Atlanticism in Action: Democracy

Brussels Forum Opening

GMF convened the 19th session of Brussels Forum on April 18-19, 2024. The gathering was dedicated to defining a new Atlanticism and shaping a hopeful, post-war international system by rebuilding Ukraine in the spirit of a modern Marshall Plan. Conference discussions offered a set of geographically and demographically diverse voices opportunities for candid dialogue on issues of global importance. Key speakers included Vice President Mike Pence, Vice President for Values and Transparency at the European Commission Věra Jourová, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Federal Cultural Institutions for Belgium Hadja Lahbib, Deputy Secretary General for NATO Mircea Geoană, and Member of the UK House of Lords George Robertson of Port Ellen.

Read more about Brussels Forum 2024. View photos from the event here.


Opening Remarks

Democracy on the Line: A View from the United States


Freedom House recently noted the 18th consecutive year of democratic decline worldwide, reflecting the challenges facing the United States and testing transatlantic partnerships. Given the increasing competition with and decoupling from the People’s Republic of China, and ongoing fighting in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas, the United States and Europe should be closer than ever. But the transatlantic relationship faces a fractured information environment that undermines shared facts and isolationist policies that are gaining traction among some in the United States. Both could impact the transatlantic relationship. This session looks at the future of US foreign policy and asks if Europe’s concerns about a second Donald Trump presidency are legitimate.

Democracy on the Line: A View from Europe


The EU has made significant strides to strengthen its democratic defences, tackle information manipulation and interference, boost election security, and protect its citizens from an increasingly complex technological, digital, and information landscape. Still, challenges abound, as democracy worldwide is under extraordinary strain. Looking back to look ahead, what key gaps remain in combating malign threats and nefarious actors—foreign and domestic—that seek to undermine European democracy? How reliable and sustainable is the transatlantic commitment to a democratic ethos and values given the domestic challenges and geopolitical pressures facing Europe and the United States?

Democracy on the Line: A Response


Atlanticism in Action: Security 

Priorities for European Foreign Policy


  • Hadja Lahbib, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Federal Cultural Institutions, Belgium
  • Moderator: Ian Lesser, Vice President, GMF South, GMF

War in Ukraine, crises in the Middle East, and, increasingly, dangerous global competition have cast a spotlight on Europe’s geopolitical role. At the same time, social, economic, and technological challenges are placing new demands on foreign policy and the institutions charged with shaping and implementing it. Reflecting on the experience of the current Belgian presidency of the EU, this session considers whether the EU’s capacity for concerted action aligns with its desire to play a more active global role. Debate on this topic unfolds as Europe faces rising threats just as it questions the durability of American commitments and wrestles with growing economic nationalism worldwide. 

Security South: Transatlantic Strategy in a Time of Crisis


  • Stefano Sannino, Secretary General, European External Action Service
  • Ana Santos Pinto, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Studies, Nova University of Lisbon 
  • Curtis Scaparrotti, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe; Member, Board of Trustees, German Marshall Fund of the United States
  • Moderator: Ian Lesser, Vice President, GMF South, GMF

At a time of war in Europe’s east, the transatlantic allies also face challenges emanating from Europe’s south. The conflict in Gaza and its risk of escalation, rising threats to maritime security, and the potential for a new wave of terrorism, have put the Mediterranean and the Middle East back on the allies’ strategic agenda. These and other regional flashpoints are set to impose significant demands on diplomacy, force postures, and economic assistance. This session will explore the transatlantic stakes, the extent to which US and European interests and policies align, Türkiye’s role, connections to the challenges in Europe’s east, and ways for NATO’s “south” strategy to reflect the new geopolitical dynamics.   

NATO at 75: Past, Present, Future


Part I

Part II

NATO has evolved tremendously over its 75-year history, from a Cold War alliance to a post-Cold War vehicle for Euro-Atlantic integration. Its focus has also shifted from collective defense to expeditionary operations and crisis management and back to collective defense.  This session will explore the lessons to be learned from NATO’s history. What did the alliance get right, and what did it get wrong? With war raging on NATO’s doorstep, what should now drive the alliance’s political and military strategy? 

