The 2013 Transatlantic Trends and the Future of the Transatlantic Relationship

In September of this year, the German Marshall Fund released its annual Transatlantic Trends, “to foster debate on the strategic policy goals, objectives, and values of the United States and Europe as members of the transatlantic community.” (p. iii, Trends)  The purpose if my post is not to go through a deep analysis of the Trends (especially since the German Marshall Fund has already done that); instead, I want to give some of my thoughts on the future of the transatlantic relationship based on the results.

In the last two years, the United States has made some important decisions in regards to its foreign policy with implications for the future of the transatlantic relationship.  To begin with, the US decided to “pivot to Asia,” (see for example, “America’s Pacific Century,” by Hillary Clinton).  Ironically, towards the end of her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton assured an audience at the Brookings Institution that “our pivot to Asia was not a pivot away from Europe.” (p. 10, “The Transatlantic Partnership: A Statesman’s Forum with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton“)  Additionally, the United States’ involvement in NATO operations in Libya sent a message to European members that they needed to consider taking on a bit more responsibility in defense and collective security (I recommend reading “NATO after Libya,” by Anders Fogh Rasmussen).  More recently, the NSA debacle and government shutdown in the US put a damper on negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

As a result of these issues, the question facing policymakers and scholars on both sides of the Atlantic concerns the nature of the transatlantic relationship.  Clinton, during her speech, proposed that, “Europeans were asking…whether [the transatlantic relationship] was even still relevant in the 21st century.” (p. 3 of the transcript)  Judy Dempsey, in her excellent piece, “The End of the Post-1945 Transatlantic Relationship,” asserted that European leaders “[do not] know what kind of new relationship they want with the United States.”  Perhaps examining the results of the Transatlantic Trends will give officials a starting place.

I was not surprised when I read that, “Americans and Europeans likewise find themselves challenged by the rise of non-Western Powers.” (p. 9, Trends)  The rise of the BRICS and how the West should address them was one of last year’s themes at the Brussels Forum.  I even wrote a piece about it titled, “Shifting Power and the Future of Europe.”  While the Transatlantic Trends illustrate that respondents on both sides of the Atlantic support strong US leadership and EU leadership, the report does not ask what that leadership should look like.  How will Europe and the US, for example, address the concerns like those voiced during the general debate of the 68th session for the General Assembly? Dilma Rousseff (President of Brazil), Manmohan Singh (Prime Minister of India), and Jacob Zuma (President of South Africa), all called for reform of the UN Security Council.  Wang Yi (Minister of Foreign Affairs for China), put forth that,

“China calls for greater representation and voice of developing countries in the global
governance system, and supports the G20, the BRICS and other emerging
mechanisms in playing a big role so as to make the international order fairer and
more equitable. China calls for reforming the international monetary and financial
systems and upholding the role of the World Trade Organization as the main

Should the West continue to support the status quo concerning international institutions and bodies like the UN, or should they take the lead in shaping a new global order?

64% of Europeans saw “countries like India, Brazil, and Indonesia [as an] opportunity for new markets and investment,” whereas only 48% of US respondents felt the same way. (p. 17, Trends)  If that’s the case, would it make sense for European countries to “sit down at the table” so to speak when it comes to reform of the UN Security Council so they do not lose those economic opportunities?  Might those rising powers use their calls for reform as a “carrot” during negotiations on trade agreements?  Given the large difference in attitude by Europeans and Americans in their approaches to the rising powers, this might be an area where policymakers on both sides will have to make sure they are on the same page.

As for transatlantic trade, “fifty-six percent of respondents in the EU and 49% of respondents in the United States said that increased transatlantic trade and investment would help their economies grow.” (p. 26, Trends)  Since economics has a been a cornerstone of the transatlantic relationship since 1945, I am surprised that support for TTIP is not higher.  To me, this indicates that officials on both sides need to educate the public about the trade agreement, especially the benefits.  One report, “Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment,” found that TTIP “could bring significant economic gains as a whole for the EU (€119 billion a year)
and US (€95 billion a year). This translates to an extra €545 in disposable income
each year for a family of 4 in the EU, on average, and €655 per family in the US.” (p. vii of the report)  In US Dollars, that’s approximately $127.6 billion a year and $880 per family.  If those numbers had been given to respondents, I wonder if support would have been higher.  With only 49% supporting the agreement, the Office of the US Trade Representative needs to publicize the “Fact Sheet” on its website and then expand on it.  They would also do well to address the concerns of the AFL-CIO, which argues that “the status quo approach to trade has resulted in increasing income inequality, stagnating or declining wages and unacceptably high trade deficits that are sapping economic growth.”

Finally, on the issue of security, respondents were asked if the transatlantic partnership should become closer (29% Europe, 29% US), remain about the same (25% Europe, 30% US), or take a more independent approach (42% Europe, 33% US). (p. 27, Trends)  A majority on both sides saw NATO as “still essential.” (p. 28, Trends)  What’s fascinating about the NATO question is that the biggest reason for both sides as to why NATO is essential is that “it is an alliance of democratic countries.” (p. 30, Trends)  While military threats actions were concerns, it seems that respondents perhaps see NATO more as a way to collectively deal with rising powers.  How should NATO address these attitudes?  Since European countries spend much less on defense than the US, what does this mean for the future of transatlantic security, or for that matter, European security?  I think Jan Techau, in his article, “Ambitions, Not Threats, Are the Key to European Defense,” summed it up nicely when he wrote that policymakers need to figure out “how to convince both politicians and citizens, in the absence of money, threats, and leadership, that defense matters.”  On a side note, I was shocked when I saw that “twenty-five percent of Americans wanted to see an increase in defense spending.” (p. 31, Trends)  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US spent $682 billion on its military.  The second highest military expenditures came from China, at $166 billion.  If one adds up the military expenditures for the nine countries after the US, in other words the rest of the top ten spenders in the world, the US outspends them $682 billion to $618.3 billion.  How then, can Americans still advocate for more military spending?

While I believe that trade and security will still be integral for the future of the transatlantic relationship, I propose that both sides begin looking more at how to increase cooperation in different policy areas (environment, energy, education, etc.) and promote more opportunities for public diplomacy.  The German Marshall Fund offers a number of grants and fellowships that might lead to more public diplomacy.  The EU Delegation to the US also offers a few programs that would help promote a greater understanding of the EU by US residents.  Think tanks and other organizations here in the US need to offer more opportunities like these so that the transatlantic relationship will continue to be strong in the future and benefit more people on both sides.

Thanks for reading.


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