The Perfect Enemy | A Renewed Sense of Purpose: Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship on the 75th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan
July 5, 2022

A Renewed Sense of Purpose: Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship on the 75th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan

A Renewed Sense of Purpose: Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship on the 75th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan  German Marshall Fund

Read Time:29 Minute

In 1953, the great Spanish filmmaker Luis García Berlanga directed Welcome Mr. Marshall!, regarded as one of the finest works in the country’s history of film. It depicts a small rural village in Spain frantically preparing for the visit of an American delegation headed by George C. Marshall, the US secretary of state who advocated rebuilding Europe. But the sleek black cars of the American retinue raced through the village without even stopping to greet the cheering crowd, disappearing in a cloud of dust—a metaphor of what the Marshall Plan meant for Spain.

But was it accurate?

In 1947, Spain was not eligible for the Marshall Plan because of the international isolation of General Francisco Franco’s regime. It was a huge missed opportunity, but it was not definitive. Indeed, the Marshall Plan set in motion events that led to the emergence of a democratic and developed Europe which in turn, when the dictatorship came to an end, provided Spain with direction for the decades ahead. This helped steer Spain during the perilous years of transition to democracy when a vicious terrorist campaign conspired against the Spanish struggle for peace and democracy. 

Europe was a reference point for Spanish society and the country’s accession to NATO in 1982 and to the European Communities (EC) in 1986 provided the majority of Spaniards a sense of accomplishment that Spain was finally occupying its rightful place as a democracy among European partners and Western allies.

Disorientating Success

Paradoxically, with the end of the Cold War came a period of disorientation for Europe, and more generally for the West. The common European project became obscured in a technocratic haze. Once it had reached its original objective of guaranteeing peace, democracy, and prosperity, and other mobilizing projects such as freedom of circulation and the euro, the EU struggled to set itself new goals. The Maastricht Treaty opened new avenues, but over time deficiencies in the euro architecture, the limits of defense cooperation and the growing preponderance of intergovernmentalism over the  community method, revealed a widening European gap between words and reality, between branding and substance. In 2005, the proposed Constitutional Treaty, perceived as the brainchild of technocracy, was rejected in both France and the Netherlands. Despite this, the Lisbon Treaty took on the main elements of the Constitutional Treaty, including an additional layer of complex administration.

The Union, deprived of further overarching ambitious political objectives, produced technocratic ones, for instance the Europe 2020 Strategy, to foster economic growth. The 2016 EU Global Strategy was a recognition of the increasing vulnerability of the EU. Indeed, in recent years Europe has been reacting to the many crises it has faced: the Great Recession, the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, Brexit, the Trump presidency, and COVID-19. Its objective has been reduced to muddling through. In some cases, like with the initial reaction to the 2008 financial crisis, Europe’s response was even detrimental to the European project, pitting countries against one other to an overall negative effect.

Across the Atlantic

This lack of momentum also afflicted the transatlantic relationship. The high mark in US-EU relations was the New Transatlantic Agenda and Action Plan launched at the Madrid summit in 1995, under Spanish presidency of the Union. The low point was the 2003 Iraq war, which created a deep divide between the United States and EU member states, as well as within Europe. And since 2010, EU-US summits have not even been held on a yearly basis.

The Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” meant less political capital spent on relations with Europe. The TTIP trade agreement was half-heartedly pushed forward on both sides of the Atlantic, and finally failed completely – with China waiting to take advantage of Western divisions.

The EU went from being perceived as an essential partner, and indeed brainchild of American postwar foreign policy, to be an unfair competitor and even a foe, in former president Trump’s own words.

Instead, disagreements about defense expenditure within NATO and on trade between the United States and the EU were underscored. In the United States, the EU went from being perceived as an essential partner, and indeed brainchild of American postwar foreign policy, to be an unfair competitor and even a foe, in former president Trump’s own words. He sowed doubt about the US commitment to European security through NATO. The Trump presidency was a period during which the US and Europe seemed to evolve in different directions rather than advance in the close association that had served them so well since the end of the Second World War.

At some point, the foundational idea of the EU and of NATO seemed to have lost its momentum and sense of historic purpose. Europe and the United States might have been able to afford this disorientation during a benign parenthesis of history known as the “unipolar moment.” But, at present, history is back, and ignoring the sign of the times is a luxury that neither the United States nor Europe can afford.

