Transatlantic Partnership

Trust Needs to be Rebuilt


30 Jun 2015 | BMW Foundation | The Future and Its Neighbors

How can we rebuild lost trust? Germany and the United States are linked by a long and deep partnership which is currently being put to a severe test. There was wide agreement on this matter at a Forum Berlin event entitled “Transatlantic Relations – Is the Divide Growing?”, which took place at the Berlin office of the BMW Foundation. Among the participants was U.S. Ambassador John B. Emerson.

The crisis in Ukraine, the mission in Afghanistan, the fight against international terrorism, dealing with Ebola and the consequences of climate change – the areas of exemplary cooperation between Germany and the United States are many and of global significance. And yet, the public debate is characterized by controversy: from TTIP to the NSA scandal to the dominance of American technology companies such as Google or Facebook. Allies have apparently turned into strangers.

The Forum Europe participants – members of the German Bundestag, business representatives, scholars, journalists, and diplomats – agreed: Trust has been lost and needs to be rebuilt. There are, moreover, no projects for the future that carry positive connotations.

This is exactly why the BMW Foundation, together with German and American partners, wants to launch a new process this summer, the so-called “Transatlantic Core Group,” which brings together young leaders from all sectors from Germany and the United States to jointly develop and fill an agenda for the German-American partnership.

It is, however, not just a matter of finding new projects, but of doing a better job selling the existing ones. Take TTIP, for example. The free trade agreement is promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel. Still, there are major concerns among the population.

The Forum participants from the business sector were not the only ones who were convinced that the free trade agreement could also be an important geopolitical lever for an open and fair world trade system. Yet it takes a lot of convincing, especially in Germany. There was widespread consensus, however, that even the most ambitious attempts at explanation could not simply rebuild lost trust. Popular distrust ran deep. It was not just a matter of common interests, but of trust in common values.

Michael Schaefer, chairman of the board of the BMW Foundation, was convinced that the crucial rupture in the transatlantic relations occurred immediately after the United States decided to invade Iraq in 2003. “When we returned from the UN Assembly in New York, it was palpable. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have only added to that.”Even though official relations between Washington and Berlin were currently functioning very well at the highest level. the transatlantic relationship had rarely been more unstable, said Schaefer.

The participants agreed that there had always been minor crises. What matters is how we deal with the crisis. This is where political decision-makers, businesses, and the media come in. They need to explain why the transatlantic relationship continues to be of major importance for peace, prosperity, and security in Europe.

Text: Maja Heinrich