While many older Americans and Germans have memories of World War II and the Marshall Plan which helped turn the two countries into allies and partners, the value of transatlantic relations is not as obvious to younger generations any longer.
In view of the shifts on the world stage but also of Donald J. Trump’s US presidency and Europe’s domestic populist movements, the partnership between Germany and the US needs to find a new foundation on which to stand on. Europeans have come to increasingly recognize that they need to assume more responsibility in order to uphold the liberal order.
1. Explain the Benefits of Liberal Democracy
In both the US and Germany, and Europe more broadly, the rise of populist parties threatens to undermine the system of democracy at the same time that outside actors seek to discredit it. Both the US and Europe need to undertake efforts to more clearly articulate the benefits and the functioning of democracy. This has to go hand in hand with a reminder of not only the privileges of democracy but the responsibilities as well. As President Obama said in his farewell speech, these truths may be self-evident, but the freedoms that come with it are not self-sustaining. For example, political education is a fundamental instrument in order to prepare young people for the social and technological changes that the transatlantic relations face in this globalized and increasingly digitalized world.
2. Stronger Together: Champion Transatlantic Institutions and the “Common Set of Values”
The US created and Germany strongly supported postwar institutions, which the new US administration could abandon. This alliance system is already under strain and in need of strong support to reform and revamp moving forward. As Merkel said following the Trump election, US-Germany cooperation had to be based on “a common platform of democracy, freedom, advocacy for human rights all over the world and championing the open and liberal world order.” All of which is not going to sustain itself without German-US cooperation and support.
For the liberal order to sustain, it is moreover imperative that the partners reaffirm and live by their commitment to multilateralism and a global rule of law. With regard to conflicts big (e.g., Russia, Syria) and small (e.g., disputes over trade), appeals to norms of international law and red lines are only credible as long as the partners remain themselves firmly committed. A vision of a liberal world order with a common set of values and inalienable rights, however remote it may seem today, may only be realized by the transatlantic alliance leading by example.
3. Deepen Transatlantic Cooperation in Education Policy
In addition to funding exchange programs, the transatlantic partners should aim to establish an institutionalized cooperation in the area of education policy. Both countries are known for quality education and highly skilled workforces, and improving the education systems is in both countries’ interests. In the digital age, and at a time when labor is more fluid than ever, Germany and the US could exchange best practices in the education space to facilitate progress in both countries. In particular, Germany is well-known for its vocational education programs, which is of increasing interest in the US following an election where the plight of the blue-collar workforce and the cost of higher education were key issues. Meanwhile, the US is known for the high quality (and high cost) of its education and its success in the digital economy. Both countries could work together to improve their systems and draw on one another’s strengths to create an education system that better prepares people to participate in the economy of the 21st century.
4. Reinvigorate Democratic Debate: Media from “the Other Side”
Most people receive their news from social media connecting them to various newspapers with various opinions. Yet, what they see in their ‘feed’ is filtered by social media to their preferences. Hence, they are rarely confronted with opposite opinions online, let alone foreign opinions since they cannot understand the language.
Therefore, social media aggregators and similar websites should be enforced to offer links to articles with opposite opinions to create a bilateral view. Thereby, rather than entrusting fact-checking to private institutions readers are given the opportunity to make their own picture of a specific news story.
Regarding transatlantic topics, ‘translating/interpreting institutions’ would need to be created with the sole purpose of translating articles from established news networks from the other side, which somehow affect domestic policy. This could benefit not only the transatlantic relationship, but also relationships to other countries (e.g. Russia) if their news is also included in these institutions.
Aylin Matlé is working towards her PhD on the role of the US in NATO during the Obama presidency.
Michael Blank is a PhD in law candidate at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and works for a law firm in Berlin.
Haven Hightower is an Advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia on European Policy & European Parliament.
John-Markus Maddaloni is a 22 year old Italian-American studying German law at the Universität des Saarlandes in Germany.
Lutz-Peter Hennies is a former Fulbright student in New York City with an academic background in philosophy and economics and work experience in management consulting.
Ellen Scholl works on the intersection of energy and foreign policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), and is a former Robert Bosch Fellow.
Nora Schröder is a PhD candidate currently working at the department of peace and conflict studies at the University of Augsburg. Her research interests include the construction of political identity on a supranational level, especially through European political participation and active European citizenship.