What to Do?

In 1921, reflecting on Spain’s future at a moment where the country suffered an external military conflict and internal political divisions, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset asked himself what makes a political community thrive. He concluded that it is the same thing that brought it into life in the first place: a pursuit, a hope, a yearning. To remain united, he continued, this community needs to have an inspiring common objective before its eyes. Only great, audacious enterprises awaken the deep vital instincts of humanity. “Not the past, but the future; not tradition, but purpose,” Ortega y Gasset wrote.

To remain united, he continued, this community needs to have an inspiring common objective before its eyes. Only great, audacious enterprises awaken the deep vital instincts of humanity. 

No doubt the Russian war on Ukraine, which is also a war against the European and international orders as well as a war against democracy, is a rallying flag for Europe and the United States, a turning point in history. The invasion happened at a moment when the conceptual framework to interpret world politics oscillated between interdependence as a source of peace and prosperity, and the return to great power competition, including through violence. Unfortunately, the attack on Ukraine points to the latter.

In the face of this new scenario, the European project and transatlantic relations must renew themselves. And this cannot mean for them to be merely resilient in the face of adversity, but rather to be ambitious and forward-looking.

An Inspiring Project for Europe

There is wide consensus in Spanish society that, for Spain, European integration is part of Spanishness. Many EU member states perceive Europe not as an external entity, but as part of their identity. But if Europe has become a national destiny for many of its member states, then the European project itself must contain an ambition. The question is, then, what is Europe’s purpose today?

Many in Europe are aware of the need to give the integration project renewed impulse, adapted to the new international context. This is the rationale behind expressions such as “European sovereignty,” popularized by French president Emmanuel Macron. But European sovereignty is an ambiguous concept. It suggests a shift of power to the European people, when in fact it refers to being able to mobilize a range of assets in the fields of defense, trade, industrial policy, etc. – at the European level within what is currently a primarily intergovernmental institutional setting.

In the same vein, the notion of strategic autonomy implies that the EU should be more independent in security, economic, financial, commercial, monetary (the euro), technological, regulatory, and other fields. Again, there is a glaring gap between the use of this concept (already present in the 2016 EU Global Strategy) and reality: for example the EU’s critical dependence on Russian gas imports or on medical supplies from China, made apparent during the COVID-19 crisis.

Another attempt to articulate the renewal of the European project is the idea that the EU should start to “speak the language of power,” to use the expression of the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, or to be “geopolitical” as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says. These concepts stress that the EU adapt to a world stage of great power competition. But perhaps they also imply the defeat of the traditional transformative strategy of the EU: of the efforts through neighborhood, development, and trade policies, to build a world that would resemble the EU, where power politics would no longer be necessary. Of course, both approaches could and should be complementary, but clearly the former is gaining traction over the latter.

These ideas imply profound changes in Europe’s external posture in the world, but their implementation has not being accompanied by a parallel modifications in European decision-making structures. In other words, they risk being the latest manifestation of the European tendency towards hyperbole that characterized the post-Maastricht period. The lack of will to undertake more institutional reforms is based on the idea that European institutional integration has reached its limits. Self-declared pragmatists argue that it doesn’t make sense to deepen integration since national electorates seem to be voting ever more nationalistically.

Electorates turn to national projects in the absence of clear European purpose. If Europe does not provide this mobilizing project, the political body will look for it elsewhere, at the national level.

This assessment, however, is dubious since European public opinion remains consistently favorable to the European integration project, including in countries, such as Poland or Hungary, with nationalist governments. Polls also show that Europeans trust European institutions more than they do national ones. And even accepting the argument of lack of support for Europe, which surfaced in the UK during Brexit, its logic might be the other way around: electorates turn to national projects in the absence of clear European purpose. If Europe does not provide this mobilizing project, the political body will look for it elsewhere, at the national level.

The reaction of the EU to two recent crises has shown that the integration project is more relevant than ever – and able to become the vehicle of European citizen’s mobilization.

First, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a watershed for Europe in terms of its capacity to act internationally. The EU has been instrumental in quickly implementing massive sanctions, exercising political pressure, providing humanitarian support, sheltering millions of refugees, and even providing Ukraine with substantial war materiel – a first in the history of the Union. It has also developed a strategy to end its dependency of Russian energy supply that would have been unthinkable to many before the aggression.

