Lust for Power

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Own report) - The future EU Commission should play a "geopolitical" role and provide the Union with a leading position in global policy, confirmed Commission President Elect Ursula von der Leyen, whose team, according to observers, shows a newfound "lust for power." Von der Leyen’s plans for the coming five years are very much in line with Berlin's plans to position the Union as an independent global power between the USA and China. French President Emmanuel Macron shares this project and - in view of the escalating conflict between Washington and Beijing - cautions that, if it fails, all influence on global policy would be lost. Influential German business circles opine that a German-European intermediate position cannot be avoided. Otherwise they would lose business with China and suffer severe setbacks. According to transatlantic circles, however, sooner or later, Berlin and Brussels will not be able to avoid siding with Washington.

Blatant Contradictions

In Berlin and other EU capitals, the dispute is continuing over which position Germany and the EU should take in the escalating power struggle between the United States and China. In Germany, various contradictory interests are the basis of this discussion. In terms of power politics, from Berlin’s point of view, the extremely close economic, political and military ties to the USA would be an argument in favor of closing ranks behind Washington, in case of a conflict. However, doubts are now being raised. The Trump administration's ongoing efforts to induce Germany to bow to US global policy is raising the question in Berlin, as to what extent can Germany implement its own ambitions within the transatlantic alliance.[1] At the same time, economic ties with China have become so close that German industry would be faced with severe setbacks in the case of an escalating conflict with Beijing. The loss of nearly €20 billion in exports, due to sanctions against Russia, has already stirred unrest. Much more, however, is at stake in the trade relations with the People’s Republic of China. ( reported.[2]) While German industry does not really want to oppose China, fears are growing that, in the long run, it cannot compete with its Chinese counterparts. This would be an argument for aligning itself with the US approach. Berlin is confronting blatant contradictions.

In the Great Power Competition

According to strategists in Berlin, German interests can only be implemented by establishing an independent German-European global power base, as German elites have long been striving to do. ( reported.[3]) Last week, this view was expressed by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the Bundestag. In view of the current "great-power rivalry between the United States, Russia and China," the EU is faced with the "great challenge" of adopting a common stance, Maas declared. There is an opportunity "to make progress on where Europe stands, when it comes to the new great-power rivalry."[4] The "response to the global challenges ... must be a cohesive, European response. Even Germany is too small to provide answers to these challenges." Maas calls for streamlining the EU's foreign and military policy, for example through "majority decision-making in EU bodies." Furthermore, "crisis management mechanisms" must be strengthened, "and we must become more resilient to outside influence." Such steps would "showcase our agenda" in the upcoming German EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2020, Maas announced.

Economic independence

Berlin's plans are being greeted with approval within the EU. Just recently, France's President Emmanuel Macron declared "the international order is being disrupted in an unprecedented way." Currently, "a geopolitical and strategic reconfiguration" is taking place, "in almost all areas," and "that should prompt us to examine our own strategy." At the moment, the only two in charge "are the United States of America and the Chinese," explained Macron on August 27 in a speech at the French Ambassadors' Conference. The EU "has a choice to make with respect to this major change, this major upheaval: do we decide to become junior allies of one party or the other ... or do we decide to be part of the game and exert our influence," Macron said.[5] Macron's advisor Jean Pisani-Ferry and Guntram Wolff, Director of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels both express a similar opinion. "The main task of the EU will be ... to defend its economic sovereignty," they write in a statement issued by the two experts for the new EU Commission. "If at all, this could only be successful, if all the EU countries pull together. Time is running out."[6]

Global Leader

Stipulations to this effect are already in the "political guidelines" for the next EU Commission, submitted in mid July by the designated President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyan. And according to which "Europe" should "strengthen its unique brand of responsible global leadership" and have "a more united voice in the world." To be "a global leader," the EU needs "to be able to act fast:" This is why she will push "for qualified majority voting to become the rule," insisted von der Leyen.[7] The EU must spend 30% more on external-action investment; The EU budget should be increased to total €120 billion. Although NATO will always be the "cornerstone" of Europe’s collective defence we need further "bold steps towards a genuine European Defence Union." Among the steps toward this goal, the European Defence Fund should be strengthened, announced von der Leyen. She had declared that the future EU Commission should explicitly play a “geopolitical" role. Observers comment that the new EU Commission shows a newfound "lust for power."[8]

Side with the USA

Whereas Berlin, Paris and Brussels are vigorously seeking to position the EU as an independent global power between the United States and China, transatlantic circles in business and politics are skeptical about whether this can be achieved. "A new cold war is looming, a division of the world into western and eastern spheres," according to Jörg Krämer, chief economist at Commerzbank.[9] After all, the EU will not be able to assert itself as an independent force between Washington and Beijing. Quite certainly, Brussels will ultimately side with the USA. In that case, one should not be discouraged by the imminent massive set-backs in the trade with China, according to Michael Hüther, Director of the German Economic Institute in Cologne (IW). In the past, the German industry repeatedly managed to switch to alternative markets in economic conflicts.[10] Of course, statements like Hüther's provoke considerable protest beyond the transatlantic dominated sectors of the German industry. The dispute continues.


[1] See also Struggle for Global Power Status and Transatlantische Perspektiven (II).

[2] See also Die Widersprüche der China-Politik.

[3] See also The Will to World Power and Die Welt gestalten.

[4] Rede von Außenminister Heiko Maas anlässlich der Debatte im Deutschen Bundestag über den Haushalt 2020 des Auswärtigen Amts. Berlin, 11.09.2019.

[5] Emmanuel Macron bei der Botschafterkonferenz 2019. 27.08.2019.

[6] Elisa Simantke, Harald Schumann, Nico Schmidt: Wie gefährlich China für Europa wirklich ist. 15.09.2019.

[7] Ursula von der Leyen: A union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe. Political guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024. 16.07.2019.

[8] Aline Robert, Claire Stam: The new EU Commission shows newfound lust for power. 16.09.2019.

[9], [10] Carsten Dierig, Frank Stocker, Philipp Vetter: "Made in Germany" in der China-Falle. 13.09.2019.