The Atlantic Academy is a non-profit institution that was founded by the Rheinland-Pfalz state government in 1996 and is supported by a non-partisan association. This association is funded by the state and is concerned with maintaining transatlantic relations and providing comprehensive information on US politics and society.
After the end of the Cold War, transatlantic relations had changed fundamentally. The conflict that spanned both the east and west sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and once served as a transatlantic glue, was replaced by new predominately asymmetric threats. This affected not only the external relations of security and trade, but also the relations between societies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Younger generations can barely identify with the ritualized phrases of “I am a Berliner” and “Tear down this wall”, or have memories of the Marshall Plan and the “Rosinenbomber”. Therefore, decisive factors for strengthening transatlantic relations come not just from common interests and values, but also from new political narratives. This is why institutions like the Atlantic Academy are important cornerstones in the endeavor to cultivate transatlantic relations and enable new generations to develop their own transatlantic narratives.
Since the beginning of its existence, the Atlantic Academy has made the interaction of people, especially Germans and Americans, the focus of their activities. The task formulated in the articles of the association in §2 makes this clear:
“The purpose of the Association is to intensify German-American and European-American dialogue and the dialogue between member states of the North Atlantic Alliance. These activities are based on the traditionally close links between Rhineland-Palatinate and the United States of America; their objective is to contribute significantly to international understanding and to the promotion of a free and democratic political culture.”
The recognition of public utility with reference to the “promotion of international sentiments, tolerance in all areas of culture, and an understanding of international understanding”, pursuant to Section §52 (2), first sentence, point 13 of the Act of association is also an example of this work and cooperation. For over many years, the Academy has successfully cooperated with organizations such as the Association of German-American Clubs (VDAC), The German-American International Women’s Club of Kaiserslautern or the American-German Business Club of Kaiserslautern. Additionally there are new collaborations with local groups such as the US Ice Hockey team KMC Eagles, the US motorcycle club, the Ruff Ryders and the Overseas Art Education Association.
With a program ranging from lectures over seminars to school workshops, the Atlantic Academy is dedicated to the mediation of various transatlantic topics. These include fields of culture, business and politics. This is also accomplished through an exchange of opinions with our American friends through seminars for American and German students held in cooperation with the VDAC every February. Events on various transatlantic topics include a party on the day of the presidential and congressional elections in November of 2016, and exhibitions of paintings and drawings by students of American schools in and around the Kaiserslautern area. All events offer great opportunities to meet and engage with Americans.
Hence, the Atlantic Academy strongly values encounters. An important building block for bringing together Germans and Americans is closer contact in cities and municipalities. Rhineland-Palatinate is the federal state with the largest American presence. In fact, in many municipalities the percentage of Americans in the total population reaches more than 20 percent. This represents a huge social and economic potential as well as a challenge. In 2016, the Atlantic Academy is launching the “Welcome to Rheinland–Pfalz “ project for the Ministry of the Interior and Sport. This will bring Rheinland-Pfalz municipalities and their American inhabitants more closely together, thus providing an interface for the topics of municipal policy and local government US deployment policy. The Atlantic Academy is also expanding its position as a consultative body for the state, municipalities and the community (see advice).
Another important aspect for the Atlantic Academy is friendships and partnerships. A glance at the partnerships of Rhineland-Pfalz cities and municipalities shows that of the 131 cities, only 14 have relations with American cities and municipalities. This is an important starting point. Partnerships are based on civil society commitment and need more than one institutionalization in the city or municipality. Rather than with government institutions, these partnerships and friendships are organized voluntarily by clubs, which carry out the initiatives. The Atlantic Academy wants to act as an initiator and main contact for the establishment of such clubs in various cities and municipalities of Rhineland-Palatinate. With this, the Atlantic Academy wants to contribute to a much stronger, deeper relationship between Germans and Americans beyond military and economic interests. In addition to this, the “Network America” forum in Rhineland-Palatinate has been established. In this forum, the Atlantic Academy is also able to provide information on its events.
But this is not just a challenge at the municipal level. Since 1997, Rhineland-Palatinate and the US state of South Carolina have had a partnership. In this partnership, the Atlantic Academy acts as an intermediary organization. In its projects and other information offers, the Atlantic Academy often touches upon the topic of politics and society of South Carolina. In addition, the Atlantic Academy has played an integral part in preparing and conducting transatlantic conferences between delegations form both partners. After covering the issue of education in 2014, the next Transatlantic Conference in 2017 aims to address the issues of demographic change and the various facets of rural development.
