Speech by Harald Leibrecht, Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, at the Georgia State University, October 3, 2012

03.10.2012 - Speech

Speech by Harald Leibrecht, Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, at the Georgia State University, October 3, 2012

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Students, faculty and staff members of Georgia State University,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends of the transatlantic partnership,

It is a great pleasure to be here in Atlanta at Georgia State University today and to speak to you on transatlantic relations. “Think Transatlantic” is this year’s slogan for the 2012 Campus Weeks of the German Information Center in Washington. These events are taking place at 27 colleges and universities across the United States this fall. You, the GSU students, are among more than 6, 000 students who are discussing the current state and possible future roles of the close and vital relationship between Germany and the United States. Thank you for having me here today.

I have been Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation in the Federal Foreign Office since July 2011. In taking over this responsibility I chose to focus on promoting personal and academic exchange and dialogue between Germans and Americans. And, being a businessman myself, I want to strengthen business partnerships. I mostly concentrate on cooperation at a sub-governmental level. And I strongly believe that the various German American networks in civil society form the solid foundation of our strong partnership. As a German and American dual citizen - I was born near Chicago - the transatlantic relationship has always been a matter close to my heart.

Today is a very special day for Germany and for Europe. It is the Day of German Unity. German unification took place 22 years ago. Not even one year earlier, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell – under pressure from the people of the German Democratic Republic and of various other Eastern European countries. These events changed the lives of many people in Germany. They also changed the entire geopolitical balance in the world. The U.S. became the sole super power, while the Soviet Union dissolved. The European Union and NATO were enlarged.

Germany had to find its role as the largest country in Europe.

The U.S. stood closely by Germany after WWII, in the difficult time of German separation and in paving the way for swift and complete re-unification 22 years ago. There are many examples of this extraordinary solidarity, from the Berlin Airlift to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I just want to quote two outstanding examples of this American support. Next June it will be 50 years since President John F. Kennedy stood in front of the Schöneberg Town Hall in Berlin and stated: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. The Berlin Wall had been erected two years before. Just two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a plaque dedication ceremony near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin commemorating another groundbreaking speech, which took place in June 1987: Former President Ronald Reagan asked: “Open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Not many people would have thought that this wish would come true just over two years later.

The presence of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers stationed in Germany after WW II played a major role in making this relationship so very special. These GIs brought the American way of life to Germany and took a part of Germany back to the U.S. Nowadays there are still around 50,000 American soldiers stationed in Germany.

Yet, there are so many other ties: Hundreds of thousands of Americans work for German companies and a great many Germans work for American companies. About 50 million Americans, 16% of the U.S. population, claim German heritage. On October 6, the anniversary of the first settlement, we will therefore celebrate German-American Day all over the U.S.

Chancellor Merkel stressed the importance of the foundation of our relationship in an interview a few months ago: “What brings Europeans and Americans closer together and keeps them close is a common basis for shared values, is a common idea of the individual and his inviolable dignity, is a common understanding of freedom and responsibility.”

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now shed light on some changes in the relationship, before we address its relevance and the challenges and opportunities for the future.

II Changes in the global world / changes in transatlantic relations / changes in Europe and in the United States

Where do we stand today, what are the main pillars of the relationship between Europe and the U.S.?

First, there is the intensity and sheer volume of economic exchange. Despite the recession of recent years, the EU and the U.S. remain each other’s most important markets. No other two markets in the world are so tightly integrated. The numbers are impressive:

- EU-U.S. merchandise trade reached 636 billion USD in 2011.

- European investment amounted to 72% of total foreign direct investment in the US in 2010.

- Affiliates of European majority-owned companies employed 3.5 million Americans in 2010.

Second, our political partnership has never been closer. We closely coordinate all aspects of security policy, especially within the framework of NATO.

Third, we have many ties in civil society, in research and in education. Last year 9500 students from Germany studied in the U.S. and 8500 American students came to German universities. Nearly 50 students from Germany are at GSU this semester, while about 25 GSU students are in Germany, studying in places including Heidelberg, Bielefeld, Erlangen and Mainz.

Yet, neither Germany and Europe nor the U.S. nor both together can solve today’s problems without looking to other partners. In 2012, we live in a truly globalized world. Both the rise of new powers like China, India and Brazil and also the rapid economic development of Asia as a whole are reshaping the geopolitical map. We are now facing global challenges like truly worldwide economic competition and – on the public policy side - international terrorism, climate change, and food and water security.

