A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation

January 25, 2019

Foreign & Domestic Policy Virtual Meeting

With radical unpredictability being a factor on both sides of the Atlantic—in Germany, uncertainty regarding coalition formation and in the U.S., uncertainty coming from both the White House and from Congress—anticipating some of the key obstacles as well as areas of common interest facing the transatlantic partnership is a core task for participants in the AGI Project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation.” The members of the project’s Foreign & Domestic Policy group have a variety of expertise, including energy and climate policy, international security, foreign policy, and populism.

During the second virtual meeting, the group refined the issues on which they will present in April and considered what can be done practically to address foreign and domestic policy problems.

What can be done to address immigration and integration challenges within both a national framework and regarding the foreign local push factors causing people to migrate?

  • Populist parties are winning the messaging war. Mainstream leaders and politicians need to reframe the dialogue surrounding immigration and integration, and new voices from migrant/diaspora communities need to enter the discourse. What should the new narrative be?
  • The European Union has talked about giving aid to African countries like a Marshall Plan, but they must be sensitive to colonial history. A focus on nurturing entrepreneurship in Africa would help the continent develop and retain its young people.
  • A revised narrative might try to remind the public in both America and Germany that in both countries there are historical examples of immigrant groups successfully integrating, despite having initially been considered too different to integrate. In addition to historical successes, the failures of rejecting immigration could also be highlighted, such as labor shortages in Hungary, Germany, or other countries.
  • Despite modern challenges, it must be remembered that considerable progress has been made in Germany toward3 acceptance of multiculturalism in the last two decades.
  • The immigration situations in the United States and Germany are quite different, so it cannot be expected that two unique challenges will be overcome with the same means. Each nation will need its own policies and programs, tailored to its situation.
  • Domestically, Germany must continue to legislate against discrimination.
  • The labels used in the past to understand different types of immigrants are no longer sufficient to understand the contemporary situation. The United States and Germany must develop new types of visas to reflect this.

How can mainstream parties stay relevant in the face of rising populism? What is causing people to lose their trust in mainstream politics?

  • Calling populations that are susceptible to populism racists, bigots, or “deplorables” is only going to alienate them further.
  • Populists tend to make grandiose promises that they cannot enact once in power; pointing out this trend could disillusion voters toward populist rhetoric.
  • Mainstream parties promote the status quo, and it is difficult for people to get excited by that. Instead, politicians need to promote their ideas for improvement.
  • Economic anxieties can contribute to populism and can contribute to rhetoric about culture. Mainstream parties may in response point out that Germany currently has low unemployment and a surplus economy, and that immigration has already been significantly reduced. On the other hand, national economic health means little if the common person does not feel the benefit; the rising cost of living concern many Germans.
  • Is it harder today to build a consensus in politics? What happened to the steady, consistent traditional parties that had been the foundation of German and American politics?
  • Germany is not necessarily moving right: the Green party on the left has also gained popularity in recent years.
  • The far-right AfD has gained in popularity as a reaction against Angela Merkel and her refugee policies; now that Merkel is in her final term, it is possible that the AfD will likewise decline.
  • The European Parliament elections will be held at the end of May. Populists tend to do better in such elections because those who vote in them are often reacting strongly against the establishment while more moderate citizens do not vote.

German-American relations used to just be about Germany and the United States. Now, it also involves considering the rest of the world. What are the cardinal issues that will drive how Germany and the United States relate to one another in the coming years?

  • The President of the United States sets the tone for U.S. foreign policy. President Trump’s confusing and often conflicting rhetoric and actions make it difficult for the German government to relate to the United States. President Trump’s retrenchment will also affect the American public’s willingness to accept ongoing responsibilities abroad.
  • China has developed into a major global power. How will the United States and Germany cooperate as the West reacts to its problems with China, such as intellectual property disputes and trade?
  • The internet and cybersecurity are also major global themes, especially since the “Worldwide Web” transcends national borders. How can the United States and Germany work to ensure that the internet reflects the democratic values both countries hold, including free speech? Privacy concerns, cybercrime, and cyberwarfare are pressing issues.
  • The Middle East remains a source of conflict between the two countries. The United States and Germany have conflicting strategies regarding Israel, Iran, and Syria.
  • Is German allegiance to the European Union going to set it at odds with the United States? As President Trump disparages NATO, talk of a European Army has been tentatively voiced. However, because of the sensitive nature of national sovereignty and European history, it seems unlikely that a single European army could be achieved in the near future.
  • Russia and its troubled relationship with Ukraine are very concerning for Europeans, including Germans, but President Trump has an ambiguous relationship with Russia and Putin. Russia is also a significant force in the Middle East, while the United States seeks to remove itself from that region. Should the European Union attempt to fill that vacuum before Russia does?
  • Africa may be a region where Germany and the United States have common security interests. Both the European Union and the United States work with African governments to train local military forces in order to support regional stability, and both countries provide aid to African nations. Europe is particularly incentivized to aid Africa because developing and stabilizing Africa will reduce migration out of Africa into Europe.