On January 28, 2015, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted The Honorable Dr. Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag and former federal minister for the environment, nature conservation, and nuclear safety for a Transatlantic Talk on the future of the transatlantic partnership. Melissa Eddy, Germany correspondent of the International New York Times, moderated the conversation. GMF’s Berlin Office Director Heike MacKerron welcomed the speakers and introduced the session, highlighting shifts in German public opinion about America’s role in the world.
To start the conversation, Eddy opened by asking Dr. Röttgen to discuss the current state of the transatlantic relationship. Röttgen noted the danger of taking this relationship for granted. Although the transatlantic alliance has been a success story so farRussia’s actions toward its neighbors was a development the West did not foresee. Indeed, contrary to U.S. and European expectations, Russia did not consider itself an essential element of the new European security architecture. Röttgen added that there was a false perception that, “at some time Russia will transform and the values and politics will follow the economy.”
Thus, Röttgen said, the question remains: “What is the sense and meaning of the Atlantic alliance?” He talked about a lack of focus in trying to redefine the alliance under new circumstances after the Cold War. “We have not started to readjust the meaning of NATO and the transatlantic alliance in a broader sense,” he said.
Speaking to the strategic alliance, Eddy remarked that, “a common thing that comes up from the American side is that Germany must take a stronger leadership role in NATO and foreign policy.” Eddy went on to ask Röttgen about the importance of German initiative in this process with regard to the Ukraine crisis and maneuvering from Washington.
Dr. Röttgen explained that Germany has been forced to take more responsibility. The Russia-Ukraine crisis was the first global crisis in which Germany assumed a leading role, forging European and transatlantic unity. The next step would be to communicate this responsibility better in order to secure support for this leadership. Röttgen underlined the need for Germany to act not as a country but as a part of Europe. “All those crises have to be understood as a wake-up call for European leadership,” he said.
Speaking to the European level, the discussion also touched on the TTIP negotiations, pointing out the necessity of bringing down the overly charged emotional German discussion while bringing the American public on board. Röttgen asserted the geostrategic importance of TTIP in the context of a shift in the power architecture. “Our big challenge is to give global chaos a global order,” he said, recalling the necessity to explain to Europe the essence of this agreement and to reset the narrative of the European project.
With regard to resetting the narrative, Eddy went on to ask about the NSA topic. Dr. Röttgen pointed out two elements. On one hand, the awareness of terrorist threats and the need to apply the tools of democracy to fight those challenges; on the other hand, the NSA scandal is perceived as a demonstration of mistrust and a violation of the U.S.-German relationship. He underscored the necessity to initiate a dialogue about those different perceptions in the field of Intelligence activities.
Finally, Eddy steered the conversation to the new global accord to combat climate change. Dr. Röttgen stated his hope to forge a new transatlantic alliance to combat climate change, which could contribute to demonstrate a credible new approach of the transatlantic alliance.
Giving his insight into a host of topics, Dr. Röttgen also fielded a range of questions from the audience. The discussion touched on the Ukraine crisis, divisions within Europe, and Putin’s strategy. In his comments, he stated that our position towards Russia cannot be dictated, rather it has to be created by the 28 members of the European Union. Dr. Röttgen also underscored the necessity to address current challenges related to youth unemployment, especially in Greece and in Spain, as well as the need for economic and political reforms. Röttgen stressed the importance of remaining ambitious regarding the TTIP agreement between the United States and Europe, saying that it should become a living agreement that can build on what has been achieved. The collateral damage on the German TTIP debate caused by the NSA scandal was also discussed. With regard to anti-Americanism, Röttgen characterized TTIP as an international answer to globalization, in the sense that it creates rules for engagement in an increasingly complex world.
In his concluding comments, Dr. Röttgen underscored Russia’s inappropriate attitude towards global challenges. “We are living in an interdependent world and we have to be part of it in order to exercise influence and Putin thinks he can insulate and isolate the country,” he said. “Nevertheless, wherever we can, we should engage with Russia. Our final goal is to reintegrate Russia into a European order but on the same time, we cannot compromise on the very fundamental rules such as self-determination and respect of integrity, and sovereignty.”