January 28, 2016

Reimagining the Next Generation of Transatlantic Cooperation

© European Union 2016

by Jennifer Jun, Assistant Director, Visiting Fellowships

I recently participated in the European Union Visitors Programme, a five-day study tour in Brussels organized by the European Commission and the European Parliament. The program was established over 40 years ago to address misunderstandings about Europe’s burgeoning institutions. The military tanks and heavily armed soldiers I saw patrolling the European Union premises suggest that Europe now faces wholly different challenges than it did 40 years ago.

My itinerary consisted of bilateral meetings at the External Action Service, the European Commission, and with members of the European Parliament representing a wide political spectrum -- from Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union to the Italian populist leader Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

These conversations revealed a deeply fragmented European Union. However, irrespective of nationality or political representation, my interlocutors agreed with me on the following: there are significant demographic shifts underway in both Europe and the United States. As Europe continues to age, it has seen unprecedented levels of young migrants from North Africa and the Middle East in 2015, especially those seeking asylum from Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq.  The 2015 Eurostat figures indicate more than 80 percent of the asylum seekers were 35 years of age or younger. As the migrants are predominantly Muslim, they will be part of a wider trend of the doubling of Europe’s Muslim population by 2050. Stateside, the US Census Bureau projects that by 2044, more than half the American population will belong to a minority group, and by 2060, the Asian population will have increased by 128 percent and the Hispanic population by 115 percent. By then, nearly one in five Americans will be foreign born.

These figures leave little doubt that the changing demography on both sides of the Atlantic will affect how new generations of Americans and Europeans view one another in the future. Without important historical memories such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more importantly, without the familial ties that have anchored European-Americans’ ties to the Old Continent, the cultural affinity and proximity between the United States and Europe will grow wider. While New Americans become increasingly estranged from Europe, disaffection with US policy in the Middle East will continue to motivate anti-American sentiments among the European Muslim youth. The most troubling scenario is that Generations Y and beyond may reject the proposition that United States and Europe share a set of common values based on democracy, human rights, and a liberal world order and therefore must remain the most important allies in an increasingly multipolar world.

The future of transatlantic relations for countries that will look and relate to one another very differently may not be the most pressing issue on the minds of American and European leaders at this moment. This is where think tanks become important. They can lead the way in thinking about and influencing how the next generation engages with the wider world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, together with the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, and two German partner organizations – the BMW Foundation and the Robert Bosch Foundation – are exploring this concept of building trust, from the bottom up, among rising leaders in the United States and Germany. Our initiative, the Transatlantic Core Group, is a unique participant-driven process of action-oriented dialogue whereby young leaders from across the United States, who do not necessarily have existing ties to Europe, can engage in candid discussions with young leaders from various German cities. Participants can openly question and debate the shared values that brought previous generations together. This forum provides a platform for reimagining the concept of transatlantic cooperation, one that need not be restricted to traditional security issues but can extend to tackling socioeconomic challenges in their respective countries.

One of these forward-looking outcomes of the inaugural meeting of the Transatlantic Core Group in July 2015 was the birth of a working group around exchanging best practices on vocational education and mobilizing key private sector actors in both the United States and Germany to lead the way for training the 21st-century workforce. A second group, recognizing the central role of local communities in the integration of refugees and immigrants, will organize a meeting in April in Berlin to connect local stakeholders between the United States and Germany and exchange experiences and ideas – a transatlantic approach to integration.

The prescience and creativity of the Transatlantic Core Group members in seeing opportunity amidst complex challenges point to an evolution of how next generation leaders approach the future of US-Europe relations. The loss of trust and natural affinity among the next generation of Americans and Europeans will not break transatlantic ties. Therein lies a great opportunity to build and define anew a relationship that can no longer be taken for granted.

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

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