When debating the state of transatlantic relationships, discussions tend to center on the same questions: how do national leaders interact, in terms of both personality and policy?; what is the state of diplomatic relations?; how much do the militaries cooperate?; how much trade occurs between the nations?; and how do national interests align?
While these are critical indicators in judging cooperation, these questions leave out the possibilities to collaborate on a local level—involving city officials, mayors, and leaders of marginalized communities—to improve the lives of citizens while tightening bonds across the alliance.
Through concerted transatlantic local cooperation, as described in this article, communities will have the opportunity to create new solutions to pressing local problems while strengthening transatlantic bonds during a time marked by international turmoil.
I. The Issues
A. The International Community is in Flux
The NATO Summit and Group of 7 Summit in May, 2017, provided an initial look at the status of European and American collaboration after recent elections, and the results led many to worry. President Donald Trump’s noticeable omission to endorse Article 5 of the NATO Charter during the visit coupled with his insistence that NATO allies owed “massive amounts of money” to NATO raised red flags to allies in Europe, especially given Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. President Angela Merkel, on the heels of the Summits, lent voice to this concern, stating that the European Union should “take [their] fate into [their] own hands”. While transatlantic partners have repeated their commitments to each other through subsequent statements, the rhetoric around the Summits demonstrates the transatlantic relationship is on tenuous footing.
B. Pressing Problems Are Local
While international relations stutter, for individual citizens in every nation, problems emerge in the local sphere first. These issues are rooted in larger concerns of civil rights, criminal justice, environmental solidity, and international security, but they initially center on simple yet profound and immediate questions: how will my family eat?; how will my child go to school?; how will I ensure my family is safe?; and how will I empower my daughter or son to succeed?. These problems are inherently local but are prevalent across international boundaries.
And these concerns are especially ripe in marginalized communities. For example, for many communities of color in the United States, threats to personal safety and lack of educational resources are forefront, based on the fear of state-sanctioned profiling and policing, physical violence, and concerns over deportation, to name a few. Immigrant communities in Europe have similar fears, a reaction to extreme political rhetoric and lack of opportunity.
II. The Solution: Greater Community Collaboration
Greater transatlantic collaboration at the local level can help solve the issues presented above. Through such grassroots partnership, local communities around the world can share ideas on empowerment while establishing stronger international ties. As such, the initiatives seeking to promote such cross-pollination will reframe local problems as global ones and ensure that each community has a stake in the success of those communities across the Atlantic.
A. What Is Being Done?
Thus far, there have been significant initiatives meant to foster transatlantic collaboration at the local level. Programs such as establishing sister cities help organize exchanges in culture, art, education, business, and a variety of other areas. A number of non-profits have emerged to help connect international communities, prioritizing the union of leaders in cities and towns to exchange ideas for effective city management.
While these initiatives provide a substantial method of cross-community understanding, the initiatives tend to focus on a subset of the community that has gained power. Conferences and working groups involve mayors and business leaders, while sidelining leaders of marginalized communities that are advocating for change. As a result, these marginalized leaders are not involved in the policymaking process and do not get the benefits of exposure to the global community.
B. What Can We Do?
In addition to the initiatives discussed above, cities and non-profits should focus transatlantic collaboration on marginalized community advocacy. Working groups should emerge to discuss actionable policies focused on integrating and empowering marginalized communities into the city, with leaders of marginalized communities in the forefront. While individual communities may seem disparate, areas from the metropolis to the village in Germany and the United States can benefit from exchanging information on effective strategies to lift up marginalized communities.
The benefits of such an initiative are twofold. First, the ability to draw on perspectives in democratic societies across the Atlantic allows for a greater understanding of solutions to address pressing local problems of all types, including ensuring safety of the community, better economic well-being, and successful education systems. Cities can test initiatives in different parts of the world to understand why problems exist and how best to solve them.
Second, the ability to help solve these problems through transatlantic dialogue will help local citizens to invest in the success of communities across the Atlantic. An understandably local view will turn global as an initiative begins in Germany and germinates in the United States. Beneficiaries of policies will begin to focus on the transatlantic partnership more as an opportunity for growth and development, and with that, they will be willing to contribute to efforts to help allies internationally. A citizen’s vision will naturally expand across the Atlantic, thereby inherently improving relations from the ground up.