JULY 10–14, 2019

Discussions with
Freie University Students

Klaus Segbers

Professor for International Relations and East European Studies

Founder and Director of the Center for Global Politics

A highlight of all Forum meetings outside the US are discussions between Senate Presidents and university international relations students. After a welcome and introduction by Professor Klaus Segbers, four groups convened for in-depth exploration of the key concerns and topics. In these candid exchanges, students expressed their views of US policies, raised their global concerns including climate crisis, and probed the Senate leaders to elicit their insights into the US stance in the world. For their part, the Senate leaders had the opportunity to clarify perceptions of the US and its policies and gain insights into the concerns of the next generation of world leaders.

Freie University students expressed their views of US policies, raised their global concerns including climate crisis, and probed the Senate leaders to elicit their insights into the US stance in the world.

Introduction

The history of Freie University parallels German and global developments from the time of its founding in 1948, Professor Segbers told the Forum. At that time, the exclusion of East German students from the existing university sparked protest rallies of students in the western part of the city. On December 4, 1948 the Freie University was founded with the support of Berlin politicians and the American occupying power. Through the next decades, the Freie University developed into an internationally renowned university.

After construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the university became a focal point of the student movement. A 1963 visit to the University by President John F. Kennedy stressed the continuing US interest and support for the institution. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, during a time of increasing international networking of scientific institutions, the university has maintained a leading international position, taking on the challenges of globalization to shape its research and teaching curricula. Today, the Freie University is one of nine elite universities in the Federal Republic.

Today, EU-US relations are in the most vulnerable state since WW2, Professor Segbers said. The international order is under threat with the role of government being questioned by Nationalist right-wing segments, and a shaken belief in government’s ability to address the crisis of climate change. “The generation that understood the post-war urgency of mutual cooperation is dying out,” Professor Segbers reminded the Forum, and there are challenging times ahead.

Following his remarks, four discussion groups formed that brought together Senate Leaders and German students for candid conversations.

Session 1: EU Perceptions of the US 

In a session moderated by Professor Segbers, German graduate students and US State leaders discussed how the US is perceived in the EU. Key discussion points focused on the US retrenchment from liberal  democracy and access to education. Senator Brent Hill (ID) started the questioning noting that the Transatlantic relationship has been of primary importance during the past 50 years. He asked how German students perceive the US today and what can be done to improve the relationship.

Transatlantic Relationship

US-German relations are at a low point, one student said, and that is being fueled by President Trump’s criticism of Germany’s commitment to NATO.  President Trump is not popular with Germans, who do not understand the US move toward conservatism.

Another student, a member of a Russian/German minority, acknowledged that her perception of the US is shaped by the news and Hollywood movies. “The US is distant and I cannot imagine staying there or being able to afford it,” she continued, “Russia is closer to me, I can afford to visit there, and there are student programs such as a, ‘Doing business in Russia,’ program that provides a stipend and an opportunity to earn. She stressed the value of programs like this to build better relationships between US and EU students.

Senator David Givens (KY) agreed that US-EU relations need to be closer and recognized that some of the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and opinions can hurt the relationship and hurts international relations. He noted that populism has become a force in both Germany and the US, as a reflection of the urban-rural divide.  He acknowledged that President Trump has leveraged the trend toward populism, but, he cautioned, “Only 1% of what is really happening is reported.”

There is mutual misunderstanding between the US and EU, a student commented, and differing perceptions of what socialism means beyond free health care and education. There is mistrust of US politics because of the President’s actions. German students cannot understand why Americans are moving away from liberal democracy.

Higher Education

The students noted that higher education is affordable and accessible for people in the EU. Even in Russia, which does not have a higher standard of living, education is accessible, they said. Professor Segbers noted that college costs only 300 euro per term. Because it is low cost, colleges are flooded with students and, for some of them, college may not be the best career path. Today, there is political pressure to increase the percentage who graduate from the current 30% to 50%, and to appropriately track others to nursing, engineering, and IT training.

Senator William Galvano (FL) noted that there are differences among the US states in accessibility of college education. He reported that US News & World Report ranked Florida as the best state in the nation for higher education, based on the time it takes students to complete two and four-year higher education programs, the cost of tuition and fees, and the burden of debt for college graduates.

Session 2: US Perceptions of the EU 

This session, moderated by Steven Cook, Council on Foreign Relations, examined concepts of security and partnership in the region and discussed differences in US and EU viewpoints on these issues.

The Security View

Senator Larry Taylor (TX) focused on the importance of a strong defense for the EU and the need to keep pace with military developments. He said the US has been paying to defend the EU, but then the EU buys gas from Russia, the apparent “enemy.” One student noted that dependence on Russia oil was used as a lever by the Russians to pursue their agenda in Ukraine, and another concurred that the Ukraine issue taught the EU that dependence on Russian oil can be a risk. However, she continued, trade and tighter economic integration are a basis for peace, stability, and security.

Despite incremental investments by the EU in a unified military, most students felt that creating a military presence was not the major concern for the EU. One student observed that the EU and US have two different logics. The US has its own country and its own army, whereas, the EU is multiple States without a single military command.

