on in the rest of the world I wonder how much we really know what’s going on in the rest of the world any longer in the UK and we can really look to the main news bulletins, a lot of it is trivia a lot of it is sensation a lot of it is- if you can get somebody who cried live on television that’s worth a great deal more than any degree of analysis on what’s happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. Now, that’s harsh and I know that there lots of exceptions but the truth is that there is less and less space given in terms of mass media to any real kind of analysis and real weight given to the importance of the things I have tried to talk about briefly today. How many people actually think that there is a real challenge in terms of United States European relationships over the next 5 years. Everybody here knows that there is but it’s not an issue. It’s not discussed, it’s not talked about. Our politics has become, on the one hand, increasingly a matter of  micro-management, managerial, and the media has become increasingly sensational and simply geared to selling its product. Now, in that very difficult arrangement, it is extremely important that those of us who have better information and are motivated by a sense of urgency that we don’t shut up and that we do our best to lay our platforms and work very hard at it which is why a gathering such as this and an organization such as this really matters and I think they’re going to matter more and more over the next 5 years.”

(Unknown female speaker): “I’m a member of the E-AG. I really love what you said about the BBC, the triviality of it. What I really wanted to comment upon was you were talking about merkel and Sarkozy and Merkel’s speech and you said ‘do we share the same values as America?’ and one person you didn’t mention, I know he’s been sort of airbrushed out of history, was Tony Blair, who actually did say these things in all of his major speeches which weren’t really reported by the BBC thoroughly especially his speech in LA and I don’t really know whether Brown is on the same level as Merkel or Sarkozy but I wondered why you left Tony Blair out because I felt he was one person who, whether you liked him or not or agreed with him or not, understood about the bigger picture and the shared values.”

Lord Watson: “Well I think there’s a lot in that. It may well be that there has to be a reappraisal of Blair. It’s already becoming easier to put certain things into perspective because what has happened since he left. To Gordon Brown the job may have seemed simple but it wasn’t once he moved from number 11 to number 10. I think Tony Blair had three singular pieces or personalities of misfortune in him. First of all, I know he was absolutely genuine about really trying to put the relationship with Berlin at the centre of a lot of what he was doing. Unfortunately he encountered Schroeder and Schroeder forgive my language was a bullshitter of the first order. He was the Harold Wilson of German politics and I’m afraid he wasn’t a partner fit for …. Then of Crouse he had the misfortune of having to deal with Chirac and if you look at the defence agreement which this country, under Blair, made with France, it was extraordinarily important but Chirac went off on a different trajectory. Third, he met George W and that was also unfortunate because it wasn’t just the toothpaste, there was some sort of other relationship at work there, maybe religious, whatever, which he simply wasn’t able to express and he wasn’t able to share with either parliament or the people in the united kingdom, hence much of the misunderstand over and around the Iraq war. So I think he had three personal misfortunes but another thing and I don’t mean this in a partisan way at all. Blair found as many Prime Ministers found before that it’s much easier to be pro-European when you’re on the European continent then when you’re in the British Isles. By and large if you look at the speeches that he made about Europe or indeed the speeches he made about the Atlantic relationship, the most important were made either in Europe or America now towards the end of his time as prime minister he blamed the media for that I think there was  a more fundamental problem which was all to do with his relationship with Gordon brown and somehow he managed to allow critical areas of the European relationship including what our position would be about the euro, he succeeded them in a way and that was a big mistake and that was thought in continental Europe that he wasn’t really trying. Having said all of those things which are points of misfortune and maybe points of miscalculation what I think we will come to appreciate with Blair was that he had a world view and that he had a wider view and that he understood that democracy to survive has to be proactive and we’re all going to have to relearn that and it’s all about bringing the troops back and all the rest of it but the fact is there will be other interventions and they will have to occur and we will have to have them on the basis of real agreement between Europe and the United States.”

(Unknown male speaker): “I’m a colonel in the British army and I’m retiring in 40 days time having served for 37 years. My question is about the war on terror. I’ve been to war 6 times.  The second time, in 1978, I was shot down in a helicopter, my commanding officer was killed, and the pilot was killed and. I served with the United Nations in Yugoslavia, I’ve served in Afghanistan, and I’ve served in Argentina. We never saw the Americans. We were highly criticized by the Americans when we served in the United Nations. When I had my accident we were shot down by an American M-60. The IRA was totally funded by (????). When I was in Afghanistan last year the Taliban had been trained and equipped by the CIA. My question is about the future. How do you see, and you were talking about a democratic America but how do you see a democratic foreign policy, particularly in regard to the war on terror?”

