Europe Day has been marked with a series of events this week at the University of Washington in Seattle. Colleagues from the EU Center at the University organized a European quiz that attracted morning crowds crossing the central “Red Square” on campus, lured by the promise of free coffee and EU giveaways! And I was honoured to be invited to deliver this year’s Europe Day lecture to a group of students, faculty and representatives of the local community.
8000 km and a nine hour time difference separate Seattle from Brussels. But if you look closely, you will find evidence of a strong European influence in this part of the US.
Many of the leading local businesses were founded by Europeans. William Boeing’s parents were both from Germany (their family name was originally spelt Böing). There is a strong Scandinavian presence in Seattle, including one of the biggest Norwegian communities outside of Norway. The department store chain Nordstrom was founded by John Nordstrom, who arrived in the USA from Sweden at the age of 16 with $5 to his name. And Washington State is today one of the largest producers of tulips and other flowers in the USA, a tradition started by Dutch settlers in the Mount Vernon area in the 1700s.
There continue to be strong economic and trade links between the EU and Washington State. According to the Transatlantic Economy Report, European investments support over 40,000 local jobs and the EU imports $10 billion worth of goods each year from Washington State. Microsoft works with Finnish company Nokia to produce Windows Mobile phones and recently bought Skype, which was founded in Estonia. The popular local supermarket chain Trader Joe’s is owned by the German company Aldi. And many of the Washington wines that we have been enjoying are sold in bottles made in a plant just outside Seattle by the French company Saint-Gobain.
I used several of these examples of trade and investment links in my Europe Day lecture. But I also argued that the exchange of ideas and contacts between people are equally important to EU-US relations. The network of EU Centers of Excellence at the University of Washington and ten other US Universities is a great example of these people-to-people links.
Jean Monnet, one of the EU’s founding fathers, is another example of this long tradition of intellectual and personal exchanges between Europe and the US. Monnet travelled extensively in North America, living at different periods in San Francisco, Washington and New York. Re-reading Jean Monnet’s memoirs to prepare for my talk this week, I was struck by the numerous references to his US experiences and the influences these had on his political thought and actions.
Monnet was involved in founding a bank in San Francisco shortly before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and he witnessed at first hand the Great Depression and the New Deal. Commenting on that period in his memoirs, Monnet noted:
“People only accept change in necessity, and see necessity only in crisis.”
That quote seems all too relevant today, and would not have been out of place in this year’s Europe Day speech by President Barroso.