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Remarks With Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands in a Discussion With Students in Valkenburg, the Netherlands

May 08, 2005

Prime Minister Balkenende. Well, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It's very good that you're here. But in the first place, I would like to say to the President of the United States, be welcome in the Netherlands. We really enjoy that you're here. It's an important day that you're in the Netherlands today, because on the 6th of May—that's what we call our Liberation Day—and we always think about our freedom. And at your last event, you said a lot about importance of freedom and democracy, and you realize what Americans meant for the European countries after the Second World War. During the Second World War, your people were here, but after, you helped us.

And it's very important that you're here today and that you'll have the meeting in Margraten. It's so important to be there and also for us to show our respect and to say thanks for what all the Americans have done for the Netherlands.

We already had a breakfast meeting. We talked about some very important issues. We talked about the Middle East peace process. We talked about the struggle against terrorism because we are—we have the same position. It's a threat to world society. We have to work together. We talked about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. We talked about China and some other issues. We talked about political situation in the Netherlands and the United States. It was a very fruitful and interesting meeting.

Mr. President, it's great that you're in the Netherlands. We appreciate very much that you're here today and that we have the meeting in Margraten. But also today we have a meeting with students, and we thank you for being here and be willing to have a discussion with these young people. It's very important. It's always challenging and encouraging if you have the meeting with the students.

And now, Mr. President, I give you the floor.

President Bush. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. It's an honor to be in the Netherlands. Laura and I have been really looking forward to coming to your beautiful country. I want to thank you for the meeting we just had. It was a fruitful discussion. I appreciate your leadership, appreciate your friendship.

You know, I will be honoring a generation that made enormous sacrifices so that my generation could grow up in a free world. I'm really looking forward to going to the cemetery and paying homage to those who fought for freedom. It will be a solemn occasion but an important moment to reflect upon. And I look forward to talking to the next generation about the responsibilities that you'll have to make sure the communities in which you grow up are hopeful communities and this country in—which you love is a free country.

I want to thank you all for coming. I'm honored that you took time out of your life to come and have a visit with me. There's nothing like a young generation of Americans to keep an old guy—I mean, young generation of citizens to keep an old guy like me feeling young.

But Mr. Prime Minister, again, thanks for your hospitality. I want to thank Her Majesty as well for joining Laura and me today. It's awfully, awfully kind of her to do so. Thank you.

Prime Minister Balkenende. Thank you, Mr. President. Now the time is for the students. Looking to the relationship between the United States and the Netherlands, it's good to say that many things are uniting us, but also sometimes you have some division. That's also possible, and that's also good for the debate. And maybe it's good now to give the floor to you, and maybe it's good to start with Miss Madeline Hoffmeister.


Q. Thank you very much. Mr. President, I have a question relating of—concerning the terrorism. And you made many laws after 9/11, many laws and many measures. And I'm wondering, will there be a time when you drop those laws and when you decrease the measures?

President Bush. No, I appreciate that question. Look, a free society such as ours, obviously, must balance the Government's most important duty, which is to protect the American people from harm, with the civil liberties of our citizens. And every law we passed that was aimed to protect us in this new era of threats from abroad and the willingness for people to kill without mercy has been scrutinized and, of course, balanced by our Constitution. But the question really is, can a transparent society openly deal with a debate about civil liberty versus the tension of protecting ourselves? And I believe we have done so in good balance in America, but we're constantly reevaluating law.

The PATRIOT Act was passed. It was a very important measure to enable our law enforcement officials to share information, which they weren't able to do at times, to be able to protect ourselves. And yet Congress is now evaluating certain aspects of that law. That's what happens in democracies and stands in stark contrast, by the way, to societies that are closed and nontransparent, where people don't get to determine the course of action.

And so to answer your question, it depends upon what Congress says and whether or not I agree with it, because I have the right to veto any law as well. Of course, they have the right to override my veto. But I feel comfortable in telling you that we've been able to successfully balance the civil liberties of our citizens with the necessary—the necessity to protect ourselves.