Eric Miller, President Rideau Potomac Consulting and a Speaker at the Forum, raised the question of what truly constitutes security and partnership. He said the historic function of NATO has been to keep the Russians at bay on the European continent and avoid having to fight on US territory. But, the nature of threats has changed in the modern era. Security is more complex and must be considered in the context of such issues as terrorism and threats to energy security.

Mr. Cook observed that China and Russia are major US security concerns because of the threat of global terrorism and asked if Germans also perceived this threat. A student opined that the rise of non-democratic fascist parties in the EU was a more immediate threat than Russia or China and a major concern. Other students cited concerns over Iran and  the African continent as major threats.

A student noted that China is building relations with EU member States such as Italy. He questioned the impact on the EU-US relationship if China, which is a concern for the US, becomes a partner for the EU. Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson (OR) asked, isn’t that what Russia and China want, for the EU to be more reliant on them to the exclusion of the US? Students responded that there is not a consensus in the EU about increasing Chinese influence. They noted that China’s One Belt One Road policy ends in Europe, and China has the resources to be a world power. Monitoring Chinese developments was considered a part of the security equation.

China’s Belt and Road project is not just an economic initiative but it is also political. The goal is to make China the center of the universe from Beijing to the Atlantic. One student saw the China Road as an opportunity to stabilize relations and create economic opportunity; however, he acknowledged the problem of China’s disregard for intellectual property protections. He also cited the growing dependence of Chile on China, which gives China access to the Antarctic, which may become a critical asset as climate change threatens the world’s water supply.

But Climate Crisis is the Most Pressing Concern

When asked what they perceived as the major problem facing the EU, the students were unanimous in citing the climate crisis as their main concern. There was clearly a generational split, with many of the Senators focused on military and economic threats, while the students focused on climate crisis.

Session 3: Populism 

The rise of populism was the focus of a session moderated by Cosima Glahn, PhD, a research fellow at the Global Policy Center. Students tagged social media as an important contributor to emerging nationalistic trends. They acknowledged that, with freedom of speech and the vehicle of social media, anyone can say whatever they think and gain an audience for their views. Social media allows people to filter information for themselves, and many people limit their interactions to those who share their views. Social media allows a person with a populist view to communicate and control the conversation.

Senator Robert Stivers (KY) pointed out the importance of listening to dissenting views and acting as your own filter for the truth. The challenge is to be able to assess the accuracy and value of information, asking “Is this a minority view?” he said.

A Senator asked if a multi-party system like Germany’s acts as a barrier against populism, since people have more options to find parties that support their views. “How attached are people to their political parties?” she asked. A student answered that party preference reflects an economic divide. Those who have not benefitted from globalization opportunities are drawn to populism. Increasing economic disparity has increased the preference for populism.

A student queried the Senators, “Do you speak to and represent those people who don’t agree with you or didn’t vote for you?”

Electioneering vs Serving

The Senators were in agreement that elected officials have to represent the whole constituency – those who agree with their views and those who do not.  Senator Harry Brown (NC) said, “You have to know what you believe, but also understand the role of government, the kinds of actions governments should take. The people who elected you trust your decisions, even if they are not in favor of them.”

Senator Bob Peterson (OH) agreed that, “Messaging during the campaign is designed to get out the vote of people who support you. But once you are elected, you have to lead and educate, reach out to people who disagree with you to explore the facts.” Senator Nicole Poore (DE) concurred, saying, “We are elected by people who support my Party and we are branded during the election with those positions. But once elected we have to get more education to determine what is best for the State. I personally live up to my own beliefs, but honor the views of the constituents in my district.”

Senator Robert Stivers (KY) pointed out that trust is essential. “The people I work with know who I am, they trust me to be straight forward with them. Distrust fosters populism. When people distrust those in power and see a lack of leadership to solve problems, they become dissatisfied if the standard of living does not meet their expectations.”

Session 4: Economic and Migration Flows

This session, guided by Tom Finneran, Forum Moderator, examined issues of migration and racism. He asked the students what was their view of US attitudes toward migration.  One student, of Russian descent, pointed out that it is difficult for Russians to get a US Visa to visit the US. This is a bad idea, she said, because her perceptions of the US were shaped by the people she met during her US visit. Some people who haven’t visited the US have unrealistic views of the US, assuming that all is great, a perception based on movies and TV.

Vans Stevenson from the Motion Picture Association of America agreed that TV and movies  definitely influence how people view the US. He suggested that “Russia changed because of the TV show Dallas,” as people started to aspire to a Western standard of living.

Perception of US Racism and Immigration

For others, the perceptions of the US vis-s-vis racism are very negative. For example, a student of German-African descent said there is a perception, based on President Trump’s positions, that the US embraces racism and she, as a woman of color, is afraid to visit the US. She has seen examples on social media of police brutality toward minorities. She said the perception of EU minorities is that Mr. Trump is a nationalist and a racist.

Mr. Finneran pointed out that there are large immigrant communities in the US that have become successful and influential, for example the Nigerian communities. He asked, “Did the US suddenly become racist after the Obama era?”

