May 30, 2017
Beer tent politics - Merkel edition
The commentariat was quick to declare the end of the post-war order, and to elevate Angela Merkel to the role of leader of the western world as they did on previous occasions. We are cautious on both issues. Do not forget that Merkel is in the middle of an election campaign. She made her comment in a beer tent. If she had not made the comment on the need to break away from the US, Martin Schulz surely would have. By saying what she did, she closed a potentially viable avenue for Schulz. At the very least, we should suspend our judgement about her intentions until after the elections.
Furthermore, Germany is wholly unprepared for such a shift - and that goes especially for the jubilant commentariat. For the EU to be self-reliant would require a military budget not of 2% of GDP, but closer to 3 or 4%. It would require an end the perma-euro crisis, which will only happen if Germany abandons its ordo-liberal dogma. If the EU wanted to become a global power, it cannot afford a mercantilism that expresses itself as permanent current account surpluses. And it will need a lot more than a common European finance minister and a common budget. Hardly any of the German commentators, who over the last few days have been calling for a European self-reliance, even considered this. They are simply not prepared for what is going to hit them if they were to progress down that path.
One exception among German commentators is Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger who noted in his FAZ editorial this morning that Germany would have to abandon what he calls the “culture of restraint”. The separation of the US would be a massive step. Germany will recognise very quickly how dependent it is, for example, on US intelligence. The truth is that the partnership with the US remains essential for European security.
We disagreed with the recent assessment by Ulrich Speck that German-US relations are on the mind, but we agree with him now when he writes that it would be a mistake to demonise Donald Trump.
“For Europeans, working with the Trump White House is of existential importance. On security, there is simply no alternative to the transatlantic relationship, only American presence is holding Russia at bay. On global politics (China, Middle East), the US remains the most important player and Europeans can only try to convince Washington to take their views into account. On the soft issues of global governance, nothing can be achieved without the US. Against the US, Europe cannot achieve anything. There is no alternative to engagement. And we can see that engagement works, even with the Trump White House. Transatlantic relations are good today, if we look at the substance and don’t jump on every outrageous quote.”
Gideon Rachman argues on similar lines. Merkel’s speech was a blunder, he said, and gives five reasons. It is too early to make a final judgement about Trump. Second, Trump is right in substance on the military spending commitments. Third, by implying that the Transatlantic Alliance is dead, Merkel has effectively corroborated Trump’s refusal to endorse Article 5. Fourth, it is wrong for Merkel to extend her anti-Trump position to the UK. The UK has side with Germany on both Nato and climate change. And this is his final reasons:
“...it is baffling that a German leader could stand in a beer-tent in Bavaria and announce a separation from Britain and the US while bracketing those two countries with Russia. The historical resonances should be chilling.”