Davos and Munich have some competition: on April 27 to 29, the second annual Brussels Forum took place. GMF and the Bertelsmann Foundation beckoned and everyone came: politicians, diplomats, journalists, consultants and observers. All in all, 400 participants met in the Belgian capital to discuss the current and future challenges for transatlantic relations.
The list of participants read like a "who’s who" of the transatlantic community—with a few striking exceptions. The top US senators were missing this year, the primary elections casting a long shadow. High-ranking US government representatives were also absent due to scheduling difficulties at short notice. Those who aim for the highest-level politicians are used to surprising last-minute cancellations. As an alternative, participants could listen to a good-humored Javier Solana who, on the opening evening, imparted his impressions and assessments during a discussion with David Ignatius on Iran.
The hosts found an interesting combination of public and private formats. Not a minute was wasted: the dense program ranged from Early Bird Breakfasts to Night Owl Sessions. This density allowed all important and current issues to be addressed: Turkey and Afghanistan, China, the Balkans and Iran, but also the elections in the USA, transatlantic economic relations, and the global challenges for democracy were up for debate.
While Davos is aimed at economic issues and Munich at distinguished security issues, Brussels closes a strategic gap. Of course there are also soapbox speeches at Brussels, but in between the discussions are mercilessly open and direct: This year, the controversies over Russia’s role were the most impressive. This seems to be the special thing about Brussels: various unvarnished positions may clash, but the enthusiasm for debate never flags. That everyone was still smiling and friendly at the end is part of the charm of the Brussels format. Perfect ambience, interesting speakers and controversial positions—the Brussels Forum will do transatlantic relations good.
Eberhard Sandschneider is Otto-Wolff-Director of the Research Institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations. Between March 2001 and March 2003 he served as Dean of the faculty for Political and Social Sciences at the Free University of Berlin. Mr. Sandschneider also serves on the Advisory Board of the Atlantic Initiative.
Translated by Julia Meuter