A student was quick to point out that Mr. Trump clearly articulates an anti-immigration policy; however, there were more deportations of immigrants during the Obama administration, he noted. Another student said he does not see the US as a racist country, but it is no longer a welcoming country because of the hateful, aggressive Tweets and name-calling by the President. This has changed the face of the nation, he said. Senator Ginny Burdick (OR) agreed, noting that President Trump has called immigrants “murderers and rapists.”

David Long, a partner at IceMiller LLP, pointed out that many Republicans approve of President Trump’s policies even if they question his approach or style. He pointed out that 10 million people live in the US illegally. Republicans worry that that this raises the risk of terrorism. Republicans are in favor of controlling the border and knowing who is in the country.  Mr. Long also advocated giving well-screened immigrants permits to work.

Senator Stuart Adams (UT) pointed out that his State needs the immigrants as workers. Holly Borgman, ADT, who lives in Miami, reminded the group that most of the residents in her area are immigrants, and her experience is that they are contributing positively to the work force and quality of life.

In fact, research reported by the US Congressional Budget Office and data discussed in prior Forums, shows that undocumented immigrants have increased the size of the US economy, contributed to economic growth, contributed more in tax revenue than they collect, reduced American firms' incentives to send jobs offshore and import foreign-produced goods, and benefitted consumers by reducing the prices of goods and services.

But Climate Crisis is the Most Pressing Concern

The session concluded by the students reporting what they see as the main issues of concern. All were unanimous that climate crisis is the main threat. The EU and US must lead the solutions for the climate crisis because they have been the greatest consumer of resources and key sources of pollution. They noted the social division where 1% of the population consumes 90% of the resources.

Meanwhile, many countries facing climate disasters do not have the resources to address these catastrophes. A student pointed out that climate change may first affect Africans and cause them to flee and become refugees, perhaps facing increased racism.

Another student said simply, “I don’t want to die.” She expressed a sense of urgency for change, saying that we cannot continue on the path we are on today. She reported that there is a large German youth movement toward environmentally friendly living, changes in diet such as eating vegan, supporting the “Fridays for the Future” movement, and actively supporting the Green Party.

Conclusion

The four lively, candid, and provocative group sessions ignited many conversations and comparisons of differing views and continued throughout the Forum.

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY) makes a point during the student exchanges, as Sen. Nicole Poore (DE) listens intently.

Speaker Biography

Dr. Klaus Segbers

EU-US relations are in the most vulnerable state since WW2.

The generation that understood the post-war urgency of mutual cooperation is dying out.

The students noted that higher education is affordable and accessible for people in the EU.

Trade and tighter economic integration are a basis for peace, stability, and security.

The nature of threats has changed in the modern era. Security is more complex and must be considered in the context of such issues as terrorism and threats to energy security.

China’s Belt and Road project is not just an economic initiative but it is also political. The goal is to make China the center of the universe from Beijing to the Atlantic.

The students were unanimous in citing the climate crisis as their main concern.

Those who have not benefitted from globalization opportunities are drawn to populism.

Distrust fosters populism. When people distrust those in power and see a lack of leadership to solve problems, they become dissatisfied if the standard of living does not meet their expectations.

Senator Stuart Adams (UT) pointed out that his State needs the immigrants as workers.

Undocumented immigrants have increased the size of the US economy, contributed to economic growth, contributed more in tax revenue than they collect, reduced American firms' incentives to send jobs offshore and import foreign-produced goods, and benefitted consumers by reducing the prices of goods and services.

The EU and US must lead the solutions for the climate crisis because they have been the greatest consumer of resources and key sources of pollution.

Dr. Klaus Segbers

CONTACT

Senate Presidents’ Forum

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Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

 

Tel: 914-693-1818

Copyright © 2019 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.

JULY 10–14, 2019

Discussions with
Freie University Students

Klaus Segbers

Professor for International Relations and East European Studies

Founder and Director of the Center for Global Politics

A highlight of all Forum meetings outside the US are discussions between Senate Presidents and university international relations students. After a welcome and introduction by Professor Klaus Segbers, four groups convened for in-depth exploration of the key concerns and topics. In these candid exchanges, students expressed their views of US policies, raised their global concerns including climate crisis, and probed the Senate leaders to elicit their insights into the US stance in the world. For their part, the Senate leaders had the opportunity to clarify perceptions of the US and its policies and gain insights into the concerns of the next generation of world leaders.

Freie University students expressed their views of US policies, raised their global concerns including climate crisis, and probed the Senate leaders to elicit their insights into the US stance in the world.

Introduction

The history of Freie University parallels German and global developments from the time of its founding in 1948, Professor Segbers told the Forum. At that time, the exclusion of East German students from the existing university sparked protest rallies of students in the western part of the city. On December 4, 1948 the Freie University was founded with the support of Berlin politicians and the American occupying power. Through the next decades, the Freie University developed into an internationally renowned university.

After construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the university became a focal point of the student movement. A 1963 visit to the University by President John F. Kennedy stressed the continuing US interest and support for the institution. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, during a time of increasing international networking of scientific institutions, the university has maintained a leading international position, taking on the challenges of globalization to shape its research and teaching curricula. Today, the Freie University is one of nine elite universities in the Federal Republic.