On the Frontlines of Democracy: Bolstering Trust in Elections Across the Atlantic


Elections are the core of democracy. Following widespread false claims of rigging in the 2020 presidential vote, US election officials continue to face a barrage of threats and increased distrust from some groups. The United States is not alone in confronting declining faith in elections. European election officials are also encountering varying degrees of hostility and skepticism driven by domestic and foreign actors.  

In an ideal world, election administration is mundane. What has changed to create a more skeptical and hostile environment for election officials and workers? As trust in democratic institutions more broadly declines, what has been done or is being done to increase trust in electoral processes?

This conversation brings together former and current US and European election officials to discuss these questions and ways for meeting the challenges of artificial intelligence-generated misinformation and disinformation, increased cyber threats, declining trust, and increased hostility.

A Conversation: NATO at 75


  • Julianne Smith, Ambassador, US Mission to NATO 
  • Moderator: Dan Michaels, Brussels Bureau Chief, Wall Street Journal


More than half the world’s population will head to the polls this year in the largest display of democracy in human history. This series of elections is also the first to unfold in an era in which advances in generative AI have made it potentially cheaper and easier to produce fake content than to document reality. But is generative AI fundamentally different from other information technologies that have emerged throughout history? Will more fact-checking, content moderation, or other interventions help maintain the truth? Perhaps most importantly, what can be done so that people care about the truth?

Atlanticism in Action: Security and Ukraine

The Economic Counteroffensive: Rebuilding Ukraine


Planning Ukraine’s reconstruction—from damage assessment to donor and financial coordination, all a part of the country’s integration into Europe—has made significant progress. This is a key accomplishment since rebuilding and modernizing Ukraine’s national and municipal infrastructure is critical to economic growth and encouraging citizens to return. However, the war is taking longer than anticipated, and aid is increasingly difficult to obtain. A new realism has set in.

This session looks at ways Ukraine and its international partners should adjust to this new situation. It also addresses the goal of boosting investment in the country at a highly risky time. 

A Conversation: GMF’s Whistlestops for Ukraine Initiative and The Future of Democracy


Addressing the war in Ukraine continues to be a global priority. European security is threatened, but there are also implications for the world’s energy sector and food supply. 

Howard G. Buffett, chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, has traveled to the war zone ten times since the 2022 full-scale invasion, including visits to the front. His foundation has to date provided Ukraine with more than $500 million for humanitarian assistance, agricultural support, demining, and maintaining strategic infrastructure to help sustain the country’s food supply and food-export regime. GMF partners with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation on the Whistlestops for Ukraine initiative, which convenes Americans across the US heartland for conversations on the importance of a free and sovereign Ukraine to them and all Americans.

This session with Buffett will explore the connections between the war and Americans and Europeans regardless of location or occupation, the need for increasing support for Ukraine, and the ways in which the transatlantic partnership can cooperate to ensure a Ukrainian victory. 

Spotlight: Brussels Forum Talk—A Voice from Ukraine - Nataliya Drozd


This spotlight Brussels Forum Talk highlights civil society initiatives in Ukraine aimed at youth engagement and its role in the recovery of communities near the front. The session will showcase the human side of the war through the need to support efforts by Ukrainian youth to contribute to their country’s reconstruction.

Atlanticism in Action: Prosperity

A Conversation: Allied Competitiveness and AI


Allied Competitiveness: Can It Be Achieved? National vs. Allied Approaches to Competitiveness


  • Karan Bhatia, Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy, 
  • Hendrik Bourgeois, Vice President for Government Affairs Europe, Intel                      
  • Dan Kildee, Member, US House of Representatives (virtual)     
  • Eva Maydell, Member, European Parliament           
  • Moderator: Karen Kornbluh, Distinguished Fellow for Technology and Competitiveness, GMF

New industrial strategies in the United States and Europe seek to accelerate the green transition, de-risk supply chains in critical industries, and shore up domestic manufacturing and jobs. But some aspects of these strategies, such as local content requirements for electric vehicles in the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act or export controls aimed at limiting China’s access to advanced semiconductors, have nevertheless stoked tensions among allies amid an already-strained global trade system. These challenges to the transatlantic relationship underscore the need for a shared path toward allied competitiveness and economic security. Where and how can the United States and Europe coordinate their industrial strategies to avoid costly subsidy wars? What strategies will encourage knowledge-sharing and interoperable regulatory approaches? How can Europe and the United States best nurture innovation for competitiveness and job creation? How can the transatlantic community balance tensions between competitiveness and national security in areas such as digital platforms, semiconductors, and clean energy technology? What impact will the EU and US elections have on approaches to allied competitiveness moving forward?

