Germany Needs United States, Must Move Beyond Spy Scandal

Arend Oetker, CEO of Arend Oetker in 2007. ADJUSTED2 Source DPA
Arend Oetker, CEO of Dr. Arend Oetker Holding GmbH & Co.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    For Germans, trust in the United States has been deeply shaken by the recent spy revelations. The author argues that the relationship needs to be repaired for both sides’ sake.

  • Facts


    • The United States should renew its relationship with Germany on the basis of respectful cooperation.
    • Negotiations about the free trade agreement or TTIP have become more difficult because of the spying affair, but the talks must continue.
    • Without U.S. involvement, Germany can’t solve any global problems.
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The spying activities of the U.S. secret services in Germany have become a severe test of German-American relations.

Germany’s federal government reacted to the latest revelations by demanding that the top representative of the U.S. secret services in Germany leave the country and by having the activities of “friendly” countries within its borders more closely monitored in the future.

These were the right steps to take because with this latest move the Americans had crossed the line with their spying on our constitutional authorities. Since then, the trust in the United States has been shaken in this country. As friends and partners of the Americans, we think we have been treated badly. But now we have to overcome this crisis. And we should try to look forward as quickly as possible, while keeping in sight our common interests.

The United States should renew its relationship to Germany on the basis of respectful cooperation, since we are among their most reliable and stable partners. The transatlantic relations are politically and economically of vital significance to Germany. Our trade and investment relations are orientated on long-term basic conditions that are very favorable to us. The American market is and remains of crucial significance to my company’s shareholding interests (Hero, KWS Saat, and Cognos) as well.

“Even if the U.S. reputation in the German population has suffered as a result of the NSA affair, I consider it to be dangerous and somewhat naive, as well, to question our integration with the West. ”

The ongoing negotiations over the common free trade agreement TTIP have become more difficult due to the crisis in confidence, but we must continue them. Particularly at the moment, the talks present a two-fold opportunity. On the one hand, TTIP can deepen our economic relationships and result in more jobs in Europe. On the other, we can demonstrate in the negotiations that we are speaking to each other as equal partners. The negotiations can strengthen the trust in each other.

I do not share the fears that we must lower our protective standards to reach an agreement.  Automobiles are, for instance, very safe on both sides of the Atlantic. Through the mutual acceptance of standards, differing specifications could be dropped, like those for turn signals, airbags, or mirrors. This could help reduce production costs and would be advantageous to both sides.

In many discussions, I have gained the impression that Washington wishes for Germany to contribute more actively internationally than has been the case up to now and accept a leadership role commensurate with its economic and political importance. In all issues of world politics, be it the Ukraine crisis or free trade talks, America keeps a sharp eye on Germany. We are perceived as the central player in Europe. That is why we must discuss if and how we want to take part more actively in world politics.

I consider the demands in this context that Germany should emancipate itself from its great ally America to be misdirected. In my opinion, it is much more a matter of how Germany represents its interests. The integration into and membership in the European Union has put us on an equal standing with the United States, both politically and economically. We must, however, ask ourselves just how far Germany is also then willing to defend its political and economic values within the European Union and NATO.

Even if the U.S. reputation in the German population has suffered as a result of the NSA affair, I consider it to be dangerous and somewhat naive, as well, to question our integration with the West. Many of those with political responsibility in Washington share our concern that America is putting its close partnership with Germany at stake with its methods. But we shouldn’t make things too easy for ourselves either. The United States is a guarantor of international security, on which Germany also is dependent. We profit from U.S. military strength. It is still part of the reason Germany can act with restraint in security policy matters and more easily play mediator.

To me it is certain that we can solve none of the global problems without the United States. But we also need the partnership of other countries such as Russia. In this respect, we must keep talking to both countries, even if relations with Russia are stuck in a serious crisis at the moment. I consider the E.U. sanctions imposed on Russia to be correct and necessary. But even in the Cold War, Germany pursued a wise “Ostpolitik.” Germany enjoys high regard in international politics, and our economy is globally integrated. This gives us clout in both directions, East and West.

The author is CEO of Dr. Arend Oetker Holding GmbH & Co., president of the German Council on Foreign Relations, a board member of the Berlin Philharmonic and an honorary member of the Presidium of the Federation of German Industries. He can be reached at:

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