This morning, I went to see German foreign minister Steinmeier’s speech at the Brookings Institution. Under the heading “Transatlantic Ties for a New Generation”, he argued that to be attractive for young people, the European-American partnership has to be based on shared values and standards of governance. The text is on the ministry’s website. In addition, Brookings published the audio and video recordings of the speech and the Q&A.
To be fair, this speech was more interesting and better prepared than the last foreign policy speech delivered by a Social Democrat that I have attended. Still, if you go beyond the personal anecdotes and jokes he made, Steinmeier said very little, let alone . The Q&A, regrettably, was hurt by the fact that Steinmeier – who had given the speech in English- answered in German. So a lot of time was spent on translation and we only covered four or five (pretty harmless) questions in total.
So, here are the few concrete things I took away from this event. (Plain English translation in italics.)
- The “no spy” treaty is a non-starter. Instead, Steinmeier wants to have several rounds of talks between U.S. and European officials, which should cover both eavesdropping on government leaders and large-scale surveillance of general population. These talks should include civil society and academia. (We know that’s kind of embarrassing, but what are we gonna do? Nobody wants to kill TTIP because of civil rights.)
- On the choice to spy: the U.S. government should realize that their surveillance/ spying practices are inappropriate in a setting of close partnership. It must be made clear that democratic bodies have the last words rather than corporate or intelligence interests. (Please be a little bit nicer, for old time’s sake, OK?)
- Europeans and in particular Germans are committed to show more leadership in foreign policy (“expand the toolbox of diplomacy”). As head of the G8 group in 2015, Germany will push for climate change politics. (But please don’t mention Syria, because we really don’t know what to do.)
- On Europe: Between Germany and the UK, fundamental disagreements remain about the general trajectory of EU integration. We might see more subsidiarity in select issue areas, but no reversal of integration. (Those ***** Brits! As if we didn’t have enough problems already. Oh, and maybe we should tweak those austerity policies in Southern countries, but please don’t ask about specifics).
- While the Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin played in a constructive role in the talks with German, French, Polish FMs last week, Steinmeier is just as puzzled about Crimea as everybody else. (Nobody knows what’s going on in Ukraine, and even if we knew, we probably couldn’t do much about it. It’s not like we’re a superpower or anything.)
So, as you can see, no grand commitments or surprise announcements were made today. German foreign policy remains, ahem, underwhelming.