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Loneliness of Europe: What is behind Angela Merkel's loud statement?

Author : Viktor Savinok

08:08, 1 June 2017
Loneliness of Europe: What is behind Angela Merkel's loud statement?

Author : Viktor Savinok

"The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over. Europeans must really take their own fate into their own hands," said German Chancellor

08:08, 1 June 2017

Read original article at eurointegration.com

112 Agency

On May 28, during the pre-election meeting in Munich (Bavaria), German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that "the times when we (EU member states) could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over." The head of the German government also stressed that "Europeans must really take their own fate into their own hands."

These statements of the federal cabinet’s head have already caused a wave of mixed reactions from officials, the press and expert circles.

A number of publications have already managed to call them "slaps" against official Washington and London because of unwillingness to support their "revisionism."

This even prompted government spokesman Steffen Seibert (SPD) to emphasize on Monday that "the loyalty of Germany to the transatlantic partnership remains unshakable."

But is it really so? Let's try to understand.

What could have caused the Chancellor's discontent?

The results of the recent informal summit of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) in Brussels and the G7 meeting in Sicily were hardly encouraging for Merkel.

Perhaps the main reason for this was the "revisionist" position taken during these events by US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

First, the economic and trade policy of Germany fell under the flurry of criticism from the American president. Since the eurozone crisis of 2009-2011, Germany has been trying to ensure the increase of fiscal discipline in the country and, as a result, the formation of surplus budgets.

The main conductor of this policy is the current Minister of Finance of Germany Wolfgang Schauble. In particular, according to the results of the last year, the German Ministry of Finance managed to collect to the treasury 15 billion euros more than it was planned.

The US president, in turn, criticized this approach as one of Germany's uncompetitive advantages in trade with the United States.

He was supported by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, who was present in Sicily. She indicated, in particular, that it would be advisable to spend the saved funds on improving the infrastructure (although in the US this problem is more acute).

Obviously, Merkel and Schauble have other plans for this money.

Secondly, another "annoying" question from Donald Trump was the figures for Germany's financing of defense spending. For a number of decades they have been constantly decreasing.

The same tendency was demonstrated by the strength of the Bundeswehr and its technical equipment. In 2016, the FRG brought the defense spending rate to 1.2% of GDP, or 37 billion euros in financial terms.

These figures gave the US president a reason to say during the February visit of the Chancellor to Washington that allegedly "Germany is very heavily indebted" for the collective defense within NATO.

Thirdly, the discontent of the chancellor was caused by the position of President Trump regarding climate change.

Related: Trump decides to remove US from Paris Climate Agreement


Since the second half of the 2000s, Germany has been promoting an ambitious environmental policy. Perhaps its main element is the "energy turn" (Energiewende). "Turn" means the refusal to use fossil fuels and expanding energy saving to counter climate change.

In turn, the incumbent president of the United States, even during his election campaign, called the theory of climate change "a global fraud."

Therefore, Donald Trump considers it advisable to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement, which sets ambitious goals to counter global warming. The head of the United States sees it as a "brake on the American economy."

At the same time, the US withdrawal can deprive the Agreement of credibility and financing, because it will be withdrawal of one of the largest economies in the world, which, according to the World Bank, accounts for 15% of global greenhouse emissions.

Another irritant for Angela Merkel was the UK's extremely fuzzy position during the talks. Theresa May didn’t manage to explain to the Chancellor whether the United Kingdom is going to pay compensation to the EU budget for leaving from the EU, what kind of access to the EU market Britain would like to receive after leaving the Union, and what will be the future of hired workers - EU citizens, who work in Britain.

Merkel was also disappointed by the fact that during previous visits of Trump to other US-allied countries - Saudi Arabia and Israel - sharp criticism of these states or their leadership by the American president did not sound.

This contrasted sharply with both sentiments during meetings in Europe and with what the chancellor herself put into the notion of a "transatlantic partnership".

It is precisely the concentration of these super complicated issues and the probable conviction of Merkel that it is unlikely to conduct a constructive dialogue with Washington under such conditions, can be called decisive factors for a tough reaction on the part of the head of German government.

"More Europe" in German politics

At first glance, the Chancellor's statement can really seem breakthrough. However, if you listen to it to the end, the "sensational phrases" turn out to be skilfully intertwined in the general context of German foreign policy.

In particular, after the words about "Europeans taking responsibility for their own fate" Merkel declares adherence to the transatlantic partnership.

The Head of the Government of Germany also points to the willingness to negotiate on various issues, if the parties respect values that Germany represents. In this context, even Russia was mentioned. Accordingly, Merkel only puts the emphasis, but the essence remains unchanged.

And indeed, since the reunification of Germany, the foreign policy of the "Berlin Republic" has been and continues to be in a conditionally "triune" character. These main vectors include transatlantic cooperation, the European direction and "eastern policy".

With the deepening of integration in the European Union since the early 1990s, it is the European direction that is becoming the key to the foreign policy course of Germany. In this case, the country voluntarily changed its approaches to foreign policy in order to ensure the success of the European integration project.

However, it wasn’t the "trigger" of changes in the eastern and transatlantic directions. The first direction began to change because of the revisionist policy of the official Kremlin in Europe and the collapse of democracy in Russia.

The significance of the second was declining since the mid-1960s and was limited to NATO issues and the deployment of US military bases. Trump and Brexit make it urgent to rethink the security system of both Europe in general and the European Union in particular, which can become almost the main reason for changes in the transatlantic course of official Berlin.

Nevertheless, the fundamental tendency for European affairs to gain decisive weight remains unchanged, although it acquires new features.

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