Politically, transatlantic relations have seen their ups and downs. Economically, though, business leaders have consistently sought stronger German-US ties. Now, they want to strengthen these to battle Asian competition.
Industry leaders are calling for less bureaucracy in transatlantic business
German and American business leaders are seeking closer economic cooperation. A meeting of leading industry representatives in Hamburg this week stressed their common interests.
Jürgen Fitschen, the Germany head of Deutsche Bank, said this was necessary in order to steel themselves against competition from Asia.
"It is very obvious that common interests exist here, which are worth expanding, therefore this attempt to fill the transatlantic order with new life," Fitschen said. But he said Asian counterparts could not be excluded in the process.
"It would be fatal if Europe and America positioned themselves against Asia," Fitschen said. "The cooperation has to leave room for partners in Asia."
However, relations between Europe and the United States are much stronger than those will ever be with Asia, Fitschen said. The numbers spoke for themselves, he said.
Bilateral trade between the United States and the European Union totaled more than 400 billion euros ($525 billion) in 2005. Every day, exports and imports of 1.25 billion euros were processed, he said.
Transatlantic skeleton agreement in the works
Business leaders from both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up for the EU-US summit in Washington on April 30. It is expected to lead to a transatlantic skeleton agreement, from which both sides could profit.
"There is no doubt that such an agreement could provide a significant boost to the transatlantic economy," said Jürgen Thumann, head of the BDI industry federation. "Personally, I am convinced that it will."
Thumann said he estimates at least 3 percent growth and additional jobs on both sides will result.
Pirated DVDs are available across Asia -- and exported to Europe and the US
Concretely, the agreement focuses on closer cooperation in the energy and environment sectors and harmonizing financial markets. The fight against product piracy is a central issue, as well.
US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, who attended the Hamburg meeting, said over 90 percent of the patents and copyrights in the world are issued to intellectual rights holders in the United States and in the European Union.
"As we are increasingly facing competition from Third World economies, specifically China, India and Brazil, we have to maintain our productivity edge," Sensenbrenner said. "By protecting intellectual property rights, we will be able to attract venture capital for new inventions."
According to Sensenbrenner, no one will invest in a country in which they can't be sure that an invention won't be copied tomorrow. Product piracy costs the American economy $9 billion annually, he said.
Capital transactions should be simplified
For Deutsche Bank's Fitschen, there is another area in which there is a desperate need for action.
"We are interested in clearing capital flows as much as possible from many bureaucratic strains," Fitschen said. "I don't want to say obstacles, but it could be better."
He said industry leaders needed to play a part in this process, explaining business interests to lawmakers.
"It is in our interest that partners on both sides of the Atlantic work together better," Fitschen said. "That includes taking over companies and expanding on both sides. In this respect, it is a fundamental interest."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's call for closer European-American economic cooperation at January's World Economic Forum in Davos was a step in the right direction. The summit in Washington in April could lead further down this path.