Remarks by vice President Joe Biden to Romanian Civil Society Groups and Students
2:45 P.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, we may be listening to a future president. I don't know. (Laughter.)
I want to thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. It was a pleasure having an opportunity to spend some time with you as well, and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, and the President of the Senate, and the Justice Minister, and to all the distinguished guests here, it’s a great honor to be in this magnificent venue and at such an important time in U.S.-Romanian relations.
Laura, thank you for the introduction, but more importantly, thank you for your continuing involvement. As I -- the first time our paths crossed was five years ago, as you said, and look at you now, pursuing an advanced degree, an advocate for international education. And you are a reflection of the progress your country has made and continues to make.
Mr. Prime Minister, judges, prosecutors, leaders of the parliament, thank you all for coming. In America, for all those of you who are public officials, we call this a “busman’s holiday,” having to listen to another public official make a speech. But I’m flattered that you are here.
And the fact that you’re here, I think, is a reflection of the common recognition that while there may be political differences, one thing that unites all Romanian leaders is a strong stand in favor of democracy under the rule of law without question and without any caveats.
I want to thank you all, but I particularly want to thank the civil society members here today for demanding greater freedoms, fairness and social justice, and maybe most importantly dignity for all the people of Romania.
There is a great expectation I will say to those of you who are the younger members of the audience -- there’s a great expectation not only of the people of Romania but the people in Europe and the United States that nations who join the alliance, both in NATO as well as the EU have a shared value system. It’s the value system that is the foundation of the Western alliance. It’s what built the alliance in the first place.
And the most fundamental of these values is not a free market; it’s an open, free, and transparent society, where corruption is viewed as the enemy, where government is honest and accountable, and people are given a fair opportunity at success and all -- regardless of their station -- are treated with dignity.
As I said when I visited five years ago as I became Vice President, the story of freedom -- your society -- is one of the great achievements in modern European history. I admire -- and I mean this sincerely -- I admire both the moral and physical courage so many Romanians demonstrated who put everything on the line, everything including their lives, to build this new, free, democratic society.
And I’m proud that America played a small part in helping you make that journey. And as I told Romanian troops last night, when I met them as I got off of the aircraft, American troops are honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with Tricolor warriors as NATO allies in Afghanistan and other places we’ve stood together.
And one other important point to make I’ve made to the President and the Prime Minister today in my separate meetings: America’s commitment to the collective defense under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty is absolutely ironclad. It’s a sacred commitment in the eyes of the President and myself.
As President Obama said, “NATO nations never stand alone.” NATO nations never stand alone. We protect one another.
And one of the most remarkable changes in this relationship from years past is we no longer discuss what America can do for Romania, we discuss what we can do together for one another. Romania has made a remarkable journey from tyranny to freedom, from captive nation to NATO ally -- and it happened, it’s happened in the space of a single generation.
For you younger members of the audience, it was your parents’ generation. And as one of America’s Founding Fathers said, his name was Thomas Jefferson, he observed that, “The generation which commences a revolution rarely completes it.”
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s your job to complete -- to complete it. And when you do, your children’s generation will be eternally grateful because it will solidify for the remainder of this century the democracy your parents fought so hard to establish.
For any young democracy, the most difficult but important step is burying the legacy of tyranny and establishing an economy and a government and institutions that abide by the rule of law. Every country faces challenges to the rule of law,
including my own. And the choices each of our countries make matter immensely -- not only for our own country, but for our neighbors.
In the 21st century, the countries that thrive will be the ones where citizens know their voices will be heard because the institutions are transparent. Their efforts will be rewarded because there is a fairness in the court system; where businesses can compete without having to worry about paying bribes; where judges hand down verdicts free from political influence.
The European Commission recently found that corruption costs the European Union as a whole $160 billion, or 120 billion euros every single year. That’s 1 percent of the total GDP of the entire European Union.
Corruption is a cancer, a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments. It wastes the talent of entire generations. It scares away investments and jobs. And most importantly it denies the people their dignity. It saps the collective strength and resolve of a nation. Corruption is just another form of tyranny.
And corruption can represent a clear and present danger not only to a nation’s economy, but to its very national security. There are nations, and we’ve seen it recently, that exploit corruption to exercise malign influence and undermine the very sovereignty and independence of their neighbors.
In this way, corruption has become an instrument of foreign policy for some nations. When politicians can be bought, when courts can be manipulated, when the media becomes a tool of propaganda, there you will find a society that is susceptible to manipulation from the outside. There you’ll find a society that loses control of its own destiny -- not only its political security, but its physical security and military readiness is also compromised.