The invasion has also impacted the New European Strategic Compass, hailed by High Representative Borrell as “a turning point for the EU as a security provider.” Although the strategic framework does not imply an EU transition from crisis management to collective defense—an area that remains squarely in national and NATO hands—it does represent a significant advance in putting into practice increased European cooperation on military capabilities. At present, the aggregate expenditure on defense of the EU member states is three or four times that of Russia (and equivalent to China’s) but the result is not comparable. Defense is not mainly about expenditure, but about the usability of military capacity, and—this is the biggest EU unknown—about the will to use it. The Ukraine crisis caused a shock that has led several countries to increase defense spending significantly.

The new security context clearly confirms the need for Europe to invest in military capabilities and enablers to be able to carry out crisis management operations in its neighborhood by itself, but also to invest better in its defense industry, including in space and cyber technologies.

Second, the EU has also reacted in a remarkable way to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, in contrast to its inadequate reaction to the 2008/2012 financial and economic crisis. This time, the EU gave itself the fiscal means to effectively react through the NextGenerationEU Recovery Plan. The significance of the recovery plan is, however, contested, and while some speak of a “Hamiltonian moment,” others see it as an exceptional and temporary measure.

What Answers Can the EU Offer?

The EU is currently overcoming the different obstacles immediately in front of it. But sooner or later it will have to give a meaningful answer to longer term challenges. One of these is obviously EU enlargement. In reacting to the attack on Ukraine, the EU has demonstrated unity and resolve. Recognizing Ukraine’s candidacy status to the EU would send a powerful signal that the future of Ukraine is inextricably linked with the future of the EU. At the same time the wider question of the accession process of the countries that are already on this path, in particular in the Western Balkans, needs to be clarified. The transformative promise of the EU includes a prospect of membership that cannot be indefinitely postponed. True, this prospect is subject to objective conditions, but the impression in recent years is that the EU claims to have an enlargement policy, when in effect it is unable to carry it out. The invasion of Ukraine, coupled with Russian desire to meddle in the Balkans, calls for a new momentum in this process.

Enlargement has to be accompanied with institutional change. Already a 27-member-state Union, where the intergovernmental principle is preponderant, is difficult to manage. The opportunity missed in the past of deepening the Union in parallel to its widening needs to be seized this time. Otherwise, the EU risks permanent paralysis and a loss of purpose.

The invasion of Ukraine, coupled with Russian desire to meddle in the Balkans, calls for a new momentum in this process.

A second challenge lies in the fiscal domain. The time has come to create a permanent fiscal capability at the EU level so that fiscal priorities can be defined according to European interests, not merely to the aggregation of national ones. This way the EU can react not only to symmetrical but also to asymmetrical shocks without member states becoming pitted against one another. This is not pie in the sky: concrete proposals exist to put such an idea in place. Whether the political will is there is another story. But, in any case, in the present historical moment ambitious economic and social agreements capable of overcoming international economic challenges by mobilizing society toward a common goal need to be taken not at the national level, but at the European one.

Thirdly, in order to reinforce the legitimacy of a deeper Union in the future, more democratic control at the European level is needed. Fiscal capacity, in particular, is inextricably linked with democratic control and therefore the authorities responsible for that field should be accountable to European citizens through a European Parliament that is elected in a European framework—and not in an aggregate of national ones. There is already a path toward that with the proposal that in 2024 European Parliament elections European citizens be allowed to elect transnational list under common European programs.

The EU must find ways to be able to react internationally in a more expedient and effective way when this unanimity does not exist, something that the current rules do not allow.

Finally, the quick European reaction to the aggression against Ukraine was possible thanks to a common assessment of the threat and agreement on the response. But this situation is exceptional, and the EU must find ways to be able to react internationally in a more expedient and effective way when this unanimity does not exist, something that the current rules do not allow. The possibility to have recourse to large qualified majorities, with “emergency brakes” for issues of especial national sensitivity, which already exist in other areas of European decision making, should be introduced in the realm of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

A wide public consultation has just taken place through the Conference on the Future of Europe, through which European citizens have made proposals such as establishing qualified majority voting as the standard procedure in the Council’s decision making and limiting unanimity to enlargement and the modification of the fundamental principles of the EU, These proposals are aimed at giving the EU the common ambition that citizens demand. It remains to be seen, however, whether member states are willing to implement them, since many would entail the modification of the EU Treaties, something a group of member states has already dismissed.

