Tag Archives: europe

Dahrendorf Symposium: Discussing EU foreign policy

Dahrendorf Symposium

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending (parts of) the 2016 Dahrendorf Symposium hosted by Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Mercator foundation. The event focused on European foreign policy. I was unable to attend any of the workshops, but will try and summarize the debates on the final day. Please also see my previous post on the scenarios for Europe in 2025.

Panel #1: Europe in the World 2025

Panelists:  Ahmed Badawi (Free University Berlin), Frances G. Burwell (Atlantic Council, Washington), Fabrice Leggeri (FRONTEX Executive Director), Daniela Schwarzer (GMFUS Berlin), Sylke Tempel (DGAP).

The panel did not directly address the scenarios, but rather focused on current challenges for the EU that have long-term consequences. Not surprisingly, the three main topics were challenges related to refugees/migration, the rise of European populism, and the consequences of Brexit.

[By the way: This and the other discussions will be available on YouTube soon.]

Panel#2: EU Global Strategy: game changer or wish list?

Panelists: Robert Cooper (British diplomat/adviser), Anne-Marie Le Gloanec (Sciences Po), Sebastian Heilmann (Mercator Institute for China Studies MERICS), Andrey Kortunov (Russian International Affairs Council), Alfredo Conte (Head of the Strategic Planning Division, European External Action Service EEAS)

The second panel of the day addressed the forthcoming EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, which will be the successor to the EU’s 2003 strategy (“A Secure Europe in a Better World”). Three European/Russian academics plus two practitioners (the skeptical veteran Cooper and EEAS planning official Conte) turned out to be a good mix.

(Very selective) summary and reflections

I’m not an expert on any of these issues, but I found the following bits the most interesting:

Who is leading EU (foreign) policy-making? Echoing the famous “which phone number do we call?” argument, Frances Burwell adopted the American perspective and asked Germany to step up its leadership, including a bold decision in favor of mutualized debt and increased defense spending. Daniela Schwarzer pointed out that German leaders might think they did the Eurozone a favor over the past few years, but people in Athens see it differently. (Nobody made an attempt to defend German foreign policy choices…)

With an eye to the looming Brexit referendum, panelists suggested the UK might no longer be a reliable partner for European cooperation. Mr. Conte (EEAS) said that Brexit would mean losing one of the few members “with a strategic vision for the whole world, not just some regions” — but also result in one veto player less.

What about the European Union’s credibility and “soft power”? Andrey Kortunov described the EU as long-term “focal point for intellectual aspirations as well as material envy”, but said that the feasibility of the European model is now being doubted in Russia. Still, he urged European diplomats to focus on their comparative advantage: linking development and security (rather than trying their hand at geopolitics).

Anne-Marie Le Gloanec asked: “Do we still have the resources and soft power we thought we had when we wrote the first strategy in 2003?” Her diagnosis, citing the EU-Turkey deal on refugees and the EU’s actions in the MENA region, was rather negative. For the EEAS strategist Conte –not surprisingly– the answer was to develop a strategy revolving around “flexibility” and “credibility”, that is, member state activism and cash.

What role for the EU External Action Service? Not surprisingly (again), the EEAS representatives were confident about their ability to act and speak for the Europeans. Other panelists seemed skeptical regarding the service’s mandate and operational capabilities. Robert Cooper pointed out that “strategy” documents often amount to “bullshit”, and also said that EU members must invest in their foreign services’ day-to-day capabilities.

At a more fundamental level, the aforementioned call for national leadership seems at odds the very idea of the EEAS. Stuck between unwilling member states and external actors that don’t take her seriously, the high representative Mogherini indeed seems to face an “impossible task” (Le Gloanec).

What and where is our border again? Mr. Leggeri from Frontex, who seems to be a social constructivist, emphasized the need for a “credible external border” that is “emotionally perceived as ‘our’ border”. He added that he was “appalled” by the precarious situation in Lesbos “last year”, but said things were improving on the ground. Frontex, in his view, needs more resources and a mandate to plan for the future and do things other than emergency responses.

Some panelists made related points about what the EU can and should do beyond its external borders, but ultimately with a view to stabilizing them. On MENA, Sylke Tempel urged policymakers to work on good governance issues, as people there had “neither taxation nor representation”.

