On September 18, GMF held the third installment of its Transatlantic Talks series in Washington, DC, hosting Peer Steinbrück, a member of the Bundestag, chair of the German-U.S. Parliamentary Friendship Group, former German Federal Minister of Finance, and former chancellor candidate of the Social Democratic Party, to discuss the future of transatlantic trade and the U.S.-German relationship. GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried launched the event by welcoming participants and providing a framework for the convening series, which pairs senior governmental officials from one side of the Atlantic with senior journalists or members of the think-tank community from the other to discuss the most relevant issues in the transatlantic relationship. The conversation was moderated by Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes in the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project and non-resident transatlantic fellow at GMF.
Watch the Transatlantic Talk:
Stokes began the conversation by highlighting the findings of GMF’s recently released 2014 Transatlantic Trends report and what he called “disturbing trends” in public opinion in the United States and Europe. The report indicated that 50 percent of Europeans and 57 percent of Germans would like a more independent relationship from the United States. In response, Steinbrück suggested that there certainly has been disappointment with the United States from the European and German perspective. With the pivot to Asia, the divergence over the 2003 war in Iraq, and the recent NSA scandal, there are noteworthy disagreements between the transatlantic partners. To emphasize the last point, Steinbrück reinforced that the revelation of the NSA spying activities have “influenced the German media and the German public remarkably.” However, these challenges have all developed against the backdrop of other events that necessitate both sides of the Atlantic to act with greater cooperation, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), aggression by Russia against Ukraine, and the ongoing events in Syria and Iraq. Steinbrück remarked that an improved and revitalized transatlantic relationship “is more important than ever.”
Continuing with the theme of cooperative challenges for the transatlantic relationship, Stokes inquired about Steinbrück’s assessment of Germany’s relationship with Russia, Russia’s action in Europe’s east, and whether Germany has a “red line” for Russian action in Europe’s east. Stokes referred to the adage, “if you give a tyrant an inch, he will take a mile,” and questioned whether Germany had sufficient concerns regarding the seriousness of Russian action. Steinbrück reassured the audience that Putin’s action is not underestimated. “Putin is behaving like a declining great power, and declining great powers are very, very dangerous,” he said, arguing that to reassert itself, Russia is trying to establish an alternative narrative vis-à-vis a system of autocrats in Eurasia, and additionally, falling back to great power politics of the 19th century. Steinbrück said he believes we are seeing a new conflict of ideologies, which may not be shared by many others in his populace, but is manifested in Russia’s recent aggressions. On the theme of a German “red line” regarding Russian action in Europe’s East, Steinbrück referred to Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. He praised the unified approach that Europe and the United States have taken, and he suggested that the partnership has successfully implemented meaningful economic measures against Russia. Steinbrück suggested there is no NATO military option for the current situation in Ukraine.
Turning to the theme of economics and trade, Stokes highlighted what has been seen as a growing skepticism in Germany and Europe regarding TTIP and the rhetoric surrounding the negotiations. In response, Steinbrück commented that he does not believe that skepticism is only on one side of the Atlantic, but as the finalization of the agreement draws near, we will see growing criticism in the United States as well. To overcome the simmering criticism of TTIP and the misunderstanding associated with the agreement, he said that we need to see a stronger narrative coming from those outside of political circles. This should include NGOs, employers, and those that will benefit as employees. Emphasizing the importance of the agreement, Steinbrück commented, “TTIP is more than an investment and trade agreement, much more… it is a strategic issue to improve transatlantic relations,” suggesting that if it were to fail, the transatlantic relationship would suffer a decade’s worth of negative consequences. Furthermore, he argued for increased transparency, room for compromise, and real efforts to confront the misunderstanding surrounding the agreement.
Beyond these themes, other questions from Stokes and the audience incorporated issues surrounding the NSA spying revelations, European energy security, macro-economic issues in Europe, and the overall trend of European politics. To begin, Steinbrück suggested that the United States cannot speak of leadership and partnership while disregarding the latter. The spying revelations created specific sensitivities in Germany and complicated the narrative of the closer cooperation necessary to collectively address a range of issues, including TTIP and the crisis in Ukraine. Regarding German energy security, Steinbrück pointed to the centrality of two efforts: first, decreasing the dependence on Russian sources of oil and gas, and secondly, pursuing renewable energy policies. On macro-economic issues in Europe, Steinbrück highlighted the need for EU member states to focus on their comparative economic advantages. Consequently, for the sake of economic development, Europe must make smart investments in small- and medium-sized industries in sectors where it makes sense (e.g. tourism in Greece). To combat unemployment, Steinbrück commented that there must be short-term subsidies for the existing labor force because many of the solutions to Europe’s unemployment issues will take time. Finally, on the trend of politics in Europe, Steinbrück signaled his alarm with the way politics are evolving. Specifically, he argued the rise of the Front National in France could threaten the close Franco-German ties that have stood at the center of European politics since the 1950s.
This third installment of GMF’s Transatlantic Talks series was attended by over 100 representatives from the private sector, government, academia, the diplomatic community, think tanks, and media. The fourth installment in the Transatlantic Talks series is expected to take place later this fall.
GMF Transatlantic Talks series pairs high-level government officials from one side of the Atlantic with senior journalists or members of the think-tank community from the other side to discuss the issues most relevant to the transatlantic community. SPD/Marco Urban