The Aspen Institute Germany is dedicated to strengthening the transatlantic partnership and holds mutual understanding at the core of its mission. The Transatlantic Program facilitates open, values-based dialog on key challenges facing the transatlantic relationship. It covers a wide range of topics including foreign and security policy, global order and multilateralism, trade, climate and energy, and – in cooperation with the Digital Program – the rising influence of technology on the international system. The Program’s initiatives provide a platform for both public and off-the-record discussions. The Berlin Transatlantic Forum, workshops, and virtual formats bring together leading experts and decision-makers- to discuss Euro-Atlantic cooperation and common challenges. In off-the-record meetings, Aspen Germany facilitates an open exchange of ideas on innovative policy solutions and helps to create personal networks across the Atlantic.
I. Laboratories of Democracy Initiative
The Laboratories of Democracy Initiative brings together representatives from the U.S. state legislatures and German Landtage to facilitate a values-based discussion and an exchange of ideas about how to tackle current international policy challenges on a subnational level. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote about the power of states as the “laboratory of democracy,” where new and innovative policy approaches can be tested. This project draws on that notion, focusing on the role of state legislators in creating policy solutions and fostering transatlantic relations in times when national governments are dominated by political polarization and crisis management.
The program consists of two off-the-record gatherings per year – one in Germany and one in the United States. At these meetings, participants identify important policy topics at sub-national level, explore ideas of values based-leadership, exchange best-practices, discuss potential cooperation and address broader issues in the transatlantic relationship. Each exchange also focuses on a core topic that is relevant on both sides of the Atlantic, including technological transformation, structural change and post-industrial transition, and climate and energy. The program offers on the ground experiences of best practices and encourages peer-learning. Ultimately, the program will help build networks beyond the capitals.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first exchange round extended over two years from 2020 to 2021. Besides addressing broader issues in the transatlantic relationship, the first cohort focused on the core topic of digitalization. Three subtopics were of particular interest: Digital infrastructure and the future of mobility, digitalization of the economy and its impact on the future of work, and cybersecurity. After meeting virtually for over a year due to COVID-19, Aspen Germany hosted the in-person meeting with the first cohort in Stuttgart in October 2021. The bipartisan group of German and American state legislators has developed policy recommendations as part of this project, which are published in this action report.
The second program year of the Laboratories of Democracy Initiative will bring together 14 German and American state legislators for two meetings in Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, from May 10-14, 2022, and Trenton, New Jersey, from September 13-17, 2022. Besides general transatlantic topics, the 2022 core topic is climate and energy. The first visit to Schwerin gave the participating parliamentarians the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state government, engage in dialogue with experts on climate and energy, visit regional best practices and companies, and exchange ideas with each other.
The Aspen Institute Germany is excited to welcome the following participants to the 2022 cohort: Barbara Becker MdL (CSU), Member of the Bavarian State Parliament; Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D), Member of the California State Assembly; Hannes Damm MdL (Alliance 90/The Greens), Member of the State Parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; Representative Anna Eskamani (D), Member of the Florida State House of Representatives; Silke Gebel MdL (Alliance 90/The Greens), Chairwoman of The Greens in the Berlin House of Representatives; Assemblymember Don Guardian (R), Member of the New Jersey General Assembly; Daniel Karrais MdL (FDP), Member of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg; Tamara Müller MdL (SPD), Member of the State Parliament of Rhineland-Palatinate; Senator Marc Pacheco (D), Dean of the Massachusetts State Senate; Senator Ann Rivers (R), Member of the Washington State Senate; Gerd Schreiner MdL (CDU), Member of the State Parliament of Rhineland-Palatinate; Senator Ryan Weld (R), Majority Whip of the West Virginia State Senate; Christian Winter MdL (SPD), Member of the State Parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; Senator Andrew Zwicker (D), Member of the New Jersey State Senate.
The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany, funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).
II. State-to-State: German-American State Legislator Dialogue
The Aspen Institute Germany and the American Council on Germany have launched the „State-to-State: German-American State Legislator Dialogue” to further explore collaboration at the state-level. Together, it is our goal to provide a platform for subnational exchange and in-depth discussions amongst German and American state legislators and a broader audience . While global challenges are addressed by national governments, increasingly subnational actors such as states, communities, and cities have needed to step up to take action when traditional nation-states have been unable to make progress due to political polarization and partisan gridlock. This trend has also characterized transatlantic relations and the German-American partnership. The German-American State Legislator Dialogue draws on this notion, focusing on the role of state representatives from the United States and Germany in addressing common transatlantic challenges.
- Immigration and Integration – Between Federal Policy and State Legislators (March 2, 2022)
- Assessing the Rural-Urban Divide in Infrastructure (June 23, 2021)
- The Future of Jobs: Workforce Trends and Preparedness (May 20, 2021)
- Climate Change and Energy Policy at the State Level (April 21, 2021)
- Digital Democracy: The Impact of Digitalization on Politics and Governance (March 10, 2021)
III. Future Cities – A Transatlantic Townhall Project
Cities are an integral part of political, economic, and social strategies. They represent innovation, progress, and change, but also bear great responsibility regarding climate change, social justice and inclusivity, mobility, health, and the future of work. The transatlantic cooperation project ” Future Cities – A Transatlantic Townhall Project ” aims to raise awareness for the complexity of the city of tomorrow among a wide range of stakeholders in society and to provide new impetus for the development of future scenarios. Within the framework of transatlantic discourse, topics such as pandemic preparedness, climate change, the future of work, digitalization, mobility, structural inequalities, and racism need to be addressed and better understood. To this end, this project brings together a diverse group of representatives from politics, culture, sports, art, health, media as well as many other relevant urban actors in Berlin, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, supporting sustainable and future-oriented development within these cities and promoting transatlantic exchange between them. What should the city of the future look like? What role can transatlantic relations play in shaping it? How can we make the cities we live in more sustainable, inclusive, innovative, and resilient? The application of the scenario planning methodology over the course of two years enables participants to think outside known structures and to develop concrete future scenarios in their search for answers to these questions.
