The Marshall Plan, otherwise known as the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, has been hailed as one of the great successes of modern transatlantic relations and is the cornerstone upon which much of the post-war cooperation and dialog with Europe rests. The focus of the Marshall Plan was to remove trade barriers, to modernize the European economy and industry and to help Europe prosper in the wake of the second world war.
The United States and specifically regions in the middle of the country, often referred to as the rustbelt, are still suffering from the great recession of 2008. Whole communities reliant upon manufacturing and blue collar jobs have been upended and have watched in dismay as factories close and once well-paying jobs have disappeared leaving both economic and political turmoil in their wake.
These communities can draw parallels to post-war Europe. While undoubtedly less dramatic than the physical and economic ruin brought about by the second world war, the middle of the country nevertheless suffers from the same kinds of ills as post-war Europe. The loss of production capacity, manufacturing and the security of a stable income were issues that plagued post-war Europe and are the exact same ones that affect the U.S. today. This moment of European distress was key to the creation of the Marshall Plan.
Today the main opposition, or at the very least those with the most apathy toward transatlantic relations in the United States, come not from the prosperous coasts but from the economically deprived American heartland. It is the middle of the country that has disengaged from Europe and it is the middle of the country that has turned inward in response to the economic plight these communities face. As such, politicians representing these communities have lost focus on Europe, or worse yet, have blamed free trade and globalism for the problems their constituents face which further undermines transatlantic relations. Of course, it should go without saying, that challenges to the transatlantic relationship exist on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, a major roadblock and arguably the biggest threat that faces the transatlantic relationship, comes from the U.S. side and the alarming new anti-free trade and isolationist rhetoric from elected politicians.
As transatlantics, we must take a page from the history books. It is time to turn the focus of the transatlantic dialog towards jobs and economics, towards rebuilding and modernizing, towards prosperity and cooperation. This time however, the focus is not on rebuilding a war-torn Europe but is on reinvigorating an economically plighted American heartland. It is time for Europe’s Marshall Plan.
The term ‘Europe’s Marshall Plan’ is not meant to suggest that Europe put together an economic aid package to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, but what it is meant to suggest is turning the focus of the transatlantic dialog towards the central pillars that made the Marshall Plan such a success in the first place. The pillars of the Marshall Plan, such as the removal of trade barriers, the modernization of industry and specifically a focus on manufacturing, are all things in which Europe is primed to help the U.S. achieve. The top 50 German companies, representing some of the most advanced manufacturing companies in the world, employ over 700,000 people in the U.S. alone with many of those jobs in regions and industries most affected by the great recession. Furthermore, European countries made up seven of the top ten countries for U.S. foreign direct investment in 2014. Their combined investments contributed significantly more than half of all the foreign direct investments that the U.S. received that year. Both employment and investment are key issues critical to revitalizing the American heartland and are essential to controlling the narrative around transatlantic relations.
We must now focus on a middle-out policy to bring the topic of the transatlantic relationship to those areas within the U.S. which have been overlooked and left out of the debate and do so in a favorable light. We need to focus the attention of American policy makers who represent the most economically depressed regions of the U.S. on the positive role that Europe can play in rebuilding and revitalizing the American heartland. We need these policy makers to understand the benefit that foreign and especially European direct investment can have and to bring them into the fight as allies, not as opponents, to transatlantic relations. For guidance, we need only look to the past successes of the Marshall Plan and the principles upon which it was established. If we can successfully do that, not only can we replicate the economic successes with a new European Marshall Plan, but we can also replicate and continue the far reaching political and social benefits that have underpinned the transatlantic relationship for the past 70 years.