The first conference of “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement” engages young Americans and Germans in discussions of current issues of concern for the transatlantic relationship. Young leaders in the fields of foreign and domestic policy; society, culture, and politics; and business and economics will come together to address challenges facing the United States and Germany and answer one overarching question: why do we need each other for what goals and with which instruments?
The main goal of the discussions was to find answers to what, when, how, and why Germany and the United States depend on each other in the twenty-first century.
Foreign and Domestic Policy Panel
While people in Germany are surprised about the rise of populism in the United States, Germany faces a similar tension due to globalization that leads to a rise of populism and nationalism. The contradiction of globalization and the rise of populism challenge transatlantic relations and make it harder to separate domestic and foreign policy. Only strong transatlantic policy results could send a signal to increasing nationalism. The current policy challenges for Germany, Europe, and the United States are TTIP, terrorism, and the Syria crisis.
In order to talk about global engagement, three questions should be kept in mind: (1) what tools are assets? (2) What tools are missing? And (3) how can Germany and America work together? The focus should be put on how to rebuild trust in transatlantic cooperation, how to deepen transatlantic relations, how to achieve transatlantic security, and how to deal with globalization and the rise of populism. In a speech by President Obama in Hannover, Germany in April 2016, the president gave three expectations of the United States from Germany: (1) a more active role in counterterrorism, (2) to overcome the issue of privacy for security, and (3) to fight inequality in its domestic policy.
Due to Brexit, Germany will become a more important partner for the United States, but it remains to be seen if Germany can meet expectations to be the partner American policymakers want. A transatlantic challenge in the coming months is to understand what Americans want from a post-Brexit Europe in regard to burden sharing. It was found that the divide between populists and an open society within each country is a big challenge as the different groups share common views across the Atlantic. In regards to the upcoming elections in Germany, the relationship of Germany and Russia will also influence Germany’s relationship to the United States. A different issue was the role of the EU and Germany in NATO. In order to be sustainable, the narrative of NATO has to change. While the transatlantic relationship in regard to intelligence and anti-terrorism cooperation works in the view of high elites, the general populace has different views
For the U.S. electorate, inequality is an important subject of the 2016 presidential election. The election in the United States established an anti-Europe movement that is likely to continue after the election. The uniting factor for populists is the economy with a middle class that feels left behind. Furthermore, the prescribed role of Russia as the enemy of the United States can remain as a problem after the election and influence transatlantic relations. Both the United States and Germany need to build trust between governments and the populace. Two possible approaches to build new trust could be to take common action and define common values in the area of cybersecurity and climate change.
Business and Economics Panel
For the European Union, the most important issues for the transatlantic relationship are Brexit, the rising nationalism with its popular sentiment to take control back from Brussels, the financial crisis, and the banking system, as well as the need to stabilize the financial markets.
A puzzle on both sides of the Atlantic is how a growing economy could still lead to the rise of populism. Four issues were seen as important to solve the puzzle. First, can Germany’s approach to solve the financial crisis of the EU through austerity be successfully applied to other countries or would more spending lead to more growth? Second, is the common currency in the EU sustainable with the EU’s institutional set-up with different labor markets and tax systems? Third, does Germany view the influx of immigration as good or bad? And fourth, how is it possible for the elites to find a right response to nationalist movements and to promote openness as good?
In the twenty-first century the transatlantic agenda in the economic sphere is clearly set on open markets. However, this agenda scares some groups in Germany as well as in the United States. There are three potential areas for joint transatlantic activity. The first joint action is TTIP, which needs to be pushed forward (while at the same time the negotiators need to develop a deeper understanding of what holds each party back). A second joint action could be a solution for transatlantic corporate taxes. The third area for joint action is financial regulation that will help to stabilize the financial sector.
In regard to TTIP, the elites and the population are disconnected. The narrative for free trade has to be changed and the population has to be better informed about the negotiations. One of the biggest challenges is the unwillingness on both sides to make compromises in certain areas as Europe and the United States face many social and cultural differences. A common denominator on TTIP has to be found and expectations have to be managed. The debate about TTIP becomes political as the different consumer approaches of the EU and the United States contradict each other. While smaller issues could be agreed upon, TTIP might just be too big to pass. Negotiations on a smaller scale, however, might be too technocratic and dismissed by the public due to distrust in experts. The negotiations can yield positive results in finding common ground in areas that are still developing, e.g., standards regarding autopilot in cars. Considering the business standards in China from a European perspective, the American standards are seen as favorable, which might enhance the chances for further TTIP negotiations.
