The backbone of the transatlantic relationship is business and trade, therefore to improve communication and engage new players, the goal must be expanding the trade relationship between the United States, Germany and the rest of Europe. However, as the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations have shown, it is crucial that cultural differences are being considered in any new approach. The perceived notion that TTIP would have reduced regulatory standards in terms of food and environmental safety, as well as banking restrictions, caused protests and widespread opposition to TTIP, particularly in Germany.
TTIP exemplifies the lack of communication between politics, corporations and the public. In the case of TTIP, politicians and big corporations failed to educate the public on the advantages of the proposed agreement. For a country like Germany, which exports large quantities of goods, trade agreements such as TTIP are hugely important for the country’s economic growth. It should be the goal of politicians and other stakeholders to engage the public in those topics and discourses. While there always will be opposition, in the end decision-makers have to act on the premise of what’s best for the country’s future.
The experience of TTIP depicts the communication failure of the various public and private institutions. As successful protests and political campaigns have shown in the recent years, the internet is by far the most powerful tool today to engage in public discourse. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are currently the leading social media platforms, so companies, politicians, nonprofits and other organizations are almost required take advantage of those platforms to reach, engage and educate the public on their goals.
The recent presidential election in the U.S., however, demonstrated the dangers associated with the internet. Russian hackers allegedly infiltrated servers of U.S. organizations, including the Democratic Party, to influence the election outcome, which benefited Donald Trump.
The new U.S. president has also put a strain on the U.S.-German relationships. Through his “America First” approach, the world’s biggest economy and dominant political power appears to take a step back and let other nations take the lead on international issues. It could be an opportunity for a country like Germany to expand its role on the global stage.
German companies, first and foremost the auto industry, have already been able to bring a German staple, apprenticeship programs, to the U.S. German companies, such as BMW in South Carolina, have struggled to find qualified local workers. As a result, BMW has introduced an apprenticeship program. It also has, together with other companies in the automotive industry, established a relationship with nearby Clemson University to create the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.
The success of these apprentice programs has even reached the White House, with the president last week signing an executive order to expand apprenticeships and vocational training for Americans.
Apprenticeships are just one area in which both countries can learn from each other to improve the lives of their respective citizens. This is not only true for politics. It also includes common goals such as battling climate change. Despite Trump’s announcement of a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, states, counties and cities across the country have vowed to continue their pursuit of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This is not only a good sign for the planet, but also an opportunity for German businesses to work directly with those stakeholders to pursue new technologies in fields like renewable energy. The importance is to facilitate communication between the various companies, research facilities and regulatory agencies.
States such as New York, California or Hawaii provide an opportunity for research and development in renewable energy or other sustainable technologies. The German-American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) is one of several institutions, which try to facilitate those connections. The GACC, however, is not proactive about using today’s technology to target specific industry sectors and companies. For example, the Twitter account of local chapter GACC New York counts a mere 1,600 followers.
It’s important that government organizations, corporations and educational institutions work together to reach the next generation of leaders in the U.S. and Germany. The way to reach them is online and via social media and that’s precisely the area where all of them have a lot to learn.
America’s new focus on trade labor through its apprenticeship initiative could provide opportunities for Germans across the industry to share their expertise with workers in the U.S. Once again it is something that trade unions on both sides should consider going forward. The exchange of knowledge and information is what driver future innovation. And communication is the area that enables that exchange.
The economic relationship between the U.S. and Germany – the U.S. remains Germany’s largest export market – is the starting point that could lead to a better understanding and communication in other areas.
While the political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic disagrees about the future direction of the world – open vs. closed borders, global free trade vs. America First – it is up to the business communities to work around those obstacles and communicate directly to advocate and push for common goals, whether in their respective industries or in society. It’s up to those individuals to use existing technologies to communicate, engage and pursue a future based on innovation, science and human interaction.
Partnerships between businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and other organizations with a common goal will further the exchange of ideas, solutions and cultural aspects that will allow us to become a more unified global society going forward. The economic stability of the U.S. and Europe allows them to take a leadership role in this effort.