Today, EU-US relations are in the most vulnerable state since WW2, Professor Segbers said. The international order is under threat with the role of government being questioned by Nationalist right-wing segments, and a shaken belief in government’s ability to address the crisis of climate change. “The generation that understood the post-war urgency of mutual cooperation is dying out,” Professor Segbers reminded the Forum, and there are challenging times ahead.

EU-US relations are in the most vulnerable state since WW2.

The generation that understood the post-war urgency of mutual cooperation is dying out.

Following his remarks, four discussion groups formed that brought together Senate Leaders and German students for candid conversations.

Session 1: EU Perceptions of the US 

In a session moderated by Professor Segbers, German graduate students and US State leaders discussed how the US is perceived in the EU. Key discussion points focused on the US retrenchment from liberal  democracy and access to education. Senator Brent Hill (ID) started the questioning noting that the Transatlantic relationship has been of primary importance during the past 50 years. He asked how German students perceive the US today and what can be done to improve the relationship.

Transatlantic Relationship

US-German relations are at a low point, one student said, and that is being fueled by President Trump’s criticism of Germany’s commitment to NATO.  President Trump is not popular with Germans, who do not understand the US move toward conservatism.

Another student, a member of a Russian/German minority, acknowledged that her perception of the US is shaped by the news and Hollywood movies. “The US is distant and I cannot imagine staying there or being able to afford it,” she continued, “Russia is closer to me, I can afford to visit there, and there are student programs such as a, ‘Doing business in Russia,’ program that provides a stipend and an opportunity to earn. She stressed the value of programs like this to build better relationships between US and EU students.

Senator David Givens (KY) agreed that US-EU relations need to be closer and recognized that some of the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and opinions can hurt the relationship and hurts international relations. He noted that populism has become a force in both Germany and the US, as a reflection of the urban-rural divide.  He acknowledged that President Trump has leveraged the trend toward populism, but, he cautioned, “Only 1% of what is really happening is reported.”

There is mutual misunderstanding between the US and EU, a student commented, and differing perceptions of what socialism means beyond free health care and education. There is mistrust of US politics because of the President’s actions. German students cannot understand why Americans are moving away from liberal democracy.

Higher Education

The students noted that higher education is affordable and accessible for people in the EU. Even in Russia, which does not have a higher standard of living, education is accessible, they said. Professor Segbers noted that college costs only 300 euro per term. Because it is low cost, colleges are flooded with students and, for some of them, college may not be the best career path. Today, there is political pressure to increase the percentage who graduate from the current 30% to 50%, and to appropriately track others to nursing, engineering, and IT training.

The students noted that higher education is affordable and accessible for people in the EU.

Senator William Galvano (FL) noted that there are differences among the US states in accessibility of college education. He reported that US News & World Report ranked Florida as the best state in the nation for higher education, based on the time it takes students to complete two and four-year higher education programs, the cost of tuition and fees, and the burden of debt for college graduates.

Session 2: US Perceptions of the EU 

This session, moderated by Steven Cook, Council on Foreign Relations, examined concepts of security and partnership in the region and discussed differences in US and EU viewpoints on these issues.

The Security View

Senator Larry Taylor (TX) focused on the importance of a strong defense for the EU and the need to keep pace with military developments. He said the US has been paying to defend the EU, but then the EU buys gas from Russia, the apparent “enemy.” One student noted that dependence on Russia oil was used as a lever by the Russians to pursue their agenda in Ukraine, and another concurred that the Ukraine issue taught the EU that dependence on Russian oil can be a risk. However, she continued, trade and tighter economic integration are a basis for peace, stability, and security.

Trade and tighter economic integration are a basis for peace, stability, and security.

Despite incremental investments by the EU in a unified military, most students felt that creating a military presence was not the major concern for the EU. One student observed that the EU and US have two different logics. The US has its own country and its own army, whereas, the EU is multiple States without a single military command.

Eric Miller, President Rideau Potomac Consulting and a Speaker at the Forum, raised the question of what truly constitutes security and partnership. He said the historic function of NATO has been to keep the Russians at bay on the European continent and avoid having to fight on US territory. But, the nature of threats has changed in the modern era. Security is more complex and must be considered in the context of such issues as terrorism and threats to energy security.

The nature of threats has changed in the modern era. Security is more complex and must be considered in the context of such issues as terrorism and threats to energy security.

Mr. Cook observed that China and Russia are major US security concerns because of the threat of global terrorism and asked if Germans also perceived this threat. A student opined that the rise of non-democratic fascist parties in the EU was a more immediate threat than Russia or China and a major concern. Other students cited concerns over Iran and  the African continent as major threats.

A student noted that China is building relations with EU member States such as Italy. He questioned the impact on the EU-US relationship if China, which is a concern for the US, becomes a partner for the EU. Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson (OR) asked, isn’t that what Russia and China want, for the EU to be more reliant on them to the exclusion of the US? Students responded that there is not a consensus in the EU about increasing Chinese influence. They noted that China’s One Belt One Road policy ends in Europe, and China has the resources to be a world power. Monitoring Chinese developments was considered a part of the security equation.

China’s Belt and Road project is not just an economic initiative but it is also political. The goal is to make China the center of the universe from Beijing to the Atlantic. One student saw the China Road as an opportunity to stabilize relations and create economic opportunity; however, he acknowledged the problem of China’s disregard for intellectual property protections. He also cited the growing dependence of Chile on China, which gives China access to the Antarctic, which may become a critical asset as climate change threatens the world’s water supply.

