The fall of Afghanistan at the latest has made it clear that an era of German foreign policy has come to an end: the slacking off at the international level under the protection and shadow of the superpower USA. The United States is focused on its national interest and dealing with China.
Internationally operating German companies are caught in the crosshairs of geo-economic rivalries between the great powers USA and China. Germany is one of the most interdependent and therefore one of the most vulnerable economies in the world. With a European policy, Germany should focus more on its interests in order to strengthen the economic power resources that still exist and to regain international creative power.
In trade policy it becomes most clear that Germany and the EU can no longer rely on their traditional status as allies – but, like all other states, are urged by the USA to negotiate agreements that primarily take American interests into account.
In order to counter this and to be taken seriously as an equal negotiating partner, the EU should in future better grow its market size with the pound. By diversifying, Europe can reduce its dependence on the US market by concluding further bilateral and regional free trade agreements.
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Enhancing Europe militarily
In order to open up alternative markets and also to export European norms and standards, further efforts are necessary, for example to advance negotiations with the Latin American (Mercosur) and Asian (Asean) countries as well as with Australia, New Zealand and India. Because this worldwide network of agreements would become all the more important if the rules-based multilateral trading system, i.e. the World Trade Organization (WTO), were to continue to break down.
Germany and Europe should coordinate better in order to bring their economic strength to bear. By improving its domestic demand and by making further investments, especially in the education, digital and energy sectors, the Federal Republic of Germany can ensure that the current account surplus is reduced – also in the interests of the European partners.
The European states and institutional investors could invest their capital reserves more profitably and strategically in the euro and the economic and military strengthening of Europe, instead of continuing to finance the exorbitant US national debt, which is getting out of hand. This would also arm the continent for geo-economic competition.
Only the European alliance guarantees market power and options for action so that European countries can operate and live independently. A deep, liquid market for secure EU bonds would encourage future investments, for example in digitization and the ecological restructuring of the economy, and would be helpful in further developing the euro into a global reserve currency. A strong euro not only ensures the EU’s economic capacity to act, but also the possibility of an independent European foreign and security policy.
French-German air combat system
In order to refute the increasingly clearly articulated demands on the allies for higher military spending and to invest in their own security in the USA, European governments should top up the defense fund, the European Defense Fund, which has existed since 2017. This could improve Europe’s defense capabilities and preserve its industrial base.
In the next two decades, extensive resources – estimated at up to 300 billion euros – would be required for the planned Franco-German air combat system, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), in order to increase Europe’s sovereignty in the military and IT sectors.
So far, there has also been no common stance among European countries towards the Chinese tech giant Huawei’s request to integrate its 5G technology into the network infrastructures of European countries – and to open this up to China’s influence and espionage, particularly Washington’s fears. By opting for a European solution (providers such as Ericsson in Sweden and Nokia in Finland), Germany could help overcome the division within the EU – and in the transatlantic relationship.
In order not to get caught in the dilemma of Sino-American rivalry, Europeans should also strengthen their ability to make sovereign decisions based on their own values and rules. The dominant business model of American online platforms also endangers the security, prosperity and democratic quality of Europe. The European competition watchdogs are therefore well advised to limit the power of the large American and Chinese digital companies, at least in Europe.
Independence in the technology sector
Above all, independence in the technology sector forms the core of Europe’s sovereignty and the ability to act autonomously. In order to guarantee its collective security and ability to act, it is necessary for Europe to control its maritime, energy and digital infrastructure itself and also to confidently set the standards that are imposed on European companies.
It would also be in the interest of the whole of Europe to act together against the power-political dominance of American and Chinese corporations in the expansion of the Internet infrastructure in Europe’s neighborhood. Who owns submarine cables and which routes they take have become a question of power in an increasingly fierce geo-economic competition between the US and China, in which Europe has so far been left behind.
Underwater cables play a crucial role in economic development and security: companies and states can access information and financial data that is transmitted via the digital cables they manage. The USA owes its economic and military dominance to the mastery of civil and military use of new forms of communication, including radio, television, satellite and the Internet.
The basic prerequisite for all these instruments of European sovereignty is a strategic culture based on common interests. For so far, the inability of Europeans to reflect and work together on their sovereign interests has given other powers the opportunity to divide and weaken Europe.
Only a comprehensive strategic understanding enables the EU to bundle the interests of its member states and thus also to develop more economic and foreign-political weight in a “new” world order, previously determined by the interests of others.
If the European Union wants to be a global player and not the plaything of other powers, the next federal government should be more interested in the Champions League and less in the Bundesliga.
The author: Josef Braml is Secretary General of the German Group of the Trilateral Commission – a platform for the dialogue between political and economic decision-makers from America, Europe and Asia for the cooperative solution of geopolitical, economic and social problems.
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