The EU's Interests

Berlin insists on independent status as world power, despite renewed cooperation with the USA.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON | | usa

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - On the occasion of US President Joe Biden's inauguration yesterday, the German government is holding out the prospect of closer transatlantic cooperation, while insisting on an independent position, concerning key controversial issues. "We will not always agree with the new administration" despite all the cooperation, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced, after all "Europe" has its own interests. With the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) that the EU reached with China, just prior to the change in personnel at the White House, the EU clearly rejects the "decoupling," advocated by the US government, including the Biden administration. Moreover, yesterday, a leading CDU foreign policy expert published a plea for renewed cooperation with Russia, which is clearly rejected by Washington. In their quest for an independent EU world power status, Berlin and Brussels can rely on majority support within the population. According to a recent survey, 67 percent of the residents of ten EU countries and Great Britain favor greater military independence; two thirds reject siding with the USA in the power struggle with China.

 

USA "Broken"

The survey commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), and conducted after the US elections by Datapraxis and YouGov has arrived at findings that, to a large extent, could be interpreted as being favorable to Berlin's foreign policy and its quest for the EU's greater independence. In May 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had summed up the demand for greater independence with the slogan "we Europeans have to take our fate into our own hands."[1] In the survey, 67 percent agreed that "Europe can't always rely on the US: we need to look after our own defense capabilities," only ten percent thought the contrary.[2] At the same time 61 percent believe that the political system of the United States is broken, whereas, only 27 percent think that it still functions well. Only 27 percent of the respondents felt that after Trump's election in November 2016, Americans can be trusted, whereas an average of 32 percent responded in the negative, in Germany, it was even 53 percent.

Majority Favors Neutrality

Opinions on the alliance with the USA are quite contradictory also in other respects. 57 percent find that their country needs the American security guarantee “a fair amount" or "a great deal” to be safe from military invasion.[3] This would correspond to the predominant view in Berlin that NATO membership is still indispensable, notwithstanding all the efforts to set up EU armed forces. At the same time there is little willingness to clearly take Washington's side "if there was a disagreement" between the USA and Russia or, respectively, China. Overall, 57 percent of the respondents think that China will "probably" or even "definitely" become more powerful than the US within the next ten years, only 19 percent were convinced of the contrary. Nevertheless, in a conflict between the US and China only 22 percent (16 percent in Germany) would like their country to side with the US, while 60 percent (66 percent in Germany) are pleading for neutrality. The numbers are almost identical in relationship to a conflict between the USA and Russia: 23 percent (16 percent in Germany) would like their country to side with the US, whereas, 59 percent (66 percent in Germany) favor neutrality.

"Not always in Agreement"

Regardless of the question of how Berlin and Brussels will actually decide in a conflict, the mood of the population offers support to the German government as well as to the EU in their foreign policy maneuvering. In principle, the Berlin establishment continues to promote close cooperation with the new Biden administration. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reiterated yesterday that he assumes that now there will again be better cooperation between Germany and the USA. At the moment, "all signs" are pointing in that direction.[4] Norbert Röttgen (CDU) Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag feels similarly: "In style and tone, one can once again talk everything over." However, Röttgen predicted that numerous former issues still remain, such as the conflict over the amount of Germany's military expenditures and the conflict over the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.[5] These controversies are independent of any party. Maas agreed: "It is not as if we will always be in agreement with the new administration - because we, in Europe, naturally have our own interests and often the situation in Europe is not comparable."[6]

Future Conflicts

Accordingly, shortly before the change of staff in the White House, the German government and the EU Commission forged decisions that meet with disapproval in Washington. For example, in late December, still during Germany's EU Council presidency, the EU - essentially at the behest of the German government - decided on an investment agreement with China, which not only makes it easier for enterprises from the EU to do business with China, but also counteracts US efforts to achieve an economic decoupling from the People's Republic - which Berlin has strictly rejected.[7] Conversely, Kurt Campbell, the recently appointed nominee for "Indo-Pacific Coordinator" in the National Security Council of the United States, announced that Washington will continue to pursue a “managed decoupling” from China.[8] Controversy on this issue is just as foreseeable as it is on the EU Commission's plans, announced Tuesday, to strengthen the euro within the global finance system and thereby weaken the predominance of the US dollar. Moreover, Brussels intends to provide better protection from financial sanctions for the EU's economy - de facto, protection against those sanctions imposed by the United States. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9])

"Reaching Out to Russia"

A signed article by Johann Wadephul, the Deputy Chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, published yesterday in the reliably transatlantic-oriented Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung, could serve as an indication of Berlin's determined commitment to independence. Wadephul explained that "politically" there had been "points of contact for cooperation at all times" with Russia, "now is the time to take advantage of them."[10] This demand comes at a time when the designated US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken announced plans to heighten tensions with Moscow - plans such as calling for Georgia to be accepted into NATO.[11] Wadephul points out that Berlin has already blocked Georgia's NATO-admission negotiations in the past, and calls for concrete steps to be taken toward cooperation with Russia - with the "objective of a common economic realm stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok." The CDU foreign policy expert combines his demand - which could make Washington see red - with the indication that it is "not yet clear," "which side" Moscow will take in a conflict between the West and China, also, taking this into consideration, the EU should "reach out to Russia and Germany should make the first step."

 

 

[1] See also Das Ende einer Ära.

[2], [3] Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard: The crisis of American power: How Europeans see Biden's America. ECFR Policy Brief. January 2021.

[4] Florian Rudolph, Arne Wiechern: Auf Trump folgt Biden: Bundesaußenminister Maas fordert Neustart der Beziehungen. swr.de 20.01.2021.

[5] See also Transatlantic Sanctions (III).

[6] Florian Rudolph, Arne Wiechern: Auf Trump folgt Biden: Bundesaußenminister Maas fordert Neustart der Beziehungen. swr.de 20.01.2021.

[7] See also "Ein Sturm zieht auf".

[8] Kurt M. Campbell, Rush Doshi: How America Can Shore Up Asian Order. foreignaffairs.com 12.01.2021.

[9] Björn Finke: Ringen um einen starken Euro. sueddeutsche.de 19.01.2021.

[10] Johann David Wadephul: Auf Russland zugehen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.01.2021.

[11] Todd Prince: Biden's Top Diplomat Pick Says U.S. Seeks 'Stronger' Iran Nuclear Deal, Condemns Russia Over Navalny Arrest. rferl.org 20.01.2021.