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Welcome to Berlin – the former capital of spies and focal point of the Cold War. Maybe there is no better place to fully grasp the complexity of the Transatlantic Partnership in all its dimensions and the issue and values that are at stake than in this city.
70 years after the establishment of NATO and the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, we suddenly find ourselves struggling with a burning question: How to update the Transatlantic Partnership for the next 70 years?
Many of the transatlantic certainties have been shaken given the current differences between the United States and Europe. In particular, the postwar liberal world order with its international institutions is increasingly called into question by the country that created it in the first place.
How can we find a new vision, a new “mission statement” for the transatlantic partnership for the next 70 years?
I will try to give you a bird’s eye perspective of the transatlantic partnership and focus on the following strategic challenges or questions:
One: China. What are the prospects, and perhaps the limits of a transatlantic deal on China?
Two: Russia. Regardless of its own ambiguity on Russia, what should the US realistically want and expect from Germany in terms of Russia?
Three: Multilateralism: Why do we think that effective multilateralism, and indeed a strong and united Europe, is not an antipode, but an advancement of the international order?
Let us for a moment remind ourselves of the strong pillars that have shaped the transatlantic partnership in the past 70 years:
First, the security pillar, with tens of thousands of US troops stationed in Germany and close security and defense cooperation in NATO.
Second, our strong economic ties, with the EU and the US forming the largest bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world.
Third, the human and cultural dimension, with a solid relationship that has been built by many generations of close personal friendships.
For the time being, these pillars remain in place, although the recent debates about transatlantic burden-sharing in NATO or the looming threat of an EU-US trade conflict have weakened transatlantic trust.
Let’s not be mistaken: This is a joint task. Every partner has to do assume responsibility. And yes, Germany has to do its homework in terms of transatlantic burden-sharing and increasing its defence capabilities.
As Foreign Minister Maas has pointed out repeatedly, it is in our own interest to contribute more to our common security. But burden sharing is much more than reducing the debate solely to the 2% goal.
International responsibility is more than just paying for military equipment. It should also factor in contributions to foreign missions like Afghanistan. It must include other aspects like humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention measures, stabilization and post-conflict rehabilitation.
And if the US cut its support to UNRWA to zero does this affect our security in Europe.
This is even more true for the United States policy on Iran. This is a distressful example of US unilateralism that is short-term and inconsiderate of the interests of some of the US closest partners.
As Foreign Minister Maas has said on Monday in Brussels, we entirely share the US goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and we would like to see a different role of Iran in the region.
But we are very worried to see the US abandon an agreed diplomatic solution. We remain convinced that the JCPoA is key to increasing stability and security in the Middle East region and will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
So far, the US government has not been able to present us with an alternative plan to achieve that goal in a peaceful way.
The current situation in the region is extremely dangerous and we will do everything to prevent another war in our neighborhood. We expected from our American friends not to fuel the situation with more aggressive rhetoric.
The most recent US decisions not to extend waivers with regards to trade in oil with Iran and not to fully renew waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects in the framework of the JCPoA have put additional pressure on the agreement.
As long as Iran is fully and verifiably committed to the implementation of the JCPoA, the Europeans will work hard to preserve the agreement.
Let me now turn to the strategic challenges or themes that I have mentioned earlier.
The question of how to handle the rise of China has lately qualified as the prime candidate for a new transatlantic agenda or deal. It is no doubt one if not the strategic challenge that will shape the international agenda of the 21st century.
Germany wants and needs good relations with China. China is a huge trading partner and irreplaceable export market, both for Germany, the EU and the United States.
At the same time, there is growing awareness how China’s economic and political rise has affected its ambitions to become a global rule-maker rather than just a rule-taker.
The core issue at stake is how to defend and protect our rules-based order as embodied by international law.
What is needed in light of China’s role in the world is not a trade war, but more western unity in the dialogue with Bejing:
We should therefore work together when we try to get China to accept greater responsibility as an international player and a leading economic power by combating unfair Chinese trade practices such as on 5G, Intellectual Property, market access restrictions or regulatory discrimination. There is also a need to jointly go about reforming the WTO.
However, there is a major stumbling block for any transatlantic agenda on China:
How can the EU and Washington jointly challenge China’s unfair trade practices or mercantilist policies, when the EU is threatened with an EU-US trade conflict?
I cannot give you an answer here, but the lack of clarity or prioritization of US policy on China is pretty clear. If we see China as a promising field of transatlantic cooperation, we should strengthen each other, not weaken our own camp.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let’s have a look to the other strategic triangle, the US and Germany’s, or the EU’s, relations with Russia.
For the U.S. and Germany, Russia continues to be a revisionist power that has worked to expand its military and diplomatic reach around the world.
For Germany, however, Russia is also a geographic reality: It is our neighbor in Europe, and because of our common history we have a complex relationship that has been growing more difficult since at least 2014.
A lot of trust has been lost as Russia has repeatedly called the rules-based international order into question – by illegally annexing Crimea, interfering in eastern Ukraine, tolerating the use of chemical weapons in Syria and violating the INF Treaty, which is so crucial to European security.
From a European perspective, our goal is to maintain Russia’s ties with Europe and use it to get Russia back to adhere to international rules. As we see in nearly all international conflicts, solutions won’t work without Russia’s cooperation.
We need to build our own capacity to respond effectively to Russia’s interference in elections, cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.
The same goes for our capacity to respond to military threats and imbalances. That’s also why we have German troops in Lithuania.
If Russia breaks international rules, we need to call it out and issue a credible response. The EU has done so repeatedly, including by imposing sanctions.
The domestic dispute in the U.S. and in Washington D.C. is not for me to comment. But our message to the White House and Congress is clear: Sanctions must be coupled with clear political objectives. They must be targeted, and they must be reversible once the reason for imposing them no longer exists.
We cannot accept sanctions which do not meet these criteria and which affect partners more than they affect Russia. That is why we want to work with the US government towards re-establishing a synchronized sanctions’ approach vis-a-vis Russia.
If we want to maintain strong unity of purpose in dealing with Russia, extraterritorial and unintended consequences of US sanctions on European companies must be avoided.
We must invest in our strength and military resilience. However we also need the dialogue with Russia and continued support for Russian civil society. Russia’s isolation, self-imposed in many ways, would be dangerous. It cannot be in our interest, neither at present nor in the future.
Whether it is about Russia or about China - it all has to do with how we intend to uphold the multilateral world order.
This is where we’ve come full circle: We will only be successful in dealing with the strategic challenges if we reunite as transatlantic allies to defend the multilateral world.
Our political answer can’t be „Freiheit statt Brüssel“ (“Freedom, not Brussels”) as the AfD claims on its election posters for its Anti-European campaign. The answer is „Freiheit durch Brüssel“ (“Freedom, thanks to Brussels”):
By choosing Europe and submitting parts of our sovereignty to international institutions and in particular the European Union, Germany and the European Union have enjoyed the longest period of peace in our history. That is the path we want to follow as a country, as Europeans and in our international relations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Later this year, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 which ultimately opened the way for German unification.
The United States’ support to the divided Germany during the Cold War as to Germany’s quest for unity was overwhelming and immeasurable and is the heart of our unique bilateral relationship.
Our two countries are closely connected. We are currently celebrating the German-American friendship with “Wunderbar Together.” In February, some 50 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle visited Germany. This was also a visible sign of their commitment to the transatlantic partnership and to common policy approaches.
Let us embrace the ties we’ve forged in the last decades as we jointly move forward to update the Transatlantic Partnership for the next 70 years to come.
There is more that unites us than divides us.