Listen, one of the interesting things about September the 11th that I want you to understand as we have this discussion is that I fully understand that for some, September the 11th was an important moment and a terrible moment—and we appreciate the condolences of the people of the Netherlands—but for us, it was a change of attitude. I mean, it changed a lot about how I looked at the world, and a lot of Americans, it changed how they looked at the world. I mean, it was more than just an attack. It was a whole mindset. And that's why your question is really relevant—did that mindset, did that change of attitude cause us to then begin to take away certain civil liberties? And I would argue, it did not.

Prime Minister Balkenende. You're convinced by the President? [Laughter]

President Bush. Don't put her on the spot. [Laughter] That's a little rough question, Mr. Prime Minister.

U.S. Domestic and Foreign Policy

Q. Thank you. I've a question about the reason you are here. We are honoring the soldiers who died in the Second World War. In the years later, America was involved in a lot of conflicts, in a lot of wars. What's the benefit when you can ask to your people—you are, in the first place, President of America, you're responsible for your own people——

President Bush. Right——

Q. ——what can you ask from your people, not only the dead and the wounded but also the economic consequences? Last week I received a brochure about raise funding for U.S. aid for poor people. So what——

President Bush. You received—I beg your pardon—received a brochure for?

Q. ——raise funding for poor people——

President Bush. Oh, to raise funding, yes.

Q. ——the economic consequences of all this involvement in conflicts, what's the balance between the responsibility to the world and the responsibility to your own people?

President Bush. I think we have a responsibility to both. And at home, of course, economic vitality is really important and to make sure the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. Seventy percent of new jobs in America are created by small-business owners, which is—it speaks to our— the environment of encouraging entrepreneurship, which means less lawsuits and good tax policy and less regulations. A vibrant, growing economy is one which we collect more revenues, and therefore, we're more capable of helping and doing our duty to those who can't help themselves.

And that's the interesting balance of a free society, by the way, is the extent to which the welfare state is prevalent. And I believe we—Government has a role to help those who cannot help themselves and then encourage people who can help themselves to realize dreams through good education and good policy.

Abroad, we have a responsibility as well. First, let me just tell you, the hardest decision a President makes is war. Nobody wants to be at war—nobody. Now the question is, how do we spread peace? And one way you spread peace is spread democracy. That's the lesson of World War II. If that thought troubles you, we can discuss this a little more. But the lesson of World War II, at least, was that by spreading democracy throughout Europe, that Europe at last became whole, peace—free, whole, and at peace. See, that's the lesson that people at least ought to take away from the experience of the last 60 years. I believe it applies to the next 60 as well.

But we have other duties as well. HIV/AIDS, for example, in the continent of Africa is a pandemic that has got to be appalling to the free world. And my Government is spending $15 billion as part of a global effort to help defeat HIV/AIDS. We feed more of the hungry than any nation, and it's an obligation we readily accept. But as well, as we work to help those who hurt, we also have got to put practical policies in place.

And that's why I'm such a believer in free trade, because trade ultimately—the benefits of trade, the benefits of economy, the benefits of growing businesses far exceed the capacity of governments to hand out aid to people. And so, in Africa, for example, we've got a policy of feeding the hungry and providing money for help, but we've also got a free trade policy with Africa, which is helping these economies grow, which provides opportunity and hope for people that are living in those countries. So we have a balanced obligation at home and abroad.

Thank you, sir.

Prime Minister Balkenende. We'll give the press one minute to do other things, and then we can go on with our discussion.

[At this point, the public portion of the event concluded.]

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 9:15 a.m. in the Selys de Fanson Zaal-Schatkaner Building at the Chateau St. Gerlach. In his remarks, he referred to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

George W. Bush, Remarks With Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands in a Discussion With Students in Valkenburg, the Netherlands Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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