Should we embrace multi-speed Europe on social issues? Closely related to the idea of borders, some parts of the discussion addressed differentiation within Europe. Francess Burwell urged EU leaders to make a choice on migration: Ultimately, are the Syrian refugees going to be ‘visitors’ or ‘citizens’? (Her advice was crystal clear: Europeans need to work on turning them into the latter!)

The old debate about multi-speed Europe applies to social policy — which, in Europe and beyond, inevitably has consequences across borders. A member of the audience suggested to just accept the fact that Hungary, Austria and other do not wish to support Chancellor Merkel’s humanitarian policies. In response, Daniela Schwarzer instead called for a push-back against illiberal developments.

 

In sum, the panel discussions at the Dahrendorf Symposium raised many interesting questions (although, as usual at such events, they could have been even more focused). It was great to have practitioners, advocates and academics illuminate different aspects. With the Brexit vote around the corner and half a dozen crises ongoing in the neighborhood, readers of this blog are well advised to keep an eye on the EU …

Scenarios for European External Relations in 2025

Dahrendorf Symposium

Last week I had the pleasure of attending (parts of) the 2016 Dahrendorf Symposium hosted by Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Mercator foundation. The event focused on European foreign policy. I will summarize the debates on the final day in a separate blog post.

A few months ago, Hertie School hosted a scenario planning workshop as part of the Dahrendorf project. It focused on the EU’s relations to other world regions, trying to draw up scenarios for the year 2025. Meeting in five different working groups, the participants developed scenarios for the future relations between the EU and the U.S., China, Russia and Ukraine, Turkey, and the MENA region. Given my interest in forecasting and curiosity about scenario planning, I gladly signed up and contributed to the EU/U.S. working group.

At the Dahrendorf Symposium last week, Monika Sus and Franziska Pfeifer (who are coordinating the scenario project) briefly described our method and results to the audience. The publication with our 18 (!) brief scenarios is available via the Dahrendorf blog: European Union in the World 2025 – Scenarios for EU relations

The results are interesting and I really encourage you to download the document! Personally, I particularly enjoyed the process. It was a great exercise to think about  basic assumptions we have about transatlantic relations; to identify key drivers relevant for change; and to come up with scenarios that reflect the most relevant combinations of key drivers taking particular directions.

Transatlantic mistrust on tech
Illustrations for the scenario report by Jorge Martin

Let me indulge in a bit of self-promotion and quote the intro to my group’s scenario:

“In the years up to 2025 there will be a situation of balkanised technological regulation in the EU, driven by political debates which emphasise the need to shield national markets and societies against the uncertain effects of technological progress. On the other side of the Atlantic, political leaders will continue to embrace new technologies, with an emphasis on keeping the competitive edge also in terms of offensive capabilities in the cyber and AI realms. Only after a series of trigger events, increasing the pressure on decision-makers, will transatlantic leaders be willing to invest in a new institutional framework to manage the political problems associated with technological progress.” (‘Transatlantic Frankenstein’ scenario)

Then, of course, there was the Dahrendorf Symposium, which included a couple of workshop sessions (that I couldn’t attend) and two round-table panels on the final day. I will put my summary of these discussions into a separate post.

Seven years in crisis: Some questions for the Eurozone

DER SPIEGEL 29 2015Recently, German media entered uncharted territory. While conservative newspapers have always identified the Greek government’s profligacy as root cause of the ongoing crisis, the liberal press had maintained more balanced positions. Yet on July 9, 2015, the weekly DIE ZEIT asked: ‘The Greek trap – the crisis-ridden country has a culture inimical to achievement. How can it be overcome?’ DER SPIEGEL proclaimed (in its July 11 issue) the necessity of ending the German romanticization of its arcadia in Attica. The title read: ‘Our Greeks – rapprochement with a strange people’.

Since when has culture advanced as main explanation for a country’s (economic) misery? How can shortcomings in a state bureaucracy be taken to explain an entire people’s failure of achieving prosperity and societal welfare?

In logical consequence of this narrative, the subsequent Eurozone-Greece agreement of July 13, 2015 figured as ‘the most intrusive economic supervision program ever mounted in the EU’ (FT). The drastic measures alongside the required ‘ownership’ of reforms revealed the deep mistrust in Greek institutions. The source of most, if not of all, failures was located in the Greek government’s incapacity, or reluctance, to accept conditionalities and implement reforms.

