A Fresh Look at the Wider Atlantic

9 min read
The German Marshall Fund of the United States, together with the OCP Policy Center and the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) gathered senior officials, priv

The German Marshall Fund of the United States, together with the OCP Policy Center and the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) gathered senior officials, private sector leaders, experts, and opinion shapers for three days of informal discussion on the future of Atlantic states and stakeholders. We asked four participants, each form one of the four Atlantic continents, to provide their perspective on a central question for the Atlantic community. This is what they had to say.


How serious is the populist challenge in the western hemisphere?

I think the populist challenge in the western hemisphere is a very serious one, starting, of course, with the United States but not limited to it by any definition. There have been some limits placed on previous populist adventures, in Latin America in particular, over the last few years. The changes in Argentina, the changes in Chile, the changes in perhaps a few other countries like Ecuador, have placed certain limits on these populist challenges, but we continue to see a very difficult situation emerging, as I said, in the United States where Donald Trump appeals to the worst sentiments of the American people. It is not that those sentiments do not exist independently of Trump. And it is not that there are no other many noble sentiments in the American people, but Trump appeals to the worst ones.  

The same is true in Venezuela, where  it is soon to be 20 years since Hugo Chavez was elected. The populist challenge in Venezuela has destroyed the country but it is still there and it is creating a very serious situation for its neighbors, particularly Colombia and Brazil. And now we have an emerging populist challenge in Mexico. In the upcoming election on July 1, it seems quite possible that Andres Manuel Emperador will win. And if he does — it is certainly not a fact of life yet, but there is a strong possibility that he will win – if that is the case, certainly, the populist challenge in Latin America will achieve a new dynamic because Mexico is a country of a different type of importance given its size and proximity to the United States.

So, yes, I think that we have a very serious challenge emerging throughout the Western Hemisphere and it’s going to be a lasting challenge. It is not over yet by any definition.  

-Jorge G. Castañeda, Global Distinguished Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University



What do you think is one of the main security challenges in the wider Atlantic?

In the recent years, one of the main challenges for security in the wider Atlantic has certainly been the drug trade. Year after year, report after report of the UN drug control agency, we see that at least two thirds of the drugs produced in South America that go to Europe pass through Africa, especially Western Africa, and it has destabilizing consequences for the countries, especially in Western Africa. Just to mention the worst case which is probably Guinea Bissau drugs trade had drastic effect on institutions. But we have also to be aware that illicit trade is not only disrupting state and institutions and economic policies. It is also feeding non-state actors, illegal actors, and actors who want to disrupt the regional order and the world order. Mainly terrorist organizations using the drug trade to finance their military operations in the region, and with consequences for other parts of the Atlantic, mainly Europe and the Mediterranean. So we have also seen in South America three former presidents of important countries — Colombia, a drug producing country, Mexico a drug trading country, and Brazil, a drug producing and trading country— taking the initiative to ask for the legalization of drug consumption.

What we are not sure about is what the demanding side of the drug trade would like to do. So far they have been supporting interdiction policies: interdiction policies at the source, interdiction policies on the way, mainly in West Africa, supporting cooperation among Western African countries, to curb, to interdict the drug trade. But we have not seen any change in the policies to manage demand on the home market. Probably the wider Atlantic community should be asked to put forward their analysis of the situation of the demand market and what could be done to reduce demand at home. And that would be a contribution that would help open dialogue with the transit countries. Because we are speaking of Western Africa being disrupted, but for many years, the small countries of the Caribbean have been at the forefront of the disruption, the social disruption. The effect on youth, especially violence, in the Caribbean is now a long-term trend. And there have been no policies that have been able to reverse the effect on youth.  It is actually a problem for the future. 

-Sophie Jouineau, Consultant on International Affairs, ITG Consultants



How is the new dynamism in Africa changing the EU–Africa relationship?

The new dynamism in Africa is indeed changing totally the EU–Africa relationship for several reasons. Africa is really at a crossroads today. What is happening is that in the continent there are so many new forces, and it has totally evolved and changed from the previous decade. 

