In the Name of Europe

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - The first telephone call between the German chancellor and the US president was flanked by appeals for the EU to close ranks. Following Saturday's call, both parties declared that they would "deepen" their bilateral relations. However, Berlin is preparing to assert its own interests offensively vis-à-vis Russia - also with the EU's help. This is why the EU must finally "close ranks," as German politicians are demanding. On Saturday, on his first foreign visit as German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel met his Parisian counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault. His vigorous insistence "that Germany and France demonstrate they have common positions on nearly all issues" was also aimed at closing the EU's ranks. While Gabriel was visiting France, the seven southern European countries' heads of states and governments - including the French president - were meeting in Lisbon to determine their own positions, also regarding their economic policy. In view of British Prime Minster Theresa May's recent visit to the USA, observers note that the Brexit is creating "a second geopolitical pole in Europe," and "for Germany, which has become accustomed to speak in the name of Europe, [...] this is not a favorable development."

US Rival

Renewed appeals to close the EU's ranks flanked last Saturday's first telephone call between the German chancellor and the new US president. Angela Merkel and Donald Trump explicitly underlined the "importance of close German-American cooperation for the security and prosperity of both countries," as was reported following the conversation. Both agreed to "deepen the already excellent bilateral relations in the years to come."[1] It is still unclear what this means concretely. However, it was also announced that Trump will "soon" receive Merkel in Washington and visit Germany in July on the occasion of the G20 Summit in Hamburg. Berlin is still very skeptical vis-à-vis Trump - less because of his recent racist chauvinist presidential decrees, but particularly because he openly speaks of German predominance within the EU. "You look at the European Union, and it is Germany; basically, a vehicle for Germany," Trump said in mid-January, reminding that Berlin would like the EU to become a US rival on a global scale.[2] According to German commentators, with Trump, "an old perception of the EU, which, for the most part, had been forgotten under Obama," is reappearing in the USA, "suggesting the EU could become a potential rival of the USA."[3] In the long run, this would be a danger for Germany.

Common Positions

Therefore, Berlin is doing everything to consolidate the EU as rapidly and tightly as possible. "Perhaps in 2017, ultimately all of the states will realize that we must stand together," said Volker Kauder, Chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, on the weekend, "on all questions" - for example "in defense, in migration, in economic policies."[4] Saturday, only one day after taking office as Germany's Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel visited his French counterpart, to discuss how to proceed in relations with Washington. They agreed to form bi-national teams comprised of staff from both foreign ministries that will "examine all the important issues," according to the German ministry. One of these teams will be dedicated to transatlantic relations.[5] It is obvious that given the arrogance, with which Berlin's politicians look down on their French counterparts (german-foreign-policy.com reported [6]), in these newly formed teams, Paris will not be setting the tone. It is "important in terms both on substance and publically, Germany and France demonstrate they have common positions on nearly all issues," as Foreign Minister Gabriel was quoted, after the meeting. He also falls in line with the main media organs' very popular image now portraying Germany becoming a liberal opponent to Trump's administration. "There is still no region in the world," he said following his meeting with France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Marc Ayrault, "in which people can live with as much freedom, democracy and security as they can in Europe."[7]

Controlling the South

The appeal to close ranks is not only aimed at confronting in unity outside powers, such as the United States, in the global competition. France's incorporation is absolutely essential to prevent a potential resistance from forming on the EU's southern flank. In the meantime, a second meeting of the EU's southern countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Cyprus), last Saturday in Portugal's capital, Lisbon is an example. These seven countries - with the exception of Malta - are the ones strongest affected by the Euro crisis. They repeatedly have to resist Germany's austerity dictate. At their meeting in Lisbon, they too were pleading for "closing ranks" in Europe. While officially addressing proposals for warding off refugees, talks on how to deal with the Euro crisis were also on the agenda.[8] Berlin, not being a participant in the EU southern states meeting, can influence the results only with France's help, which is highly desirable in the long run. Experts estimate that, since Britain left the EU, the group of austerity-obsessed northern member countries no longer constitutes a blocking minority against any of the southern members' violations.

Past Interventions

Britain's EU exit is already causing problems for Berlin, which was clearly seen with British Prime Minister Theresa May's visit to the USA last week. May, the first European head of state received by Trump - even before Angela Merkel could speak to the new US president by telephone - made a few wide-ranging commitments that are not exactly in line with Berlin's policies. She sharply relegated the "failed foreign policy" to the past and announced Britain and the US must never again intervene in other sovereign countries' affairs in a bid to "remake the world in our own image."[9] A similar German government renunciation of military invasions - such as the spring of 1999 invasion of Yugoslavia - is unknown.

The EU's Bonds

Regardless of whether London will be living up to this commitment, a German editorialist hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "with the British becoming independent of the EU, a second geopolitical pole will emerge in Europe, pursuing objectives that do not automatically concord with those of Brussels, Berlin or Paris."[10] "For Germany, which has become accustomed to speak in the name of Europe, [...] this is not a favorable development." There have repeatedly been "rifts [...] in the transatlantic relationship," often with the USA and Britain on the one side, and Germany and France on the other - just as with May's recent visit to the USA. The Brexit, however, will bring a fundamental change, the editorialist writes, "the EU will no longer have bonds binding London to the continent."

For more information on this theme, see: The Moment of the Europeans, and Leader and Followers.

[1] Gemeinsame Presseerklärung von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel und dem Präsidenten der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Donald Trump. Berlin, 28.01.2017.
[2] See The Moment of the Europeans.
[3] Nikolas Busse: In einer neuen Welt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 27.01.2017.
[4] Robert Birnbaum: Kauder schließt EU-Strafzölle gegen USA nicht kategorisch aus. www.tagesspiegel.de 28.01.2017.
[5] Außenminister Gabriel in Paris: Deutschland und Frankreich müssen Motor sein. www.auswaertiges-amt.de 28.01.2017.
[6] See Leader and Followers.
[7] Außenminister Gabriel in Paris: Deutschland und Frankreich müssen Motor sein. www.auswaertiges-amt.de 28.01.2017.
[8] EU-Südstaaten wollen Europa stärken. www.fr-online.de 28.01.2017.
[9] Jochen Buchsteiner: Du hast einen Freund in mir. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 28.01.2017.
[10] Nikolas Busse: In einer neuen Welt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 27.01.2017.