Strengthening bi-continental relations by adding grassroot elements
The necessity of reforming, renewing and actually re-enforcing the transatlantic relations has grown within the last years. As difficult it is to predict the future, so urgent it is to broaden and strengthen the foundation of this most natural and closest global bond of diverse peoples. The 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” But the great task is to actually meet common challenges by addressing the needs of the involved partners and to respect the individual interests of the acting nations as a base for claiming to create our future. This seems to become a more and more difficult approach as we can see on the increasing disagreements when trying to establish a joined effort on strategic issues like climate change, free trade or fighting reasons for mass migration.
Reforming the transatlantic partnership in the means of undertaking existing formats, projects and amount of interests an update is only one of the steps needed. If it really is common ground to establish a ‘Partnership in Leadership’ with an international approach, a process has to be started to ensure that Europe and the United States become partners on an even level – including hard- and softpower-skills. The current debate between the Trump lead US administration and the European partners – within NATO and the European Union as institution – demonstrates the growing gap on priorities and preferences. This gets complemented by the fact that on both sides of the Atlantic domestic discourses start dominating the individual agenda with the consequence that this stresses out to the transatlantic exchange. One lesson has to be learned right now to be sure that this ‘stress-test’ remains on progressive tracks: even having so much in common on interests, history and values the friendship between North America and the nations on the European continent is not self-evident! And this fact has to draw our attention on finding sustainable solutions on crucial topics that include grassroot perceptions.
The first great difference in younger days was the growing disagreement on implementing a transatlantic trade and investment partnership. A project which seemed to be so naturally in this constellation with so much potential not only for adding values for all involved national economies but also setting global standards as defined by western notion. But instead influential groups out of politics, society and even the business world started to campaign against the vision on enhancing bi-continental trade by spreading fears and actually offering ‘alternative facts’. Customer protection, labor rights, even the sovereignty of democratic institutions were seen to be endangered. The cumulating reservations built up such high pressure on those in charge that finally the reflex of protectionism overcame a majority of the US electorate with the result having now an US President in office who for the first time in decades maneuvers America away of being a stronghold for global free trade.
First conclusion therefore should be to support and actually inspire Europeans and Americans to get involved on transatlantic issues. As it is normal to address national topics through the media it should become a part of (at least public) broadcast to show the peoples the transatlantic context of so many mutual tasks and efforts. Having in mind that there are a number of institutions, that either focus on transatlantic relations, with an interdisciplinary approach regarding topics, or specialized entities that get involved with their specific theme by also including a transatlantic perspective, there is already a strong network that can and should contribute to this debate. Most of the time it is a lack of information or awareness of certain offers, so that people may not know how to get involved or what opportunities are available.
This brings us to the advisement how to renew the relations between the ‘old continent’ and the ‘new world’, if we do not only focus on the elites in business, politics, media and/or science? One of the corner stones to transcript this vision should be to follow the principle of subsidiarity. Since the US military started to withdraw from Europe, especially from Germany as their central location abroad for more than 70 years, you could see a shift of opinion in correlation to the US as our friend and ally. It became more critical, vague and alienating because of the decreasing moments of meeting one another. Especially members of the older generations being asked they can tell very personal stories when getting in touch with US soldiers during one of their military trips through rural parts of Germany or doing sightseeing with their families or even doing research on their own ancestry. But these occasions to get to know each other became very rare because of lower numbers of men and women with their relatives doing their service in Europe and because of the trend on closing US military facilities for civic visitors.
This growing deficit on personal contact should be addressed by revitalizing existing city partnerships or establishing new municipal friendships, combined with strong collaborations between e.g. states of Germany and the US, so that they can setup a framework to support particularly smaller communities or rural areas to participate in such programs. These partnerships can become a great platform on school exchange, joined business projects between small and mid-size companies or support municipal project on environment, social, culture etc. by learning from best practice of the respective partner. There is no better way in a globalized world by personalizing encounter of different peoples to benefit of their knowledge, experience and perception on the various tasks people get in touch in their everyday life. Also many organizations and institutions on higher level will than be able to find local partners and supporters for their portfolio.
Therefore it is on us now to focus on a bold re-enforcement of the community on the two sides of the Atlantic by using digital capabilities to combine information and offers, to modernize existing formats like city partnerships or school exchange and to involve society broader within projects like the “Transatlantic Climate Bridge” to add more grassroot and actually interdisciplinary elements to transatlantic enterprises.