Unlike the UK, Germany realises that the EU is the only game in town as America wavers and Asia boomsby Dominic Hinde / June 3, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the summer of 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a speech to an adoring crowd in Berlin, riding a wave of hope that the difficult relationship between the US and Europe during the Bush years could be brushed aside.
That day Obama invoked the Berlin airlift as German democracy’s finest hour, and there is no doubt that without British and American assistance West Berlin would have been unable to survive the Soviet blockade.
Throughout the Cold War, West Germany was reliant on the military and economic support of the US and UK, and Obama was merely imitating what Kennedy and Reagan had done before at the gates of Berlin in a bygone age.
Obama’s widely lauded speech was part of his electoral strategy, designed to show TV viewers back home that he could rebuild the bridges burned by the Republicans in Europe. Fast forward a decade and Angela Merkel was the one drawing attention with her campaign speeches, and burning some bridges as she did so.
At a beer festival in Munich last weekend, and in an orchestrated and strained show of unity with the Bavarian sister party to the CDU, with whom she has a famously difficult relationship, she declared that “We Europeans must take our fate into our own hands.” Britain, Russia and the US remain neighbours and partners, said Merkel, but the time had come for the continent to assert itself.
It was a bullish message from a chancellor more popular than her party, but her words should not be seen as mere electioneering. Germany, and the rest of the rest of the EU, have serious reservations about the ability and willingness of the US to act as guarantors of the European project. Unlike Theresa May, even in an election period Merkel is mindful of her wider responsibility as head of government and a major voice in European politics.
The ambivalence of the US for Europe’s problems and the diminishing of the UK by Brexit are merely the reality Germany and the other EU states are facing up to.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German Foreign Minister and Social Democratic Vice Chancellor in the country’s grand coalition, has lamented that the Trump administration represents “the failure of the US as a major nation.”
When in office Barack Obama made no secret of his opposition to Britain leaving the EU, mirroring his general lack of interest in the Anglo-American special relationship and a desire to deal with Europe at large as a single bloc.
Shortly before he vacated the White House, Obama reiterated his desire to see a ‘strong and united’ Europe that could work with the US rather than be reliant on it, as well as supporting a diversified NATO in which the Americans did not loom over everyone else.
Theresa May and Donald Trump have emphasised bilateral links since Brexit over dialogue with Europe, but the Bundesrepublik has long had its own special relationship with the US. The US still has military bases in Germany, and during the Cold War, West Germany was portrayed as a US puppet state by Moscow in the same way the East was seen as nothing more than a Soviet satellite. Today, however, things are very different in Berlin.
As Germany’s need for Washington has diminished, its enthusiasm for Brussels has strengthened. Merkel’s main challenger in September’s election, the Social Democrat Martin Schulz, is a European politician to the core. The Former President of the European Parliament, he is proof of how seriously Germany takes EU politics and the institutions of the EU.
Unlike the UK, it now sees the majority of large international questions through the prism of the EU and Merkel, like Schulz, talks foreign affairs as both a German and a European.
In Germany, the consensus is that by isolating itself from Europe and from the single market, the UK is engaging in a phenomenal act of self-harm it could easily have avoided. Germany and Britain are similar in innumerable ways, but whereas Britain thinks it can go it alone, Germany realises the EU is the only game in town as America wavers and Asia booms. Whoever wins power in Berlin come September, Britain will not be top of their list of concerns.