Jun 6th 2017

Angela Merkel’s Challenge to Europe

by Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.


BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has never been regarded as an especially inspiring orator. In fact, she has a reputation for gently talking her audiences to sleep. But that all changed a few days ago. While campaigning in the Munich suburb of Trudering, Merkel, speaking from a beer tent, delivered a powerful speech that dominated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

With Whitsunday fast approaching, many wondered if Merkel had been inspired by the Holy Spirit. If not that, she may have been spurred to action after having spent many hours in the company of US President Donald Trump during the recent NATO and G7 summits. And Germany’s upcoming federal election undoubtedly loomed large in her mind.

But Merkel’s speech was no mere “beer tent Goslar.” She was not emulating former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who, campaigning in the town of Goslar in January 2003, declared that Germany would not participate in the Iraq War, regardless of whether it had the United Nations Security Council’s backing. There was far more to Merkel’s Trudering speech than mere electioneering.

“The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over,” Merkel said, “and therefore I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” Some might take this to mean that Germany is turning away from the transatlantic alliance, pursuing a strategic realignment, or entering a new era of insecurity. But Merkel’s statement meant nothing of the sort.

Anyone who has been paying attention has known for some time that the historic changes taking place today did not originate in Germany. Rather, they are emanating from the geopolitical West’s two founding members: the United States and the United Kingdom. Prior to Trump’s election and the UK’s Brexit referendum, Germans saw no reason to make fundamental changes to the existing geopolitical order.

But those two events have shaken the foundation upon which Europe’s peace and prosperity have rested since World War II. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union could inspire other countries to follow suit. And Trump’s isolationist, “America first” agenda implies that the US will abdicate its leadership role in the world, and possibly abandon its security guarantee for Europe.

Europeans avoided a disaster of historic proportions in last month’s French presidential election. If Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front had been elected, she would likely have brought an end to the euro, the EU, and the common market. Continental Europe would now be mired in a deep economic and political crisis.

Those who still support a unified Europe need to take a lesson from the near-miss in France, lest history repeat itself. Europe must expand its capacity to act, and to respond to crises and changing circumstances. That was the message at the heart of Merkel’s remarks.

At the same time, Merkel was addressing ongoing debates among pundits and press commentators about what Brexit and Trump’s presidency might mean for the future of transatlantic and European cooperation. When Merkel observed that “we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands,” she was stating a plain fact.

Still, only those who have hopelessly underestimated Merkel could think that she would turn away from transatlanticism. Merkel knows that the US is indispensable to Europe’s security. But she also knows that Trump’s presidency has cast doubt on both the American security guarantee and the shared values that, until now, firmly linked the two sides.

A careful analysis of Merkel’s words shows that she was not questioning the future of the transatlantic alliance. Rather, she was calling for a stronger Europe. Merkel knows that if the US sacrifices its place at the top of the international order for domestic political reasons, it will not be replaced by a new leading power, nor will a new world order emerge. What we will have is a power vacuum, marked by chaos. And as the world becomes less stable, we Europeans will have no choice but to come together to defend our interests. No one else will do it for us.

So, Merkel’s speech was first and foremost about strengthening Europe. And, fortunately, she has found a partner in French President Emmanuel Macron. Both leaders want to stabilize the eurozone, restore economic growth, and strengthen Europe’s security with a joint border force and a new refugee policy.

Merkel surely meant what she said in Trudering. Given the tumultuous international environment and the EU’s own recent close call, there is no alternative but to take action, and her remarks could have far-reaching consequences for Germany’s place in the EU, and for its relationship with France. Germany’s current role as the eurozone’s penny-pinching know-it-all is at odds with the new approach that it must take. To demonstrate real leadership within the French-German partnership, Germany will have to make political concessions.

Moreover, just because Trump says something does not automatically mean that it is wrong. Germany, and Europe generally, will have to do far more to ensure its own security, and to reinforce the transatlantic bridge that sustains European peace and prosperity. And as we pursue that project, we must stick firmly to the liberal values that make us the envy of aspiring democrats, and the bête noire of authoritarians, around the world.


Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org





To subscribe to Facts and Arts' weekly newsletter, please click here.

To follow Facts & Arts' Editor, Olli Raade, on Twitter, please click here.

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
May 21st 2019
Extract: "Brexit, after all, is as much a Kremlin project as it is anyone else’s. Putin wants to divide Europeans, and in the UK, Brexit has succeeded in dividing Britons like nothing since the Corn Law debates almost 200 years ago. Putin wants the EU to fragment, and Brexit is causing the biggest crack yet in the bloc’s history. Putin wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of traditional news sources; pro-Brexit media consistently promote lies as truth and inveigh against reputable papers like the Financial Times as elitist enemies of the people."
May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.