The coordinator of the German Foreign Ministry, responsible for transatlantic relations and foreign policy speaker of the CDU/CSU faction in the German Federal Parliament, Juergen Hardt, was the invited guest speaker at the MAC Summer Lunch, which took place August 7th in Bonn.
In his opening remarks former State Secretary under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Friedhelm Ost, spoke about the present world order as one which seems to be in dissolution. He quoted the chairman of the Munich Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger, who had characterized the present world as a “world out of balance”. While the war in Syria is continuing, we are confronted with a very instable situation in Afghanistan, as well as with the dissolution of states in the Arab world, exemplified by Libya as well as Nigeria and Mali, Ost stated. While a solution in response to these “failed states” is not in sight, it is clear that in order to achieve a reasonable world order we need to have good relations with the Russian President Putin. Without Russia, Ost stated, no solution can be found for the global strategic questions.
At the same time the EU is confronted with major challenges, demonstrated by the “Brexit” vote as well as tensions in France, which is living through a renationalization wave. Equally worrisome is the relation between Turkey and the EU, since Turkey represents the most important flank in Southeastern Europe. In respect to the Presidential elections which will take place November 8/9th in the US- the former State Secretary had recently visited twice the U.S., among other events he had been in Cleveland where he had met high ranking representatives from both parties,- Ost stated that even if Hillary Clinton is very popular and ahead of Trump, some Republicans had stated that the danger arising from Trump is still not banned.
In the month of April the German Federal Government had given signals that it wants to give a new impulse to the transatlantic relations. Ost also spoke about the problem of the “generation change”: many German citizens, who had fled from the Nazi dictatorship into the US, have passed away. The same goes for many American soldiers who after the Second World War had been stationed in Germany. Today we deal on both sides of the Atlantic with a generation whose knowledge about the EU and Germany as well as the knowledge about the US is only rudimentary. This is also caused by the ethnic/ demographic shifts within the US population structure. Ost underlined that the distance on both sides of the Atlantic had grown.
New Impulses needed for transatlantic relations
The coordinator for transatlantic relations in the German Foreign ministry Juergen Hardt- after having returned from a visit in the US and Canada- qualified the “transatlantic relations as a second pillar on which the foreign policy relations of the Federal Republic is based.” He emphasized that within the next weeks efforts will be made to discuss the EU/ Canada “Comprehensive Economic and Free Trade Agreement” (CETA) in the European Council and in the German Federal Parliament and bring it to a successful conclusion. The same goes for the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” TTIP which in the future will include 50% of the world trade. If this treaty would fail, the only remaining alternative would be China/ Russia and India.
In respect to the EU Hardt noted that despite the “Brexit” vote Great Britain continues to play an indispensable role for the Military and Security Policy of the EU. After the experience of the last weeks and months Hardt stated that many things needed to change in the EU structures. 15 years ago the EU made a strong call for growth. Today it directs its attention to questions such as how to deal with the youth unemployment – one of the big problems in the EU. Another major concern is the issue of migration and refugees; the question how to secure the borders and how to shape the security at the borders. What is at stake – 60 years after the signing of the Rome treaty (signed 25th of March 1957) - is the EU ability to act. Therefore what is needed in the future is a Europe which acts more along “intergovernmental structures”.
In respect to the transatlantic relations Hardt spoke about the well- established German- American relations which had functioned very well after the Second World War. During the last decades alone 22 Million American GI’s and civilians had served in Germany. This was linked to a deeply intertwined network within the regional and local structures in Germany. He pointed out that if we want to judge the present status of transatlantic relations it is necessary to take into account the factor of demographic change on both sides of the Atlantic. This concerns the ethnic composition of the American as well as German society – which as the example of the growing Hispanic population in the U.S. demonstrates- , has changed. This can be observed in the youth exchange programs, the exchange of pupils on both sides of the Atlantic and the question, that many young people judge the transatlantic relations on the basis of a different cultural background. At the same time new items determine the transatlantic debate. Hardt noted that during his visit to the Federal states of Minnesota and Nevada, he had seen great interest in the German education system , especially the very successfully applied “dual education system” (parallel schooling and learning at job places) for young people in Germany. Similarly in the US there is a lot of debate about the German “Energiewende” (change in energy policy to renewable energy production f.i.) and the effect which this also could have in the US. While the German Federal government tries to bring the negotiations about CETA and TTIP to a successful conclusion, people very much look forward to the upcoming US presidential elections. A year ago, as Hardt stated, he had talked to representatives of the Republican Party, who at that time had declared that Trump wouldn’t have any chance to make his way into the White House; these representatives are today even more shocked today than some EU observers about the U.S. election campaign.
Intergovernmental decisions by European states are needed
During the discussion many contributions dealt with questions concerning the future security policy orientation of the EU. One discussant reminded a contribution which 25 years ago had been made today’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who had stated then that in the future we needed a EU which rather than orienting along the EU Commission should orient more along an “intergovernmental model”.
The discussant stated that Turkey is one the biggest challenges for the EU and the Mideast. He reminded the first military coup in Turkey which took place 1960, a period during which many people got arrested; nevertheless General Gürsel kept in power for 10 years. In 1980 a second coup occurred under General Kenan Evren, where 60.000 people got arrested. It was a military dictatorship in civilian disguise. The discussant pleaded for a “prudent policy” in respect to Turkey given its strategic significant role at the South Eastern flank of Europe.
Another participant asked a question why there was such an aggressive rhetoric used by NATO (Jens Stoltenberg et al) in respect to Putin, who in turn is using a rather moderate language in respect to NATO. An additional contributor pointed to the increased strategic importance of Africa in respect to the migration, the situation in Libya and the necessity to have a coordinated refugee policy of the EU (giving much more assistance for Italy and Greece).
Abrupt changes are on the agenda
In these days some observers have commented with concern and astonishment the meeting between the Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Putin in St Petersburg.
Nine months after the shooting down of a Russian Su 24 by the Turkish air force, which provoked a political paralysis in the relations between Russia and Turkey, combined with economic sanctions and sharp war rhetoric between both countries, a new strategic rapprochement is taking place between the two countries. This could affect the situation developing at the South Eastern NATO flank, as well as have effects for the possible settling of the Syria conflict.
As the example of Turkey and a review of events in the past months demonstrated, we live in a period of abrupt strategic changes, of a world which is in disorder and where the old paradigms of the past are no more valid. The situation is comparable to those tectonic changes 1989/90, when the communist regimes and the SU collapsed. Opposite to the U.S. dream of a unipolar world order, a multipolar world order has come to the fore with new global actors such as China, India and Russia. The EU since last summer’s “Migration crisis” and the “Brexit” vote is confronted with an identity crisis. It is – as can also be observed in the U.S. –confronted with the question, how the widening gap between the ruling elite and the people can be bridged. An abruptly changing global strategic situation demands swift reaction and a strategic innovative thinking from the side of the political responsible people; a thinking which cuts away from fixed schemes and prejudices and avoids to react in a “defensive “ and reflex- like way to future world events.