The transatlantic relationship has always been defined by common liberal democratic values. Decades of integration within Europe brought about the freedom of movement for EU citizens, common currency, and free trade amongst EU states. America stood as a symbol for multiculturalism and the successful integration of diverse, migrant communities. These successes are now under threat due to the resurgence of identity politics. Leave campaign leaders advocated for asserting British sovereignty and re-assuming control of immigration policy. Donald Trump’s calls for a wall on the southern US border and tearing up free trade deals galvanized many marginalized voters to support his candidacy. Two seismic shifts have taken place on either side of the Atlantic and illustrate a culmination of identity politics seizing the day, while subsequently ushering in a period of uncertainty for transatlantic relations.
Resistance to Multiculturalism
Over the past few decades, many European leaders have advocated for building multicultural societies. While various countries approached this goal with differing policies, the success stories are few and far between. German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed that multiculturalism has failed in Germany, echoing similar pronouncements throughout European capitals. While she recently stood as a shining example of morality and inclusion when welcoming Syrian refuges into Germany, much to the ire of her own Christian Democratic Union, she ironically remains part of the problem in terms of multicultural integration. Germany has historically been unable and unwilling to address matters of multicultural citizenship when it comes to the Turkish minority that has been present since the end of World War II. Many of these workers that contributed to Germany’s economic wonder stayed put. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are fully integrated into German society. Yet, the German government long denied citizenship to this community. Despite recent revisions to the nationality law granting a path to citizenship for foreigners born in Germany, a sizeable portion of Turks must still choose between German and Turkish citizenship. Chancellor Merkel continues to deny rights to dual citizenship, instead falsely claiming immigrants need to more properly integrate with German society. Juxtapose this with any EU citizen’s ability to hold dual citizenship. Multiculturalism is flourishing in Europeans societies, visible to anyone walking down the street of many European cities; successive European governments fail to recognize that integration is a two-way street.
The Losers Strike Back
In any economy, there exist winners and losers. While globalization has ushered in an unprecedented era of prosperity and interconnectedness, there has been a cost to many people across the globe. In recent years, free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement have been associated with serious losses in certain American manufacturing sectors and ushered in the migration of American companies to Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor costs, lower corporate taxes, and an improved bottom line. President-elect Trump was relentless on the campaign trail, vowing to bring back manufacturing jobs to states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, prevent American companies from leaving the country by threatening tariffs, and confront countries like China who have significant advantages in terms of trade. This populist economic message was a significant reason for Trump’s election.
Freedom of movement in the EU translated to the migration of many eastern European workers to countries such as the UK. “British Jobs for British Workers” became a slogan of the Leave campaign and calls for an affirmative action-like policy for British workers became a rallying cry. Leave campaign leaders such as Nigel Farage conflated this economic and anti-immigration message, making clear that a vote to leave was a vote to reassert British sovereignty. In post-Brexit Britain, the top priority of the government is to maintain free trade with the EU without accepting freedom of movement, which various EU officials have stated is unacceptable.
The Next Generation
Transatlantic relations stand on the precipice of substantial change. Europe is struggling with an identity crisis. The older generation of leaders has declared the failure of multiculturalism. Anti-immigrant fervor has led to increased popularity of right wing parties – the National Front in France, Fidesz in Hungary, the UK Independence Party. Identity politics are winning the day – isolationism, protectionism, and the reinforcement of classical European homogeneity. In the US, voters are hungry for change, whether good or bad. President-elect Trump is questioning continued membership in NATO, calling for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US, and plunging free trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership into uncertainty. Actors on the world stage are responding to misgivings of the older generation. 53% of voters 45 and older supported Trump. 61% of voters over 65 support the Leave campaign in the UK. When pundits ask ‘where do we go from here?’ the answer will be determined by the younger generation in both Europe and the US.
The numbers suggest that the pendulum will swing back. 75% of voters 18-24 voted Remain in the Brexit vote – a vote that stood for a continuation of European integration, free trade, and freedom of movement. In the US, 55% of voters 18 to 29 supported Hillary Clinton and an even larger number supported Bernie Sanders – both candidates with a platform espousing free trade, paths to citizenship for immigrants, inclusion as opposed to exclusion, and stronger transatlantic bonds.
Upon Trump’s election, Chancellor Merkel stated, “Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position. On the basis of these values I offer the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation.” Germany, France, and other European countries have continuously stumbled over these values, be it through religious discrimination or denying rights and benefits to integrated immigrant communities. The majority of the next generation continuously advocates for these values. While the outlook on transatlantic relations stands dimly uncertain in the present, the not-so-distant future is promising as the mantle passes to the next generation.