It’s TTIP, Stupid!

By Werner Sonne

After the announcement on developing an “Anti-Spy-Agreement”, one question has been swept under the rug. If there was no spying, why sign such an agreement? The NSA affair certainly did not help to maintain the impression of good ― even improved ― relations, created after President Obama’s visit to Berlin this past June.

Obvious hypocrisy and election campaign rhetoric aside, the effect of this scandal goes much deeper than a lot of critics in Washington want to believe. Germans have been through two dictatorships during which Nazi regime’s Gestapo and GDR era’s Stasi recklessly invaded citizens’ privacy, and they don´t want that to happen again.

While the NSA scandal will not be decisive for the outcome of the national elections on September 22, it certainly helped to stimulate a feeling of mistrust toward Big Brother USA.  It will die down after this crucial date in German politics, but it did increase a latent anti-American sentiment in many circles.

All polls point in the same direction: Angela Merkel will be the old and new chancellor, but whoever wins in September, the professionals will again move on to work on the most important project since the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This time, it is not about tanks, aircraft, nuclear bombs, and other military gadgets. It is not about military superiority. It is about the question: will the West be able to form a trade alliance that sets the economic standard for the rest of the world? Will this transatlantic alliance of 800 million people counter the emerging superpowers in Asia, Latin America, and even in Africa? Will the United States and Europe, including the economic powerhouse Germany, overcome all domestic hurdles and small-minded skeptics, who want to sabotage this project?

The battle cry will be: it’s TTIP, stupid!

In German political circles the determination is strong to move forward with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)―knowing full well that the road to get there will be rocky and very much up-hill.

Washington will need German leadership in Europe to achieve this ambitious target.

In the German foreign office, sources describe Germany’s task as helping to convince the more than reluctant governments in France and Great Britain to follow on this thorny path and to break the resistance to giving up national, protectionist sacred cows.

Other problems in U.S.-German relations pale in comparison to this vital goal, which is supposed to bring or secure millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic and usher in a new era of cooperation to overshadow many unanswered, but important, questions about the future of NATO―a cornerstone for Western security in a world full of uncertainties.

Yet, other problems exist, too. For example, Russia: Suspicion in Washington always lingers about a German “pivot to Russia,” but it would be quite ridiculous to really believe it. Yes, economic ties are close; yes, geographically Russia is a neighbor; and yes, Angela Merkel even speaks Russian. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder once said that Vladimir Putin was a “lupenreiner Demokrat”―a spotless democrat beyond any doubts. Nobody in German politics would repeat this sentence today. A high ranking government official has confirmed that relations with Moscow are much cooler today than in those years, but although there is agreement both in Washington and Berlin that President Putin is leading his country more and more in the direction of unacceptable repression, a lot of head-shaking is going on about President Obama’s decision to cancel his meeting with Putin during the G-20 summit in Moscow this September. As relations are strained, so goes the argument in Berlin, it is important to keep talking instead of behaving like stubborn children in a play pen. The Merkel government wants to retain a “strategic partnership” with Russia, despite all the frustrations and setbacks in recent years, especially about Russian resistance to ceasing weapons shipments to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and to finding a solution to this bloody conflict.

When it comes to assessing the Middle East, Washington and Berlin basically see eye to eye. Both governments strongly support the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Both condemn the continuous expansion of the settlements in the West Bank. Both keep their fingers crossed that the peace talks will not fall apart, and both very much hope that Israel will not bomb Iranian nuclear facilities before the new president in Tehran, Hassan Rouhani, has a chance to prove that he really is a reformer, who wants to end the confrontation about a potential nuclear bomb. At the same time, there is an agreement about tightening the sanctions even more if Rouhani is not able to deliver. Words will not count―only deeds.

For years, there was continuous disagreement on how so save ailing Europe. President Obama kept pushing hard for stimulus packages, and Chancellor Merkel insisted on austerity. Save versus spend, those were the battle lines.  Merkel had to make concessions along the way, but overall her insistence on the need for fiscal reforms took hold.

While the crisis is not over, the angst is, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Recent figures seem to indicate that Europe is―ever so slowly―crawling out of the recession.  An intense conflict between Washington and Berlin may come to an end.

And, guess who won?

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.