Free Trade

Europe, in Trade Talks, Must Avoid Anti-American Clichés at Transatlantic Negotiating Table

Containers wait to be loaded on a ship at Hamburg's port. Source: DPA
Containers wait to be loaded on a ship at Hamburg's port.

Human nature can be self-destructive some times. Like the statement: “It serves my mother right that my hands are freezing. Why doesn’t she buy me any gloves?”

Diseases like bulimia and anorexia are also symptoms of a dangerous developmental disorder. Some people deep down refuse to avoid becoming an adult with its burdens and responsibilities.

Are there analogous disorders in the behaviors of societies, peoples and nations?

Our world is confusing. Speed and complexity overtax all of us, but when something hits home affecting the natural, vital necessities of life, the average citizen has trouble moving forward. Instead of confronting the problem rationally, creatively and patiently in search of a solution, they add another obstacle, a vague longing for simplicity and a heightened desire to find offense. Waiting on the sidelines and ready to jump into the fray are fanatical activists, political lobbyists and politicians looking for the spotlight. They seek symbols that can be used for everything.

So, a once in a lifetime event such as the unification of Europe is reduced to talk of “showerheads” or “curved cucumbers,” which the European Union has sought to regulate at one time or another. Or a historic effort to change energy policies in Germany are smirked at as “Trittin’s asparagus effect,” a reference to Jürgen Trittin, a Green Party politician who served as the country’s environment minister from 1998 to 2005.

Those looking at the United States from this side of the Atlantic these days see nothing but a giant, chlorinated chicken melded with a ravenous data-eating monster that is swallowing up every bit of European information and privacy. Certainly there are good reasons to call out the Americans for their insatiable intelligence gathering efforts, or to openly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before signing on the dotted line.

Don't reduce America to unscrupulous economic policies, global imperialism, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the death penalty, Bible fanatics and the NSA.

Things become problematic when no one cares about the details of the proposed trade agreement, but instead are driven by prejudices to carve out a nasty political club to swing at the United States.

These people want to shrink the big, colorful, contradictory America to the size of a bouillon cube consisting of unscrupulous economic policies and global imperialism mixed with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the death penalty, Bible fanatics and the National Security Administration. So the “chlorinated chicken” becomes a potent symbol that differentiates between good and evil, between the high standards of European quality and America’s naïve consumer society, where money rules and everyone believes the world was created in six days.

No person and certainly no nation has only a one-dimensional personality. The individual alone is an amalgam of many contradictory attributes. My next-door neighbor is a family man, electrical engineer, Green party voter, stamp collector and singer in his church choir. It would not only be disrespectful but negligent to define him as “typical.” If, for example, he is the owner of a medium-sized company and he is doing business with an American buyer that is advantageous to both, he is not bowing in vassal-like submission to the “ugly Americans,” who ignore the rules of good behavior with the motto, “My country, right or wrong.”

U.S. and E.U. trade negotiators in July, 2014. Source: DPA
U.S. and E.U. trade negotiators in July, 2014. Source: DPA
U.S. and E.U. trade negotiators in July, 2014. Source: DPA

 

Those who throw everything into one pot will have a boring menu. Those who unburden all their emotions harms themselves. They do this without the advantages of a common market and in so doing they also forgo money. They don’t enjoy the collateral benefit of stabile trade relations in which better standards are established. And, not least of all, they refuse to offer a hand to the many Americans who suffer from the blunders of their own government.

Yes, citizens should use caution and good sense in their views of other nations. Public activities require public control and healthy hesitation is part of a democratic society. Germany’s economics minister, Sigmar Gabriel, is handling the trade issue correctly. Reality doesn’t always fit into the little sandbox molds of our prejudices. In times of concern, we are more ready to risk confrontation and collapse than to stand for support, cooperation and the balancing of interests.

Building up a working relationship is laborious and time-consuming. Blowing something up is simple and quick. The development of an effective international structure must overcome many obstacles even one’s own self doubt.

The author is president of the University of Bonn’s Academy for Research and Applied Politics. He can be reached at gastautor@handelsblatt.com.

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