China’s Belt and Road project is not just an economic initiative but it is also political. The goal is to make China the center of the universe from Beijing to the Atlantic.

But Climate Crisis is the Most Pressing Concern

When asked what they perceived as the major problem facing the EU, the students were unanimous in citing the climate crisis as their main concern. There was clearly a generational split, with many of the Senators focused on military and economic threats, while the students focused on climate crisis.

The students were unanimous in citing the climate crisis as their main concern.

Session 3: Populism 

The rise of populism was the focus of a session moderated by Cosima Glahn, PhD, a research fellow at the Global Policy Center. Students tagged social media as an important contributor to emerging nationalistic trends. They acknowledged that, with freedom of speech and the vehicle of social media, anyone can say whatever they think and gain an audience for their views. Social media allows people to filter information for themselves, and many people limit their interactions to those who share their views. Social media allows a person with a populist view to communicate and control the conversation.

Senator Robert Stivers (KY) pointed out the importance of listening to dissenting views and acting as your own filter for the truth. The challenge is to be able to assess the accuracy and value of information, asking “Is this a minority view?” he said.

Distrust fosters populism. When people distrust those in power and see a lack of leadership to solve problems, they become dissatisfied if the standard of living does not meet their expectations.

A Senator asked if a multi-party system like Germany’s acts as a barrier against populism, since people have more options to find parties that support their views. “How attached are people to their political parties?” she asked. A student answered that party preference reflects an economic divide. Those who have not benefitted from globalization opportunities are drawn to populism. Increasing economic disparity has increased the preference for populism.

Those who have not benefitted from globalization opportunities are drawn to populism.

A student queried the Senators, “Do you speak to and represent those people who don’t agree with you or didn’t vote for you?”

Electioneering vs Serving

The Senators were in agreement that elected officials have to represent the whole constituency – those who agree with their views and those who do not.  Senator Harry Brown (NC) said, “You have to know what you believe, but also understand the role of government, the kinds of actions governments should take. The people who elected you trust your decisions, even if they are not in favor of them.”

Senator Bob Peterson (OH) agreed that, “Messaging during the campaign is designed to get out the vote of people who support you. But once you are elected, you have to lead and educate, reach out to people who disagree with you to explore the facts.” Senator Nicole Poore (DE) concurred, saying, “We are elected by people who support my Party and we are branded during the election with those positions. But once elected we have to get more education to determine what is best for the State. I personally live up to my own beliefs, but honor the views of the constituents in my district.”

Senator Robert Stivers (KY) pointed out that trust is essential. “The people I work with know who I am, they trust me to be straight forward with them. Distrust fosters populism. When people distrust those in power and see a lack of leadership to solve problems, they become dissatisfied if the standard of living does not meet their expectations.”

Session 4: Economic and Migration Flows

This session, guided by Tom Finneran, Forum Moderator, examined issues of migration and racism. He asked the students what was their view of US attitudes toward migration.  One student, of Russian descent, pointed out that it is difficult for Russians to get a US Visa to visit the US. This is a bad idea, she said, because her perceptions of the US were shaped by the people she met during her US visit. Some people who haven’t visited the US have unrealistic views of the US, assuming that all is great, a perception based on movies and TV.

Vans Stevenson from the Motion Picture Association of America agreed that TV and movies  definitely influence how people view the US. He suggested that “Russia changed because of the TV show Dallas,” as people started to aspire to a Western standard of living.

Perception of US Racism and Immigration

For others, the perceptions of the US vis-s-vis racism are very negative. For example, a student of German-African descent said there is a perception, based on President Trump’s positions, that the US embraces racism and she, as a woman of color, is afraid to visit the US. She has seen examples on social media of police brutality toward minorities. She said the perception of EU minorities is that Mr. Trump is a nationalist and a racist.

Mr. Finneran pointed out that there are large immigrant communities in the US that have become successful and influential, for example the Nigerian communities. He asked, “Did the US suddenly become racist after the Obama era?”

A student was quick to point out that Mr. Trump clearly articulates an anti-immigration policy; however, there were more deportations of immigrants during the Obama administration, he noted. Another student said he does not see the US as a racist country, but it is no longer a welcoming country because of the hateful, aggressive Tweets and name-calling by the President. This has changed the face of the nation, he said. Senator Ginny Burdick (OR) agreed, noting that President Trump has called immigrants “murderers and rapists.”

David Long, a partner at IceMiller LLP, pointed out that many Republicans approve of President Trump’s policies even if they question his approach or style. He pointed out that 10 million people live in the US illegally. Republicans worry that that this raises the risk of terrorism. Republicans are in favor of controlling the border and knowing who is in the country.  Mr. Long also advocated giving well-screened immigrants permits to work.

Senator Stuart Adams (UT) pointed out that his State needs the immigrants as workers. Holly Borgman, ADT, who lives in Miami, reminded the group that most of the residents in her area are immigrants, and her experience is that they are contributing positively to the work force and quality of life.

