Europe and the United States face three main challenges together.
As a new Congress convenes and Donald Trump becomes the new president of the United States, it is important that the U.S. and Europe focus on the challenges facing us.
During the Cold War and the fight against terrorism, the United States and Europe were close allies defending their common values: democracy, freedom, rule of law and human dignity. The U.S. stood side by side with its European allies when Western Europe faced the threat of the Soviet Union. European allies in NATO stood side by side with the U.S. after 9/11 in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. We as Germans remain grateful to the U.S. for the support we received after the fall of the Berlin Wall and during German reunification.
Our transatlantic alliance is not merely something to admire in history books, however. It needs to stay robust and resilient in the future as well. In an interview with several European newspapers the president-elect has elaborated on his positions. I see three main challenges facing Europe and the U.S.:
Countering terrorism and stabilizing the Middle East.
The instability in the region has directly affected the security of the U.S., Europe and Israel. The spread of the so-called Islamic State has led to ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in America and Europe, including recently in Berlin, which threaten our common way of life. The immense influx of refugees has been a huge challenge for Europe.
There is no easy fix for the problems in Syria and Iraq, but together we can fight back against ISIS. Germany, for example, is playing an important role in training and arming the Kurdish peshmerga, who are a formidable fighting force against ISIS. Together, we can also mitigate the suffering of refugees by helping the countries that host them. We can rebuild the cities retaken from ISIS and make them resilient against the ideology of radical Islamists. Germany is a key contributor here and has gained valuable experience from helping Iraqis liberated from ISIS.
We saw Iran's nuclear ambitions threaten our security and security in the region. The nuclear agreement helps significantly to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But we remain very realistic about Iran's problematic role in the region.
Dealing with Russia and reassuring Eastern Europe.
The new assertiveness of Russia is a challenge both to Europe and the U.S. Its illegal annexation of Crimea was an unprecedented land grab in Europe. Russian efforts to weaken democratic societies in its vicinity and in Europe as a whole threaten all the freedom, stability and economic prosperity gained since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Chancellor Merkel is the Western leader who has had the closest contact with President Putin, in a straight and candid dialogue. Germany will always advocate engaging with Moscow. We would welcome efforts to improve U.S.-Russian relations to ease tensions and help solve regional conflicts, such as in eastern Ukraine, where we have embarked on negotiations. But it is important that this dialogue remain focused on the security needs of Eastern Europe and Ukraine. In this situation, engaging Russia on the one hand and staying determined and resolute -- through targeted sanctions, for example -- on the other hand is the right strategy to deal with Russia.
We know that discussion about burden-sharing in NATO will reemerge, and we are ready for it. Germany is prepared to take on more responsibility. We have increased our defense budget by 8 percent in 2017 alone and are among the NATO countries leading troops on the ground to reassure Poland and the Baltic countries about our alliance.
Creating growth and jobs.
Europe is America's largest trading and investing partner. We already are one integrated transatlantic economic area. Germany is an economic powerhouse in Europe. Thousands of German companies invest in the U.S., creating almost 700,000 jobs for Americans, building cars and planes, making chemicals and tires. The engineering and manufacturing hubs in Germany and the tech world in Silicon Valley are cooperating closely to create a driverless car and the factory of the future.
Germany never abandoned its manufacturing base, so after the financial crisis German companies continued to create millions of well-paying jobs. Germany has the lowest youth unemployment in Europe, one reason being the German apprenticeship system, where young people learn their skills while earning money at a company. In the last couple of years, German companies have been bringing this system to the U.S. with considerable success, reducing youth unemployment here as well.
Germany's transition to renewable energies like wind and solar has created more than 350,000 jobs in Germany, especially in rural areas. There are great opportunities in this sector. Germany currently holds the presidency of the Group of 20 world's leading industrialized and emerging economies. This gives us, the U.S. and Germany, the opportunity to shape the future of the world economy together. It should be Europe and the U.S. that shape the norms and standards of this globalized world. Anything that obstructs free trade and investment across the Atlantic hurts jobs in the U.S. and in Europe.
There are compelling reasons why Europe, and Germany in particular, and the United States have been such close allies over time. Our global interests are aligned: democracy, stability, prosperity and the rule of law. Together, we are fighting radicalism and terrorism. Our economies are closely intertwined and our societies closely connected. Germans see the United States as their most important partner in foreign policy. German-Americans are the largest single ethnic group in the U.S. Approximately 46 million Americans are of German heritage. For Americans, Germany remains one of their most important international partners. Our peoples expect us to make this partnership endure.