Unit labor costs and competitiveness in the Eurozone

This is yet another instance of misinterpreting the symptoms of a disease rooted in the fundamental misalignments within the Eurozone. There have been idiosyncratic issues in Greece (reporting failures, unsustainable debt since 2010), just as there have been home-grown issues in other crisis-hit member states contributing to the current escalation. However, these problems represent only the tip of the iceberg. It is not the misbehavior of individual governments, let alone cultures, which underlie the seven-year-old crisis. It is persistent failures in the economic governance of the Eurozone. Recent data from other Southern members are hailed as heralding the end of misery (EC, Reuters, FT, WSJ). The following discussion will demonstrate to the contrary: as long as the shortcomings in the institutional set-up of the Euro and the failures of member state coordination of fiscal policies persist, the crisis will continue. Greece today, who tomorrow?

Unit labor costs, the ratio of total labor costs to productivity, are interpreted as the best approximation of an economy’s competitiveness. Judged by these standards, today’s Germany is competitive. This is not merely due to its superior productivity though. German multinationals as well as the famed Mittelstand are very capable. But the great divergence of unit labor costs compared to Southern European economies was due to wage restraints and welfare cuts, beginning with Schröder’s Agenda 2010 in the early 2000s (Mickey Levy, Flassbeck, Spiecker, The Economist). Addressing ‘the sick man of the Euro’, the reforms (and other factors) put the German economy ahead. This was achieved, however, at the cost of society’s lower strata and its Euro partners, as evidenced by subsequent divergences in balance of payments across the Eurozone (Gavin Davies). Bound by the Euro, others could no longer devalue their national currencies to improve competitiveness. During the decade of the European boom, no one seemed to worry. Southern economies expanded strongly, while Northern capital was flowing in and financed investments and consumption. Consumption of Northern, of German goods for that matter. Apparently unnoticed, Eurozone’s North and South diverged.

Since the onset of adjustment programs across Europe, however, unit labor cost convergence has moved center stage. Yet this is not a joint effort – i.e. via wage restraint, reforms and export-orientation in the South combined with wage increases, fiscal expansion and domestic consumption in the North. Instead, the benchmark has been set by Germany and Northern Europe, and the others are asked to adjust. During the past years, Southern economies have undertaken enormous efforts. Greece, above all, is the star pupil (OECD, Economonitor). But to little avail. And even if the recent recovery across Europe (except Greece) proved sustainable – when every Eurozone member strives to become  ‘competitive’, who will act as counterpart? The German ‘Sparpolitik’ in the 2000s was offset by Southern expansion. Who is buying now, when everyone is saving?

The structure of the Eurozone and the European Central Bank

Divergences of unit labor costs, clouded by the boom, were further reinforced by the ECB’s single nominal interest rate. Paul de Grauwe and Notre Europe argue that increasing inflation in booming Southern economies lowered real interest rates, thereby rewarding further economic expansion. The reverse was true for the North, which still profited of huge export-gains. Additionally, due to increasing real exchange rate spreads the prices of comparable products across member states diverged, making Northern manufacturing more and more attractive (Vistesen, Dadush, Wyne). Hence economic dynamics pushed states further into imbalances, not merely the often denounced human fallacies. Where is the public discussion about these curious, and obviously significant, dynamics?

A second issue identified by de Grauwe is the lack of a lender of last resort. Since the late 19th century, any central bank’s mandate has included the provision of unlimited liquidity in times of financial panic; not so in the Eurozone. When the financial crisis hit Europe, each member had to clean its own doorstep. Capital fled to presumably safer Northern countries and Southerners dried up. The lack of affordable refinancing forced spending cuts, thereby inducing immediate austerity programs. The cuts diminished GDP, which made servicing debt even harder. And only then the European austerity programs were devised and implemented. The question arises: were state budgets ultimately unsustainable and Southerners righteously punished for profligacy? Or did they simply look weaker relative to Northern neighbors, which were favored by investors in times of uncertainty? Evidence points to the latter. Nevertheless, these are the discussions we Europeans should hold.