IV. America’s Choice Podcast
“America’s Choice – Der USA-Podcast” is a German-language podcast on U.S. politics, co-produced by the Aspen Institute Germany and the Atlantik-Brücke. The podcast addresses political developments in the United States, the Biden administration‘s domestic and foreign policy priorities, and the implications for transatlantic relations. It is co-hosted by Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner, Executive Director of the Aspen Germany, and Julia Friedlander, Executive Director of the Atlantik-Brücke. In each episode, they speak with select experts about the latest developments on the other side of the Atlantic. The podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other platforms. A complete list of all episodes can be found under publications.
With Sofia Dreisbach, U.S. correspondent, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert, Institute Director and Co-Head Politics Department, John F. Kennedy Institute at Freie Universität Berlin (June 16, 2022).
V. Past Initiatives
Berlin Transatlantic Forum
Inaugurated in 2014 on the occasion of Aspen Germany’s 40th anniversary, the Berlin Transatlantic Forum addressed the most pressing challenges jointly facing Europe and the United States. The conference brought together renowned experts and decision-makers from both sides of the Atlantic to exchange ideas and seek answers to important questions in the fields of security, energy, technology, democracy, and trade, and also to discuss issues pertaining to our shared foundation of Western values. The annual conference was preceded by a workshop, during which experts from Germany, Europe, and the U.S. gather for an in-depth discussion of key topics of transatlantic concern.
The 2019 conference – entitled “Fit for Purpose? The Transatlantic Relationship and the World of Tomorrow” – looked at the future of the partnership thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It examined the transatlantic relationship, how it has evolved and where its greatest operational strengths can lie in a world of rising technological, political and democratic disruption. As part of the Berlin Transatlantic Forum 2019, the Aspen Institute Germany held an Aspen NEXT seminar aimed at engaging the coming generation of Atlanticists and facilitating an exchange of ideas for the future of the transatlantic relationship. Previous conferences focused on the impact of technology on politics within and between states, Germany’s role in the world and the future of the liberal order.
The Berlin Transatlantic Forum marked a continuation of the Institute’s close ties to the city of Berlin. In 1974, in the midst of the Cold War, the Institute was founded as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity. Since then, Aspen Germany has attracted high-level guests to Berlin to strengthen Euro-Atlantic cooperation.
The project was made possible by a generous grant of the foundation “Lotto Stiftung Berlin,” as well as our partners Volkswagen AG, Lockheed Martin and the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Senate Chancellery.
Bundestag and Congress Staffers Exchange Program
From 2014 to 2018, the Bundestag and Congress Staffers Exchange Program brought together legislative and committee staff from Germany and the United States to strengthen transatlantic ties on a working level and foster open dialog on current issues facing the transatlantic community. Topics discussed ranged from democracy and multilateralism to trade and security questions. During visits in Berlin and Washington, D.C., participating staffers had the opportunity to connect with their counterparts and gained deep insights into the political system and legislative processes. Site visits and expert talks offered in-depth knowledge on current issues of transatlantic importance. The Program was supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany with funds from the European Recovery Program of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).
From 2015 to 2017, the German-American Dialog brought together federal legislators and civil society representatives from both sides of the Atlantic in order to strengthen inter-parliamentary as well as civil-society dialog. During the first part of the exchange, participants met in Berlin and discussed current and future challenges to the transatlantic community, such as climate change and electric mobility, migration and integration, vocational training, startups and entrepreneurship as well as civic education and the role of the media. Following the stay in the capital, the American delegations traveled to local constituencies together with Members of the Bundestag to visit local companies and learn about projects on the municipal level. This program was made possible through the generous support from the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economics and Energy (BMWi).
Trilateral Dialog with Parliamentarians from Germany, Russia, and the U.S.
In 2016 and 2019, Aspen Germany’s Trilateral Dialog brought together legislators and expert scholars from the Federal Republic of Germany, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America in a confidential, off-the-record setting. The format is intended to provide a neutral platform for an open exchange on contested issues between the three countries’ legislators and senior experts. Closely organized in cooperation with the Robert Bosch Foundation of Germany, the 2019 gathering of Members from the U.S. Congress, the Russian Duma and Federation Council, and the German Bundestag was the second of its kind after the successful launch of the format in 2016. Topics discussed ranged from arms control and the European security architecture to the Middle East and international trade. The moderated discussion between the delegations focused on exploring the scope for action and possible solutions regarding these pressing issues. A round of competent academics from the participating countries, specially selected for this purpose, helped to find appropriate entry points and to stimulate the necessary discussion between the parliamentarians.