The issues that the transatlantic partners are dealing with now have changed fundamentally. In addition to the global problems I just mentioned, we are mainly dealing with conflicts and security policy questions in third countries and regions. Currently mainly in Syria, Iran, the Middle East and Afghanistan. The absence of genuine transatlantic questions and problems shows just how good and stable our relationship is.

In Europe, we are still struggling to find the best way for a real political union. Unfortunately, this path is very difficult and hard to understand for the average citizen. This is why – I hear this often in my constituency in the south of Germany – some people look back fondly at the “good old days” of the Deutsch Mark and the “sleepy” West German Bonn republic. Yet there is no alternative to a strong Europe. We have achieved a lot during the last decade. Former Secretary of State Kissinger once asked for a single phone number to call if he wanted to speak to Europe. Now he could call Lady Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. And still, he would most probably call Paris, Berlin, Rome and London in addition.

In the U.S. there are also many shifts underway. Society is changing significantly. Americans of Asian and Hispanic descent, who used to be considered minorities, are becoming the majority. The country is deeply divided between red and blue. And so is the political landscape in Washington. This rift makes policy extremely challenging. Let me say from my European point of view that we are concerned about this polarization.

The United States expects Europe to be a real partner in responsibility. Germany is no longer the country in the eye of the Cold War storm that needs to be protected by the U.S. Germany is willing to shoulder this new responsibility. No matter who wins the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, the expectations placed on Europe will rise. And I am convinced that Europe is ready to live up to them.

Transatlantic relations are in very good shape and remain indispensable. However they are no longer a “fast-selling item”. The relationship is dealing with three major challenges at the moment. But like with nearly every challenge; I think that all three can bring the EU and the U.S. even closer together.

In recent months the question of the relevance of the transatlantic relationship has often come up in regard to the growing relevance of Asia, both for the U.S. (the so-called Asian pivot) and Europe. But if you ask the American and European public, the transatlantic option remains the clear first choice. In a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund, 61% of EU respondents (and even 68% of German respondents) said that the United States was more important for their country’s national interests than Asia. Similarly, 55% of Americans felt that Europe was more important than Asia.

Still, it is true that Asia is playing a growing role on the global stage. The U.S. has reacted to this shift with a new strategic orientation towards Asia. We all saw the impressive pictures of President Obama in Asia and took notice of Secretary of State Clinton’s three visits to the region in 2012 alone. But I don’t think that there is a question of either Atlantic or Pacific. Quite the contrary:

Europe has also intensified its relations with Asia and the Pacific. In 2011 China was for the first time Germany’s most important trading partner outside the EU. And Chancellor Angela Merkel visited China for the sixth time a few weeks ago. Like the U.S., Germany and Europe have an elemental interest in peace and security in Asia. And I completely agree with Secretary of State Clinton when she says: I quote “To expand democracy in the region is not just the right thing to do. It’s the strategically smart thing to do”. Thus, we share the same interests in the region and we are already closely coordinating our policy towards Asia. This challenge can thus also be an opportunity for our partnership.

Right now, the biggest challenges we are facing on both sides of the Atlantic are the debt crises.

In the U.S., there is uncertainty about how to tackle the growing deficit. What is going to happen at the end of the year as you approach the so-called fiscal cliff?

We know very well in Germany that here in the U.S. there are concerns about how the European debt crisis is being handled and about its potential impact on the U.S. economy. I can assure you that the German Government is firmly committed to a Europe that tackles the root problems of debt, deficits, anemic growth and economic divergence. However, there is no miraculous solution - no big bazooka - to solve every problem at once. Germany is promoting a combination of consolidation, structural reforms and well-targeted growth stimuli to overcome the crisis. The 120-billion-euro “compact for growth and jobs” is a key element. We cannot achieve sustainable growth by spending money that we do not have. We also need fiscal discipline and monetary stability. That is why Germany strongly opposes deficit spending measures and a loose monetary policy.

While Germany recognizes its role and responsibility, we have to stress that Germany cannot solve the problems of the European economy on its own. The European Stability Mechanism, the ESM, will become operational this fall. It was just approved by the Federal Constitutional Court last month. This is a big step forward out of the crisis.

