The Transatlantic Dialogue Program of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) held its annual Conference on the Current State of Transatlantic Relations in St. Petersburg, Florida from November 30 – December 3, 2018. The conference brought together political professionals working in multiple areas across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Germany to discuss issues and contemplate policies at the forefront of transatlantic discourse.
The conference opened on Friday, November 30 in the evening with an introduction into the city of St. Petersburg, Florida and the local political situation by Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Dr. Kanika Tomalin. The following morning, participants began a session on the political situation and the trade relationships between the United States and Canada and an outlook on the upcoming elections in Canada this autumn. Breaking into groups for small group discussions, participants engaged in lively debates on why political viewpoints have become more polarized and radicalized in both North America and Europe.
Turning to focus on Germany, where several participants had recently spent the week during this year’s Study and Information Tour for American and Canadian Political Professionals, participants gained an overview of the German political party system and learned more about why the coalition between the Green Party, CDU, and FDP was able to function politically on the state level in the state of Schleswig-Holstein but not on the federal level. Participants reflected on the legacy of Chancellor Angela Merkel and learned about the top potential candidates for the leader of the CDU party, as the new leader of the CDU will likely serve as that party’s candidate for Chancellor in the next election. There is a renewed interest in political participation in Germany, with thousands of people attending the candidate forums. The next session offered perspectives on global trade agreements in the time of the Trump Administration by experts working in Mexico and the United States, following the new USMCA trade agreement.
Participants split into small groups to discuss their ideas for future approaches to transatlantic dialogue that build on past successful programs and keep the network of alumni engaged. The discussion group leaders presented their group’s findings on how the Transatlantic Dialogue Program of FNF can broaden and deepen its scope of issues. The groups shared a focus on how to connect with people who may not be part of the transatlantic dialogue yet and invite them to join the conversation.
In the evening, participants learned more about the successful campaign in Florida to pass an amendment to restore voting rights to citizens convicted of felonies from Neil Volz, Political Director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Participants then discussed the political situation in the European Union, how to balance the different demands of member states and how to strengthen the relationship between the EU and the US with Michael Link, Member of the Board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. A central message was that future conflicts and confrontations between the member states will be necessary in order to develop a stronger union.
On the final day of the conference, participants discussed ethics in political journalism in the era of “fake news” and online disinformation with a panel of journalists and learned more about the different fact-checking organizations that hold politicians and journalists accountable in the contemporary media environment.
These discussions will continue to play an important role in the transatlantic dialogue. There will be more reports to follow with specific information about each of the sessions at the conference.
Anne-Marie Simon, Program Assistant, Transatlantic Dialogue, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.