Event Summary
"The Current State of Transatlantic Relations: An Assessment"

Group photo
© FNF North America

The Transatlantic Dialogue Program of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation North America held its annual conference on the “Current State of Transatlantic Relations: An Assessment” in Warrenton, Virginia from November 4 – 7, 2021. The conference brought together political professionals working in diverse sectors across the United States, Canada, and Germany to discuss issues and contemplate policies at the forefront of the transatlantic discourse.

Robert Moran, Partner at the Brunswick Group, opened the conference with his presentation on the 20 global mega trends that will shape the new decade, including the rise of women, water scarcity, automation and the future of work, the Splinternet, and truth decay, just to name a few. How will leaders meet the economic and political demands of the new global middle class? How will citizens and consumers react to 21st century surveillance? How will organizations connect profit and purpose? What can we reasonably anticipate for the 2020s? Participants explored these questions, and many more, in small breakout sessions after Moran’s presentation and presented their findings to the larger group later that evening over dinner.

In the afternoon, André Albinati, Principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, joined us virtually from Ottawa to give participants a political review of the 2021 Canadian federal election. The snap election in September produced another minority parliament, reaffirming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in government; this is a third straight victory for Trudeau, who has led the Liberal Party since 2013. Though the Liberals were hoping to win a majority government to govern alone, the results indicate a parliament strikingly similar to the one elected just two years ago in 2019. Looking ahead, questions are beginning to be raised about Trudeau’s political future and whether the prime minister, who will hit a 10-year mark soon, will lead the Liberals into another election.

On Saturday morning, Michael Link MP, Member of the German Bundestag, turned the focus on Germany and analyzed the results of the 2021 German federal election, in which Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) at 25.7 percent narrowly outperformed Armin Laschet’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which received 24.1 percent of the vote. What shifts led to the SPD win? Who turned up to vote where, and why? Link described the electoral result as one characterized by disunity on the CDU side and unparalleled unity within the SPD camp. Both the FDP’s (11.5%) and Greens’ (14.8%) strong performance, he said, directly reflects just how much young Germans are tired of the status quo and frustrated with Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives. Link also brought up the issue of coalition negotiations, the next step toward government formation, mentioning that a coalition will only succeed if all parties work together, build trust, and make compromises that will not jeopardize the integrity of each party. The likeliest coalition will involve the Greens, FDP, and SPD (a so-called “traffic light” coalition, named after the colors of the parties) with Olaf Scholz at the helm. If it passes, it will be Germany’s first ever three-party ruling coalition.

MP Link’s analysis of the federal election results and its implications for German politics and policy was a great segue into the next breakout session. Several conference participants had recently spent the week leading up to Germany’s federal election in Berlin on this year’s Study and Information Tour for American and Canadian Campaign Experts. Two study tour participants moderated three small groups each, sharing their insights and impressions from the trip and comparing and contrasting US and German election campaigns. This allowed participants to gain a unique overview of how the German political party system functions.

In the afternoon, Rachel Rizzo (Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center), Dr. Sebastian Bruns (inaugural Fulbright-John McCain Fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy), and Dr. Jan Gruenhage (Head of the Political Department at the German Embassy in D.C.) shared what the current foreign policy, security, and defense issues facing North America and Europe are. The panelists discussed everything from NATO to European sovereignty, from Afghanistan to China, and from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to piracy on the high seas. While the new Biden administration is pro-NATO and pro-Europe, one legacy of the Trump administration is still a lack of trust in long-term American reliability. Recent blunders like the new AUKUS security alliance and the US’ swift withdrawal from Afghanistan have not helped to rebuild that trust.

On the final day of the conference, another Member of the German Bundestag, Torsten Herbst MP, joined us virtually from the state of Saxony to give participants an update on Germany’s coalition negotiations. Herbst was optimistic that the FDP will agree on a coalition and echoed Link’s sentiment that all three parties will need to work closely together so as not to form a coalition at the cost of the other two. He also went into some detail about voting patterns within Germany. When it comes to elections, Germany is still in some respects a divided country. In general, Chancellor Merkel's party dominated the south and west, while the SPD came out strongest in the rest of the country, except for some areas of the former East Germany, which are marked by strong support for the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The last panel discussion of the conference explored issues in American politics outside of the Capital Beltway. Lieutenant Governor of Alaska Kevin Meyer, former Lieutenant Governor of Montana Mike Cooney, and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott from Washington State each gave an overview of the most pressing political issues in their home states after the pandemic. These included addiction, homelessness, tourism, and rank choice voting.

The discussions that took place over the course of the conference will continue to play an important role in the transatlantic dialogue, and we look forward to continuing them at next year’s conference.