Speaker Lord Watson: “I’m told that George Bush sees himself as a wartime president and if that is indeed true it tells you a great deal about what we are now encountered with. There is no doubt that every incident of friendly fire every accident that happens get huge and very bitter coverage but I have to say that my impression is the bottom line is that we have to raise the level of our alliance with the United States to an alliance between us and our European partners and the United States. Many of the problems that have emerged in the Anglo-American relationship really stem from the simple fact that it’s a special but a fundamentally unequal relationship. The relationship in the future decades, between Europe and the United States has to become an equal one. In a funny sort of way that’s probably going to be easier to achieve now than at any previous time. Because in Washington the view going back to Venus and mars was that soft power was nonsense and nation building was for wimps and the real stuff was the real stuff. You have to look hard and deep in Washington to find that view being held anymore. The truth is that the American power has been humiliated by its inability to understand soft power in addition to hard power and the truth is that if we are going to be effective in dealing with the war on terror and the war on terror is real, in the future, its probably going to get much worse than any better, I’m not an optimist about this, we will have to bring together hard power and soft power which means that the Americans are going to have to learn a lot more about softer power and Europeans are going to have to commit to a lot more hard power.

I would like to come back to a point made by both Sir Watson and Sir Robert about the special relationship which Bill Clinton said meant a lot. Inaudible…”

Lord Watson: “I don’t agree with you because I think we have gone beyond the point of speaking in terms of reliance in quite that sort of way. If at this point in Europe we feel we can’t rely, in a broad sense, on the European Union then we are in deep deep trouble. And if the United States doesn’t feel like it can rely on the European Union they are in deep deep trouble. And if we feel we can’t rely on the United States we’re all in deep trouble. The point about reliance is reliance has to be based upon experience and it has to be based on painstaking trouble and the truth is, I went as a member of the house or lords select committee on Europe, to Washington two months before the Iraq War and I sat at a dinner next to Richard Pearl and several neo-con senators and they said we don’t believe in Europe, we don’t believe in objective advice, we believe in loyalty and you’re either for us or you’re against us. Now trust is not bred by that sort of exchange so we have to learn to level with each other in a painstaking and difficult way but one thing I’m absolutely certain of, Winston Churchill, as you know, believed always, that Britain to survive and prosper has to be at the intersection between three circles. The empire, which now you could loosely translate into the English speaking world, which is of course the vast English success of the 20th century, the circle which is the special relationship- the transatlantic, third circle Europe. Britain must never be in a position where it believes is has to choose between those three circles. It is not in our interest to choose. It is in our interest to choose all three. We have a huge vested interest in the English speaking world. We have a huge vested interest in the special relationship. And we have a huge vested interest in the success of Europe. We must make all three circles work.”

Countess Ilona Esterhazy, member of the E-AG: “Lord Watson, Ilona Esterhazy, member of the group. You mentioned the word standards. We live in a day when we seem to be compromising here and there to be popular and making no reference to any particular prime minister. I leave that for the audience and yourself to decide. I think it’s a danger that if we all seem to be compromising that this could be seen as an area of weakness and I would like to think that we could hold fast as it says in the biblical text, in my copy of the Koran, to hold fast to that which is good. The question is what is the good? And in your judgment sir, what is the good and should we compromise to be popular or otherwise? Thank you.”

Lord Watson: “I don’t know how many people were watching the Andrew Maher program on BBC television yesterday morning when the Archbishop of York, live on television, took of his dog collar and tore it into pieces and he said he will not wear his dog collar again until the dictatorship in Zimbabwe comes to an end and he said, for example, the black culture has for too long been willing to excuse dictatorship and outrage in black Africa on the grounds that the fault lies with colonial powers from half a century ago. The same Archbishop of York came into the chamber in the house of Lords last Wednesday when Hugh Dykes and I were speaking and we have a device in the House of Lords called a gap which is at the end of a formal debate there’s a gap of 15 minutes when somebody who hasn’t put their name down can get up and speak for two or three minutes and the archbishop of York got up and he in one moment destroyed a lot of the moral dishonesty of UCIP, UCIP peers and  the people who were arguing from that perspective and he stated his own position which was in time, in terms of making the old process of making the European Union work. Now you ask me, “What are values?” I think the courage to speak out. I think the ability to cut through the rhetoric to some essential points and to remind us all as Merkel said so clearly at that dinner that I went to that we ought to shape the 21st century on these values, because if we don’t we’re lost. And I am very impressed by the moral leadership of the Archbishop of York and I’m very impressed by people who are able to cut to the point in that sort of way and if we don’t continue to retain that ability we are in deep loss. So let’s be, as we approach Christmas, let’s be a little optimistic about it all and not just wear the hat but carry the values too.”

Chairman Goodhart: “Lord Watson, can I thank you for one of the most enjoyable and informative meetings that we have had for a very long time.”