Speech by the Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation Michael Georg Link, at a reception on the Conference of the Heads of German Missions
Before I begin let me express my deeply felt condolences to the Canadian people after the terrible stabbing and murder this week in Saskatchewan.
Tous nos sentiments, toute notre sympathie sont avec le Canada!
Dear guests, the fact that so many of you are here proves that transatlantic issues remain at the top of the agenda where they belong.
Whether it be Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, concerns about energy security, or imminent changes to our strategy on China – discussions on every current topic of debate always also involve the United States and Canada.
Over the past months, we have come to fully realize – both in Germany and in Europe – not only how essential, but how vitally important the transatlantic partnership actually is. We must set our sights on forging the future of European-American relations – as partners in leadership. These were the words of Federal Minister Baerbock in her speech at The New School this August, in which she referred to the original quote by former President George H. W. Bush.
I do not want my remarks this evening to be a keynote address. Rather, I want us to have enough time to engage in discussion.
But as new Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation I would like to briefly point out some ideas, and I´m particularly glad to see so many predecessor, e.g. Werner Weidenfeld, Karsten Voigt, Peter Beyer. So how can we take the transatlantic partnership to a new level, so that we will be prepared for future developments.
From Germany’s perspective, the U.S. is facing quite a numerous number of challenges. Many are worried about the midterm elections and even more worried about the next presidential election in 2024. Donald Trump acting in the White House until January 2021 struck a deep nerve here on our side of the ocean.
That is why we must prepare for a variety of scenarios.
- We should keep open, and further develop, our channels of communication with all political groups.
- We must intensify our relations to Americans from all walks of life at state level, because this gives us greater access and also because that is where the next generation of politicians in Washington will come from. This is why I made Ohio my first stop during my initial trip to the U.S., and why I will be going to visit Georgia and Texas in October.
- We should not avoid pointing out problems, such as worrisome developments with regard to voting rights, and Donald Trump’s intentional undermining of trust in the nation’s institutions, as well as the growing ideological divisions in U.S. society.
Last but not least, we should identify common interests that will be valid no matter what political course is set by the next U.S. administration.
Currently, Democrats’ prospects appear to have brightened – but questions remain:
- What will be the effect on the midterms of issues like abortion and mass shootings?
- Will the passing of laws spurring infrastructure investment, along with other bills, manage to sway public opinion and give new hope to voters who fear they are being left behind?
- And how much trust do Americans currently have in representative democracy?
I am very happy that right after this we will have a brief panel discussion on these and other issues with two of the American Academy’s new distinguished Fellows: Alma Steingart from Columbia University and Joshua Sellers from Arizona State arrived in August – looking forward to hear and read more from your side. The discussion will be moderated by Jennifer Wilton, editor‑in‑chief of Die Welt newspaper.
I thank all of them for their readiness and a special thanks goes to Daniel Benjamin and the American Academy in Berlin for making this debate possible.
Let me also take this opportunity to say thank you to the Federal Foreign Office, my own Transatlantic Coordinator staff and the team at my German Bundestag office, as well as the International Club for organizing tonight’s event. Preparedness / This was the key word
Being prepared also means taking seriously the need for changes in our relations with China. There is, after all, clearly a feeling on both sides of the Atlantic that the US, Canada and the EU need to take a tougher stance on China. We Germans and Europeans have an urgent interest in reducing our dependencies and minimizing our vulnerability. This is all the more true now that China is openly adapting a more and more assertive and aggressive line.
Already in its coalition agreement, prior to Russia’s war, the new Federal Government took a far more critical stance on China compared to previous German governments. We will only prevail in our dealings with China if we stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and Canada.
Being prepared also means moving trade forward with partners with whom we have common values:
- The time is long overdue for us to finally ratify CETA. With whom should we take this step, if not with Canada? The expectations from our Canadian friends which I encountered on this issue during my initial trip to Ottawa in June have been more than clear. Fellow parliamentarian’s let´s get it done.
- We must fully understand that, for Europe to be a partner in leadership, we must first be capable of action. We must be able to actually deliver. It must be possible to ratify our joint agreements, in a timely and efficient manner. I think, this is also part of the “Zeitenwende”.
- One part of this watershed moment is, after all, to reduce unilateral dependencies. We should resolutely pursue trade agreements with democracies wherever the opportunity arises. This may be in Latin America, and it will certainly be with the United States, currently in the context of the Trade and Technology Council. We must always make clear that we, as Europeans, actually need to achieve more on trade, and that we want to achieve more.
- When I speak of Europeans, I do so deliberately, because transatlanticism today means much more than bilateral friendships. It needs to be a broad alliance that includes the U.S., Canada, and the entire European Union as a whole, as an institution.
Being prepared, after all, also means drawing the right conclusions from the fact that classic transatlanticists are a dying breed. Many German 18 to 25‑year‑olds today will only have heard of Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” from reading a history book. So we clearly need a new transatlantic generation. This effort will only succeed if we - and that is my second key word – reinforce our strengths.
Incidentally, this will be needed regardless of what the electoral outcomes on either side of the Atlantic may be.
I want to highlight the aspect of exchange - programs between our societies, which is one of my focuses as Transatlantic Coordinator.
Reinforcing our strengths means, especially at this watershed moment, making sure that transatlantic programs are not impacted by across-the-board budget cuts. It also means that we must future-proof and, if need be, realign our programs.
We must create exchange programs for people who would not seek out and apply for an exchange on their own initiative – be it for social, economic, or cultural reasons. Specifically, this means we must connect with new target groups. In the U.S., this would be groups that have no biographical or cultural ties with Europe; in Germany this should include a special focus on group from Eastern Germany.
Demographic Change is in full swing in the US. Fewer and fewer Americans have European ties to look back on, ties they have because of their ancestors or because they were deployed to Europe as part of the U.S. military’s presence here. An increasing share of the population has roots in Central and South America, or in Asia. We should not fear this trend, but we must spark an interest in Germany and in Europe in these people!
Among our many exchange programs are those for young journalists. That is why I am very happy that we have here with us this evening a group from the RIAS Berlin Commission. A warm welcome to you! You hail from all parts of the United States – from Texas, Illinois, Georgia, and California. You have a wide range of backgrounds, and not all of you have a direct link to Germany.
Many people who make exchanges possible are here tonight – you represent government ministries, organizations, and foundations. You´re the champions of our transatlantic cooperation, forgive me for not introducing each and every one of you. But I do want to specifically point out one program that underlines the points I have just made. Special funding from the European Recovery Plan and implementation by the German Academic Exchange Service have made it possible for Germany to participate in the U.S. government’s Gilman Program.
Ambassador Haber will be signing the respective framework agreement in Washington in November. This is an important step with a view to giving American university students from low-income families the opportunity to come to Germany on an exchange.
As Transatlantic Coordinator, it is a pleasure and an honor to work on these important projects, to take political action, and work closely in a spirit of trust with you here at the Federal Foreign Office. 2022is marked by Russia´s brutal war on Ukraine. Yet 2022 is also a year in which both Europe and the transatlantic alliance have stood united and been capable of action. President Biden and his administration are more pro‑EU than any administration before them - and possibly a more than any future U.S. government. Let´s not waste this. In Canada, too, it can be said that bilateral relations are at an all-time high – with the Federal Chancellor’s visit being the most recent proof of this.
Let us jointly harness this transatlantic momentum – by preparedness and by reinforcing our strengths and focusing on what is essential – that´s how we can build a new transatlantic generation! Thank you.