Weekly Review

The (still)birth of a European foreign policy

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Source: Bloomberg, DPA [M]

May 2018 could one day enter history books as the moment when the EU countries including Germany at last embarked on a common foreign policy. The catalyst, as long expected, will have been an external power. Not, however, a common foe, but an ostensible ally: America’s Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump would have accomplished this feat with a diplomatic twofer. First, he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, risking nuclear escalation in the Middle East and wrecking Europe’s signature diplomatic effort. Second, he rushed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel, a day of celebration to Jews but “nakba” (catastrophe) to Palestinians. What will be remembered are the simultaneous images of Ivanka Trump opening the embassy amid faux glamor while Gazan youths were hurling themselves toward their ghetto wall to be mowed down by Israeli soldiers shooting live ammo.

Mr. Trump’s motives are moot. But two things are already clear. First, the burden of keeping the Iran deal alive – and, more generally, of steering Iran away from terrorism and toward moderation – now falls on the “E3”: Germany, France, Britain. The E3, moreover, may need to resort to tools such as a “blocking regulation” to ward off sanctions imposed by the US on European firms for continuing to do business with Iran. In effect, America would turn from ally to adversary.

Second, in the separate but contiguous conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the US and Europe can no longer pretend to be aligned. The US has forfeited its role of honest broker by blaming the Gazan deaths solely on Hamas, whereas the Europeans have called the Israeli response what it was: disproportionate. Germany, extra-sensitive as history behooves it to be, frowns on Hamas and Israel alike. If there is today an honest broker, it may ironically be Germany, the root cause of both Israel and nakba.

Angela Merkel and her EU peers have certainly grasped the urgency of the moment. For now the E3 are trying to align their foreign policy for oomph. And yet a deeper coalescence may yet again prove elusive, for each European nation brings its own traumas and obsessions.

For Germany to play a diplomatic role even remotely commensurate with its economic and moral weight, it would need to boost military spending far beyond its paltry 1.2% of GDP. But domestic politics may not allow it. France and Britain, with narratives of glory rather than shame, bristle at giving up their last bit of genuine sovereignty, which is foreign relations.

That is why the history books may also mention 2018 this way: As the moment when Europe tried, but again failed, to draw together in facing a dangerous world.

To contact the author: kluth@handelsblatt.com

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