The transatlantic relationship has experienced a period of turbulence that has generated questions about its durability and relevance. The New Transatlantic Agenda (1995) sought to maintain a healthy partnership when it launched a series of citizen-level dialogues to build bridges across the Atlantic. These dialogues, in areas like labor and the environment, were designed to promote two-way interaction in an effort to anticipate, minimize and reconcile differences in key areas of cooperation. The idea seemed to be that, like in any marriage, communication was the key to compatibility. Almost without exception, the dialogues quickly succumbed to apathy and lack of official support. The absence of effective and functioning channels of interaction surely contributed to the escalation of misunderstanding between the European Union and the United States. When the official avenues breakdown, there is no alternative means to conduct meaningful discussion within the current framework. This situation needs to be corrected if the relationship is to be revived and vitalized.
The question is how to promote a “transatlantic bridge” that can contribute to the strengthening of the EU-US alliance while at the same time constituting an independent voice. The lessons of the past are instructive. The previous dialogues collapsed because they lacked resources and legitimate input to policymakers. When the initial “seed” funding could not be replaced with supplemental revenue in the span of a few years, the dialogues disintegrated largely because no mechanism was in place to ensure that the discussions had any impact. What was the point? On the other hand, an initiative that has proven successful is the European Parliament’s creation of European Union Centers at 15 universities in the United States. These have produced an impressive set of outreach activities, research studies, and enhancements to curriculum. The difference with the dialogues is that the EU Centers were situated in an existing infrastructure that could support them. As such, the centers constitute vehicles that can sustain the transatlantic bridge into the foreseeable future.
What needs to be done? First, funding for the EU Centers should be made permanent and provided by both the EU and U.S. Second, the mission of the centers—or at least of one center—should be focused on the transatlantic relationship rather than on the EU exclusively. Third, some method of communication to officials in the EU and US should be established on a non-partisan basis. The message is clear: a successful mechanism is in place and only warrants support.