We’ve recently seen that in Ukraine. We saw how over a decade and a half of corruption, literally has hollowed out their military institutions and weakened that country’s very capacity to defend itself.
So fighting corruption is more than just good government. It’s self-defense. It’s a guarantor of your national sovereignty.
Many of you, inside government and out, have been working to root out corruption for years. And I applaud you all for your efforts. With your help, Romania has made significant achievements in fighting corruption. Your National Anti-Corruption Agency has firmly established its independence and sent 1,000 cases to court just since last year. Your National Integrity Agency sent forward 6,000 cases of incompatibility -— people holding office that should be mutually exclusive -— and 50 cases of elected officials with unjustified assets.
Of course there’s work to do to see these cases through, but it’s a significant start. It’s no wonder that your anti-corruption institutions are the most highly rated institutions in Romania in the minds of the Romanian people. You have heroes like the Supreme Court President fighting to protect the independence of judges to speak truth to power and render justice for all.
Romanian citizens are getting directly involved as well, many of you in this audience. From high school students learning in your classrooms not to pay bribes to avoid traffic tickets, to young professionals holding “check-a-thons” to demand honesty from politicians and hold them accountable. I understand some of you may be here fact-checking my speech as well. And that's good. For corruption is a complex and difficult problem to solve in all countries, but it can be solved.
I strongly urge you to keep taking steps forward and keep resisting the instinct to step back. Keep demanding that your judicial institutions remain free from political influence; keep insisting that no one -- no one -- no one is above the law.
Now, some of you may argue this focus on transparency is a foreign invention that doesn’t apply to Romania. But you know better. Romanians have been fighting corruption for a long time. I was recently told a story, an old story of Cuza, the founder of modern Romania, who as legend has it disguised himself as a peasant and went to the market. He pretended to buy milk from a merchant who was cheating customers by using two different measuring cups. The large one he showed to the customer, and the small one he used to actually measure out the milk they were purchasing.
The ruler revealed his identity, confronted the crooked merchant, and forced him to parade through the marketplace
with his two measuring cups held high where everybody could see them —- the real one and the fake one. And no one bought from that merchant again.
It’s a parable, but it says a lot about how modern day economic investors think about the global marketplace. They want to do business where they’re treated fairly, and where there is transparency, where they know the real cup from the phony cup.
Of course no leader -— in Cuza’s time or in our own -— can hope to protect these principles alone. I have worked on this issue around the world. And I’ve seen how it’s done well and where it’s done poorly. And I’ve learned that it takes fearless judges, brave police, and prosecutors working 14 hours a day to investigate complex crimes —- ignoring pressure and intimidation to ensure that justice is done.
It takes leaders in the business community who recognize that fighting corruption is good for everyone because it improves the business climate and generates economic growth. It takes politicians who understand that government exists not for our purposes but to serve the people. And it takes a free and independent press —- under no one’s thumb -— with the protections necessary to hold all of us who are leaders accountable. And above all, it takes an active, passionate, vigilant engagement by every citizen, like all of you in this room.
Because as surely as a man cannot live without blood pumping through his veins, democracy cannot survive without the active participation of its citizens. That’s what we mean when we say civil society is the lifeblood of democracy. In a literal sense it is. We count on civil society to shine a light on injustice; to give voice to minorities and marginalized groups; to demand checks on power.
And here in “Unity Hall,” we look to all of you to champion the dignity, the protections, the fundamental human rights of all people -- of women, of Roma, of Jews, of LGBT. For they're all God’s children. And they deserve to be treated equally and with respect.
There’s always going to be cynics and doubters. But I urge you to never forget that civil society has changed countries and the world before. And it can do it again. And this is an urgent time for all of Central and Eastern Europe for civil societies to be awakened. As the saying goes, democracy is not a destination. It’s a road traveled. So long as you travel this road, you will never be alone. You will have the United States and many other countries as your allies, your friend, your fellow free nations standing by your side because we face a different kind of threat today than we did even a year ago. We face a different kind of threat that preys upon nations who are not just weak, but whose governments are not solid, sustained, free of corruption.
Your government is making great progress. The people of Romania are making great progress. And I’ll conclude by saying what I said to both your Prime Minister and your President, I cannot imagine a Europe whole, free and secure without a strong, united and independent Romania. So it’s not only in your interest and the interest of your countrymen to deal in a way that delivers for your constituents and for your people, the stronger you are, the more independent you, the more capable you are, the better off we all are. As I said, it’s not what America can do for Romania, it’s what we can do together for one another.
May God bless Romania. May God bless America, and may God protect our Romanian and American troops who are still in harm’s way in Afghanistan. Thank you all for the honor of being able to address you.
3:05 P.M. (Local)