Transatlantic Dialogue Conference 2019: The Current State of Transatlantic Relations

The Transatlantic Dialogue Program of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) held its annual Conference on the Current State of Transatlantic Relations in Seattle, Washington from May 30 – June 2, 2019. The conference brought together political professionals working in various sectors across the United States, Canada, and Germany to deliberate on the most pressing issues currently affecting and shaping the transatlantic discourse.

The conference opened on the evening of Thursday, May 30 with an introduction by King County Councilmember and Chair Joe McDermott to Seattle, WA and the local political situation in the Emerald City. The following morning, participants were briefed by André Albinati, a partner at the Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa, on the current political situation in Canada, the challenges facing each party, and what the upcoming elections in Canada this fall could mean for Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

The first breakout session of the Conference focused on the 2020 race to the White House. In five groups moderated by Torsten Herbst (Member of the Bundestag and Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Digital Infrastructure), Sascha Tamm (Director of Transatlantic Dialogue and Latin America at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation), André Albinati, Marcus Pindur (Security Policy Correspondent at Deutschlandradio), and Claus Gramckow (Head of Friedrich Naumann Foundation North America), participants shared their thoughts on the US presidential election, predicted who the Democratic front runners would be, and discussed possible Election Day outcomes. A visit to Seattle City Hall, where a panel composed of Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, Katie Garrow (Deputy Director of the Martin Luther King County Central Labor Council), and Stan Sorscher (Labor Representative for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace) explained Seattle city-level policy-making, concluded the day.

The first session of Day 2 offered three different perspectives on NATO by experts working in the areas of security and defense policy. The strategic challenges facing Germany, Europe, and the US, defense spending responsibilities (i.e. the 2% defense spending target), and German military capabilities were among the issues discussed. The next session focused on transatlantic trade, in particular on the new USMCA trade agreement, President Trump’s steel tariffs, and his policy of protectionism. A central question was what President Trump’s strategic imperative might be behind his ongoing trade war with China.

The second breakout session of the Conference provided participants with a platform to discuss the topic of “Innovating Democracy.” In small groups, participants exchanged ideas on artificial intelligence and governance, digital media literacy in the age of fake news, blockchain voting, and gerrymandering, among other subjects. The discussion group leaders then presented their group’s key findings on the various security and privacy issues that might arise on the road to reestablishing integrity in elections and journalism. In the evening, participants learned about the political history of Montana and the state’s current political situation from the Lieutenant Governor of Montana Mike Cooney.

On the final day of the conference, Torsten Herbst explained to the participants the political situation in Germany after the most recent European Parliament and state elections and gave them an overview of the German political party system. The future of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party was also contemplated.

The fruitful discussions and conversations that transpired over these three days will hopefully continue to play an important role in the transatlantic dialogue going forward. More detailed reports will follow with specific information about each of the sessions at the Conference.