The transatlantic partnership has long been understood as a geopolitical consequence of the Soviet threats. During the Cold War, it was predominantly focused on military security. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was one of the few remaining constants in the new world order. The transatlantic partnership became increasingly a geopolitical necessity to maintain stability in a restructuring world.
It is only in the current decade that « the world’s premier security alliance [is turning] into the world’s premier economic pact ». The creation of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) and negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) brought back the hope that the transatlantic partnership reinforces its geopolitical position.
Albeit the pure intentions of TTIP and TEC, the main flaw of the increasing economic relationship is the political arrogance towards the people’s fears and resentments. Recent studies suggest that economic issues have become less important for populist movements since the end of the Cold War. The economic advantages of deep transatlantic relations won’t be enough to convince those who lost their faith in their governments.
The protests against TTIP were thus heavily disputed with non-economic arguments. Opposing voices doubted the level of standards of the partner on the other side of the Atlantic. The European and American people mutually distrust in the good of liberalising the market because they fear cultural differences. For instance, the debate in Germany eventually let the population imagine an « Americanised » Europe where people eat chlorinated chicken, watch only Hollywood movies and lack of a public health care system.
In order to curb the spreading of populist ideas based on cultural differences, it is imperative to engage in dialogue with those felt left behind by the globalisation, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and immigration over the last 20 years. The political establishment must listen to the populist claims, (emotionally) understand their fears and express their understanding, indeed their compassion. They must find together with them solutions for their future in a transatlantic environment.
Meanwhile, political parties and NGOs need to get in touch in the field with populist movements and engage with them to fight their fears. This will only be possible by achieving to « build new appreciation in party politics » and « incorporating those who feel left behind into the industries of the future ». These measures will pave the way to the foundation of a Transatlantic Community on all levels.
Another challenge of the transatlantic partnership are those who maintain it primarily: the so-called political establishment. Even though, in recent months trust in institutions is coming back, it is still far low for to endeavour thicker bonds between North America and Europe. The success of the future transatlantic partnership lies in the hands of every single citizen.
On the long run, the transatlantic partnership can only survive as a Transatlantic Community. It will take years, or even decades, to build a stable community between North America and Europe. Transatlantic organisations and programs help to move to a Transatlantic Community. The Next Generation’s Approach proposed by the « Atlantic Expedition » fellows is a further step towards the right direction.
The key elements of future transatlantic relations need to be social, subnational and sustainable. Physical exchanges between pupils, teachers, researchers, and blue-collar workers help to support « traditionally underrepresented stakeholders in transatlantic relations » (Next Generation’s Approach, p.9). Indeed, every further bonding of transatlantic relations must be based on the doctrine that it improves the next generation’s chances and lives.
The new transatlantic narrative should be a narrative of hope in a even better future, of genuine trust in the American and European people (especially the youth), of confidence in each other’s partner’s capabilities and responsibilities.
It is very clear that in the near future, the transatlantic partnership will not lead to a unification of both sides of the Atlantic under a single government. On the contrary, the transatlantic relationship must express itself on the very ground of our society, in the very basic structures of our society : the local communities.
Transatlantic bodies such as the OECD, NATO and the OSCE should include local communities in their work. This can be made by establishing « Permanent Contact Groups » supporting countermeasures against hybrid threats for instance. Supporting civil structures to invest in transatlantic issues eases the process of transatlantic identification needed for building up a Transatlantic Community.
Key players of the future transatlantic partnership will be the mayors and state governors (or their pendants). The Next Generation’s Approach is full of creative ideas (decentralised framework for climate engagement, empowering NGOs and local communities toward effective integration of refugees, and update the « Sister Cities » program). Similar to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, American and European mayors should come together to promote transatlantic values and share expertise on best practices.
Johannes Bohnen, founder of the Atlantische Initiative, recently stated that « [if] governments in the future increasingly lack internal support and are absorbed by clashes along the fault lines of ideology or class, Western democracies become internally unstable and will simply lack the prerequisite for an active foreign policy. » The answer to this problem might lie in the introduction of the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda :
Today we face new challenges at home and abroad. To meet them, we must further strengthen and adapt the partnership that has served us so well. Domestic challenges are not an excuse to turn inward; we can learn from each other’s experiences and build new transatlantic bridges.