The Brussels Plan is the honest and holistic approach to induce new life and vision into the transatlantic community. First and foremost, it acknowledges the critical importance of a unified transatlantic relations: we are stronger with allies. Its name is a statement that the European ideals still have much to offer and assures us that we can all prosper in diversity. However, it is now on the Europeans to ensure the innovation and modernization of this alliance. The plan does not deny the internal contradictions and the imperfection of our democratic systems. Instead, it applies the lessons-learned about societal inequality, an emerging new nationalism, and European democratic participation. It comes at a critical moment when not only the future of the European Union is at stake, but when this community experiences a resurgent threat of Russian power ambitions, first signs of the return of Ottoman dreams and the absence of American leadership.
History has shown that multilateral and strategic cooperation works. With the Marshall Plan, the US had realized that switching back into isolationism would not work. The US reached out to our devastated continent and helped us to create the living proof of multilateralism – the European Union. Not only did this long-term oriented approach guarantee peace in Europe, it also made the transatlantic community the most prosperous region on the face of this earth. To maintain this success, our leaders need to seek open discussions with the public to convince them of the importance of the transatlantic project. If we fail to coordinate, if we allow a policy vacuum, we compel China and Russia to increase their spheres of influence. Even if we can’t agree on details, even if everything is up for renegotiation, then we should nevertheless all subscribe to this: we are stronger together! Diversity of culture, perspective and interest are the very principles that define our great democracies as most resilient and legitimized systems. In times of populism and neo-nationalist tendencies, shying away from the task to promote these principles on the international stage is tempting but would betray the very values every member of the transatlantic community has engrained in their fabric. Shying away from the transatlantic community is not an option. Therefore, the Brussels Plan proposes three steps of public engagement that need to be translated into visionary messages and local activism:
- It needs to be acknowledged that our European problems are interconnected with the transatlantic project. The future of the transatlantic community, of the international system, is based on a strong and stable Europe. Fundamental reforms of the European Parliament, a convincing Brexit result, and solutions to the youth unemployment pandemic are crucial foundations of the Brussels Plan. With the help of a renewed Franco-German engine of European reform and integration, we need to promote comprehensive vision and positive action for Europe.
- We need to raise awareness what it would mean to turn our back on the transatlantic community. Our societies need to debate what our alternatives are. Do we believe in Chinese trade cooperation? Should we sacrifice Ukraine and the Baltics to profit from the business opportunities with Russia? The public needs to appreciate that our partnerships are complex, more than financially incentivized, and diverse in their benefits. Next to big picture analyses, local townships should assess and communicate what each partner means for their regional welfare.
- Finally, the plan is a clear commitment that Europe, the US, and Canada are, with all their flaws and controversies, still the best partners. We need to refrain from easy criticism of individual governments and should instead look at our shared history and our common liberal values. The trends of globalization can only be guided and mitigated, not reversed. We want to remain in the driver seat of globalization. Thus, we should strengthen citizen diplomacy, historic contextualization and cultural exchanges to overcome stereotypes and foster mutual understanding.
The Brussels Plan reaches out to our friends and proposes specific fields where we should advance our relationship.
- Improve Burden-Sharing: sending a signal of determination and responsibility, the European countries will proceed with their own defense coordination, while they accommodate US demands for greater burden sharing. Next to a detailed plan to meet the 2% NATO goal by 2024, NATO members will develop a burden sharing score which appreciates the diversity of contributions. Focusing first on defense cooperation and coordination in the transatlantic alliance combines the need to create a new momentum within European integration, the countering of vital threats to some of our members, and sends a strong signal to the United States that Europe can be a credible leader of our alliance.
- Bridging the Atlantic: we have to utilize technology for greater transatlantic exchange in education and workforce training. Erasmus in mind, we can reach over the Atlantic to share best practices in vocational training and to create a transatlantic curriculum that fosters mutual understanding. While this is a long-term oriented measure, it is, if adequately funded and promoted, a great demonstration of mutual determination that will improve the reciprocal perception of each participating country.
- Free Trade: we need to embrace one of our most important principles. Since TTIP faces highly mobilized opponents in civil society, we need to see its current stagnation as a chance for renewal. After a period of honest and more transparent engagements with grass-root organizations, we should aim for a TTIP-light version. It is imperative to agree to a balanced and fair free trade agreement to counter the protectionist voices that are creeping into our economies.
- Technology for the Principle of Subsidiarity: to spark new enthusiasm for our transatlantic partnership, we need to utilize new channels of exchange and trust building. Technology enables us to strengthen local ties between municipalities and cities. The direct cultural exchange and sharing of best business practices will empower the people to believe in a common future. Furthermore, in times of disagreement on the state level, it will lay the ground for continued cooperation in issues of climate change or integrational policies.
In times of uncertainty and crises, the Brussels Plan is the European answer to inspire the renewal of the transatlantic relationship. Driven by the conviction that we are stronger together, this plan lays the groundwork for a strategic narrative for the new era. It highlights the alternatives to the transatlantic partnership, utilizes the European experience in overcoming dissent and tasks the European members with concrete actions to fight for the modernization of our transatlantic community.