The Eurozone is not ready for the challenges ahead

Despite improvements in financial governance, such as the banking union or the ECB’s perennial setting of precedents, the economic structure of the Eurozone has seen little of the desperately needed changes (e.g. Hans Tietmeyer, Euractiv). As long as there is not some kind of fiscal union, as long as there are not some kind of common Eurozone debt instruments, the inherent fragilities persist. Furthermore, the majority of European policymakers remain bound to their national constituencies – why should they care for the whole of Europe, when their electoral mandate stems from a fraction of the people?

We need a European debate. A debate about the flawed narrative that the Greek government’s profligacy is said to have caused the economic and political crises; a debate concerning the interpretation of the crisis as a mere lack of competitiveness (what about the European welfare state by the way?); and a debate with regard to the absurd claims about “cultural” limits to economic growth.

Vincent Dreher is a PhD student at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies. He works on the Political Economy of International Money and Finance, with a focus on international institutions.

Predicting the Effects of TTIP, or: Whose Crystal Ball Can We Trust?

In a paper called “TTIP: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability”, economist Jeronim Capaldo argues that there are flaws in four prominent studies on the effects of the proposed TTIP agreement between the U.S. and the European Union. The problem is two-fold. First, all studies use similar models and data, which means that they all share the same set of assumptions and should thus not be treated as independently reaching similar conclusions:

Methodologically, the similarities among the four studies are striking. While all use World Bank-style Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) models, the first two studies also use exactly the same CGE. The specific CGE they use is called the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP), developed by researchers at Purdue University. All but Bertelsmann use a version of the same database (again from GTAP).

A detailed discussion of the shared heritage of the different CGE models can be found in a paper by Werner Raza and colleagues (pp. 37-49), which Capaldo cites.

He then goes one step further and alleges that the underlying econometric models are simply false, or at least inappropriate. According to him, CGE models rely on several flawed assumptions:

  • High labor mobility is supposed to allow workers in less competitive industries to switch to those that benefit from trade liberalization, which are assumed to grow enough to absorb the new workforce.
  • Overall, the gains for workers with the right skills are supposed to outweigh the losses for others.
  • The model assumes that new trade between countries/regions is created (rather than diverted from elsewhere, which would be a zero-sum result).

While I have no training in economics and don’t know the econometrics literature, I realize that all large-scale models of social science need to rely on simplified assumptions. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Capaldo has a point. If his account is correct, then European policymakers should look for more diverse academic input. More generally, if the most widely used models really are blind to potential downsides for labor, then that goes against the interest of European citizens. (As they ought to be very loss averse when it comes to employment as well as skeptical about the distribution of pay-offs from economic gains.)

So how do we come up with an estimate that pays more attention to potential negative effects? Capaldo uses the UN Global Policy Model (GPM), which models economic activity as demand-driven, explicitly models different regions, and includes an estimate of employment. (Again, I lack the knowledge to assess how this works and how much sense it makes.) In this model, unemployment and household income are projected to deteriorate in the long term (2025) for several European countries, as aggregate demand is lowered due to trade diversion (see pp. 10-19 for this and other findings).

capaldo-figure4
Jeronim Capaldo, “The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability”, Global Development and Environment Institute Working Paper No. 14-03, October 2014, p. 14.

Capaldo is pretty transparent about the limitations of this approach:

  • the non-TTIP baseline scenario (which serves as a comparison) might be wrong
  • the chosen model might be as ill-specified as the ones he is criticizing
  • policy responses down the road are not included (and that’s hardly possible)
  • …and the paper completely ignores the investment dimension of TTIP (which is a weakness shared by the CGE models, according to Raza et al., p. 49)

So the headline “TTIP will lead to a loss of 600,000 jobs” does not really do the paper justice, although the author himself uses pretty strong language in the conclusion.

No matter which forecast turns out to be better in the end, this discussion shows that policy decisions should not rely on a single strand of academic analysis. There is a lot of uncertainty involved in these negotiations, and I don’t see how there can be a confident forecast of net effects.

One final note for the political debate in general: TTIP opponents should not forget that the status quo will not necessarily be maintained or improved just by inaction. The people likely to lose from TTIP are probably heading for difficult times anyway, leading to questions about how to compensate them. Whether European leaders will decide in favor or against TTIP, they are making high-stakes bets on how globalization will play out over the next decades.

