40 years of MAC Bonn celebrated: Redefining transatlantic relations

“Vision–Courage–Commitment 1977–2017” was the title of a “historical” event that took place on June 24th in the old Town Hall of Bonn. The event was hosted by the Mid Atlantic Club Bonn in cooperation with the city of Bonn. Beyond the members and guests from the United States of America there were 10 representatives from the sister Mid-Atlantic Club of London, chaired by university professor, defense expert and author Prof Alan Lee Williams (OBE).

Dr. Werner Hoyer at the MAC Bonn 40th anniversary luncheon

The keynote was given by Dr. Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) who had been President of the MAC Bonn from 1995 – 1999 while serving as State Minister of the German Office of Foreign Affairs. In 2012, Dr Hoyer was nominated and elected President of one of the largest Banks in the world, the European Investment Bank (EIB). The City Hall event was musically framed by a clarinettes quartett of young musicians from Havixbeck music school who had just won third prize of the federal music festival “Jugend musiziert.”

In his introduction, the mayor of Bonn, Reinhard Limbach, reminded the audience that on the 23rd June 1977, thanks to the initiative taken by Dr. Friedhelm Krüger-Sprengel and others from the US, Canada, U.K. and mainland Europe, the foundation was laid for the Mid Atlantic Club in Bonn, whose aim then as today is to foster “transatlantic dialogue” and look for peaceful solutions in times of crisis. In a period of tensions and turbulence which we currently face - ranging from Brexit to multiple wars and economic crisis in different parts of the world - Limbach emphasized the importance of engaging in a “transatlantic dialogue.” He particularly referred to the keynote speaker, Werner Hoyer, who had played an important role in terms of Germany’s integration in the West and reconciliation with the East.

The following address was given by the President of the Mid Atlantic Club Bonn, former State Secretary Dr. Friedhelm Ost. He called the 40 years anniversary of the Mid-Atlantic Club Bonn an occasion to look back on four decades and look ahead into the future. Ost emphasized that the title of the keynote “Vision, Courage and Commitment for a transatlantic partnership in the future” is expression of a crucial concept which was a guideline in the past and which today challenges the Atlanticists to “define new ways of dialogue for the future.” Ost spoke about the dramatic changes which the world is going through - Brexit and the emergence of new geopolitical concepts and characterized these events as “disruption”.


The pillars of the Atlantic Bridge are cracking and in some parts they begin to crumble, and we are again facing a new turning point. 

This becomes particularly evident in the US as well as in our neighboring country France and the UK. “The pillars of the Atlantic Bridge are cracking and in some parts they begin to crumble, and we are again facing a new turning point.” In light of the multiple challenges, Ost called for new efforts that should be made by Atlanticists, in order to shape the future in a constructive way:

  1. This implies that America needs to remain Europe’s main partner even, if new attempts are made there to have new adjustments in foreign and security policy.
  2. “Europe must be measured in a new way and take its fate into its own hands.” Only “together the US and Europe will be able to defend our concept of humanity, enlightenment and division of powers.”

It is only in this way that the Atlanticists will come to a “fair and constructive togetherness”, which implies the balancing of our interests as well as a balanced burden sharing. The new geopolitical challenges could only be “solved with more and not with less Europe,” since no state will be able to solve the problems of migration, environmental protection, the fight against terrorism, criminality, economic development, security and foreign trade policy, on its own.


..on the basis of Article 50 we have got to leave the EU

“There is no way back,” said Prof Alan Lee Williams OBE from London, Chairman of the MAC London, university professor and author of several books related to defense issues. He gave a brief statement that reflected the mood that many of the guests from the UK had expressed during informal discussions.“ I have always been a European,” Williams said, “yet on the basis of Article 50 we have got to leave the EU.” (A reference to Art 50 in the Lisbon treaty which allows a member state to leave the EU and which in March 2017 has been invoked by British PM Theresa May, in order to open negotiations between the U.K. and EU, and whose aim is to finalize the British exit from the EU by 2019. E.H.). Prof Williams strongly emphasized that such a future perspective will by no means imply the “end of the friendship with Germany” stating “there is no turning backs to the European continent, whether it’s a soft or hard Brexit and Germany will play a key role in it.”

