Trans-Atlanticism is verging on total collapse


The following text in full, was written just yesterday by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, on the authoritative Handelsblaat. This is a major statement, as it carries weight just below official German policy, which in turn has strong weight on EU policy. 

There are a number of highly significant and important phrases he uses in this text. Even American cultural hegemony is rejected, i.e., ‘Bruce Springsteen is not the future’. 

FRN has consistently covered the growing rift, with all its nuances, between the U.S and EU since 2014. At the time, many critics believed we were totally wrong. Time has demonstrated FRN’s analysis to be generally correct. – ed

It is high time to rethink the partnership between the US and Europe. The blueprint for this can be the basis of a balanced partnership. Henry Kissinger was recently asked if Donald Trump could not unwittingly be the midwife of a revived West. His answer: “It would be ironic, but not impossible.”

Instead of narrowing the view across the Atlantic to the ever-new jolts from the American President, we should embrace this idea. Of course, we hear via Twitter every day what’s going on across the Atlantic. But tunnel-vision on the Oval Office distracts from the fact that America is more than Trump. The “Checks and Balances” work, as the US courts and the Congress show almost daily.

The Americans are debating politics with renewed passion. That too is America in 2018. That the Atlantic has become politically broader, is not just Donald Trump.

The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The intersection of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is declining.

The binding force of the East-West conflict is history. These changes began well before Trump’s election – and will likely outlive his presidency.

That’s why I’m skeptical when some inveterate Transatlanticist advises us to sit out this presidency.

The partnership with the United States has brought Germany a unique phase of peace and security since the end of World War II. America became a place of longing. Also for me, when I traveled crossing from New York to LA after high school for the music of Bruce Springsteen, with Paul Auster’s “New York Trilogy” in my pocket. But looking back does not lead to the future.

It is high time to re-evaluate our partnership — not to leave it behind, but to renew and preserve it. Sharing responsibility As a blueprint, we have the idea of a balanced partnership, in which we take our balanced part of the responsibility. In which we counterbalance where the US crosses red lines. In which we bring in our weight, where America withdraws. And in which we start a new conversation. Single-handedly, we will fail in this task. The outstanding goal of our foreign policy is therefore to build a sovereign, strong Europe.

Only in close cooperation with France and the other Europeans can a balance with the USA succeed. The European Union must become a mainstay of the international order, a partner for all who are committed to this order. She is predestined for that, because agreement and balance are in her DNA.

“Europe United” means this: we pool sovereignty where the nation-states are not nearly up to the strength that a united Europe has. We do not circle the wagons against the rest of the world, we are not asking for sidekick status. Europe relies on the strength of law, respect for the weak, and the experience that international cooperation is not a zero-sum game.

Part of a balanced partnership is that we give Europeans a balanced share of responsibility. Nowhere is the transatlantic bond as indispensable to us as it is to safety. Whether as a partner in NATO or in the fight against terrorism – we need the United States.

But we have to draw the right conclusions from that. It is in our own interest to strengthen the European pillar of the North Atlantic Alliance. Not because Donald Trump is always setting new percentage targets, but because we can not rely on Washington as much as we used to.

But the dialectics of the transatlantic also include this: If we take more responsibility, then we ensure that Americans and Europeans can rely on each other in the future. The Federal Government has taken this path. The turnaround in defense spending is a reality. Now it comes, step by step, to a European Security and Defense Union – as a mainstay of the transatlantic security order and as a separate European project for the future.

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Only with this perspective does the increase in spending on defense and security make sense. Shared commitment And one more thing is crucial: European engagement must fit into a logic based on diplomacy and civil crisis management. In the Middle East, in the Horn of Africa or in the Sahel region, we are also using civilian means to stem the collapse of state structures.

For me these are examples of transatlantic cooperation – and a blueprint also for joint engagement in crises elsewhere. Where the US crosses red lines, we as Europeans must counterbalance – as hard as that is. That also will contribute to the balance. It starts with exposing fake news as such. If you figure the current account of Europe and the US just to the exchange of goods, then the US does not have a deficit, but Europe has one.

One reason for this is the billions in profits which European subsidiaries of Internet giants such as Apple, Facebook or Google transfer each year to the United States. So when we talk about fair rules, we have to talk about fair taxation of such profits. Correcting fake news is also important because otherwise you get wrong policy. As Europeans, we have clearly told the Americans that we consider phasing out the nuclear deal with Iran a mistake.

Meanwhile, first US sanctions are back in force. In this situation, it is of strategic importance that we clearly tell Washington: we want to work together. But we will not let you act on our heads to our expense. Therefore, it was right to protect European companies from legal sanctions. It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by setting up payment channels independent of the US, creating a European Monetary Fund, and building an independent Swift system.

The devil is in a thousand details. But every day the Iran deal is in effect is better than the high-explosive crisis that otherwise threatens the Middle East. Part of the balanced partnership is that as Europeans, we bring more weight to where the US is retreating. Not only because we are about to sit on the Security Council, we are worried about Washington’s love-withdrawal from UN concerns, including financial ones.

Of course we can not close all the gaps. But together with others, we can mitigate the most damaging consequences of thinking that measures success more and more in dollars saved. That is why we have increased funding for the Palestinian Refugee Relief Fund and promoted support to Arab states. We are seeking an alliance for multilateralism – a network of partners who, like us, are committed to binding rules and fair competition. The first meetings I have held were with Japan, Canada and South Korea; others are to follow.

This alliance is not a rigid, exclusive club of well-wishers. What I want to see is a coalition of multilateral persuasions based on cooperation and the strength of law. Not directed against anyone but seeing itself as an alliance for the multilateral order. The door is wide open – especially for the USA. The goal is to work together to tackle the problems that none of us alone can tackle – from climate change to the creation of a fair trade order. I have no illusions that such an alliance can solve all the problems of the world.

But it is not enough to complain about the destruction of the multilateral order. We have to fight for this order – especially given the situation of transatlantic things. Alliance for multilateralism.

One last point is elementary: We need to start a new conversation with the people on the other side of the Atlantic. Not only in New York, Washington or L.A., but also where the coast is far and Europe far further away. As of October, we will be organizing a Germany Year in the USA for the first time ever. Not to nostalgically celebrate German-American friendship. But to facilitate encounters that make people realize: We are dealing with very similar questions. We are still close. Exchange creates new perspectives.

I can not shake off an encounter that has recently occurred on one of my trips. A young US soldier used an unobserved moment to whisper to me, “Please, do not abandon America.” An American soldier asks a German politician not to abandon America. The affection that lay in this confession touched me. Maybe we have to get used to the idea that Americans can say such phrases to us Europeans. Anyway, there would be a nice irony to the story if Henry Kissinger got it right. Maybe the White House ends up promoting a balanced partnership, a sovereign Europe, and an alliance for multilateralism.

We are working hard on it.


Translated for FRN by Tom Winter



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