Over the past 20 years, the Atlantic Academy has developed into a center for American expertise. Through various projects, it contributes significantly to the educational landscape in Rhineland-Palatinate with regards to transatlantic topics, and it is well known and appreciated across international boarders. The cooperation with the TU Kaiserslautern and the German Association for American Studies (DGfA) is just as important as the cooperation with the US General Consulate in Frankfurt am Main, the Pedagogical Institute in Speyer, the Fridtjof-Nansen Academy in Ingelheim, the language school of the German Armed Forces in Idar-Oberstein or the Europe Direct Information Centers in Kaiserslautern and Koblenz. The consistent funding provided to the Atlantic Academy by the Bundeszentrale and the Rhineland-Palatinate Landeszentrale for political education demonstrates the high quality of these events. In this context, the Atlantic Academy has been a recognized educational institution of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung since 2014.
With its Summer School, conducted in cooperation with the TU Kaiserslautern, the Atlantic Academy has a flagship program that in form and quality is a nationwide novelty. Its structural and institutional independence centers on the strength of the education offered by the Atlantic Academy. On one hand it has devoted itself to maintaining a high academic level in regard to transatlantic relations. On the other hand, it also wants to make this education accessible to a bigger share of the public, be it young adults, schoolteachers, or concerned citizens. The Academy has always, and continues to, discuss new topics including the role of music as a soft power in foreign policy, the role and perception of American policy, and employment within rural areas and its future in Germany/Rhineland-Palatinate and America.
In addition to the Summer School, the Atlantic Academy also offered the Spring Academy. Due to the reduction in the institution’s initial funding during the debt crisis, this offer was not able to be continued. A new start would be conceivable in the sense that the Spring Academy could be a cooperative event between the four universities in Mainz, Trier, Koblenz-Landau and Kaiserslautern. The effects from the different expert opinions in the many disciplines, including the areas of Political Science and English Studies, must not be underestimated.
The third pillar of the Atlantic Academy consists of the two previous pillars. With the extensive US expertise of its staff as well as the central role in the nationwide American scientific network, the Atlantic Academy is a well-prepared advisory institution for the Rhineland-Palatinate state institutions such as the state parliament as well as the ministries. The extraordinary importance of an interface between education and consulting becomes apparent in the ever-increasing number of problems facing international dependencies. Beginning with the lessons learned from issues such as the international financial and debt crisis, the experiences and effects of demographic change, the advantages and disadvantages of fracking or a Euro-American free trade zone have visibly demonstrated that the view from the other side of the Atlantic is worth listening to and that discussions on different approaches offer the opportunity to set new impetus at the country level. It is important to raise more awareness about the work of the Atlantic Academy at the government level.
Two recent developments illustrate the first successes of these efforts:
- The participation of the Atlantic Academy in the preparation and conduct of the Transatlantic Conferences related to the partnership with South Carolina.
- The approval of the “Welcome to Rheinland-Platz” project by the Ministry of the Interior, for Sports and Infrastructure
An example of the interface between education and consulting, which has now proven itself over many years, is the cooperation between the Atlantic Academy and the language school of the German Army in Idar-Oberstein. Through the event conception, organization, and implementation, the Atlantic Academy is a competent service provider in this area. Further examples are the cooperation with the German Atlantic Society, the Community for Security Policy, and the US Consulate General in Frankfurt, where the Atlantic Academy utilizes its expertise and projects.
However, consultation should be offered to other companies. The success of negotiations with American partners depends on the form of communication. The Atlantic Academy has the expertise and contacts to offer companies tailor made events. Because of this, the Atlantic Academy can also compete in the intercultural communication industry.
Further Development of the Transatlantic Community
The Atlantic Academy is well on its way to tackling a necessary structural change in response to the ever-changing challenges in the field of political education. This is primarily what makes this institution so successful and prestigious.
It is in times of scandal, differing perspectives or anti American resentment, which is constantly rising in Germany, when a positive German-American history is threatened. This makes the creation of new positive memories and connections all the more important. This is especially true here in Rhineland-Pfalz where controversial discussions over the future of the Ramstein Air Force Base, the proposed stationing of nuclear weapons in Büchel and the related discussions on the security policy developments are currently happening. Accompanying these debates, illuminating them and promoting them constructively, is also part of our work. The combination of the creation of new, positive connections and an open, professional handling of a wide range of topics characterizes the outstanding work of the Atlantic Academy, as the American Ambassador John B. Emerson expressed in March of 2015:
“In its diversity and engagement, the Atlantic Academy has become a symbol of all that the thriving transatlantic community aspires to be in the complex, multipolar world of the 21st century.”