Speech by Harald Leibrecht, Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, held at the German-American Center/James F. Byrnes Institute, Stuttgart, on 5 December 2011

05.12.2011 - Speech

The opportunities and challenges of transatlantic relations

--Translation of advance text! --

Allow me to begin by thanking you for your kind invitation to speak to you today about the opportunities and challenges of transatlantic relations.

The Federal Foreign Office has had a Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation for 30 years now. I have held the post, parallel to my work as a Member of the Bundestag, since July. The Coordinator’s core responsibility is to foster commonalities and elucidate differences between the two sides of the Atlantic. But, of course, each person who takes the job sets their priorities. In my case, the focus has been on promoting personal and academic exchange as well as business – on cooperation at a sub-governmental level with the many networks that form the basis of our transatlantic partnership.

Within those networks, an important focal point is the work of the German-American institutes and centres. I have enormous respect for the dedicated work that has been done to reorganize these bodies after the America Houses were closed.

It is important to me not just to focus on capital cities in my capacity as Coordinator. This makes the German-American centres and institutes vital partners for my work, and I look forward to collaborating closely with them. It is of course especially nice to be kicking off with an event here at home.

Remembering that today’s event has been announced as a discussion, I don’t want to give you a long lecture. Instead I would like to look in a little detail at three things.

- the current state of transatlantic relations,

- the parameters which have changed those relations in recent years,

- and the challenges which set our agenda, along with the consequences of those challenges.

Transatlantic relations: a pillar of German foreign policy

The two pillars of German foreign policy are European integration – and transatlantic relations. That has been true ever since the Federal Republic of Germany was founded, and there is nothing, if I may just underscore this, that can change that.

The evidence of how significant our transatlantic relations are is everywhere:

- there’s the intensity and sheer volume of economic exchange,

- our close collaboration and coordination on all aspects of security policy,

- the many and varied ties in civil society, in research and education,

- and, not least, our common values: democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The United States is still Germany’s most important trading partner outside the EU, and Germany is the most important trading partner the US has in Europe. At 212 billion US dollars, Germany is the United States’ fourth-largest foreign investor, with German investment even continuing to rise during the global economic and financial crisis.

Of course the economic and financial crisis did make itself felt in transatlantic trade, especially by reducing the demand coming from the US – but our bilateral trade has been on the rise again since 2009.

The EU and the US remain the world’s most productive and tightly connected economic regions. Although they only make up just over 10 per cent of the world’s population, they account for more than half of global national product. The two conduct around 15 20 per cent of their trade with one another. Each is the other’s most significant investment partner, providing more than half of all the investments made.

Both sides are working to ensure that things stay that way.

At the political level, the primary locus of our deep-rooted alliance with the United States is NATO. We are working in close cooperation with our transatlantic partners in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a host of other arenas around the world.

In research and education too, we enjoy the benefits of close collaboration. My recent visit to California provided me with renewed first-hand proof of that. Each year, more than 5000 students and academics take part in publicly funded exchange programmes. There are over 1000 partnerships linking German and US universities. The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange programme alone has enabled upwards of 19,000 young Americans and Germans to spend a year in the other country since 1983. Such first-hand encounters are not only formative experiences in the lives of individuals; they also form part of the solid foundations which underpin our bilateral relations.

Changes in transatlantic relations

To sum up, transatlantic relations are in good nick!

However – that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels.

Transatlantic relations have changed over the last 20 years, and the transformation is worth having a closer look at.

First of all, a new generation has come to dominate the political elite on both sides of the Atlantic. The post-war generation – figures like Senator John McCain or former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – who, coming out of the Cold War era, felt such a close connection with Europe, have mostly been replaced in the ranks of policy-makers. This has led to transatlantic relations becoming less emotionally charged than they used to be.

In security policy too, there is a new dimension to transatlantic relations. Germany and Europe are less dependent on the United States following the end of the Cold War. For forty years, the East-West conflict determined the political situation in Germany as well as transatlantic relations. West Germany’s survival depended on the security guarantee provided by the United States, which made it primarily an importer of security. Today, the states surrounding post-reunification Germany are its friends and allies, and the country is itself in demand as an exporter of security and stability.

