Chrystia Freeland: „Let’s not underestimate our collective power“
The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, was the first Canadian to be honored with Atlantik-Brücke’s Eric M. Warburg Award for her transatlantic commitment. In her speech, she emphasized how important it is for Canada and Germany to stand up for multilateralism – especially in times of growing nationalism.
My dear friends, I am honoured to be with you tonight, and to receive this award, which speaks not only to the importance of the transatlantic alliance but also the strong ties that exist between Canada and Germany.
It is a great honour to be here with you tonight. In the troubled world we live in today, I can think of no better role model than Eric Warburg, whose commitment to democratic ideals, the rule of law and human rights is an inspiration for us all. I would also like to express particularly warm thanks to Friedrich Merz for being here tonight, for his kind introduction, and above all, for his effective and enduring commitment to the work and mission of the Atlantik-Brücke. And thank you to my friend and partner, Heiko. That was a remarkable speech, and it is a great pleasure to work so closely with you!
We are all here tonight because we recognise the importance of the transatlantic relationship. Representing as I do the slightly smaller of your two partners from the other side of the Atlantic, let me acknowledge the outsized role the United States has played in creating and leading our transatlantic alliance. We all owe a great deal to our American friends, and speaking for Canada, let me say tonight, how grateful we are to our southern neighbour.
As Canada’s lead negotiator in our recently (and successfully) concluded NAFTA negotiations, I am also well aware of the reality that the U.S. is seeking to recalibrate its oldest and closest alliances. But arriving here fresh from NATO and OSCE meetings this week, I am equally certain that our transatlantic partnership is more essential and more universally appreciated by all of its members than ever before.
But now is the time for enthusiastic transatlanticists and multilateralists, like Canada and Germany, to embrace the reality that, in the 21st century, countries like ours need to take more of a leadership role, and, together, find creative and effective ways to do so.
I would like to start on a personal note. In the late 1980s and 1990s, I studied and worked as a reporter in what was then the U.S.S.R., which became, while I was living there, independent Ukraine and Russia. My experience of watching from the inside as this vast, apparently mighty authoritarian regime crumbled, profoundly shaped my thinking. It was a euphoric moment—and one when it was tempting to imagine that liberal democracy was both inevitable and invulnerable.
You’ve heard the wonderful line from Martin Luther King Jr., that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That was a time when Dr. King’s words seemed powerfully true. Here, let me emphasize how the transatlantic alliance was at the heart and at the start of this optimistic era. That story can be told through the lives of two remarkable men—Eric Warburg and the late, great George H.W. Bush, who was honoured with this award in 2002. Their experience as young men before and during the Second World War inspired both of them to devote their lives to ensuring “never again.” Both understood that building a transatlantic partnership and, in time, a united Europe and a united Germany, were essential to that project. From the very outset, that transatlantic partnership was designed to be just one building block—albeit the cornerstone—of a much wider rules-based multilateral order. Critically, this system was open for others to join. And join they have.
Germany has been united and many countries of the former Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Union have been welcomed into the EU and NATO. In Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, and in the Caribbean, developing countries have joined these institutions and accepted their rules—and that has delivered ever-greater living standards to their people. But although this was and remains a broadly positive evolution, with extraordinary gains in reducing extreme poverty, lengthening lifespans and decreasing infant mortality, one assumption about this global shift turned out to be wrong.
This was the idea that, as authoritarian countries joined the global economy and grew rich, they would inevitably adopt Western political freedoms, too. That has not always happened. Indeed, in recent years, even some democracies have gone in the other direction and slid into authoritarianism—notably and tragically Venezuela. And some countries, here in Europe, that had embarked on the difficult journey from communism to democratic capitalism have moved backward. The most threatening example is Russia, but it is not the only one.
Other great civilizations have risen—and then fallen. It is hubris to think we will inevitably be different.
Even China, whose economic success in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is one of the great accomplishments of recent times, stands as a rebuke to our belief in the inevitability of liberal democracy. And within the club of wealthy Western nations, we’re seeing homegrown anti-democratic movements on the rise, seeking to undermine our open societies from within. Now, the idea that democracy could falter, or be overturned in places where it had previously flourished, may seem outlandish. But other great civilizations have risen—and then fallen. It is hubris to think we will inevitably be different.
As Robert Kagan argues in his new book—which Heiko first introduced me to—“[i]f the liberal order is like a garden, artificial and forever threatened by the forces of nature, preserving it requires a persistent, unending struggle against the vines and weeds that are constantly working to undermine it from within and overwhelm it from without. Today there are signs all around us that the jungle is growing back.” So: As the 19th century Russian socialists once asked: “What is to be done?”