Yet Europe will overcome the crisis only if we draw the right conclusions from the crisis and take the next step towards ‘more Europe’. This means building a closer political union and in the long run moving towards some kind of a United States of Europe. A strong and prosperous Europe will then be an even more attractive partner for the U.S.

Finally, let me mention a challenge that is very close to my heart. That is also where academic exchange, education and German language learning come in. I mentioned it before: a good partnership between countries and regions depends mainly on the people. People who are committed, interested and motivated in advocating this partnership. The post war generation had many great politicians who lived the transatlantic relationship in their own lives. Henry Kissinger, Joseph Liebermann, Richard Lugar and in Germany Helmut Schmidt and Hans Dietrich Genscher, to name just a few. Today on the Hill we rarely find young politicians who feel a similarly strong connection to Germany and Europe. The same is true for US society on the whole. More and more people in the US have Asian or Latin American roots. We have to invest in the young generation and convince them that the transatlantic partnership is still important. This is definitely a challenge for the coming decades. Germany would like to take up this challenge, for example, by initiating a strong campaign to further promote German as a foreign language in U.S. high schools. Learning a language raises interest in a country like nearly no other tool.

On the other hand, I see some very promising opportunities for intensifying our future cooperation – no matter who will be living in the White House next year.

What Europe and the U.S. both need now is visionary and determined leadership for a joint project that can boost growth on both sides of the Atlantic. We already have a good and effective regulatory forum in place: the Transatlantic Economic Council, the TEC. Over the last year the TEC has delivered a number of valuable and concrete results for business, like common standards for electric vehicles.

The TEC will remain a crucial platform for our cooperation in the future, but for even closer cooperation and better results we need new strategies.

A comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment agreement would establish a true transatlantic marketplace. EU and U.S. leaders endorsed this idea at the G20 summit in Mexico in June.

The United States and Europe should aim for a new, comprehensive transatlantic agreement that covers all relevant economic issues.

A strong outcome to the negotiations ahead of us could not only strengthen transatlantic ties, but also encourage a forward-looking multilateral trade liberalization agenda.

Germany is not only a strong advocate of further EU-U.S. economic integration. We also want to boost bilateral cooperation. Workforce training, for instance, is a field where we can further promote the exchange of best practices.

We have been closely following the debate in the U.S. concerning policies to strengthen manufacturing industries. We are proud that President Obama commended the cooperation of Siemens and other German companies with community colleges and local authorities in his last State of the Union address.

We welcome the interest U.S. stakeholders are taking in German experience in promoting innovation, strengthening SMEs and providing high-quality vocational education. Throughout the U.S., German and American companies have identified workforce skills as a key challenge to their success. It is a decisive factor in investment decisions.

The dual system of vocational training is one of the reasons for Germany’s economic success. It provides sound qualifications for high school graduates.

That is why the German Embassy in Washington DC has launched a “Skills Initiative” to identify and spread best practices in sustainable workforce development in the U.S. The initiative brings German and American businesses together with local education and training providers to develop the training programs best suited to businesses’ needs.

Secure, affordable and sustainable energy is of the utmost importance to both our economies. This means that a forward-looking- transatlantic agenda should also tackle the following questions: How can we become less dependent on fossil fuels? How can we speed up the transition to renewable energy? How can we promote the development and use of clean technologies?

Our present energy supply structures will have to be radically transformed in the medium to long term. With the right policies to revamp our energy systems, a huge potential for innovation, growth and employment can be tapped.

Did you know that in Germany, 380,000 jobs have been created in the renewable energy sector? To put things in perspective: This is around the same number of people as work directly in the assembly of automobiles!

I firmly believe that we should intensify this collaboration in this field, especially at the state level. The efforts of several U.S. states to increase the share of renewables in the energy supply to 30% by 2015 shows a huge potential for cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Having said all this, I think my answer to the question is clear. Yes, the transatlantic relationship is relevant and will remain relevant in the future. Even more: Our strong partnership is indispensable. The United States needs a strong Europe, and we need a strong United States. Only together and in close cooperation with other powers can we solve the challenges of a globalized world. In short – I quote the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her speech on the 60th anniversary of the “Atlantik Bruecke”: “We need each other”.

Yet, transatlantic relations can’t be left on autopilot, as Foreign Minister Westerwelle put it a few weeks ago. They need a constant flow of fresh input. I was happy that I had the chance to give a little input today. Now I am looking forward to your questions and remarks, to give me some fresh American input.

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