The focus shifted to the possibility that the structural labor reform in Germany does not work in the rest of Europe and that fiscal spending might need to be increased. Another problem might be the tit-for-tat approach the United States and Germany take on suing companies for tax evasion and how the institutional set-up of the EU influences the situation.
Another important aspect of the discussion was the understanding of technology and the pace at which it advances faster than the government’s ability to pass policies on this issue. The American and German populations have different views when it comes to sharing information with the government and companies, but all shared information faces the problem of trading of privacy for security or vice versa. Hence, cyber security is seen as one arena in which the transatlantic relationship shares a common goal.
Society, Culture & Politics Panel
The issue of Society, Culture & Politics in terms of the transatlantic relationship was framed by three major topics: civil society, reconciliation, and conflict resolution.
In terms of civil society, it became clear that nongovernmental organizations are very important due to several reasons. They are able to put moral issues on the agenda, especially when politicians are more focused on realpolitik. They are able to apply a long-term perspective and show solidarity in times of crisis. Moreover, they can engage with actors with whom the government would not normally engage. Civil societies are able to influence governments in the home country in terms of foreign policy. They can also conduct their own foreign policy apart from the government.
A leading question within the discussion was whether Germany and the United States can come together and cooperate in conflict resolution. Concerning this matter, three major issues were identified, which particularly describe the U.S. perspective on possible cooperation with German civil society groups/think tanks. The cooperation of think tanks and NGOs within the United States is already challenging and to be improved. In many conflicts, U.S. civil society organizations do not see their German counterparts as relevant players with whom they might cooperate. Additionally, center-right groups in the United States are skeptical about the perspective and goals of organizations in Europe, especially when it comes to conflicts in the Middle East including Israel.
In the context of these challenges, there are certain characteristic features of civil society organizations in Germany which might help to overcome the skepticism. There are fewer groups within Germany, making it easier to address a certain organization with a specific issue. When it comes to the Middle East conflict between Palestine and Israel, the Palestinians tend to regard Germany more as a neutral player. At the same time, Israel trusts Germany more than other Europeans. This gives Germany more room to maneuver and will be helpful in terms of conflict resolution. The arguments should be highlighted in public debate to convince American civil societies to engage together with their German counterparts.
In order for this to happen, the variety of groups within Germany have to organize, there has to be a kind of platform or other possibilities for Americans to reach out to specific groups. Debating the domains and areas in which collaboration between U.S. and German civil society organizations is possible and effective, one needs to review what has already been done together, for example, in Afghanistan, and draw lessons from the common efforts.
When it comes to the engagement of civil society after violent conflicts, there is the need to define and clarify the cooperation in between state actors and non-state actors. Justice and peacebuilding being the general goals and purpose of engagement, there is the need to question what justice is, for whom it is needed, and which perspective is taken. Western civil societies should be considerate of local actors and avoid interfering with or destroying local actors’ influence, since the local actors are of essential importance.
In addition to that, it is crucial to reach out to the civil societies which are not involved in the conflict. There is no such thing as a wrong civil society—some just act differently from what is expected by other groups or the majority, which is the challenge of democracy. Discourse is needed to grow, argue, and learn from the variety.
Another aspect of the discussion was the importance of narratives within a society and its culture. There is the need to integrate the memories of all the people. That is to say, the collective narrative needs to be combined with the narrative of the minorities. This integration process is one of the big challenges being identified in Germany as well as in America, not only within the countries, but also for their transatlantic cooperation. What could be the German-American narrative?
A final question addressed was the role of economic actors and entities. Even though many of them perform corporate-social responsibility to some extent, they are generally not considered to be civil society actors, since their behavior is still driven by their own economic interests. Nevertheless, businesses do play a role in shaping the global order and can be a partner and supporter in terms of conflict resolution.