For a Resilient Transatlantic Relationship, Look to Texas
Editor’s Note: This blog is part of an ongoing series of contributions from participants in The German Marshall Fund’s flagship leadership development program, The Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF).
Ask an average European about Texas and you are most likely to hear something about cowboys. In fact, for many Europeans Texas represents everything that is un-European about the United States: It is the Wild West where gun-crazed Republicans drill for oil and drive in gas-guzzling pick-up trucks, and a part of the United States more influenced by Mexican culture than by European culture. Few will know that Texas is larger than any European country, with a growing and diversified economy that extends well beyond oil. Europeans will not know that Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States, that Austin is the live music capital of the world, or that 6 out of 11 female mayors of large U.S. cities are from Texas.
Cities in Texas like Houston and San Antonio are also a projection of what the demography of the United States as a whole will look like in 25 years. As Dr. Stephen Klineberg of the Kinder Institute likes to say: “Houston is one of the cities where the American future is going to be worked out.” There is no racial majority in the Houston metro area. Less than 40 percent of the population is white and more than the third of the population is Hispanic, 17 percent African-American, and 9 percent Asians or others. Moreover, the non-Hispanic white population — or population traditionally of European descent — is aging rapidly.
European policymakers who want to invest in the transatlantic relationship need to look beyond their traditional counterparts on the East Coast.
The fact that in the not-so-distant future most Americans will not have European ancestors or a direct recollection of the Cold War means that the transatlantic relationship as we know it today will undergo some major changes. While in the past shared history, ancestry, and values served as glue to the transatlantic relationship, the strength of the relationship in the coming decades will increasingly depend on shared interests. Europe will not automatically be a preferred ally; instead, it will have to show what it brings to the table — and not just what it brings to the geopolitical table.
To Americans — as to all other human beings — what matters most is what impacts their lives on a daily basis: jobs, safe, and clean neighborhoods, access to quality food, healthcare, and education. As cities both in Europe as well as in the United States continue to grow, common challenges like reducing emissions, sustainable waste management, and transportation call for innovative solutions. It is exactly in these areas where the future of transatlantic cooperation lies: where knowledge and best-practices can be shared and investments can be made. A city like Houston, trying to protect itself against hurricanes and floods that are becoming more frequent, will need all the know-how and resources it can get, especially those related to climate change. It is no coincidence that cities both in the United States and Europe have become increasingly engaged on the global stage in platforms like the C40 cities on climate change, Global Covenant of Mayors, 100 Resilient Cities of the Rockefeller Foundation, or in Smart City challenges.
European policymakers who want to invest in the transatlantic relationship need to look beyond their traditional counterparts on the East Coast. The fact that Europe itself is becoming more urbanized and diverse might be an asset. Forging partnerships with states and large cities in the U.S. heartland on the main challenges of the 21st century will be critical in making the transatlantic relationship resilient. We might have much more in common with those folks in Texas than we realize.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.