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.
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).
Digitalization, the climate crisis, and structural change are among the great challenges of our time and should play a central role in transatlantic cooperation. U.S. states and German Bundesländer often take a pioneering role in tackling these challenges. The Laboratories of Democracy Initiative draws on that notion, bringing together German and U.S.-American state legislators for an in-depth exchange on these issues.
Third Round of Exchanges 2023
Aspen Institute Germany will host two 5-day in-person meetings between U.S. and German state legislators as part of its annual “Laboratories of Democracy” program. The first of the delegation trips will take place May 9-13, 2023, in Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, and the second trip will take place June 20-24, 2023, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA.
In addition to questions of state leadership, subnational diplomacy, and transatlantic cooperation, the third round of exchanges will focus in particular on the core issue of structural transformation and the revitalization of post-industrial areas. The transformation and decline of entire industries is a shared challenge across the Atlantic, caused by geopolitical and geo-economic developments, digitalization, and the increasing importance of decarbonization. Jobs will be lost, and new jobs will be created, requiring new skills and training. The transformation will also threaten social foundations and the prosperity of rural areas, where unemployment leads to an exodus of skilled workers and young people as well as a decline of infrastructure. To address these issues, the project will provide a platform for an exchange of innovative ideas and best practices that are necessary to develop long-term strategies and sustainable growth paths to positively shape the structural transformation and mitigate its negative effects.
While in Dusseldorf and in Harrisburg, participants will have the opportunity to interact with colleagues and other experts from across the Atlantic while building new transatlantic networks. The programming will provide a forum for state legislators to engage in dialogue about policies and practices in each other’s countries, learn from innovative ideas and solutions through site visits, and explore further opportunities for transatlantic collaboration.
The project was 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).
Second Round of Exchanges 2022
The second round of exchanges of the Laboratories of Democracy Initiative brought together 14 German and U.S. state legislators for two meetings in Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, from May 10 to May 14, 2022, and Trenton, New Jersey, from September 13 to September 17, 2022. Besides general transatlantic topics, the 2022 core topic is climate and energy. The visits to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and New Jersey gave the participating parliamentarians the opportunity to meet with representatives of the state governments, engage in dialogue with experts on climate and energy, visit regional best practices and companies, and exchange ideas with each other. During the first trip to Schwerin, the group toured the State Parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a leading hydrogen company, and a state-of-the-art wind farm among other activities. Additionally, the parliamentarians had time to develop first ideas for transatlantic policy recommendations. During the visit to Trenton, the group had the opportunity to further discuss state leadership on climate and energy with Governor Phil Murphy, other administration officials, and researchers. Building on the ideas from Schwerin, the group worked intensively to develop ideas on how to collaborate on shared challenges on the subnational level.
The policy recommendations of the German and U.S. state legislators of the second exchange round on climate and energy are published in this policy report.
Listen to the interviews with the participants of the 2022 exchange on YouTube.
The Aspen Institute Germany thanks the participants of 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 MdA (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.
First Round of Exchanges 2020-2021
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first exchange extended over two years from 2020 to 2021, focusing on 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, the Aspen Institute Germany hosted the in-person meeting with the first cohort in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, from October 13 to October 16, 2021.
The bipartisan group of German and U.S. state legislators developed policy recommendations, which are published in this action report.
Listen to the interviews with the participants of the 2020-21 exchange on YouTube.
The Aspen Institute Germany is grateful to all participants of the 2020-2021 cohort: Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D), Member of the California State Assembly; Senator Raumesh Akbari (D), Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus in the Tennessee State Senate; Senator Thomas Alexander (R), Member of the South Carolina State Senate; Assemblymember Marc Berman (D), Member of the California State Assembly; Senator Reuven Carlyle (D), Member of the Washington State Senate; Representative Tom Demmer (R), Deputy Republican Leader in the Illinois House of Representatives; Christian Flisek MdL (SPD), Member of the Bavarian State Parliament; Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D), Member of the California State Assembly; Sarah Gillen MdL (CDU), Member of the State Parliament of Saarland; Joschka Knuth MdL (Alliance 90/The Greens), Member of the State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein; State Secretary Andrea Lindlohr MdL (Alliance 90/The Greens), State Secretary in the Ministry of Regional Development and Housing and member of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg; Representative Brandy Pyle (R), Member of the North Dakota House of Representatives; Katharina Schulze MdL (Alliance 90/The Greens), Chair of The Greens in the Bavarian State Parliament; Prof. Dr. Erik Schweickert MdL (FDP), Member of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg; Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R), Member of the Colorado State Senate.
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