Europe's "Geopolitical Identity"

MUNICH | | usa

MUNICH (Own report) - At the Munich Security Conference last weekend, the power struggle between Berlin and Washington openly escalated to an unprecedented level. US Vice President Mike Pence reiterated his ultimatum that Berlin and the EU immediately renounce their political and economic projects, which are not fully in accord with US policy, pertaining particularly to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the Iran nuclear deal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected the US demands. In view of the dispute with Washington, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared at the Security Conference that "Europe" faces the "crucial question" whether it will be "the subject or the object of global policy in the future." It must, therefore, "transform geo-economic capital into geopolitical capital" to become "a cornerstone of the international order" and "develop its own geopolitical identity." Maas is expressing his demands, at a time, when the EU's Iran policy is about to fall apart and the European power base needed for Berlin's ambitions is crumbling.

Ultimatum

On the weekend, the Trump administration reiterated its demand that Berlin and the EU renounce their political and economic projects, which are not fully in accord with US policy. In his speech at the Munich Security Conference, US Vice President Mike Pence demanded that European countries follow the United States and immediately withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.[1] Pence praised those EU members, who are taking a strong stand against Nord Stream 2 and added, "we recommend others to do the same." The Vice President also declared that Washington has been "very clear" with its allies on "the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies." In view of many EU countries recognizing the Venezuelan insurgent Juan Guaidó as "interim president," Pence called on the EU to recognize Guaidò as "president." The difference being that, according to the Venezuelan constitution an interim president must immediately call for new elections - while a president is not obliged to do so. Finally, the US Vice President threatened to disregard guarantees to the Alliance: "We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East." This was also addressed toward Berlin, seeking to complete and put Nord Stream 2 into operation.

"A Cornerstone of the International Order"

The Trump administration's demands are catching Berlin and the EU at a time, when they are seeking to lay the groundwork for an autonomous world policy, capable of acting independently of Washington. This was reiterated by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the weekend in Munich. Berlin is clearly "focusing on a strong Europe that is able to act" to "hold our own in the world of tomorrow." Only "when we act together," based on the European continental power, will Germany be able to "preserve its influence at the national level." If this cannot be achieved, "we risk our impact being eroded in a world of great power competition." Maas claims, "the crucial question facing Europe is whether we will be the subject or the object of global policy in the future." Great Britain should be included even after it leaves the EU.[2] Europe, which is a "global power in trade policy" must "transform geo-economic capital into geopolitical capital," to secure its global position of power. "We need to work much harder on building a strong and sovereign Europe," the German foreign minister demanded. The European Union "should not only become a cornerstone of the international order" but also "develop its own geopolitical identity."

Unwilling to Surrender

Accordingly, the German government is stubbornly trying to ward off the growing US demands to abandon the political and economic projects of Germany and the EU. Chancellor Angela Merkel reconfirmed in Munich that she wanted to proceed with Russian gas supply. Russia had been a dependable gas supplier already in the first cold war period. It must also be prevented that Russia develops "dependence" on China - also for gas sales.[3] This is why Russia must "remain a partner," at least to some extent.[4] Europe's powers also wanted to maintain the nuclear agreement with Iran, Merkel reaffirmed. Even though the goal is also "to contain" Iran's policy, however, this can be better achieved, if the agreement is maintained, "so that pressure can perhaps be applied in other areas." Berlin and the EU are, in any case, at the moment, not prepared to surrender in the controversy with Washington.

Teetering at the Brink

In the meantime, there are signs of major setbacks for the German government. For example, contrary to German wishes, Brussels decided last week that Nord Stream 2 can only be constructed under significantly worse conditions. It remains uncertain whether the nuclear agreement with Iran can be saved. Until now, the condition for success was that business with Iran could be maintained at a significant level. This has not materialized. The recently established "Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges" (INSTEX) financial vehicle - a sort of barter system - has proven unsuitable for reversing the situation. In Munich, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Dschawad Sarif confirmed that the INSTEX "is not enough."[5] In Iran "the nuclear agreement has already lost significant support among the population," because the EU makes big promises in terms of trade but few deliveries, according to a recent analysis published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). In Teheran's political establishment, as well, "opponents to the agreement have become stronger and inspired the country's hardliners."[6] If there is no trade success soon, "even the pragmatists will no longer shy away from abandoning the agreement," it continues. "This will have the nuclear agreement in Iran teetering at the brink." Also on the brink will be the EU's attempts to implement an independent Middle East policy.

Crumbling at the Base

Moreover, the European power base is seriously crumbling. The Munich Security Conference organizers had originally planned to have Chancellor Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron reject the predictable US demands side by side, which failed. Macron, who has been consistently duped by Berlin since assuming office (german-foreign-policy.com reported [7]), had cancelled his participation. Thus, Merkel was forced to defend the German-European positions alone - and thereby, involuntarily, demonstrate the growing disintegration of the repeatedly proclaimed "European unity."

 

[1] Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 2019 Munich Security Conference. whitehouse.gov 16.02.2019.

[2] Rede von Außenminister Heiko Maas bei der 55. Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz am 15. Februar 2019 in München.

[3] See also The Power of the Pipes.

[4] Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel zur 55. Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz am 16. Februar 2019 in München.

[5] Iran drängt Europäer zu mehr Einsatz. tagesschau.de 17.02.2019.

[6] Azadeh Zamirirad: Atomkrise mit Iran: INSTEX taugt nicht zum Befreiungsschlag. swp-berlin.org 01.02.2019.

[7] See also Hegemonie nach deutscher Art.