Home Alone? Europe and the Post-American Age

Tuesday, 18 September 2018, Potsdam, Germany


70 to 80 leading media- and opinion makers, politicians and science representatives from across Europe are invited to engage in a constructive, inter-sectoral discussion on how political, social and economic developments affect prospects for a free, democratic Europe, to offer solutions and bring new approaches to the debate.


SESSION I: The Remains of The West – The New Transatlantic Relationship

It is quite possible that historians will call Donald Trump’s presidency the turn of an era. As the moment, the Pax Americana, the system that shaped the world after 1945, came to an end.

This is the culmination of developments that can no longer be ignored, which – under politically different auspices – were already observed under Donald Trump’s predecessor: the withdrawal of the USA as a global power of order and its turning away from Europe.

Although the United States have – in case of doubt – always given priority to economic and security interests, its “soft power” has always derived from its commitment to democratic values and a liberal world order. As the guardian of democracy and human rights, but also as a protective power and – despite political differences on individual issues – a reliable partner for Europe, the USA is not reliable anymore.

Thus not only the “normative project of the West” (Heinrich August Winkler) is at stake, but also multilateralism as a structural principle and mode of action in foreign policy. Whether world trade, climate or security policy: the advocates of the “America First” approach in the current US administration, but also some EU states, deny legitimacy to multilateral regulatory mechanisms and the principles on which they are based.

While the primacy of national interests sets the tone, Europe’s security policy environment is becoming increasingly confusing and relations between Russia and the US and NATO are moving conceivably towards a new “Cold War”. This also puts the EU under pressure to bridge its internal contradictions and become active in foreign policy instead of simply retreating into its own values. It is important to prove that supranational cooperation can have a positive effect on global issues – even without the USA if in doubt.


SESSION II: A European Agenda For the Post-American Age

Are the global political upheavals of our time being followed by a European awakening? The European Union must be reformed. There is agreement on this across countries and parties. But reforms are neither an end in themselves nor a sure-fire success. The member states’ ideas on the further development of the EU differ widely. And the conflict over the reception of refugees and the debate on the financing of the post-Brexit-EU testify to the fact that there is no good balance and solidarity in Europe. Whether it will ultimately be possible to reach a consensus among the member states on the necessary reorientation of the EU is uncertain.

Only one thing is certain: There is not much time left. The European elections will take place in mid-2019. Long before, Brussels’ politics switches to the election campaign mode. If it is not possible to send out a signal of capacity to act and optimism to the citizens beforehand, for example through successes in asylum policy, anti-European forces could gain momentum. And in view of important elections in member states, such as the presidential elections in France, the window of opportunity for the refounding of the EU, as envisaged by Emmanuel Macron, is small.


SESSION III: „Do Media still matter?“

The state of our public spheres is ambivalent. On the one hand, we have more “transparency” than ever, journalism is better in many places and has a wider reach than ever. On the other hand, we are experiencing a kind of “system failure” of public communication: a crisis that results not from a lack but from an abundance of information. The boundaries between objective facts and opinion are eroding, media democracy is transformed into an “outrage democracy” (Bernhard Pörksen). At the same time, the mass media are under massive economic and social pressure with noticeable and potentially far-reaching consequences for democracy in many places, such as the USA. Their much-discussed “credibility crisis” is rooted in social developments that – keyword populism – also affect established politics. But it is also due to journalism itself, which has long stuck to proven routines instead of facing new social (and technological) realities.

While professional journalism has to struggle for acceptance in a hyper-competitive environment, the challenges arising primarily from the logics of platform capitalism and specific manipulation will not diminish and the pace of change will not slow down in the future. Artificial intelligence, automation and the fusion of physical and virtual worlds will fundamentally change journalism and public communication.

The fact that we have become accustomed to a media landscape that functions from both a diversity and quality point of view does not mean that we can take its continued existence for granted.

Against this background, the normative and practical decisive question must be answered jointly: In which media system do we want to live in 5, 10 and 20 years? And what do we have to do about it today?