In unveiling their campaign program for the German election yesterday, Angela Merkel’s conservatives put forth a series of plans which at the heart, contained the promise and thrust for a unified, independent Europe. One could hardly not notice the severe undertone Merkel’s CDU had taken towards the United States and European reliance on it. The term “friendship” used in their last campaign program in reference to the US, was replaced with “partnership”. An old line of Merkel resurfaced again stating, “The times in which we relied on others are, to a certain extent, in the past. We Europeans must take our fate into our own hands more decisively than we have in the past.” This was un-doubtingly a response to the Trump Administration’s critical tone of Germany and the entirety of Europe. Merkel (and now Macron) seeks to consolidate European unity, and weaken European reliance on the United States of America. Although truly an idealistic goal, it begs the questions: How capable is Europe of taking its fate completely into its own hands? Can Europe afford to lose their “friendship” with the United States? Merkel talks big game, but facts seem to tell a different story.
Economically, there shouldn’t be much discussion taking place. Sure, deals will be made, revoked, there will be disagreements between the two sides, like the Banana Wars or Steel Tariffs. But at the end of the day, one cannot question the interdependence the United States and Europe have on one another economically. It is worth mentioning that Europe has a 511 Billion Euro impact on the United States, and the United States have a 452 Billion Euro impact in the EU (also worth mentioning American investment in Europe is larger, at 144.5 Billion in comparison to European 112.6). Their economic partnership will continue to be strong, seeing as a fracture in such would be damaging for both sides.
The fractures have emerged in other fields of cooperation since the Trump administration came to power. The President has been critical of NATO, Europe’s role in paying their defense dues, etc. On the other hand, the “Leader of Europe” Angela Merkel has not taken the criticism lightly, going on the counter-offensive with the statements mentioned above. Although Merkel would like to believe that Europe does not need to rely on the United States, she neglects key factors of the political climate domestically (in Europe) and internationally.
EUROPE’S INTERNAL DIFFERENCES
Europe has a lot on its domestic plate at the moment. A few of the key issues the Old Continent is facing are: Brexit, Economic Crisis in Southern Europe, the refugee crisis, populism, etc. How exactly does Merkel plan to stop relying on foreign partners and unifying a VERY diverse Europe, while engaging in issues which Europeans themselves do not agree on? Merkel’s statements for a self-reliant Europe are very far stretched, and rather unrealistic at the moment. It is important to keep in mind that the European Union is more or less an economic union. States maintain national authority and work in for their own Raison D’etat. The continent has yet to develop the mentality of a united entity on all fronts. Many countries, Britain included, are far from ready to relinquish their national sovereignty to laws dictated by Brussels. Maybe Europeans will unite in an American fashion some day, but for the time being Polaks are Polaks, Italians are Italians, the British are British and so on. National identities play a crucial role in the societies of Europeans countries, especially in the eastern part. it will take quite some time for those identities to be sacrificed in the name of a self-reliant Europe.
THE RISE OF POPULISM
When Americans think of Europe, Rome, London, Paris or Berlin come to mind. But there are also Sofia, Warsaw, Athens, Bucharest etc. Unlike its western counterpart, Eastern Europe has two key differences. For one thing, it is economically unstable, feeding off of funding from Brussels and surprise, Washington (which continues to give Eastern Europe foreign aid). Two, it is far more nationalistic and divided. But, what does this mean? For one thing, These countries will give Merkel a run for her money before she can try to take away their national pride. Two, keeping them in the Union is costly, but Brussels is so involved through investments in these countries that letting them go would be much more costly. On top of that, it is worth noting that a part of Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans, have yet to join the union. Belgrade is very prone to Russian influence, and Tirana has expressed they will “look for alternatives if Europe moves away.” And yet, having Tirana and Belgrade join at their current economic state is not a wise move either. The two also have a history of Ethnic tensions. More recently, Serbia has yet to recognize Kosovo, and Albania is campaigning for its recognition. There are also issues among Bosnians and Serbs, Macedonians and Albanians, Macedonians and Greeks, and so on. The Balkans are an undeniable part of Europe, but also its barrel of gunpowder. Unifying the Balkans is a task of its own, getting Eastern Europe on track a greater task, and as a result, putting Europe on the path of self-reliance is even more Herculean. The ball is in your court, Angela.
