Transatlantic Lab – The Policy Network

16. Jul – 20. Jul 2017
Washington, D.C., United States of America
As the results of the US Presidential elections have settled in, political parties on both sides of the Atlantic are beginning to get a clearer understanding of the implications for transatlantic relations. With many common challenges and opportunities, there is a continuing need to strengthen mutual understanding and trust. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to build bridges, across the ocean, across the political spectrum and between individuals. What are our common challenges and opportunities? How can we foster closer relationships between Europe and the US? And what can we learn from each other in the future?

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    As the results of the US Presidential elections have settled in, political parties on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are getting a clearer understanding of the implications for transatlantic relations. The unconventional approach of the new administration requires new methods for dealing with its leadership and asks for new ideas on how to shape the transatlantic relationship in the future. At the same time, the many common challenges and opportunities create a continuing need to strengthen mutual understanding and trust.

    To this end, ELF travelled to Washington D.C. between 16 and 20 July with a delegation of staffers from European liberal parties. Liberal participants from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia joined an intensive four-day programme in the US capital, which featured panel discussions, case studies, a speed networking session and a mini-hackathon. Each day of the programme, which took place on and around Capitol Hill, was dedicated to a specific topic: trade, security, digitalisation and environmental issues.  

    Three ideas came back repeatedly over the course of the programme and stuck to mind. The first is that European should place much more emphasis on their interaction with local and state governments, instead of with the federal structures. Given the difficulty to work with the current administration through traditional channels of communication, it is far more effective to work together with mayors and governors. European leaders must keep in mind that while Trump has significant influence over the U.S. foreign policy, he still will be just one person in a vast apparatus where other authorities also play an important role.

    The second impression is that the current US Administration’s approach towards the transatlantic relationship is characterized by its transactional view of alliances. As shown by the rejection of the Paris Agreement, Trump’s views on NATO and his protectionists instincts, the US no longer strives for abstract guarantees of US power and influence. Instead, it pushes an “America First” agenda that focuses on immediate benefits for US taxpayers. Trump has given no sign that he understands or appreciates the value of the transatlantic alliance and it does not look like this will change in the near future. Europeans would do wise by choosing which issues they can and must compromise and on which issues they must stand firm.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the group was constantly reminded of the importance of engaging in transatlantic relations. The fact that the European delegation had made the journey to Washington D.C. to learn from the situation on the ground was hugely encouraged by the interlocutors and led to very constructive discussions. Only through dialogue can we address the transatlantic issues facingus and formulate new directions for transatlantic policy. The #TransatlanticLab programme was a continuation of ELFs efforts to stimulate this dialogue and we look forward to further engagement with stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. 

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