Senator Stuart Adams (UT) pointed out that his State needs the immigrants as workers.

In fact, research reported by the US Congressional Budget Office and data discussed in prior Forums, shows that undocumented immigrants have increased the size of the US economy, contributed to economic growth, contributed more in tax revenue than they collect, reduced American firms' incentives to send jobs offshore and import foreign-produced goods, and benefitted consumers by reducing the prices of goods and services.

Undocumented immigrants have increased the size of the US economy, contributed to economic growth, contributed more in tax revenue than they collect, reduced American firms' incentives to send jobs offshore and import foreign-produced goods, and benefitted consumers by reducing the prices of goods and services.

But Climate Crisis is the Most Pressing Concern

The session concluded by the students reporting what they see as the main issues of concern. All were unanimous that climate crisis is the main threat. The EU and US must lead the solutions for the climate crisis because they have been the greatest consumer of resources and key sources of pollution. They noted the social division where 1% of the population consumes 90% of the resources.

The EU and US must lead the solutions for the climate crisis because they have been the greatest consumer of resources and key sources of pollution.

Meanwhile, many countries facing climate disasters do not have the resources to address these catastrophes. A student pointed out that climate change may first affect Africans and cause them to flee and become refugees, perhaps facing increased racism.

Another student said simply, “I don’t want to die.” She expressed a sense of urgency for change, saying that we cannot continue on the path we are on today. She reported that there is a large German youth movement toward environmentally friendly living, changes in diet such as eating vegan, supporting the “Fridays for the Future” movement, and actively supporting the Green Party.

Conclusion

The four lively, candid, and provocative group sessions ignited many conversations and comparisons of differing views and continued throughout the Forum.

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY) makes a point during the student exchanges, as Sen. Nicole Poore (DE) listens intently.

Speaker Biography

Dr. Klaus Segbers

JULY 10–14, 2019

Discussions with
Freie University Students

Klaus Segbers

Professor for International Relations and East European Studies

Founder and Director of the Center for Global Politics

A highlight of all Forum meetings outside the US are discussions between Senate Presidents and university international relations students. After a welcome and introduction by Professor Klaus Segbers, four groups convened for in-depth exploration of the key concerns and topics. In these candid exchanges, students expressed their views of US policies, raised their global concerns including climate crisis, and probed the Senate leaders to elicit their insights into the US stance in the world. For their part, the Senate leaders had the opportunity to clarify perceptions of the US and its policies and gain insights into the concerns of the next generation of world leaders.

Freie University students expressed their views of US policies, raised their global concerns including climate crisis, and probed the Senate leaders to elicit their insights into the US stance in the world.

Introduction

The history of Freie University parallels German and global developments from the time of its founding in 1948, Professor Segbers told the Forum. At that time, the exclusion of East German students from the existing university sparked protest rallies of students in the western part of the city. On December 4, 1948 the Freie University was founded with the support of Berlin politicians and the American occupying power. Through the next decades, the Freie University developed into an internationally renowned university.

After construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the university became a focal point of the student movement. A 1963 visit to the University by President John F. Kennedy stressed the continuing US interest and support for the institution. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, during a time of increasing international networking of scientific institutions, the university has maintained a leading international position, taking on the challenges of globalization to shape its research and teaching curricula. Today, the Freie University is one of nine elite universities in the Federal Republic.

Today, EU-US relations are in the most vulnerable state since WW2, Professor Segbers said. The international order is under threat with the role of government being questioned by Nationalist right-wing segments, and a shaken belief in government’s ability to address the crisis of climate change. “The generation that understood the post-war urgency of mutual cooperation is dying out,” Professor Segbers reminded the Forum, and there are challenging times ahead.

EU-US relations are in the most vulnerable state since WW2.

The generation that understood the post-war urgency of mutual cooperation is dying out.

Following his remarks, four discussion groups formed that brought together Senate Leaders and German students for candid conversations.

Session 1: EU Perceptions of the US

In a session moderated by Professor Segbers, German graduate students and US State leaders discussed how the US is perceived in the EU. Key discussion points focused on the US retrenchment from liberal  democracy and access to education. Senator Brent Hill (ID) started the questioning noting that the Transatlantic relationship has been of primary importance during the past 50 years. He asked how German students perceive the US today and what can be done to improve the relationship.

Transatlantic Relationship

US-German relations are at a low point, one student said, and that is being fueled by President Trump’s criticism of Germany’s commitment to NATO.  President Trump is not popular with Germans, who do not understand the US move toward conservatism.

Another student, a member of a Russian/German minority, acknowledged that her perception of the US is shaped by the news and Hollywood movies. “The US is distant and I cannot imagine staying there or being able to afford it,” she continued, “Russia is closer to me, I can afford to visit there, and there are student programs such as a, ‘Doing business in Russia,’ program that provides a stipend and an opportunity to earn. She stressed the value of programs like this to build better relationships between US and EU students.

Senator David Givens (KY) agreed that US-EU relations need to be closer and recognized that some of the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and opinions can hurt the relationship and hurts international relations. He noted that populism has become a force in both Germany and the US, as a reflection of the urban-rural divide.  He acknowledged that President Trump has leveraged the trend toward populism, but, he cautioned, “Only 1% of what is really happening is reported.”

