Daily briefing

Pressing reset on relations with Washington DC

German Foreign Minister meets Italian Foreign  Minister
Talking about a new world order. Source: Getty images

Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister is recasting the trans-Atlantic relationship. It’s high time. He wants Berlin and Europe to become a counterweight to the fake news and fury coming from Washington. It’s a big step for Germany, but an important transition, and not just as the Trump presidency sinks into a legal morass. Mr. Maas said the US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. Now, it’s time for a balanced partnership, a sovereign Europe and a global alliance for multilateralism. His move comes from affection for the US; Mr. Maas described a moment during a visit there when, unobserved, a soldier took him aside and whispered, “please, don’t abandon America.” It touched his heart.

And his call touched Germans, who welcomed the call for a stronger stance from Europe. But can this change anything? To work, Mr. Maas will need European peers to unite on questions where the EU and the US differ, but Europe seems more divided than ever right now. Plus, from Nord Stream 2 to Iran, finding a different way to proceed will likely wind up costly and complicated. But I’m looking forward to hearing Europe put its money where its mouth is, either way.

It isn’t a moment too soon, though there are more problematic relationships than Washington. Berlin is finally waking up to the roiling chaos unleashed in the cyber realm and is taking belated, underfunded action at last. A new cyber security agency seeks to decouple the sluggish response to IT-based threats from the bureaucracy-saddled military. The agency is modeled after the Pentagon’s Darpa. With 30 employees and a €50 million budget, it’s way smaller than Darpa’s annual budget of €3.5 billion. Okay, so Darpa’s remit spans aviation, aerospace and developing new technology while Berlin will focus solely on cybersecurity.

But cyber defense must surely become a top priority as more news of Russian meddling emerges and Washington becomes more tough on Moscow. I hope Berlin recognizes it must become as agile as possible to respond to this new kind of threat.

And beyond cybersecurity, it’s time to figure out the way to manage the way digital platforms influence society. The New York Times reported on a study that showed increases in xenophobic Facebook posts in Germany correlate to a higher number of attacks on refugees. Beyond fines and demands that social media platforms remove hate speech – an important step – more is needed. The more sustainable way is surely education, though it will require greater imagination, engagement and investment. But it’s worth it, unless we leave society to crumble while we like cat photos.

Making conscious choices seems the way forward. Fresh from a visit to an outdoor movie theater this summer, I’m sorry to see the troubles faced by Germany’s cinemas. This is no surprise, with many platforms offering fun series to watch from the comfort of the couch, each more addictive than the last. Further troubles are poor shows from Hollywood and structural problems in funding. Here in Berlin, it’s easy to go see a movie; we’re spoiled with a Kino on every corner. But from high-street stores to the local movie theater, we are doomed to lose what we don’t use.

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