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Bourbon diplomacy and good friends: EU’s Lambrinidis leaves DC

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Bourbon diplomacy and good friends: EU’s Lambrinidis leaves DC
"You will care," if Russia prevails over Ukraine, EU Ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis, tells guests at a reception at his Washington, DC residence, Nov. 30, 2023. (Tom Brenner)

During his nearly five years as EU Ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis of Greece became convinced that “there’s nothing we can’t achieve” when the European Union and United States pull together.

And at one of his last engagements before leaving Washington, the former EU special representative for human rights and foreign affairs minister of Greece, who took over as EU ambassador to the US in March 2019, said it was imperative that the transatlantic allies stand with Ukraine as it continues to fight Russia.

“No matter where you live, in which corner of which state in this great country, or which corner in any of the 27 countries of the European Union, if Putin’s brutality outlasts our will and our strength to stop him, you will wake up in a very different world,” Lambrinidis told guests at the Celebrate the States event, held Nov. 30, 2023, at his DC residence.

If Russia prevails in Ukraine, “the capacity of Americans and Europeans to protect our footprint and our values will be dramatically diminished,” he said.

“We will all care.” Lapel pins seen at the Celebrate the States event show support for Ukraine and Israel. (Tom Brenner)

“And you will care. We will all care.”

Two weeks after Lambrinidis spoke, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his end-of-year news conference that there would be no peace in Ukraine until the country, which Russia invaded nearly two years ago, has been de-Nazified and demilitarized, the Associated Press reported. Putin also demanded that Ukraine remain neutral and refrain from joining NATO.

From ‘not that loving’ to a high point

The EU Ambassador acts as diplomatic liaison between the EU and the United States, and represents EU interests, policies and priorities in dealings with the US administration and Congress, state leaders and key stakeholders in business, academia, civil society, and the media.

EU-US relations climbed out of the doldrums they were in when Lambrinidis arrived in Washington in 2019 and reached a high point as he prepared to leave, he said.

That’s thanks in part to the fact that he stepped up the EU Embassy’s outreach efforts, traveling with officials from all 27 EU member states to the farthest corners of the United States to show Americans what the European Union really is and does.

Lambrinidis and other European officials visited 43 of the 50 states, trying to dispel the “rhetoric around the EU (that) was not that loving” for his first couple of years as ambassador, he told guests at EU House on Nov. 30.

“This man has done more to … bring together 28 countries on a singular mission of enhancing prosperity, of creating jobs, of making sure that we have cooperation.” US Rep. August Pfluger

Under the Trump administration, the United States imposed tariffs on European steel and aluminum, among other imports from the EU. The Europeans responded by slapping tariffs on American products – including Kentucky bourbon, he said.

“And I wanted to make sure that we communicated as Europeans, at a time that relations were really entirely unnecessarily not good, that we love that bourbon.”

EU Ambassador to the United States Stavros Lambrinidis toasts guests at a reception in Washington, DC, in September 2019, honoring the ties between the EU and the state of Kentucky. The event featured Kentucky bourbon, and was organized after the EU imposed tariffs on the state’s signature beverage. (EUintheUS Flickr)

A bourbon tasting was organized at the ambassador’s residence. “We wanted to send a message that we don’t want those tariffs on bourbon. We wanted to be able to stop those fights, and we have now,” he said.

The ambassadors of all 27 EU member states, as well as deputy ambassadors, trade counsellors, political counsellors, energy counsellors and other officials went on outreach trips around the United States. Lambrinidis also flipped the script and began inviting representatives of US states to visit the EU mission in DC.

Outreach effort produces economic results

The visits in both directions laid the foundations for greater economic security for American and EU citizens, Lambrinidis said.

European investment has created 7 million jobs in the United States, and American investment in Europe has created an equal number there.

American businessmen and -women are making more profits in the EU “than they do collectively anywhere else in the world, for themselves and their workers,” Lambrinidis said. European businesspeople have found the United States “remarkably welcoming for their investments and their prosperity,” he said.

His speech drew laughs, applause and probably some tears, knowing that it was one of the last he would give as EU ambassador.

He gave shout-outs to US governors’ offices, the National Governors Association, lawmakers from some of the states he had visited, including Rep. August Pfluger, a Republican lawmaker from Texas, who spoke of Lambrinidis as a friend and unparalled driver of positive change.

US Rep. August Pfluger, right, speaks to guests at the Celebrate the States event held at the residence of the EU Ambassador to the US, Stavros Lambrinidis, Nov. 30, 2023. (Tom Brenner)

“This man has done more to foster economic development, foster economic strength to produce economic results, to bring together 28 countries on a singular mission of enhancing prosperity, of creating jobs, of making sure that we have cooperation,” Pfluger said.

“While we may have differences, he’s found the similarities and the areas of agreement and he’s done that with a brilliance that I’m not sure can ever be replaced. That’s why it’s a bittersweet moment tonight.”

EU Ambassador to the United Nations

Lambrinidis is moving to New York to become the EU ambassador to the United Nations. The new EU ambassador to the United States will be Jovita Neliupšienė of Lithuania, Politico reported in April.

Before he left DC, Lambrinidis had special praise for his fellow diplomats from the European Union.

“They’ve made me proud to serve with them under Team Europe,” he said. “You have been an invaluable support across the country, where the European Union is not represented.

“My dear colleagues, you are my friends, you are my family. I will miss you dearly and I salute you.”

Even as he leaves many memories and colleagues behind in DC, there’s one souvenir he doesn’t have to let go of.

During his speech, Lambrinidis confessed that he had kept a couple of bottles of bourbon from the fence-mending tasting event at EU House in Washington a few years ago. The bottles should make the trip north to New York just fine and deliver fond – and smooth – memories of a very successful outreach program for years to come.

Karin Zeitvogel can be reached at kzeitvogel@washdiplomat.com.

Karin Zeitvogel