With respect to the EU’s future security policy, the Chairman of MAC London emphasized a view which is common among many British and French security experts: With a “nuclear deterrent” there is not going to be a “gloom or doom” situation. While there are problems with President Trump who “put the viability of NATO into question,” Trump does have some good advisors. He furthermore pointed to the importance of NATO members to fully engage in burden sharing since “your interests are best served by meeting your financial obligations to NATO.”

A high level diplomat from the US emphasized that we are right now living through a “period of transition and radical change,” the predicates of which are Brexit, different wars and conflicts as well as new technological challenges. This implies that “we must define a new role in the world.” And in light of the complexity of problems it is clear that the “waves of crisis can only be overcome together.”

A French diplomat reminded the audience of the historical importance which the city of Bonn has played during the last centuries. “Bonn is a historical place where the French-German Partnership found a special resonance in the last decades, given the old historical ties which unite Germany and France.” He referred to the end of the first world war and the famous 14 points peace plan that had been presented at the time by US President Wilson and which called for US withdrawal from the European continent. The French speaker strongly urged that the “Atlantic Pond” between the US and Europe should rather become a “symbol of partnership between the old and the new World.”

Dr. Martina Timmermann, Vice President of MAC, presented the second edition of the book “Wirken in Wendezeiten”- 40 years Mid Atlantic Clubs.” The newly edited book (the first edition was published in 2013) was conceived as a special “anniversary publication,” including several new essays that had been contributed over the last months. Timmermann emphasized that the celebration of the 40th anniversary of MAC Bonn was especially dedicated to two representatives: former State Secretary Friedhelm Ost who has been serving as President of the Bonn MAC for 15 years, as well as the founding secretary of the MAC Bonn and Vice President of the Association of Mid-Atlantic Clubs, Dr. Friedhelm Krüger-Sprengel.

Since founding the Club on 23rd June 1977, Dr. Krüger-Sprengel has been responsible for bringing together leading diplomats, security, defense and intelligence experts, as well as representatives from the economy, finance, church, culture and media for over 200 MAC luncheons. Due to his tireless efforts it was possible to have frank, informal discussions that would give fresh impulses in the search for solutions and new constructive concepts. As tokens of appreciation by the members and supporters of MAC Bonn, Messrs Ost and Krüger-Sprengel were presented with special certificates and copies of the new edition of the book with a note of appreciation provided by German Defense Minister Dr Ursula von der Leyen.

The subsequent keynote by Dr. Werner Hoyer began with a thundering: “We shouldn’t be complacent!”. Hoyer, President of one of Europe’s most powerful banks which has been instrumental in financing many trans-European investments and infrastructure projects in the past, began his speech with a reflection about the “common values” which we share in the West. While in times of global upheaval the new administration in Washington has put into question some of the “fundaments” - the “primary idea of the West is the concept of a community of enlightenment and the rule of law as shared democracy,” Hoyer stated.

The new challenges which we are facing today include geopolitical, climate and technological changes which Hoyer qualified as “disruption”. With respect to the future after Brexit, Hoyer noted that there are increasing numbers of people who seem to reject common values. Europe, however, would have the obligation to transform the EU into a better place and to cooperate constructively with the British. And among the main challenges which we face together are security, trade and migration.

The Brexit vote and the election of Trump have led to a “re-awakening” of Europe as expressed by French President Eduard Macron and who recently stated that the European governments must work together. Hoyer outlined that the Americans shoulder too much of a burden (in terms of NATO and Cyber security), and highlighted that “our defense posture is inefficient. There is not enough intergovernmental operation in terms of common procurement. Only 15% are done together.”


the merit of free trade is that the EU and US are the largest trading partners

Dr. Hoyer mentioned several aspects which will be crucial for shaping the future EU: One such aspect is “trade.” He underlined that the “merit of free trade is that the EU and US are the largest trading partners.” There is, however, a real possibility that the US builds trade walls around the US and that it leaves many important trade agreements. The other aspect is “migration.” Hoyer referred to a McKinsey study, according to which migration would boost the world economy by 3 trillion Dollars. What is needed, however, is a change in the pattern of development which means a boosting of the economic development on the ground in Africa. A third aspect involves “investment.” Hoyer spoke about the existing EU “investments gaps” especially in the field of digitalization, which annually amount to 700 billion Euros. He emphasized the need to engage in more investment, including investments that help overcome the economic gap which still exists in Southern Europe, which also has very high youth unemployment.


