Grow up!

America first? With a new era in transatlantic relations, the Old Continent needs to take its fate into its own hands and defend its own interests…

Germany and Europe have come to the conclusion that they need to take their fate into their own hands. And indeed, they should seize the opportunity. Donald Trump’s “America first” policy has forced the nations of the Old Continent to grow up and stand in defense of their own interests – which, of course, vary among the 28 EU states. This means we must negotiate common positions within the EU community, lest the European Union disintegrate and its member states decline into obscurity. As the EU’s largest exporting country, this would be particularly painful for Germany.

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra La pyramide du Louvre Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra La pyramide du Louvre Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

International solidarity

After meeting with President Trump at the G7 summit of leading industrial nations and at the NATO summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented: “The times in which we could rely fully on others – they are, to an extent, over.” And even apart from Donald Trump’s at times uncouth manner, this is a conclusion that has been long overdue.
Almost 70 years ago, the catastrophe of the Second World War, which had been launched by Germany, brought Europe to the brink of destruction and Germany past the point of moral collapse. In the wake of this devastation, the countries of Western Europe chose to relinquish a significant portion of their independence. Like Romulus and Remus, they found a safe harbor and succor under the teats of America. American money was crucial to the reconstruction of the European economy. The shield of US military power, including the presence of millions of GIs such as Elvis Presley, helped secure the freedom and independence of Western Europe.
After just a brief tenure in office, President Trump has already decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. This is a catastrophe of unforeseeable dimensions, both for the US and Europe, and for the world. And Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is correct in his statement that anyone who does not stand in opposition to US policy shares some of the blame. But transatlantic relations are complex. One of the key aspects is the question of security. In this respect, Trump’s demand that each NATO member spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense is a reasonable one. More than seven decades after the end of the Second World War, it is unreasonable to expect that the United States continue to bear the larger share of the burden of ensuring Europe’s security. The EU must do more in this respect. At the same time, we must acknowledge the aid and support that Europe provides to the poorer countries of the world. EU countries provide this aid not simply out of international solidarity, but also as a matter of self-interest. Hunger and underdevelopment outside Europe’s borders is a driving factor in violence and war. This in turn has helped spur mass migration of people to the EU, who often struggle to integrate and assimilate here.
For highly developed economies such as the US and the EU states – and Germany in particular – free trade is a matter of vital concern. Donald Trump has signaled that he plans to call this into question. But “America first” should not mean that Washington gets to dictate all the rules. Balancing the interests of all sides will be key. Google, Facebook, and Amazon are just as reliant on global trade as Mercedes, SAP, and Airbus.
The election of populist Donald Trump has dismayed many Europeans. They are ignoring the fact that this tendency is gaining root here as well. And not just in Hungary and Poland, but also in France, Austria, Britain, and the Netherlands. There is no easy solution to this mood and policy of chauvinism. But Donald Trump, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński, and Austria’s Heinz-Christian Strache would be well advised to remember that they will be leaving office one day. Their countries, however, will remain, as will the desire of their citizens for freedom and openness to the world. These values can best flourish in countries whose citizens and politicians are prepared to assume responsibility for their actions.■

Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra La pyramide du Louvre Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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