Transatlantic Approaches to De-Risking


Many countries have recognized the need to diversify economic dependencies and build resilience in a world of increasing geopolitical uncertainties. De-risking relative to China is seen on both sides of the Atlantic as an important policy imperative  for reducing dependencies without fully decoupling. However, the complexity and interconnected nature of global supply chains, and the various ways in which countries and businesses interpret de-risking, make it difficult to define a scope and strategy for de-risking. This session considers where our de-risking focus should be, and how can we enhance coordination both among allies and partners as well as between governments and businesses. 

NATO at 75: Looking Ahead to the Washington Summit


In July, NATO will celebrate at a summit in Washington, DC the 75th anniversary of the alliance’s founding. The meeting comes at a critical time. From the ongoing, high-intensity war in Ukraine to the rise of global risks, from enhanced global partnerships to growing concerns about climate and security, the NATO agenda has never been more important—or more complex. Burden-sharing and innovation will be prominent issues at the summit as both sides of the Atlantic face political and economic challenges. This session will weigh the actions of the allies to bolster deterrence and defense. It will also consider a realistic balance between American and European roles in NATO, efforts to maintain public support for the alliance, and prospects for Ukrainian membership. 

NATO at 75: Defending Today, Defending Tomorrow


  • Chris Murphy, Member, US Senate (virtual)
  • Moderator: Henry Foy, Brussels Bureau Chief, Financial Times  

The NATO allies confront today an especially complex and dangerous strategic environment. Demands for enhanced deterrence and defense against a resurgent Russia exist alongside a persistent need for counterterrorism efforts and crisis management. New global risks—and partnerships—are also priority issues, as is a sharper debate on transatlantic burden-sharing. This session will examine how NATO can meet all these challenges, especially the politics behind greater defense spending. 

Euro-Atlantic Security Outside the Box: High Ambitions, Different Formats


  • Stephen E. Biegun, Member, Board of Trustees, German Marshall Fund of the United States; Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy, The Boeing Company                               
  • Lloyd Doggett, Member, US House of Representatives (virtual)
  • Imants Lieģis, former Minister of Defense, Republic of Latvia
  • Moderator: Heather A. Conley, President, GMF

Solving transatlantic security challenges requires ambition and creativity. The upcoming NATO summit will set out a course for the alliance, but additional formats and initiatives would enhance innovation and allow for more flexible security and defense cooperation. Increasing the participation of a wide array of stakeholders, including industry, civil society, and legislatures, would distribute responsibility for defense, which, in turn, could bolster societal resilience. This session will explore how smaller coalitions of states, industry, and civil society are shaping security and defense policy and practice. It will address how US and European publics, governments, and industries can collaborate to deliver greater security, and look at mini-lateral formats that have delivered security benefits. 

The Next Generation of Transatlantic Leaders


  • Tara Hariharan, Managing Director of Global Macro Research, NWI Management LP | Marshall Memorial Fellow 2014
  • George Melashvili, Founder and President, The Europe-Georgia Institute | Policy Designers Network participant 2020         
  • Samira Rafaela, Member, European Parliament | Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network participant 2016
  • Moderator: Sarah Jones, Managing Director, Leadership Programs, GMF

This closing session asks future transatlantic leaders what they see as the biggest threats to Atlanticism. It also looks at how the next generation of transatlantic leaders can be truly representative of all communities in the partner countries. Three alumni of GMF’s leadership programs will address these issues, talk about the foundation of a strong transatlantic relationship that current leaders can bequeath them, and say what gives them hope for a prosperous, democratic, and secure future for Atlanticism.