The American Council on Germany was incorporated in 1952 in New York as a private nonprofit organization to promote reconciliation and understanding between Germans and Americans in the aftermath of World War II. Among its founders were General Lucius Clay, Christopher Emmet, Ellen Z. McCloy, and Eric M. Warburg. John J. McCloy, the first civilian U.S. High Commissioner in Germany following the war, was the founding Chairman and continued to serve until 1987.
In its early years, the ACG organized educational conferences and collected and published information on political and economic developments in Germany to make Americans aware of Germany’s strides toward democracy and Western integration. Under Mr. McCloy’s guidance, the ACG became a premier forum for high-level German-American discussions and a platform in the United States for Germany’s postwar generation of leaders to discuss Germany’s situation and challenges. In this vein, the ACG began its long tradition of inviting German leaders to the United States for discussions with U.S. policymakers and other concerned Americans. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer came to the United States under the Council’s auspices in 1953.
Since then, Chancellors Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schröder, and Angela Merkel, as well as Federal Presidents Walter Scheel, Karl Carstens, Richard von Weizsäcker, Roman Herzog, Johannes Rau, and Christian Wulff have spoken before the Council.
In 1959, the American Council on Germany, in collaboration with the Atlantik-Brücke, initiated the American-German Biennial Conferences, where high-level German and American opinion shapers and policymakers from academia, business, government, media, and the military meet to discuss the major bilateral and international issues of the day. These conferences have helped form professional and personal bonds among participants which serve to solidify the bilateral relationship.
One of the ACG’s flagship initiatives is the American-German Young Leaders Conference, which was launched in 1973. These meetings bring together approximately 25 Americans and 25 Germans, from age 28 to 38, from academia, business, government, media, and the military, to discuss global and German-American issues while establishing lasting personal and professional relationships. The conference was conceived and initiated as a biennial meeting by John Diebold, a venture capitalist who also served as Vice Chairman of the American Council on Germany. In collaboration with Christopher Emmet, one of the founders of the ACG and its full-time Director, the idea was proposed as a joint project to the Executive Board of the Atlantik-Brücke. Enthusiastically approved, the first conference was held at Haus Rissen in Hamburg. Until 1988, the conferences were held every other year. They now occur annually because of the importance of the objective and the success of the earlier meetings. The number of U.S. Congress members, German parliamentarians, corporate CEOs, and Ambassadors who have participated as delegates in these conferences attests to the effectiveness of the selection process and to the long-term benefit of the program for both countries.
The Council’s efforts were helped immeasurably in 1975, when the West German government presented a $1 million grant to the ACG in recognition of John J. McCloy’s contributions to German-American relations. In establishing the John J. McCloy Fund, the Federal Republic announced that the primary purpose would be “to bring together young people of the two countries.” In the 1980s, the John J. McCloy Fund was supplemented by major contributions from the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation.
With this support, the Council was able to expand its activities dramatically. In 1976, the McCloy Fellowships were inaugurated, enabling young German and American professionals to visit each other’s countries and develop personal and working contacts with their transatlantic counterparts. More than 700 fellowships have been awarded in the fields of agriculture, art, environmental policy, journalism, labor, law, and urban affairs.
In 1987, John J. McCloy stepped down as Chairman and was succeeded by Charles McC. Mathias, a former Senator from Maryland. A reorganization of the Council’s structure was also implemented following a Board committee study, resulting in the establishment of a full-time President’s position. David Klein, a former Foreign Service Officer who had served as U.S. Minister in Berlin, was named the Council’s first head. He was followed in 1988 by Carroll Brown, former U.S. Consul General in Munich.
Also in 1987, the Council instituted and organized the Arthur F. Burns Lecture Series to honor the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and member of the ACG’s Diplomatic Advisory Committee. The first lecturer was Karl-Otto Pöhl. Subsequent lecturers include Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan, Hans Tietmeyer, Ernst Welteke, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, and Dr. Rolf-E. Breuer.
The ACG’s national outreach program was initiated in 1991 when Lionel Pincus, a former business associate of Eric Warburg, made a five-year grant to the Council to finance the establishment of the Eric M. Warburg Chapters in selected American cities. The ACG sends approximately four to five speakers to each Chapter per year.
Sen. Mathias’ five-year term as ACG Chairman ended in 1993. He was succeeded by General (ret.) John Galvin, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. General Galvin had spent more than 12 years of his Army career in Germany and brought to the ACG chairmanship a deep knowledge of the country, its people, and its language.
On July 1, 1998, leadership of the Council again changed hands as Gen. John Galvin stepped down after five years as Chairman of the ACG. Garrick Utley of CNN, an ACG Director since March 1997, was chosen by the Board of Directors as Gen. Galvin’s successor. Mr. Utley brought with him a wide knowledge of international affairs, and due to his extensive experience covering European-American issues, he is well known and highly regarded in Germany. In November 1999, Hugh G. Hamilton, Jr., former U.S. Consul General in Frankfurt, succeeded Carroll Brown as President of the ACG. Mr. Hamilton served until February 2005, when he was succeeded by the current President, veteran journalist William M. Drozdiak. On March 31, 2011, Ambassador Robert M. Kimmitt, who has a distinguished record of government service, including as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and extensive experience in the private sector, succeeded Mr. Utley as Chairman of the American Council on Germany.
At a crucial time for the German-American and U.S.-European relationship, Dr. Steven E. Sokol became President of the American Council on Germany on May 1, 2015. Dr. Sokol has spent nearly half of his life in Europe and demonstrated a deep personal and professional commitment to the transatlantic relationship and wider global issues. He served as President and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh from July 2010 until April 2015, after serving as Vice President and Director of Programs at the ACG for nearly eight years before that. He has also held leadership roles with the Aspen Institute Berlin, the Bonn International Center for Conversion, and in the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
The Council’s regular Policy Programs in New York and throughout the United States have continued into the 21st century. Speakers who have addressed the Council’s membership in recent years have included Chancellor Angela Merkel; Philipp Rösler, Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister of Economics and Technology; former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer; then-Bundesbank President Axel Weber; and former Secretary of State Dr. Henry A. Kissinger.
The ACG has also initiated Conferences and Seminars on such issues as German capital markets, U.S. and German environmental policy, international corporate governance, job creation and unemployment in Germany and the United States, and America’s and Germany’s relationship with the Middle East and Russia. Other “working group” conferences have examined a transatlantic approach to China and the European Monetary Union’s impact on European and American financial markets.
More recently, under the leadership of Dr. Sokol, the American Council on Germany launched a Political Salon speaker series, weekly news digest, “Hot Topics” conference calls, and a new fellowship for young professionals focusing on global trends. In addition, the Warburg Chapter program expanded to include 21 cities from coast to coast, and the McCloy leadership missions in agriculture and urban affairs were inaugurated.
The American Council on Germany can look with pride on its achievements of the past six decades. The Council looks forward to playing a continued major role in strengthening one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world today.