Economic relations between the two sides of the Atlantic have changed too in recent years – especially with the rise of the emerging economies, and China in particular.

Both Europe and the US have significantly increased their trade with the emerging economies over the last few years. In 2009, about 10 per cent of German exports went to the United States – whereas 15 per cent were already going to Asia, with the gap set to keep growing in the years to come. While the US economy is in a weakened state at present, rising demand from Asia is making up for it.

The United States, for its part concerned about economic developments in Europe in view of the euro crisis, is also hoping for greater demand from Asia. It has launched an impressive political offensive to intensify its relations with the Asia-Pacific region. You will all have seen the pictures of the APEC Summit in Hawaii and the East Asia Summit in Indonesia, and you will have heard talk about building up America’s military presence in Darwin, Australia. Europe would be well advised to be aware that the United States is developing into more and more of a Pacific power. It is not possible to consider the future of transatlantic relations and ignore how extremely significant the emerging economies are, especially China and India.

There can be no doubt about it. Recent years have brought change to transatlantic relations.

Enduring importance: the new transatlantic agenda

But have those years also made the ties spanning the Atlantic less significant? It may seem so, at first glance. On closer inspection though, as I am convinced, it becomes clear that our transatlantic partnership is still indispensable.

What has changed is that there is now a new transatlantic agenda, which differs considerably from that of previous decades.

So what are the major challenges for the future of transatlantic relations?

The first and most critical, urgent thing that springs to mind is of course the need to deal with the budget crises on both sides of the Atlantic. In our closely interconnected world, the European and US debt crises each harbour a risk of contagion. The two sides’ repeated calls for the other to launch stimulus packages or combat debt are evidence of how tightly bound up with one another the transatlantic markets are.

The crisis is going to keep us and our partners occupied for some time. We are doing everything to stabilize the eurozone and prevent it from having adverse effects on the global financial markets. To this end, it is particularly important that Europe and the United States coordinate their actions and, wherever possible, speak with one voice.

Among the other challenging issues we face are energy security and climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the threat of terrorism, defending our open societies, and regional conflicts largely far removed from our own borders.

What all these issues have in common is that they are not relevant only to Germany, or even only to Europe or the transatlantic region. They are global issues, or at least their significance and their consequences are global, and no state can overcome the challenges alone. Just like Europe, the world power that is the United States also needs partners to find solutions to the urgent problems of our times – and to assert its legitimate interests in relations with others.

We also need transatlantic cooperation in order to defend the Enlightenment values that bind us together, the principles of inviolable human dignity.

In Europe and in the US, we are proud to be putting those values into practice: democracy, liberty, tolerance, human rights, the rule of law, freedom of the press and protection of minorities. These are the values that make Europe and the United States what we are, and there are many regions around the world in which they are not yet as well established.

If we are to face the challenges ahead successfully, we are going to have to consult and cooperate with one another. To make progress, we will increasingly depend on our ability to bring about the closest possible transatlantic cooperation. That is the key to success. We need to analyse the problems together, seek solutions together, take decisions together and act together. This calls for us to examine our existing channels of transatlantic communication and, where necessary, to open new ones.

The outlook: partners in responsibility

The challenges I have just outlined are no reason to fear for the future of transatlantic relations. We do need to make sure, though, that we accept those challenges and do our bit towards rising to them. Europe needs to become a partner in responsibility.

After all, part of the change in transatlantic relations is that the United States now mainly looks at Europe from a pragmatic point of view. If Europe pulls its weight in tackling the global challenges, it remains a relevant, important and perhaps indispensable partner to the US. Conversely, if it doesn’t, it runs the risk of losing that status.

To be a partner in responsibility, Europe needs to be prosperous economically and on the same page in terms of security policy. It needs greater capacity and willingness to act if it is to keep Washington’s ear when it comes to policy priorities and ideas. And there we have yet another reason why it is so important to resolve the debt crisis in Europe – yet another reason why we need more Europe, not less.

Thank you.

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