There are many things that could be said about the current state of transatlantic relations. While there are certainly many hot topics warranting dissection and analysis, I feel that the status quo at the moment can be summed up in one word: complacency. We have become somewhat smug when it comes to our transatlantic relationship. As an American who has studied and worked in European Policy for a number of years, I have experienced firsthand how we take our cooperation for granted on both sides of the Atlantic.
While finishing up a masters in European studies, I remember being told by an American diplomat that I had chosen to develop a speciality in a “non-problem area” for the US. I remember agreeing with him and subsequently descending into a state of panic after the conversation, worrying that I had set myself up to be an unemployable graduate. While the point certainly exists that our relationship, relatively speaking, runs smoothly on the international stage, I think this expert underplayed its significance and underestimated the importance of its maintenance. While our relationship is certainly special, it should neither be ignored or neglected.
The transatlantic relationship has been one of the strongest, most reliable relationships in the past century, however, we are quickly moving apart in our understanding of each other. I think we became so accustomed to being on the same side of things that we have gradually forgotten that we may hold very different views, and more importantly, that this is ok.
I’ve seen how deep the misconceptions go on both sides of the ocean. After living in Europe for over three years, I’m quite accustomed to dumb American jokes, which I must admit are not entirely inaccurate. After focusing European Policy for a few years now, I’m perhaps too surprised at some of the questions I’ve had to field when it comes to Americans asking me about the EU. I’ve been asked how many Americans hold seats representing the US in European Parliament, if Belgium and Ireland are in the same country, and how modern elections work in the “communist” counties of central Europe. However, this obliviousness can be argued to go both ways. Most of the time I find that Europeans are familiar with a few major US cities and the locations of only the more obvious states of Texas or California. One time I was asked by a European friend if all Americans were as pale as I am, as he assumed that all Americans shared similar genetic material, as European countries do.
I am a huge fan of the European project and believe that there is much for Americans to learn about what the EU has done to achieve stability and peace on the continent. In spite of the many crises that have challenged the cohesion of the European Union, from Greece, to Brexit, migration, and the threat of terrorism, the union has remained. Americans tend to underestimate the strength and potential the EU has. To correct this, greater efforts should be made to acquaint Americans with the European systems and, in turn, this education could allow the US to provide much needed support to the EU as it address challenges facing the region.
At this point, I could write multiple novels about cultural experiences I’ve had on both sides of the ocean. However, rather than getting offended, I try to see the strange questions and strong language as opportunities for exchange and learning. In these environments, we can share our individual understandings and learn how to value someone’s opinion, even if it may be different, acknowledging that this can only widen our horizons.
While shortcomings and inefficiencies certainly exist, there are also countless opportunities for the future of the transatlantic relationship. Our international pastime seems to have evolved into criticizing the methods of the other side rather than sharing experiences and collaborating on the best ways to move forward. Even though we were engaged in two world wars within the past century, we can now hardly picture life without a strong transatlantic bond. Taking into consideration our capacity to reconcile and move forward, we must realize that there is much we can offer the rest of the world. We should be sharing our experiences and working together to make the world a better place.