Will all these ideas and proposals be enough to give the EU a sense of purpose, or will they be (if adopted) perceived as technical reforms, without a political vision? Despite the shock of the Ukraine crisis, the EU has not yet entered a new foundational period. Arguably, by not occupying this political space, Europe runs the risk of abandoning it to populism, which has no shortage of ideal projects, even if in fact they are nothing but illusions. For the EU, in the current circumstances, muddling through should no longer be an option.

Prospects for the Transatlantic Partnership

After the awkward years of the Trump administration, the election of President Biden offered an opportunity to rebuild confidence in US-EU relations. True, there were some initial missteps, such as the US handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan or of the AUKUS agreement, both carried out without consulting European allies. But this has given way to an intense consultation process to create a strong, common political front to support Ukraine.

High Representative Borrell was quick to seize the initiative with the transatlantic agenda for global change. Since then, several bilateral US-EU fora have been launched on trade and technology, on security and defense, on China and the Indo-Pacific, and on Russia. The Energy Council has been revived and a joint Task Force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and strengthen European energy security has been created. This gives substance to bilateral cooperation and also helps build mutual understanding and trust on both sides of the Atlantic. Trust through close personal contact between officials should be a permanent feature of US-EU cooperation.

There are indeed a wide number of issues where there is room for working together, for instance the reform of the WTO, and where important progress has already been made, as in the area of corporate taxation or in overcoming some trade disputes. But given the gravity of current circumstances, the technocratic work should be placed within a solid political framework. Again, the new US administration was quick in showing the importance it attaches to EU-US relations with the celebration of a new bilateral summit in June 2021. President Biden has also travelled to Europe in March 2022 to participate in the European Council and NATO (and G-7) summits, to tackle the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He has also had several video calls with the European Council and Commission presidents, the NATO secretary general, and other European leaders.

If the United States is the indispensable nation, as the recently deceased Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, then the EU is its indispensable partner.

President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” arguably presented a false dilemma: the Ukraine crisis shows that world politics today needs to be analyzed in a systemic way. Events in Europe affect the Indo-Pacific, and vice versa. In this more complex world, the EU needs the United States, but the United States also needs the EU. As the contrast between the management of the Ukraine crisis and the Afghanistan or AUKUS cases shows, much can be achieved by the United States and the EU when consulting each other, as opposed to acting unilaterally. If the United States is the indispensable nation, as the recently deceased Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, then the EU is its indispensable partner.

Needless to say, this kind of partnership is achieved not by attempting to impose points of view on the other party, but by taking into account the differences of approach and articulating common responses accordingly. Arguably, EU and US sanctions regimes on Russia have been so wide and deep because space has been given for both to react according to their own economic context and political culture, resulting in a more cohesive response. In the future. Both sides of the Atlantic should keep in mind that cohesion is itself a political asset that needs to be fostered and protected. This kind of approach will be particularly important with regard to relations with China, where the EU and the US not always see eye to eye.

The Domestic Political Dimension

In parallel, work needs to be done so that transatlantic relations do not become a collateral victim of internal political polarization, in particular in the United States. The suspicion and even hostility toward the EU expressed by President Trump is not an isolated phenomenon, but a trend in some political quarters. The EU is considered as a competing model to the American one, too generous in its welfare and too alien to traditional political thinking. Its notion of “shared sovereignty” and its supranational institutions are perceived as additional layers of already-too-much government. The potential gap between Europe and some sectors has recently resurfaced with the negative vote of 63 Republican congress representatives to a resolution of the House expressing its unequivocal support for NATO and for the establishment of a Center for Democratic Resilience within it.

To remain strong, the EU-US relationship needs to remain a bipartisan endeavor. This implies involving the US Congress more. For Europeans, it means reaching out to Republicans as much as to Democrats to make sure that EU positions are understood by both and not considered hostile by any. It is therefore important to make US-EU relations relevant to the full US political spectrum. To those interested in a common agenda of values and multilateralism, it should be made clear that EU is the single most important ally of the United States. Those with a geopolitical approach should be presented with the fact that the EU is also a necessary partner in the current uncertain times, as the standoff with Russia on Ukraine has shown, and that it is also an essential interlocutor in dealing with an increasingly assertive China. These two approaches are complementary.

It is therefore important to make US-EU relations relevant to the full US political spectrum.

