Dear fellow Parliamentarians,
The transatlantic partnership has been a cornerstone of US and of German foreign policy since World War Two. It has secured and expanded both nations’ prosperity and has been a driving force behind the worldwide advancement of the principles both nations hold so highly: peace, stability and security, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the market economy. On both sides of the Atlantic, only few are left who remember different times, times when we weren’t partners but adversaries and the world was a place ridden by war, widespread economic turmoil, and disregard of human rights. While these have remained pressing issues in many countries and regions across the globe, the transatlantic partnership has contributed substantially to addressing them successfully. Taking on the roles as global leaders, both the US and Germany have shaped many policy areas to our, as well as other nations’ benefits. For my generation, the transatlantic partnership has always felt so solid and normalized, so natural, almost self-propelling in its efforts. It seemed unimaginable that anything could shake it. However, this partnership is neither a given nor is it immune to ruptures in its foundation. Its cultivation has required mutual respect and understanding, hard work, and continuous exchange over many decades. Historically, this partnership has not been the rule but the exception.
Over the past two years, numerous events and developments have shaken up our world in ways many people didn’t expect: Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of left- and right-wing populist movements in many European countries, the sharp worldwide increase in the number of refugees, the growing influence of emerging powers, climate change, and the immense forces of increasing digitization and worldwide connectedness, to name just a few. In this environment of dramatic challenges, the transatlantic partnership is put under severe pressure, not only to maintain its acceptance on both sides of the Atlantic by successfully addressing these issues, but to continue advancing its common principles. These challenges require us to adapt our ways of thinking, adapt our ways of communicating, adapt our ways of incorporating new actors. We simply cannot afford to continue business as usual, being faced with an American President who openly questioned NATO’s and other international institutions’ right to exist, with popular opposition in Germany against TTIP that was strong enough to effectively put negotiations on halt, and with growing dissatisfaction with democratic institutions, international organizations, treaties and partnerships in both the US and Germany. We need to take these are warning signs seriously but we also see them as an opportunity.
We can argue as much as we like about whether President Trump’s comments, the opposition against TTIP, or the growing dissatisfaction with democracy are legitimate. They won’t go away. Instead we should focus on what their causes are and what we can do about them. Whether President Trump’s remarks were campaign rhetoric or not, they have addressed what, in my opinion, has been neglected too long: the effective communication of the transatlantic partnership’s relevance and its benefits. We need to start campaigns that explain why it is in everyone’s benefit to foster transatlantic cooperation and exchange, and what good has come of it. All of this needs to be communicated in a way that is accessible to everyone, not just to the usual suspects. At the same time, we need to listen to and discuss with those who are skeptical, and, within the boundaries of the transatlantic principles, incorporate what they have to say into the decision making processes. We need to do son ot just before elections but in constant forums of exchange. The transatlantic partnership should not be a project for exclusive circles and talked about behind closed doors.
Since the election of Donald Trump and the rise of populist parties in Europe, a large number of young people on both sides of the Atlantic have stepped up to make their voices heard in the defense of our mutual liberal principles. While they want to maintain and expand them, they have also expressed dissatisfaction about how this has happened in the past. Not only do they want their voices to be heard by the powerful, the want to be included in making the decisions. And if you ask me, they have every right to it. They are the ones who will have to live the longest with the decisions made by people older than them, so why shouldn’t they have a say in them, too? We need to open up the transatlantic partnership to young voices because they are the ones who care, they are the ones who are dedicated to the cause, and they are the ones who will continue once we no longer exist. Let them form a Young Council on Transatlantic Issues, comprised of young members from the US and Germany, that regularly consults with both legislatures and develops regular recommendations. This way, its members become familiarized early with what it means to nurture the transatlantic partnership. This young council could also function as a model for other groups, such as NGOs, institutions of higher education, local and state governments, who are or feel excluded from the classic forums of the partnership. Let their voices be heard, and let them be heard regularly, and let them be incorporated. The best way of cultivating and broadening a partnership that holds true to its liberal and democratic principles is to allow those who are interested in shaping it to participate, to argue, to work together, and to decide. You may think that this will a bold step, that it will create a lot of work and even more wrinkles on everyone’s faces. Let me assure you: it will. But the transatlantic partnership is an endeavor for which I and many others among you and out there are willing to take this toll. Let us take the chance we have been given to make the change happen that we want. Thank you very much.