First, the demographic dividend.  There is today, in 2050, over one billion young African people who will be on the African market. So there is accountability and responsibility, for Europe as well, to contribute to training these people, training these youths. And that should be done through vocational training, through scientific programs that are tailored and shaped for the needs of the African continent.

I think that in talking about Africa, we need to be very cautious because Africa is not a monolithic space. It is 54 countries, 54 nations, different cultures, and sometimes some countries are even closer to Europe than to one another. I think what is interesting also is that Europe and Africa have cultural ties that date way back. It is true that Africa has new partners. There is competition for Europe too because China, for instance, is a major partner for Africa: China, India, the whole south-south cooperation is developing. But because of the historical ties between Africa and Europe, Europe is still going to play a very very important role in Africa and this is going to be both ways.

When I think about the development aid, I do not even like that word anymore because I think it is more about partnership. Because developing Africa is developing the whole world. This also has to do with counterterrorism and migration. So investing in Africa, investing in the African youth, investing in the intellect of Africa is also investing in Europe, because Europe will also need some of the trained labor force from the continent. So that is why it is time to rethink our whole relationship. The good thing is that today it is going to be done in a much more productive and peaceful manner because most of the youths and those who are coming into power did not face and did not have to overcome some of the strained past of colonialism, of slavery. Today, we are talking as equal partners. Today, when I discuss with Europeans, it is on equal footing. There is not hierarchy in the relationship. I think this makes it a much more healthy and dynamic relationship.

I also wanted to mention one major opportunity for Europe and for Africa: it is the whole area of digitization and the mobile revolution that is happening today in Africa. You have mobile saturation that is almost close to 90 percent which you do not find anywhere else in the world. You go to any village in Africa and payments are made with mobile phone. This is also an opportunity for Europe. The whole digital space, connectivity, financial services that are emanating from that — but also one other area that is very interesting: the whole area of AI — artificial intelligence — because we need to rethink the whole job market and youth job paradigm. I don’t think that the young African or the young European will be sending CVs looking for a job: it will be about entrepreneurship and working together for the right skill set and skill packages to be made available for African youth to be able to enter the European market but also the global market and to develop the continent.

I think that it is all about rethinking, because of the new world paradigm and the new forces in the continent, such as civil society. I lead the parliamentary engagement at the World Bank, and I’ve seen how parliaments have developed and institutions have been strengthened in the continent. Today, in most countries there are functioning parliaments and there are stronger and stronger parliaments. Also the role of women: in Africa, over 25 percent of parliamentarians are women. This is more than the world average. The role of women, the private sector, which is increasingly stronger, a very vibrant and dynamic civil society... Our European partners need to take into account all these different new players, very strong and dynamic players, in rethinking the relationship.

-Nayé Anna Bathily, Head of Global Parliamentary Engagement, World Bank Group



Is the Atlantic something that divides or something that connects?

One of the things that we have been talking about at this Atlantic Strategy Group meeting is whether the Atlantic divides us or connects us, between North America, Europe, South America, and Africa. And of course it does both. When you are talking about the economics, one of the things that has been really interesting to learn, as I did now, is that 95 percent of all trade is actually carried by ship, not necessarily just across the Atlantic, but it just goes to show how important being able to move products from one side of the ocean to the other is. We also talked about other parts of the Atlantic ocean: what is at the bottom — the minerals, the cables that bring digital trade — what is in the ocean — the fishery resources that are so important to both the North and the South Atlantic — and even above — the ability of satellites to control navigation, to control airplanes that are flying between us. 

And in this sense, the Atlantic really does connect all sides of the economy on these things. It is unfortunately an imbalanced connection. There is much more trade that takes place between the United States and Europe, North America and Europe, than among all four continents. And one of the things that we are really wrestling with is how you expand trade - how you expand trade and economic ties between Latin America and Africa and the Northern Hemisphere. Finally, one of the things that was very interesting to talk about is trade between Latin America and Africa, which is also growing.

So in that sense, I come away from this Atlantic Strategy Group meeting seeing the ocean as a connective tissue. It is one we still have to get across but it is one that brings us together.

-Peter Chase, Resident Fellow, The German Marshall Fund of the United States