As the Trump presidency as shown, there is a risk of future divergence between the European and United States in issues that range from the fight against climate change, to the support of multilateral institutions, to the best strategy to promote human rights. . It is necessary to manage these divergences so that they do not end in a rupture. The existing frameworks of bilateral dialogue should therefore be presented and perceived as part of a transatlantic relation that transcends political parties on both sides of the Atlantic. Bilateral interactions need to be intensified not only between administrations, but between parliamentarians, businessmen, the intellectual and think tank community, and between civil societies.

NATO Is Back

Last but surely not least, if the Ukraine crisis has given prominence to the EU in the short term, in the long run it is NATO’s come back moment. After a critical period, where it was described as obsolete by President Trump, and as braindead by President Macron, it has regained self-assurance. The June 2021 summit vowed to open a new chapter in transatlantic relations, and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has clearly shown that NATO is not something of the past.

Even if, to avert an escalation, it has avoided direct involvement in the crisis, NATO has activated its defense plans; deployed part of the NATO Response Force and air and naval assets on its eastern flank and sent four additional multinational battlegroups in NATO member states bordering Ukraine. This shows that the Article V mutual defense guarantees are well and alive. On top of this, in the wake of the aggression, Sweden and Finland have announced their desire to join the alliance.

The reaction to the attack against Ukraine is also helping iron out some traditional divergences in the transatlantic relation regarding NATO. The rift around the difference in European defense expenditure between actual figures and the target agreed for 2024 seems now to be on the right track, in the face of the new circumstances, many European countries, including Spain, have announced their intention to step up their defense spending and ambition. More fundamentally, this increase spending implies a willingness by European NATO members to take a greater responsibility in their own defense, thus balancing the transatlantic burden sharing of European security.

Another traditionally vexing issue is the respective role of NATO and the EU in European security. The EU can and, as the new Strategic Compass reflects, is willing to do more in crisis management and the development of military capabilities, thus helping to lighten the US security burden in Europe and the neighboring area. But if the US signals reluctance to this, as has been the case in the past, this will generate resistance in some EU member states. More burden sharing requires the United States to be supportive of European efforts in developing its security dimension. As High Representative Borrell has stated, to increase the military capabilities of the European Union is a way of increasing and reinforcing the global security, the transatlantic link in complementarity with NATO.

That said, there is no denying that the Trump administration has left a sense of concern in Europe about the solidity of the US commitment to European security. The development of strategic autonomy within the EU is a reflection of this concern. But the Ukraine crisis has shown how efficiently the transatlantic relation can work when addressing together a common challenge. On both sides of the Atlantic, this common purpose means a renewal of mutual trust and hence of the solidity of the alliance.

Ultimately, the Russian aggression against Ukraine also profoundly affects the debate on NATO’s role, as it brings to the fore its traditional character as an instrument of collective security in the European area.

Ultimately, the Russian aggression against Ukraine also profoundly affects the debate on NATO’s role, as it brings to the fore its traditional character as an instrument of collective security in the European area. Europe and the United States will no doubt continue working together in facing international challenges, including the consequences for the international order of China’s growing assertiveness. But arguably NATO will have to concentrate on its core task of dealing with the challenges coming from Europe’s eastern and southern neighborhoods.

The Madrid NATO summit, which will take place June 29-30, will be an historic moment. The Madrid Strategic Concept will have to outline an agenda to make our military better prepared for the challenges coming from the East and from the South, as well as establish processes to make our societies to be more resilient against cyberattacks and disinformation. For Spain, it will be an occasion to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its accession to NATO, a reminder that freedom and democracy that cannot be taken for granted.

An Ambition for the World

In the current difficult economic and international context, there is a certain temptation in Western societies to lean toward retrenchment in many spheres, from trade to security, from values to global engagements. Already, the vulnerabilities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic have led to a tendency to shorten value chains and “reshore” sectors considered strategic. The free market has lost its aura of infallibility, accused—rightly or not—of being at the root of inequalities and social stagnation.

Retrenchment as a reaction to this vulnerability would not only be against the West’s traditional agenda of openness, arguably a core value, but also politically unwise since it would mean leaving spaces that others are eager to occupy. One clear example is the US withdrawal from the TTP—leaving a space that China is actively trying to fill (the significance of the recent “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” to this regard remains to be seen). Another is the failure of the EU to finalize trade agreements with Latin America, while at the same time complaining about the growing influence of China in the region.