Here is my answer: it is time for liberal democracy to fight back. We need to summon Yeats’ oft-cited “passionate intensity” in the fight for liberal democracy and the rules-based multilateral order that supports it. And there is no more important place to start than with trade.
Rules-based trade by no means guarantees peace between nations. But it helps.
It’s no accident that one of the first acts in the creation of the post-WW II liberal order was the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community. That was the first step toward the European Union. It also greatly reduced the threat of war between France and West Germany. Rules-based trade by no means guarantees peace between nations. But it helps. And that is why fighting together for free, fair trade is essential in the fight against resurgent authoritarianism.
We’ve made a good start! At a time of rising protectionism worldwide, the fact that we managed to conclude our CETA [Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] negotiations together is a triumph. I want to specifically acknowledge the special role that Germany played in getting this done—from the German government and German legislators, to German industry, to, crucially, Germany’s trade unions. And CETA is working—on both sides of the Atlantic. At the Port of Montreal alone, we have seen 20% more traffic in goods headed across the Atlantic year over year. Likewise, since CETA’s entry into force, motor vehicles and parts exports from Germany have increased by 168.1%.
These examples are the best possible argument we can make to our people that free trade is good. They reinforce the need to build on the successes of CETA to fight together for rules-based free trade. And that is what we are doing. We are allies in the fight to support, reform and renew the WTO and its dispute settlement mechanism, something we worked on together at a meeting of trade ministers on this issue that Canada hosted in September. We are allies, at the WTO and elsewhere, in our challenge to the illegal and unjust 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.
We must learn to work together and take the initiative in this new era for the transatlantic partnership.
We need to do more! It may be hard at this time to imagine free traders making new inroads. But let’s not underestimate our own collective power—after all, the EU, plus Japan, plus Canada, together account for almost 30% of the world’s GDP, a larger share than any other single country. In fact, with CETA, the EU-Japan trade deal and the CPTPP all agreed, perhaps now is the moment to consider how free trade can be expanded further—how about an EU-CPTPP trade zone?
The second battle we must fight together is the effort to defend and renew rules-based multilateralism when it comes to human rights, international law, multilateralism and the very continued existence of our planet. Neither Canadians nor Germans want to live in a world where might is right, where theft and murder and invasion are not only tolerated, but become, in practice, the most effective tools of statecraft. We do not want to live in a world where two or three great powers carve up the spoils for themselves, leaving the rest no choice but to choose sides and be satisfied with the scraps.
But let’s be frank. The jungle’s invasion of our liberal democratic garden is being felt by us all. The weakening of the rules-based order has made the Rohingya a target of genocide in Myanmar and the people of Venezuela victims of crimes against humanity. It has devastated Syria, where the Assad regime has bombed its own citizens using banned chemical weapons. Syria’s suffering is far from over—and all of us in the West need to face up to the moral accounting of our own collective inaction. But rather than curse the darkness, we can choose to light a candle. And that is what we did in an effort spearheaded by Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom, to save some of the White Helmets—brave Syrians who united to rescue their fellow citizens and to document war crimes. Together, we—Heiko, Jeremy Hunt and I—led this important action. Crucially, the U.S. enthusiastically and effectively played a supportive role—one without which this humanitarian success story would not have been possible. This is an example of how we must learn to work together and to take the initiative in this new era for the transatlantic partnership.
I met with some of the White Helmets a few weeks ago. One 39-year old man talked about how eager he is to vote for the first time in his life. Others spoke about wanting to set up a Canadian version of the White Helmets, or of becoming paramedics of fire-fighters—of being, in their new home, the candle that lights someone else’s darkness. These people are traumatized. But also poised and proud. And we are proud to welcome them.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Justice matters.
The fight for liberal democracy and the multilateral rules-based order that supports it also means standing up for human rights, very much including women’s rights. Even when we are told to mind our own business, or that these sensitive matters should only be discussed behind closed doors. And even when speaking up has consequences. That means standing up for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as we have done alongside so many allies in recent weeks, in denouncing the abhorrent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Under Canada’s Magnitsky legislation, we recently imposed targeted sanctions against 17 people who, in our government’s judgment, are responsible for or complicit in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. And until there is a transparent, credible investigation, as far as Canada is concerned, this case is not closed. Because facts matter. Truth matters. Justice matters.
Defending the rules-based multilateral order also means defending the sanctity of borders. This is the hard lesson Europe learned through two bloody world wars. And it is why you have been so steadfast in defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia’s most recent actions near the Sea of Azov and in the Kerch Strait are an extremely dangerous violation of the rules-based international order. At the annual meeting of the OSCE in Milan this week, Heiko suggested expanding the existing OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine to cover the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. This is an excellent proposal, which Canada strongly supports.
