Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

According to European Media, Germany has long been troubled by what Germans describe as President Donald Trump’s “erratic policy.” Washington and Berlin are not only at a crossroads over key policy issues – for the first time since WW2, the foundation of Germany’s alliance with the US is in question. German politicians are wondering if they still share with the US president a commitment to a free market economy, the rule of law, and liberal democracy.

Recent reports suggest the German Government is particularly angry about Trump’s attempts to derail the nuclear deal with Iran, through his unilateral renewal of sanctions.

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In an op-ed piece titled “Making plans for a new world order,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass on Wednesday suggested President Trump’s unique style of governing only lent a sense of urgency to what has been an ever-widening gap between Europe and the US.

“The fact that the Atlantic has widened politically is by no means solely due to Donald Trump,” Mass wrote in Handelsblatt, a leading German-language business newspaper published in Düsseldorf. “The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing. The binding force of the East-West conflict is history. These changes began well before Trump’s election — and will survive his presidency well into the future. That is why I am skeptical when some ardent trans-Atlanticist simply advises us to sit this presidency out.”

Mass urges: “Let’s use the idea of a balanced partnership as a blueprint, where we assume our equal share of responsibility. In which we form a counterweight when the US crosses the line. Where we put our weight when America retreats. And in which we can start a new conversation.”

Reactions to the FM’s proposal were cautious, but favorable. Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that Maas expressed what she had already said: Europe must take its fate into its own hands. Maas and Merkel had exchanged views on the transatlantic relationship in recent weeks. They agree on the guidelines, including the strong, emerging notion that Europe can’t just keep away from Trump, but must itself become an active foreign policy player.

Merkel agreed that there are certainly problems with the Iran trade, referring to the US sanctions, which also keep German companies from doing business with the Iranians if they wish t continue doing business with the US.

“But on the other hand, we know that we need a close partnership with the US, especially on the issue of terrorist financing, where the Swift agreement is crucial.” In that context, Merkel argued on Wednesday, security cooperation with the US was “extremely useful and helpful.”

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) provides a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment. Following 9/11, the US Treasury, CIA, and other US government agencies initiated the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program which utilized SWIFT. The European Union has an agreement with the US government to permit the transfer of SWIFT transaction information which is relevant to the war against global terror.

Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, praised Mass’ proposal: “He is fundamentally right: the Americans are our partners, but we have to set ourselves apart,” Brok told Handelsblatt, stressing that Trump’s unilateral termination of the Iran Agreement and the US punitive tariffs against China showed that “on many issues, there is no longer a common Western strategy.”

“It is unacceptable that President Trump wants to impose his will on Europeans through extraterritorial sanctions against Iran, therefore, Maas’ push for a US-independent payment system is right,” Brok stated. He called on the EU states to always act in concert against Washington: “Trump must be aware that he always has to deal with the entire European Union,” Brok said.

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, David McAllister, supported the German Foreign Minister’s call to strengthen the European segment of NATO in order to gain strategic autonomy. McAllister noted that in defense, the EU has already made great progress in the past two years, establishing a deeper cooperation of members’ armed forces.

McAllister called for a new European Defense Fund, to facilitate the joint procurement of new drones and fighter aircraft. “Now it is time to reach majority-based foreign policy decisions at the political level to increase the capacity of the European Union to act,” McAllister said.

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