Forward to the Future: The German Election and the Transatlantic View

A panel discussion with Elisabeth Niejahr, Hertie Foundation, and Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, German Marshall Fund

Germany’s federal election at the end of September is still wide open. But whichever coalition will form the new government, one thing is certain: The end of the Angela Merkel era will bring big change – and may place transatlantic relations on a new footing. This panel discussion analyzed the defining issues of the elections and discussed what a new government would mean for US-German relations.

  • How might the new government approach key domestic issues, from pension reform to digitalization, migration, and affordable living?
  • How important of a role does the departure of Chancellor Merkel play in determining the country’s domestic and foreign policy?
  • How will the new German administration team up with the US to tackle common challenges such as climate change as well as cyber security threats?
Re-watch the event:

This event is part of our transatlantic dialogue New Urban Progress and was organized by the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft together with the Progressive Policy Institute and Das Progressive Zentrum. It took place on Wednesday, 15 September 2021. Our panel of experts included:

Elisabeth Niejahr: Managing Director for the area “Strengthening Democracy”, Hertie Foundation and Sounding Board Member, New Urban Progress
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff: Vice President, German Marshall Fund of the United States
Sumi Somaskanda (Moderator): Senior News Anchor, DW News (Deutsche Welle)
  • Opening remarks by Dr. Claudia Huber, Steering Committee Member, New Urban Progress & Head of Europe Programme, Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft 
  • Closing statement from Crystal Swann, Progressive Policy Institute 

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive Zentrum, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute.
The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).

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Assessing Progress in the White House

A Transatlantic View on Joe Biden’s First 100 Days

On the day of Joe Biden’s address to Congress marking his first 100 days in office, New Urban Progress hosted a discussion on the successes and failures of the new administration’s first spell in charge. Three experts on transatlantic relations and the Democratic movement weighed in: “Future of Diplomacy” Executive Director Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Democratic Party National and Political Organizing Director Mũthoni Wambu Kraal, and Stiftung Mercator fellow Michael Werz. They discussed not only the state of domestic American politics, but also what the new presidency means for transatlantic relations.

The transition to the Biden presidency was no ordinary one. The rioting at the US capitol on the day his victory was certified, spurned on by the refusal of the previous president to accept the results, have left a strong imprint. Much of the discussion therefore focused on the state of American democracy. Michael Werz, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, warned against complacency: “We should not fall under the illusion that democracy has been saved in the United States.”

Watch the full discussion:

Even beyond the much-analyzed poor areas in rural Appalachia, there continues to be a significant share of the US population that is alienated from modern American society, Werz said. Upwards of 30% of the electorate did not view the current government as legitimate. That amounts to “a unilateral foreclosure of the social contract”, Werz argued.

“We are still in a democracy crisis”, concurred Mũthoni Wambu Kraal, National Political and Organizing Director at the Democratic National Committee. She emphasized how the Democratic Party had successfully laid the groundwork for fighting against Trumpian politics. The party had adapted profoundly thanks to successful organizing, she said. “When you wonder what opens up to populism, look no further than a stagnant party that has made no room for new voices.” The least progressive thing for a party to do was to stay the same as in the 1980s, she added. 

“You cannot implement the progressive agenda unless you have the buy-in from the depth of the country”Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook

Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Executive Director of the “Future of Diplomacy Project” at the Harvard Kennedy School and the incoming director of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), was surprised by how well Biden has used the crisis moment to advance his agenda. She emphasized in particular his engagement of lower levels of government: “He has spoken to America’s mayors no fewer than nine times since he came into office – because he knows full well that you cannot implement the progressive agenda unless you have the buy-in from the depth of the country”.

The panelists

  • Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook is Executive Director of the “Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship” and the “Future of Diplomacy Project” at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is a member of the New Urban Progress Sounding Board
  • Mũthoni Wambu Kraal is Partner at NEWCO Strategies and National Political and Organizing Director at the Democratic National Committee.
  • Michael Werz is Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Senior Mercator Fellow.

The discussion was moderated by Sumi Somaskanda, Senior News Anchor at DW News. After the live event, fellows from New Urban Progress – a transatlantic project on the future of the city – had the opportunity to talk privately with the panelists. 

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive Zentrum, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute. Learn more about the project and sign up for our newsletter. The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).

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Metropolitan areas are at the forefront of the major challenges from the 21st century. The New Urban Progress fellows discussed the opportunities that cities offer with Bruce Katz, a leading expert on urban policy and city networks. The fireside chat dove deep into how the stimulus funds from the Biden administration may help bolster cities, including innovative solutions for delivering racial equity.

The Fireside Chat

How has the American Rescue Plan, the trillion-dollar federal stimulus package in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, assisted economic recovery in cities across the United States? This question grounded the discussion between the New Urban Progress fellows and Bruce Katz. The discussion then zoomed in on how the stimulus package could directly address issues of social justice and inclusive growth.

The New Urban Progress fellows used this discussion to further and expand some of the main ideas they were working on in their groups. You can find their scene-setting and groundwork-laying articles here:

The fireside chat is one of several opportunities for the fellows in the New Urban Progress project to have an in-depth discussion with a member of the project’s Sounding Board. The event was organized by the Progressive Policy Institute together with Das Progressive Zentrum and Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft. Will Marshall, President and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, gave opening remarks.

About Bruce Katz

Bruce Katz was a vice president at Brookings and founding Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program before he became the inaugural Centennial Scholar at the think tank. Previously, he has served as chief of staff for the Housing and Urban Development Secretary and as staff director at the US Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs. He later advised the incoming Obama administration on housing and urban policy.

Today, Bruce Katz is an advisor at The New Localism, a start-up he co-founded, and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. With New Urban Progress, he is a member of the Sounding Board.

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