No institution is more central to the post-war, rules-based multilateral order than the United Nations, where Canada works in close partnership with Germany. I was glad to join Heiko at a German event on Women, Peace and Security at the German mission in September. And our government has been delighted to bring Canada back to our historic role as a champion of peacekeeping, including our service right now in Mali.
The same commitment that drives us to protect the rules-based multilateral order must also drive action on the greatest challenge facing our world today: climate change. Alone, neither Canada nor Germany can do enough. But acting with the world, we can save the world.
I would like to take a moment to pay a personal tribute to a man known to many in this room, Stéphane Dion, Canada’s Ambassador to Germany and Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe. Ambassador Dion is one of the towering figures in Canadian politics. He has been a pioneer in our efforts to combat climate change. Merci Stéphane.
All of us need to ensure our domestic democratic gardens are flourishing.
Here, I would like to conclude on a personal note, with Kagan’s garden analogy. I am the daughter of a farmer. And not just any farmer. I am the daughter of a farmer in northern Alberta, in the last corner of the North American continent to be turned from forest to field. My family homesteaded, which means we were given land by the government in exchange for clearing the bush and turning it into farmland. I remember as a child riding with my father in his tractor as he slowly plowed up the woods, using a very heavy, very narrow breaking plow, manufactured specifically for that purpose in Canada. There is no more land left to homestead in Canada, not even in northern Alberta, where my father still farms. But we do need to work diligently to maintain the garden of our national democracies. All of us—the committed liberal democracies of the world—as a first obligation, need to ensure our domestic democratic gardens are flourishing.
We are seeing a resurgence of far-right nationalists, who build their popularity by stoking hatred of “the other.” We know all too well where this can lead. We must oppose this rise with all our might. We need to accept and apologize for our own past failures too. In this, Germany is an example for us. Each country is unique in its historical unhappiness. And we, too, are grappling with the specific demons of our own history, particularly, but not only, when it comes to Indigenous peoples in Canada. As you have shown, admitting our past wrongs is not a weakness, it is a strength.
We need to defend our independent press—even, and perhaps especially, when it criticizes us—as a central institution of democracy. We politicians need to respect our judges and their independence—even, and perhaps especially, when they rule against.
We need to fight for the open society, against the closed one. We need to fight for the complexity of democratic truth, rather than the beguiling simplicity of authoritarian rhetoric. We need to build bridges and tear down walls.
Then, and only then, will we have kept the jungle from growing back.
We need to address the legitimate concerns of our people, even as we make the broader case for liberal democracy.
Now if I were still a journalist, I might be tempted to write a sarcastic column about myself tonight, pointing out that it takes no great courage to offer rousing support for the transatlantic alliance and liberal democracy to a roomful of Atlantik-Brücke guests, resplendent in our dinner jackets and gowns. After all, the preachers of hate, the angry populists of the extreme right and left, rail against groups like ours. They like to claim that the rules-based international order and multilateral institutions—the UN, the WTO, or EU—and even liberal democracy itself are elite schemes designed to benefit a small minority while marginalizing everyone else. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the jungle grows back, the weakest are the first to suffer. But is also true that in recent decades in our countries, democratic capitalism has served the 1 percent better than the 99 percent. And so, as we cultivate our own plots in the 21st century, we must take care that they are gardens whose fruits are harvested by the many and not just the few. To do that, we need to address the legitimate concerns of our people, even as we make the broader case for liberal democracy.
I don’t know how to make that argument to the people of Germany, but here is what I say to Canadians: I know that Canadians support immigration and diversity—after all, more than half of the people in Toronto, the city I represent in Parliament, were born outside of Canada. We know that immigration is an economic strength and that multiculturalism is a fundamental Canadian value. But Canadians also want to know that our immigration system is fair and that we control our borders. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that.
Canadians know that climate change is real and that we have a responsibility to act. But Canadians also want to keep their jobs, and to be able to afford to drive their children to hockey practice. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that.
Canadians embrace free trade and technological innovation. But they want to be sure that the wealth these economic forces create is widely shared—and won’t leave them unemployed while enriching their bosses. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that, too.
And it is also our job, as politicians, to confront those who would lie about our immigration system or the science of climate change or the economics of trade in an effort to sow fear and doubt for political gain. We cannot let falsehoods go unchallenged wherever they are spoken—in legislatures, on television, on social media. We must confront them.
If we can do that, we will win the fight for liberal democracy in our own countries. Our transatlantic garden will flourish and our Atlantik-Brücke will be strong.