The rise of Populism among European nations has evidently diminished the authority of the European Union and by direct consequence Berlin. Last June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, delivering Europe its first and biggest populist blow. Previous to that, Presidential elections in Austria demonstrated the instability of Europeans’ political beliefs as well, with far right candidate Norbert Hofer winning almost 45 percent of the popular vote. In France, the historical socialists now sit at 29 seats out of their previous 280, in the Netherlands the Labor Party holds nine of their previous 38. The cases extend to other nations as well. Merkel’s party itself heads to polls in September, and although they are expected to win, her authority and plan for a united Europe is being challenged by the populism of member states. People are less trusting of Berlin and the EU as a whole (The British elections seem to stand apart, but the numbers are much more complicated there too and do not show the full picture). Adversaries of this thinking find comfort in the win of French President Emanuel Macron, but neglect the fact that many Frenchmen voted “the lesser of two evils” and while Macron received the votes of the entire French left and moderates, Le Pen managed to historically rally voters behind her nationalist rhetoric like never before. Her success is a clear sign of a growing discontent with Brussels and EU policies which undermine national sovereignty.
Europe faces many more internal problems which make “self-reliance” a relatively distant reality. The United States, of course, has historically stood by the side of her allies and has been involved in the domestic affairs of the European continent as well. The Yugoslav Wars of the 90s, foreign aid, helping with the transition of former communist countries, etc. But domestically, the EU can somehow manage to survive without American help (it would be difficult). The international political climate though, tells a different tale.
THE RUSSIAN THREAT
Apart from the fact that the European Union does not have a common defense policy, their individual military capabilities are extremely limited. Recall the Libyan air campaign, in which France exhausted its resources by conducting a few raids. European allies rely on NATO and the United States to serve as their defensive mantle against Russian aggression. The Russian threat, contrary to what many might think, is as alive and well as the days of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has been trying to expand Moscow’s influence in a “Manifest-Destiny” fashion throughout Eastern Europe and the Caucasus (recall Georgia and Ukraine). Not only is the Russian military superior to individual European states, their intelligence operations are widespread throughout the vulnerable parts of the continent as well. Prone to the Kremlin’s intelligence games are EU members such as Poland and the Baltic States, but also the Balkans. The Russian government has been throwing money into these vulnerable regions, buying media, politicians etc. In 2014 the Albanian Intelligence chief Visho Ajazi Lika, in an address to Parliament stated: “There are members working under Russian intelligence in this very parliament that we know of.” While earlier this year, sources claimed that Moscow was buying Media in Belgrade, Skopje, Tirana, and Podgorica. Europe’s borders have always been, and continue to be threatened by Putin.
The only productive counterintelligence which keeps the Kremlin at bay is American Intelligence. The CIA, FBI, NSA and more, are in direct cooperation with European intelligence. Not only do they provide plenty of logistics, information, and tactics, they also have a wider pool of resources and experience. Washington directly trains and supervises the intelligence services of many small Eastern European states, while also handing vital intel to the Germans, French etc. The United States is at the forefront of the intelligence wars taking place in the Middle East, Ukraine and further. These are areas which compose a great and direct deal of threat for Europe. Without American assistance, Europeans would spread their abilities thinly, with limited resources in the varying fields. The United States also maintains a military presence in Europe, vigilant and ready to protect European allies. This presence makes for a symbolic threat to Moscow, who’s intentions are far from involvement with the United States. An isolationist America would give Moscow complete freedom of operation in the region. Putin’s divide and conquer strategy is already hard to manage as it is, and is only being restricted by America. Merkel and Europe cannot unite in time to fight back against Russian progression within European politics without the United States.
A MERE PHASE
Although Merkel and Macron try to play the confident game, they are more than aware of the consequences Europe would face without the United States. That does not go to say America would not face repercussions as well, but Washington is in a position to do fairly well without European allies, Brussels is not. American isolationism in terms of foreign policy might weaken the United States, but will not be catastrophic, due to their alliances and influence far beyond Europe, and plentiful resources which make it somewhat self-reliant. Europe, on the other hand, would lose relevance in the International prestige game without America. It could be saved if united, but as explained, that event is still very distant, if not unrealistic.
Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron have taken the words of the Trump administration to heart (as they should), but their reactions are overreactions. European leaders need to be reminded that Americans hold elections every four years, and they need to read about the complexity of The United States’ political system. For America, this is a mere political phase, which surely will have its consequences, but will not remove the US from the map, Merkel needs to be more open minded to that fact.
By: Rex Nazarko
Image Credit: The New York Times