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“Partners in tough times” – Harald Leibrecht in the Frankfurter Rundschau

19.07.2011 - Interview

Article by Harald Leibrecht, Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, in the Frankfurter Rundschau

The United States is and will remain Germany’s closest partner outside Europe. This is a fundamental of German foreign policy and just as valid today as it was twenty or fifty years ago. Our relations with the United States and Canada are close, they have evolved over decades, they are tried and tested. We are linked not only by these long-standing ties but also by a shared heritage and values.

I myself was born in the American city of Chicago and grew up in Germany. Two of my brothers live with their families in the United States. And they don’t just live there, they’re American citizens. As I see it, they feel and think 90% as Americans. And what they think about life, the world in general and politics, too, for that matter, they tell me straight out, without beating about the bush. These close family ties give me a grandstand view, so to speak, of what’s going on in America. But of course I also have good friends in the United States and Canada, where I spent many happy days as a child. And obviously through my work, too, I have a host of contacts there. I know just how closely Germany and the United States, Germany and Canada are connected, especially at civil society level. But I also know what separates us. The Americans aren’t simply “Europeans of a sort”. And we’re not “Americans of a sort”. That’s something I try to explain to people on both sides of the Atlantic.

The crucial factor in relations between North America and Germany is the many things we share. Thousands of German pupils, for example, spend a “high school year” in the United States or Canada and many German and American students study at universities in the partner country. The United States is Germany’s number one trading partner outside the EU. And for the United States Germany is the number one trading partner in Europe. Together the United States, Canada and the EU generate over 50% of global GDP. Wherever Germany is engaged internationally, we act in close cooperation with our partners on the other side of the Atlantic. We’re working together to build stability in Afghanistan, prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, promote peace in the Middle East and help advance peace, the rule of law and democracy in the Arab world.

The environment, however, in which we work together has now changed. In a world that seems increasingly precarious, with regimes toppling across the Arab region and an ongoing economic and financial crisis, the United States wants and indeed has no option but to let others shoulder greater responsibility. It needs partners that are capable of assuming and exercising leadership. And it doesn’t automatically look to Germany and Europe here. Many decision-makers in North America have personal ties not with Europe, but with Latin America and Asia.

For Germany this means we’re clearly duty-bound to live up to our responsibility as the world’s fourth largest economy and the European Union’s largest member country. This we fully understand. We intend to live up to this responsibility to the very best of our ability. That is what the United States quite rightly expects. But what exactly this responsibility entails for Germany, how we interpret it in the light of our own history and values is a matter for us Germans to decide. We often agree with the United States about what that involves – and sometimes we see things differently. It’s important that we actively communicate the way we see the world and the thinking behind it not only to decision-makers in America but to ordinary people as well, irrespective of whether they look first in the direction of Europe or in the direction of the Pacific or Latin America.

The US Administration certainly looks in the direction of Germany, as Obama clearly showed recently, when he gave a state banquet for Chancellor Merkel and bestowed on her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award. North America and Europe, North America and Germany – as transatlantic partners we can play a crucial role in shaping the world of the 21st century.

That obviously applies to the realm of foreign and security policy. But in the current financial crisis, at a time of tough global competition, it must also apply to the realm of economic and financial policy.Catchphrases like “e-mobility” and “green technology” highlight the emergence of new standards and industries of vital importance to our common future. Close transatlantic cooperation will enable us to pool our economic resources and together achieve greater prosperity. And close cooperation will also help us address issues such as integration, job creation and an ageing society. We face similar challenges, we have many shared values, we are keen to learn from one another – also through new networks connecting cities and regions, research institutes and universities. Ultimately of course it’s all about connecting people.

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