Transatlantic Competition

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is urging that PR measures be increased, to prepare the population for a more aggressive German global policy. The foreign ministry has already dispatched members of its staff "to schools and universities" to "explain" Berlin's foreign policy, Gabriel recently declared in a speech to foreign policy experts. The foreign ministry will also "increase its social media channels" and he called on entrepreneurs and shop stewards to explain the importance of foreign policy issues to employees. These measures must be seen in the context of Germany's ambition to assume an independent policy in global affairs and become more competitive to the USA. Berlin sees the Trump administration's course, which, at times, has sharply collided with German interests, as a lasting policy shift. Washington increasingly views the EU "as a competitor and sometimes even as an opponent," Foreign Minister Gabriel affirms; In the future Europe must rely more on strength than on "values."

Diverging Interests

In several statements and policy papers the US government has emphasized its positions, which, at times, significantly diverge from German interests - particularly in questions of trade and foreign policy. In their widely noted policy paper, published late last Mai in the US business press, President Trump's national security advisor H.R. McMaster and the director of the National Economic Council, Gary D. Cohn reiterated that Washington will no longer tolerate trade deficits with many European nations. These words were clearly directed at Germany's export surplus.[1] This has been confirmed by the new National Security Strategy issued last December, which has also defined foreign policy positions not shared by the German government. For example, on the Middle East policy, it places priority on measures countering "Iranian expansion," implicitly against the 2015 nuclear agreement. The United States must “neutralize Iranian malign influence," the document notes.[2] Recently, the German government has been more concerned with creating a sort of delicate balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia, aimed at doing business with both countries ( reported [3]).

Competitor and Opponent

The Trump administration's conspicuous change of course, is now viewed by the Berlin establishment as a permanent shift, which will hardly be reversed by the next government. After World War II, cooperation with Western Europe "had always been an American project in the United States’ clearly understood interests," Foreign Minster Gabriel recently noted.[4] Indeed, the West European countries were not only a profitable market for the US industry, they were also indispensable allies in the Cold War, with the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic being, perhaps its most important frontline. This has changed. Even though Washington is still cooperating with the EU countries against Russia, it focuses more and more on the power struggle with China, whereas a significantly stronger Germany and the EU are competing, to a growing extent, with the United States. "The current US Administration now perceives Europe in a very distanced way, regarding previous partners as competitors and sometimes even as at the very least economic opponents," Gabriel observed last December. The world is increasingly seen as "an arena - a battleground -" where relations "are not regulated by binding rules", but "rather by conflicts."[5] The United States has developed "further from, rather than closer to Europe."

Washington is Isolating Itself

In the intensifying transatlantic rivalry, Berlin and Brussels could profit from the offending, at times, erratic course taken by the Trump administration. Washington's renunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) gave the EU the opportunity to gain a stronger foothold in the countries of Eastern and Southeast Asia as well as in Australia, with its own free trade agreements, and refurbish its image, in relationship to the USA. ( reported.[6]) With its decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Washington has largely isolated itself. This was evident in the UN Security Council, when Washington had to use its veto to block the 14 member majority in favor of a resolution opposing this measure. However, the UN General Assembly subsequently adopted the resolution by a significant majority. The isolation of the United States gives a significant strategic advantage to Berlin. Even in the dispute over policy toward Iran, the EU nations are distancing themselves from Washington, with growing clarity. Whereas the Trump administration has used the recent protests in Iran to promote overthrowing the Iranian government, France's ambassador has explicitly rejected this demand in a special session of the Security Council. Gradually, an EU Middle East policy is becoming apparent, one which is at variance with that of the United States, easier to convey internationally than the US president's coarse behavior, and winning plus points for the EU's global policies.

The EU's Power Projection

In this situation, Foreign Minister Gabriel calls for Germany to adopt a more offensive global policy. We must "help shape" the situation, if we "do not want to be shaped" by it, is how he recently used the positive connotation "help shape," to circumscribe Germany's political claim to assuming a leading role in the formulation of global policy.[7] "Europe" needs "to project its power," the foreign minister urged at the beginning of the year. "In the past," we could rely on the French, British and in particular the Americans to defend our interests in the world." "In the future, we will need to do a great deal more to defend our freedom."[8] The foreign ministry apparently considers that the current global situation makes it no longer necessary, at least for the time being, to revert to the usual euphemizing of its foreign aggressions as in “defense of human rights." "Only focusing on values will not be successful in a world full of people who fight hard to assert their own interests. In a world full of carnivores, vegetarians have a very tough time of it," Gabriel was quoted saying.

Empathy for the Government

At the same time, the foreign minister emphasizes PR measures aimed at the population. "We must explain more to our citizens about what we will have to confront," he said in a speech to foreign policy experts on December 11. The foreign Ministry has "therefore considerably altered its communications on foreign policy themes over the past few years," and "must continue to do so." "The number of social media channels will be increased."[9] "We are already sending our diplomats ... into schools and universities," Gabriel continued. "But the discussion is needed in staff meetings at the workplace and in apprentice shops with apprentices and journeymen. We must ask entrepreneurs and shop stewards to explain that a united Europe is in the interests of the employees." This is the only way to reach "those, who often feel that Europe is against their interests." With this, "a stake in and empathy for the requirements of Germany's foreign policy" can be achieved, concluded Gabriel, or in other words, in times of a harder, more aggressive German policy on the world stage political erosion at home can be avoided.


[1] H.R. McMaster, Gary D. Cohn: America First Doesn't Mean America Alone. 30.05.2017.

[2] National Security Strategy of the United States of America. December 2017.

[3] See also Der Anti-Trump.

[4], [5] Sigmar Gabriel: Gestalten, nicht gestaltet werden. Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2018. S. 6-9.

[6] See also Foray into Down Under and With Japan against China.

[7] Sigmar Gabriel: Gestalten, nicht gestaltet werden. Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2018. S. 6-9.

[8] Christiane Hoffmann, Klaus Brinkbäumer: "In einer Welt voller Fleischfresser haben es Vegetarier schwer". 04.01.2017.

[9] Sigmar Gabriel: Gestalten, nicht gestaltet werden. Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2018. S. 6-9.