This isn’t a rosy time for transatlantic relations, especially between Germany and the United States. NSA monitoring of the Internet, eavesdropping on mobile telephones and spying on allies are convulsing German-U.S. ties that only 25 years ago were hailed by President George Bush as a “partnership in leadership.”
Much of the problem is indifference by the U.S. government to reservations Europeans have about eroded trust. If Russia’s return to Cold War tactics didn’t require a transatlantic closing of ranks, this relationship would certainly be even more difficult.
Spying revelations have had a clear impact on the German people, who tend to be critical of the United States in any case. According to recent surveys, more Germans support closer ties with China (61 percent) than with the United States (56 percent). Russia, by the way, comes remarkably close at 53 percent. There’s a very real danger that this mutual irritation will damage the very substance of transatlantic relations. And on that point, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière is right: There are more important issues in the world than spying on allies.
One of them is the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States. By dismantling barriers to trade and investment, it would draw the world’s two largest economic forces, with more than 800 million people, closer together. It would create growth and jobs in Europe and America.
Above all, the treaty would set worldwide standards regarding sustainability and the protection of health, consumers and workers.
The transatlantic treaty is ultimately an attempt to recognize Western standards around the world. Germany would seem to have the greatest interest here. Since 2012, it has occupied the top position in the index of global interdependence. The ranking by the McKinsey Global Institute measures worldwide exchange of goods, services, finances, people and data.
The current political crises in the Ukraine and the Middle East show how much Europe and the United States depend on each other. Both constitute the core of the “West” – a term that, in view of shifting forces around the world, is acquiring new meaning. In its conflict with the European Union, Russia emphasizes its Russian-Eastern Orthodox values in a struggle against the “decadent West.” In the Middle East, political Islam is striving to establish theocracy as a counter-model to the western world. In the eyes of emerging powers, China has proven that economic growth is also possible in authoritarian systems.
Spying revelations have had a clear impact on the German people, who tend to be critical of the United States in any case.
The proposed trade partnership offers a historic opportunity to create a second transatlantic bond alongside the NATO military alliance. It comes as the United States considers a “pivot toward Asia” and expects more and more that Europe share the burden of ensuring global security. On the other hand, Washington wants to retain its influence in Europe.
For Europe, the treaty is an opportunity to define its place in a shifting world and prove its ability to act. Europe is in fact the largest trading power in the world, has the second most important currency and provides more foreign aid than any other organization. Over the past 10 years, the European Union has carried out 23 civil and military missions on three different continents. Europe has shown itself capable of action in both the financial crisis and the Ukraine conflict.
In negotiating standards that would be established under a new trade partnership, Europe must defend its model. The concerns of Europeans about social, environmental and food standards must be taken seriously. The European Parliament and national governments should be allowed to participate in these decisions.
But it is also clear that, in the 21st century, Europe cannot stand alone. It must seek out the right partners. The criteria here are capability of action and shared values. For this reason, Europe’s partnership with the United States, in spite of all the current problems, must continue and improve in the future.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is about more than chlorinated chickens from the United States possibly finding their way onto European plates It is a strategic project of foreign policy.
Hans-Dieter Heumann is president of Germany’s Academy for Security Policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.