Subsidiarity – a key aspect for solving the crisis.

During the discussion, a British participant raised the question concerning the issue of “subsidiarity,” which as Hoyer added, is a key “concept of the Catholic social teaching.” In the words of the British discussant a lot could have been prevented in the U.K., if some years ago the discussion about “subsidiarity” had been pursued differently. In his answer which was appreciated by some of the British guests, Hoyer warned that there should not be a wall erected between the EU and U.K. and that the EU should not be too “complacent.” He stated also that “we Germans must get a little bit more modest and less complacent.”


the core foundations of the EU project and the liberal order that we have relied on, are being put to the firmest of tests.

Some of the ideas which Dr. Hoyer presented in his speech had been developed in an article which he wrote for the new edition of the Book “Wirken in Wendezeiten” under the title “Populism and Protectionism- a wake-up call for Europe.” In this article he stated that "the core foundations of the EU project and the liberal order that we have relied on, are being put to the firmest of tests.” The new administration in Washington has publicly questioned the logic of the EU and indeed several US multilateral commitments.” Given the rising tide of populism on both sides of the Atlantic and a lot of fear which is emerging in the population, Hoyer emphasized that the Europeans should see this as a “wake-up call.” He pointed to the values of the European project and stressed that we must work with and “if need be - remind our American friends of our joint interest and joint commitments to these values.”

Talking about the merits of free trade, Hoyer underlined that the EU and the United Stated are two of the three largest beneficiaries of international trade. In 2015, total EU trade amounted to €3,5 trillion while total US trade amounted to €3 trillion. “The EU is the United States’ largest trade partner. And the United States is the EU’s largest trading partner. In 2015, EU trade in goods with the US stood at € 620 billion, of which €371 billion were exports to the USA and €249 billion were imports from the US. This trade supports a lot of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.”

With respect to Europe’s competitiveness and long term growth potential, Hoyer underlined that Europe suffers from history of “underinvestment and structural weaknesses, exacerbated by years of crisis and inertia.” He urged that we must overcome the “structural investment gap” which according to an EIB analysis involves an annual investment gap in the EU of about 600 billion Euros consisting of: €100 billion to upgrade energy networks to integrate renewables, improve efficiency and ensure security of supply. €80 billion to upgrade transport networks to reduce congestion costs and trade bottlenecks as well as €65 billion to reach the EU’s Digital Agenda standards in broadband, data center capacity, and cyber security.

With respect to development policy and development aid, Dr. Hoyer particularly praised Germany’s efforts to launch a Marshall Plan with Africa: “Development policy must truly shift to improving economic perspectives. We must give people everywhere hope for their future in the regions and countries. I welcome ongoing discussions on how the EU can mitigate the root causes of migration.”

Outlining positive perspectives for the future, the Vice President of the Association of Mid-Atlantic Clubs, Dr. Krüger-Sprengel in his closing remarks gave an outline on some of the key parameters for the present and future North–Atlantic Community:

  • Relations with the United States are in the national interest of NATO and Germany and they should be expanded towards the Pacific.
  • There should be a fair burden sharing between the US and Germany, still there are several elements that are usually not mentioned but important: the huge US Air base in Ramstein and Spangdahlem hosted by Germany; the US Base and military training area at Grafenwöhr, the largest maneuver area since the German Wilhelminian Empire; the stationing of more than a dozen combat fighters with nuclear weapons under US-Command at Büchel Airbase and the American African Command in Stuttgart.

In terms of future relations with the U.K. Krüger-Sprengel stressed that “independently from a hard or soft Brexit, NATO and additional bilateral arrangements will provide the ground for a friendly relationship.”

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