Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is seen more often on CNN than in Berlin these days but on Thursday evening, he took the stage to deliver the keynote address for the launch of Handelsblatt Global Edition. His theme was the U.S.-Germany relationship, and how it is more important than ever to revive it.
He has a vested interest in the topic. Since he resigned as German defense minister in 2011, after accusations that he had had plagiarized large sections of his doctorate thesis, Mr. zu Guttenberg has built up a career as a transatlantic specialist in New York.
Explaining Germany to America is a job that needs doing. The two countries are drifting apart, and old prejudices are re-emerging.
“We, from a German perspective, tend to see the Americans as hotheads,” he said, adding: “Americans see us as slow, as reactive, as unable to unite, submerged in our own infighting and unwilling to take risks. And looking at the never ending euro crisis or how divided we are when facing Russia justifies at least part of their critique.”
Whistle blower Edward Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency had regularly spied on Internet users around the world, and had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone hit the already faltering U.S. German relationship hard. The German resentment of Google’s dominance, and U.S. irritation about what it perceives to be Germany’s reluctance to support its foreign policy goals are also weakening ties.
But the world faces a set of challenges that can only be solved through co-operation between the two countries.
“Neither nostalgia nor hurt feelings in Berlin and Washington are sufficient policy tools,” he said.
The launch of Handelsblatt Global Edition was, he said, perfectly timed. There is a new generation of Americans, now writing policy documents in the White House and the Pentagon, who are not of European descent. Their families come from Asia, or from Latin America. They have no inherent understanding or love of Europe. A European newspaper, written in English, may, he said, be the best way of engaging them.
Handelsblatt Global Edition has high ambitions. A daily digital newspaper, led by editor in chief Kevin O’Brien, it aims to explain Germany and German concerns to the English-speaking world. Publisher Gabor Steingart sees it as a way for Germany to “join in the global debate,” and express the continental European viewpoint on the world stage.
It is put together by a multi-lingual team of reporters based in Berlin, who work closely with the 300 journalists in the Handelsblatt publishing group, to publish a paper at 12 noon German time, 6 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast.
For Dieter von Holtzbrinck, whose father founded the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, Handelsblatt Global Edition is a way to overcome cultural barriers, and to build bridges. America’s ambassador to Germany, John. B. Emerson, also told the audience that the new project is “another lane on the bridge across the Atlantic.”
There is little doubt that this lane is needed. Mr. zu Guttenberg pointed out there are several policy areas where the icy relations between the U.S. and Germany is hampering progress. Talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is meant to lead to a free trade zone between the United States and the European Union, are faltering, and Germany’s resentment and suspicion of American technology companies is making it fall behind in the digital race.
“To keep our strong position will require cooperation with those who are experienced and who are closest to us in terms of values, and shared experience,” he said. And for now, like it or not, those people are most likely to be Americans.