Spy vs Spy

Muted U.S. Response to Protests Over Spying Has Germans Rethinking Transatlantic Ties

Angela Merkel wird 60
The spying scandal has strained relations between U.S. President Barack Obama and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, here seen on the balcony of the Chancellor's office in June 2013.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The U.S. reaction to German anger over U.S. spying has reinforced among many Germans their unequal footing in the transatlantic alliance.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • There is little evidence American political or business leaders pay any attention to German goals and domestic laws.
    • Sanctions imposed by the U.S. to further its foreign policy initiatives hurt German and European banks.
    • Only an honest approach as true partners will create a strong, long-lasting bond between the two countries.
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    Audio

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Much of Germany’s relationship to the U.S. is one-sided. Partnership is not the appropriate term and more candor is necessary to make a new start in this long-standing alliance.

When Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently said it was time “to revive the partnership with the USA on an honest basis,” his choice of words was telling. What must be revived never really existed if the relationship was built upon a lie. There has rarely been much openness between us.

We have lived quite well under the protective shield of the superpower, but by now, the facade of partnership has crumbled so badly it emphasizes the naked reality of the disproportionate power wielded by the United States.

When it becomes clear that American Internet giants such as Facebook and Google couldn’t care less about German laws covering data privacy protection, we console ourselves by saying these laws must be outdated or unrealistic.

European banks doing business with countries listed in an index based on American directives, whose binding international impact is highly questionable, must endure existence-endangering sanctions from the United States. It’s inconceivable America would do something comparable for us.

When it becomes clear that American Internet giants such as Facebook and Google couldn’t care less about German laws covering data privacy protection, we console ourselves by saying these laws must be outdated or unrealistic.

If a German scholar is invited to deliver a lecture at the invitation of an American university, they must apply for a visa before traveling. No such barriers exist for U.S. academics invited to Germany. In fact, it is much easier for U.S. citizens to attain a residency or a work permit in Germany than it is for Germans seeking similar accommodations.

We’ve learned that the United States has for many years been illegally gathering information throughout Europe with embassies and consulates stuffed with surveillance technology. Nothing comparable to this intelligence-gathering effort exists on this side of the Atlantic. Only now are discussions beginning to emerge about whether we should risk counter-espionage against the Americans.

The list of asymmetries between America and Germany is extensive. If we do not insist on equal treatment in such matters, we don’t need to resume talking about partnerships. We will never attain it.

Norbert Häring writes from Frankfurt for Handelsblatt. He can be reached at haering@handelsblatt.com

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