There is mutual misunderstanding between the US and EU, a student commented, and differing perceptions of what socialism means beyond free health care and education. There is mistrust of US politics because of the President’s actions. German students cannot understand why Americans are moving away from liberal democracy.

Higher Education

The students noted that higher education is affordable and accessible for people in the EU. Even in Russia, which does not have a higher standard of living, education is accessible, they said. Professor Segbers noted that college costs only 300 euro per term. Because it is low cost, colleges are flooded with students and, for some of them, college may not be the best career path. Today, there is political pressure to increase the percentage who graduate from the current 30% to 50%, and to appropriately track others to nursing, engineering, and IT training.

The students noted that higher education is affordable and accessible for people in the EU.

Senator William Galvano (FL) noted that there are differences among the US states in accessibility of college education. He reported that US News & World Report ranked Florida as the best state in the nation for higher education, based on the time it takes students to complete two and four-year higher education programs, the cost of tuition and fees, and the burden of debt for college graduates.

Session 2: US Perceptions of the EU

This session, moderated by Steven Cook, Council on Foreign Relations, examined concepts of security and partnership in the region and discussed differences in US and EU viewpoints on these issues.

The Security View

Senator Larry Taylor (TX) focused on the importance of a strong defense for the EU and the need to keep pace with military developments. He said the US has been paying to defend the EU, but then the EU buys gas from Russia, the apparent “enemy.” One student noted that dependence on Russia oil was used as a lever by the Russians to pursue their agenda in Ukraine, and another concurred that the Ukraine issue taught the EU that dependence on Russian oil can be a risk. However, she continued, trade and tighter economic integration are a basis for peace, stability, and security.

Trade and tighter economic integration are a basis for peace, stability, and security.

Despite incremental investments by the EU in a unified military, most students felt that creating a military presence was not the major concern for the EU. One student observed that the EU and US have two different logics. The US has its own country and its own army, whereas, the EU is multiple States without a single military command.

Eric Miller, President Rideau Potomac Consulting and a Speaker at the Forum, raised the question of what truly constitutes security and partnership. He said the historic function of NATO has been to keep the Russians at bay on the European continent and avoid having to fight on US territory. But, the nature of threats has changed in the modern era. Security is more complex and must be considered in the context of such issues as terrorism and threats to energy security.

The nature of threats has changed in the modern era. Security is more complex and must be considered in the context of such issues as terrorism and threats to energy security.

Mr. Cook observed that China and Russia are major US security concerns because of the threat of global terrorism and asked if Germans also perceived this threat. A student opined that the rise of non-democratic fascist parties in the EU was a more immediate threat than Russia or China and a major concern. Other students cited concerns over Iran and  the African continent as major threats.

A student noted that China is building relations with EU member States such as Italy. He questioned the impact on the EU-US relationship if China, which is a concern for the US, becomes a partner for the EU. Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson (OR) asked, isn’t that what Russia and China want, for the EU to be more reliant on them to the exclusion of the US? Students responded that there is not a consensus in the EU about increasing Chinese influence. They noted that China’s One Belt One Road policy ends in Europe, and China has the resources to be a world power. Monitoring Chinese developments was considered a part of the security equation.

China’s Belt and Road project is not just an economic initiative but it is also political. The goal is to make China the center of the universe from Beijing to the Atlantic. One student saw the China Road as an opportunity to stabilize relations and create economic opportunity; however, he acknowledged the problem of China’s disregard for intellectual property protections. He also cited the growing dependence of Chile on China, which gives China access to the Antarctic, which may become a critical asset as climate change threatens the world’s water supply.

China’s Belt and Road project is not just an economic initiative but it is also political. The goal is to make China the center of the universe from Beijing to the Atlantic.

But Climate Crisis is the Most Pressing Concern

When asked what they perceived as the major problem facing the EU, the students were unanimous in citing the climate crisis as their main concern. There was clearly a generational split, with many of the Senators focused on military and economic threats, while the students focused on climate crisis.

The students were unanimous in citing the climate crisis as their main concern.

Session 3: Populism

The rise of populism was the focus of a session moderated by Cosima Glahn, PhD, a research fellow at the Global Policy Center. Students tagged social media as an important contributor to emerging nationalistic trends. They acknowledged that, with freedom of speech and the vehicle of social media, anyone can say whatever they think and gain an audience for their views. Social media allows people to filter information for themselves, and many people limit their interactions to those who share their views. Social media allows a person with a populist view to communicate and control the conversation.

Senator Robert Stivers (KY) pointed out the importance of listening to dissenting views and acting as your own filter for the truth. The challenge is to be able to assess the accuracy and value of information, asking “Is this a minority view?” he said.

Distrust fosters populism. When people distrust those in power and see a lack of leadership to solve problems, they become dissatisfied if the standard of living does not meet their expectations.

A Senator asked if a multi-party system like Germany’s acts as a barrier against populism, since people have more options to find parties that support their views. “How attached are people to their political parties?” she asked. A student answered that party preference reflects an economic divide. Those who have not benefitted from globalization opportunities are drawn to populism. Increasing economic disparity has increased the preference for populism.

Those who have not benefitted from globalization opportunities are drawn to populism.