Likewise, the preservation of a rules-based international order demands a policy of engagement, since it cannot be achieved without the participation of others. It cannot survive if it is perceived as a purely Western order, but only if it is owned by the international community as a whole.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has shown the relevance of the international community beyond the West in defending a rules-based world order.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has shown the relevance of the international community beyond the West in defending a rules-based world order. The UN General Assembly resolutions of March 2 and 23, respectively on the aggression on Ukraine and on aid access and civilian protection, were both approved by an overwhelming majority of the international community. They restate the obligation of all nations to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another State and demand that Russia immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. In other words, they demand the respect of the basic principles of international law, enshrined in the UN Charter, that guarantee international peace and security.

But wide support of the international community should not lead to complacency since most countries have not followed the West and like-minded states in imposing sanctions on Russia. International support to Western positions should not be taken for granted. It requires channels of communication and a constant conversation where all interlocutors are on board. Otherwise, the momentum created by the UN General Assembly Resolutions could be lost, and countries of the Global South could start conceptualizing the current situation as a remake of the East/West postwar confrontation, and assume the role of non-aligned. The case needs to be made that, on the contrary, the current conflict is a struggle between international law and the use of force to reach political objectives.

Protecting the international system put in place in 1945 also means updating it to take into account sensitivities beyond the West.

In the same vein, protecting the international system put in place in 1945 also means updating it to take into account sensitivities beyond the West. The UN Charter was approved in a world where decolonization had not yet happened and, consequently, some of the institutions it created do not adequately reflect the present composition of the international community. To be preserved, the international order needs to be reformed, for instance by giving more weight to southern countries in the Security Council. To be credible in the defense of a rules-based world order, the West needs to champion these reforms, avoiding the impression to be clinging to old privileges.   

The West needs also to actively continue to pursue its agenda together with third countries across the world in the field of human rights. There, in the framework of the Human Rights Council (HRC), China is leading a campaign to make human rights contingent upon the interpretation of national governments against the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The West must be part of a counteroffensive, making a special effort to ensure that democracies across Africa, Asia, and Latin America are on its side (something which seems obvious, but is not if one studies the voting patterns in the HRC). The vote at the UN General Assembly on April 7, 2022 suspending the membership of the Russian Federation to the HRC is an important signal, but the number of abstentions and absences of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries show that further reach-out efforts need to be done. In this struggle, where universal values risk losing ground, the West cannot afford a new US withdrawal from the HRC, which would leave an empty space that competing powers will be quick to occupy. Again, Europe needs to reach out to the full US political spectrum to explain the systemic consequences of such a measure.

Finally, supporting democracy is also an essential part of Western agenda. In that respect, the Summit for Democracy process, launched by President Biden, is a welcome initiative. Rather than an exclusive group, it should be considered a vehicle to help fledgling democracies to consolidate, a welcoming community for those wishing to strengthen their institutions, in the same spirit as the Millennium Challenge Corporation. At the same time, we should resist the temptation to mechanically project Cold War frameworks of the past to present realities. As the reaction of India, South Africa, and Brazil to the aggression against Ukraine show, the international political landscape is fluid, and we need to create political frameworks that are adapted to the present circumstances. Democracies need to denounce autocratic regimes, but at the same time they will need to cooperate in areas of mutual interest, such as the fight against climate change, preventing and fighting new pandemics, and in rebuilding and preserving a European and international security architecture. There is, however, an element of the Cold War mentality that merits preservation: democracies need to be confident in the ability of their ideas to prevail in the long run, as they have in the past.

Back to the Future

As in 1947 when the Marshall Plan was launched, we are living a pivotal moment in history. Both the EU and the transatlantic partnership need to adapt to the new situation. They need to be bold, to undertake new challenges, and to set new objectives. This should be done in Europe by drawing the necessary consequences from past crises, instead of muddling through. For the transatlantic relationship, it means transitioning from piecemeal cooperation to a deeper, more structured kind of partnership. As Ortega y Gasset suggests, the model for doing so should not be sought in the sacralization of the past, but in setting an ambitious project for the future.


This year the German Marshall Fund marks its 50th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. These historic moments serve as an opportunity to highlight the achievements of one of the most important American diplomatic initiatives of the 20th century and how its legacy lives on today through GMF and its mission. Learn more about GMF at 50.