The US and the EU face many similar challenges in the digital age. We perceive this as a chance to shift the focus of their relationship toward more collaboration and proactive problem-solving which also addresses domestic issues on both sides of the Atlantic. Both parties can benefit if their cooperation embraces learning-based collaboration and a realization that their goals, values, and societies are more intertwined than ever.
While the US and the EU have many values in common, there are significant cultural differences with respect to the adoption of technologies. The US embraces new technologies with excitement, whereas among Germans concerns prevail – particularly on privacy issues. We believe that the difficult adaptation of disrupting platforms like Uber or Airbnb in Germany should be taken into consideration and used for future guidance. Therefore, we recommend a ‘transatlantic city partnership’, lowering regulations in these cities on a by-project basis, thereby allowing companies to implement projects that would otherwise be barred by regulations. These cities would provide an environment to test new technologies in real societies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Our proposed program is built upon two existing models: 1) The city partnership model, which forms a legal or social agreement between cities or towns and is in this case expanded to foster innovative exchange; and 2) the trial tech cities, which companies have started to build in order to be able to test their innovations, which lack real life infrastructure and people’s reactions.
According to the American consulate in Germany already over 100 sister cities exist. It is time to give them some new meaning and power. Current sister cities, for example Aachen and Arlington could decide to opt-into the program which would grant them additional exceptions to the current regulatory framework of each country. This would allow for tests of new innovations.
During the trials, social scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers will observe new technologies, through which they will address problems such as data security in a controlled and safe environment. The aforementioned test runs will create best practices and regulations that do not restrict benefits for the user. This model presents a great way for companies on both sides of the Atlantic to test their innovations and operate within both markets without imminent regulatory disruptions as well as establish relationships with their users accounting for differences in the two trial cities. This model provides societal benefits as well because it relies on real-life tests, fostering trust among collective citizenries in their assessment of products and services. For regions which want to be a driver for innovation, it promises great opportunities for tourism.
The main goal of the current sister cities program is to promote personal contact. Our digital form of this program would put this to the next level. For transatlantic relations this would create a partnership on the local level bringing different stakeholders together. Here the digitalization process can be approached by means of collaboration and knowledge exchange. For companies, regulators, scientists and citizens alike the value of meeting the counterparts across the Atlantic could be enormous and creates unique opportunities to proactively draw lessons from the other and cooperate with each other to find solutions for cyber security problems, interoperability issues or regulatory burdens.
This program is also well fitted as both countries have federal systems and some problems, such as the digital divide in rural areas is something both countries need to tackle. Since, digitalization efforts rely on state, regional or local initiatives, those could be worked on together.
This program is by no means compulsory but rather a voluntary step where companies, regulators, scientists and citizens can come together. Citizens would have to approve democratically this city status. For policymakers the first step would be on the federal level to grant cities the opportunity to submit a Sister Tech City Draft Resolution in which details of the specific innovation to be tested, necessary visa requirements and regulatory exceptions to be granted and companies, institutions and people involved. Here everyone involved can draw from existing resources of programs which aimed to increase economic development or cultural exchange on Sister Cities International.
Jill Beytin is originally from San Francisco and studies Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany. She has a passion for radio and worked as an intern at NPR Berlin and Deutsche Welle in Washington, D.C.
Caleb Larson is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy with a specialization in Conflict Studies and Management at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt Germany. He holds a BA in History from UCLA.
Nina Maturu is a business strategist, who holds an MBA and Master in Public Policy from the University of Michigan.
Julia Schuetze is a Euromaster Transatlantic Track student and a working student at Wikimedia Deutschland e.V.
Major Jake Sotiriadis, USAF, is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He holds a M.A. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a M.Phil. in Military Strategy from the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.
Ingmar Sturm pursues a master’s degree in international relations at Jacobs University and University of Bremen and works for the NGO “Island Ark Project” to help climate refugees.
Inga Trauthig is working as a political consultant in Berlin after earning her Mlitt in Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Caucasus Security Studies from the University of St. Andrews.