A student queried the Senators, “Do you speak to and represent those people who don’t agree with you or didn’t vote for you?”

Electioneering vs Serving

The Senators were in agreement that elected officials have to represent the whole constituency – those who agree with their views and those who do not.  Senator Harry Brown (NC) said, “You have to know what you believe, but also understand the role of government, the kinds of actions governments should take. The people who elected you trust your decisions, even if they are not in favor of them.”

Senator Bob Peterson (OH) agreed that, “Messaging during the campaign is designed to get out the vote of people who support you. But once you are elected, you have to lead and educate, reach out to people who disagree with you to explore the facts.” Senator Nicole Poore (DE) concurred, saying, “We are elected by people who support my Party and we are branded during the election with those positions. But once elected we have to get more education to determine what is best for the State. I personally live up to my own beliefs, but honor the views of the constituents in my district.”

Senator Robert Stivers (KY) pointed out that trust is essential. “The people I work with know who I am, they trust me to be straight forward with them. Distrust fosters populism. When people distrust those in power and see a lack of leadership to solve problems, they become dissatisfied if the standard of living does not meet their expectations.”

Session 4: Economic and Migration Flows

This session, guided by Tom Finneran, Forum Moderator, examined issues of migration and racism. He asked the students what was their view of US attitudes toward migration.  One student, of Russian descent, pointed out that it is difficult for Russians to get a US Visa to visit the US. This is a bad idea, she said, because her perceptions of the US were shaped by the people she met during her US visit. Some people who haven’t visited the US have unrealistic views of the US, assuming that all is great, a perception based on movies and TV.

Vans Stevenson from the Motion Picture Association of America agreed that TV and movies  definitely influence how people view the US. He suggested that “Russia changed because of the TV show Dallas,” as people started to aspire to a Western standard of living.

Perception of US Racism and Immigration

For others, the perceptions of the US vis-s-vis racism are very negative. For example, a student of German-African descent said there is a perception, based on President Trump’s positions, that the US embraces racism and she, as a woman of color, is afraid to visit the US. She has seen examples on social media of police brutality toward minorities. She said the perception of EU minorities is that Mr. Trump is a nationalist and a racist.

Mr. Finneran pointed out that there are large immigrant communities in the US that have become successful and influential, for example the Nigerian communities. He asked, “Did the US suddenly become racist after the Obama era?”

A student was quick to point out that Mr. Trump clearly articulates an anti-immigration policy; however, there were more deportations of immigrants during the Obama administration, he noted. Another student said he does not see the US as a racist country, but it is no longer a welcoming country because of the hateful, aggressive Tweets and name-calling by the President. This has changed the face of the nation, he said. Senator Ginny Burdick (OR) agreed, noting that President Trump has called immigrants “murderers and rapists.”

David Long, a partner at IceMiller LLP, pointed out that many Republicans approve of President Trump’s policies even if they question his approach or style. He pointed out that 10 million people live in the US illegally. Republicans worry that that this raises the risk of terrorism. Republicans are in favor of controlling the border and knowing who is in the country.  Mr. Long also advocated giving well-screened immigrants permits to work.

Senator Stuart Adams (UT) pointed out that his State needs the immigrants as workers. Holly Borgman, ADT, who lives in Miami, reminded the group that most of the residents in her area are immigrants, and her experience is that they are contributing positively to the work force and quality of life.

Senator Stuart Adams (UT) pointed out that his State needs the immigrants as workers.

In fact, research reported by the US Congressional Budget Office and data discussed in prior Forums, shows that undocumented immigrants have increased the size of the US economy, contributed to economic growth, contributed more in tax revenue than they collect, reduced American firms' incentives to send jobs offshore and import foreign-produced goods, and benefitted consumers by reducing the prices of goods and services.

Undocumented immigrants have increased the size of the US economy, contributed to economic growth, contributed more in tax revenue than they collect, reduced American firms' incentives to send jobs offshore and import foreign-produced goods, and benefitted consumers by reducing the prices of goods and services.

But Climate Crisis is the Most Pressing Concern

The session concluded by the students reporting what they see as the main issues of concern. All were unanimous that climate crisis is the main threat. The EU and US must lead the solutions for the climate crisis because they have been the greatest consumer of resources and key sources of pollution. They noted the social division where 1% of the population consumes 90% of the resources.

The EU and US must lead the solutions for the climate crisis because they have been the greatest consumer of resources and key sources of pollution.

Meanwhile, many countries facing climate disasters do not have the resources to address these catastrophes. A student pointed out that climate change may first affect Africans and cause them to flee and become refugees, perhaps facing increased racism.

Another student said simply, “I don’t want to die.” She expressed a sense of urgency for change, saying that we cannot continue on the path we are on today. She reported that there is a large German youth movement toward environmentally friendly living, changes in diet such as eating vegan, supporting the “Fridays for the Future” movement, and actively supporting the Green Party.

Conclusion

The four lively, candid, and provocative group sessions ignited many conversations and comparisons of differing views and continued throughout the Forum.

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY) makes a point during the student exchanges, as Sen. Nicole Poore (DE) listens intently.

Speaker Biography

Dr. Klaus Segbers