Thanks to Zoe for pointing me to the study. And if anyone can add insight regarding the comparison between the different models, please let me know!

Investor-State Dispute Settlement in Europe

In the last few months, criticism of  TTIP’s proposed investor-state dispute settlement  (ISDS) provision has become  so mainstream that even The Economist is questioning whether it’s such a good idea. More to the point, some of the biggest players this side of the Atlantic have also come out against it, largely it would seem, mirroring public sentiment.   French officials now claim that TTIP is a no-go if ISDS is kept in, while Germany has spoken out against its inclusion in TTIP, and has gone so far as to backtrack on agreements already made, saying that they want ISDS scrapped from CETA, the EU-Canada free trade agreement (which, until recently, nobody outside of Canada seemed to care about).

The perception of the  threat that ISDS poses is connected to the different health, food and environmental standards in Europe and the US. ISDS allows investors to sue host state governments for unfair or discriminatory treatment, and critics argue that investors will use arbitration (or even the threat of it) to force Europe to lower its regulatory standards based on treaty provisions. As proof of the potential for investors to employ ISDS to attack regulatory standards, critics frequently cite the cases of Philip Morris v. Australia, in which the tobacco company is suing over the country’s decision to require plain packaging of cigarettes, and Swedish energy company Vattenfall suing Germany over Merkel’s nuclear phase-out.

A threat does exist, as investors, and more importantly, arbitration lawyers are expanding the use of investment arbitration. As this article/advertisement  written by arbitration lawyers suggest, there is money to be made by actively looking for “innovative” uses for ISDS.

However, others argue that Europe’s sudden distrust of ISDS is hypocritical. European states, or at least European investors, have been a driving force behind ISDS in the past. The first Bilateral Investment Treaty was signed by Germany (with Pakistan) in 1959, and since then,  EU member states have signed at least 1400 BITs. Between 2008-2014 alone, EU investors made up 53% of all claimants in investor-state disputes.

Of course, more interesting to critics is likely the track record of EU states as respondents in these lawsuits. So here’s a breakdown of the cases Europe has faced so far, based on my own research.

eu

 

Here we see the EU member states which have been respondents in arbitration cases. The majority are transition economies, although Spain, Germany, Belgium and the UK have also been faced lawsuits. The concentration of disputes in formerly Communist countries is not surprising, given the logic that has (up until TTIP and CETA) governed BITs. That is, these agreements have usually been signed by pairs of countries between which the investment generally flows only in one direction – most often from developed to developing countries (or at least countries perceived to have unreliable domestic courts).  In other words, when the US and the Czech Republic signed a BIT in 1991, the implicit goal was to protect US investments in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, Western European states and the US have not found it necessary to sign BITs between themselves, as both sides have been confident in the domestic courts and investment climate of the other. At least, until now.

industries

The above shows the industries most often implicated in investor-state disputes involving EU members. How does this compare to investment disputes worldwide? At the global level, electricity and other energy, as well as oil, gas and mining, are the industries that see the greatest number of disputes. Not surprising, given that these industries are often politically interesting already. Extractive industries seem to attract  a range of governance problems, while public utilities are often are privatized to the detriment of low-income consumers.   What appears to be Europe-specific here is the concentration of cases in media and health insurance (although both relate to a number connected cases in Czech Republic and Slovakia).

measures

And here we have a breakdown of the state “measures” which are triggering disputes in Europe. The top two categories are the very specific measure of canceling an agreement, permit, or license of an investor, while the second category – regulatory change – encompasses a range of measures  which effect an entire industry or even the general public.

Finally, how litigious are US companies? Of the 561 known arbitration cases listed on UNCTAD’s IIA database, 124 cases, or 22%, involve US investors.  It’s impossible to know how often US investors will use ISDS under TTIP, if the agreement ultimately includes the provision. All we can say for certain at this point is that if it is left in, a great deal more of global FDI flows will suddenly be covered by ISDS.

Note: Edited to add French dispute to graph which had previously been left off.

German Grundgesetz & Asylum

kermani-bundestag
(c) Deutscher Bundestag / Achim Melde

On Friday, German-Iranian writer Navid Kermani gave a speech in German parliament. His remarks were part of a longer ceremony to celebrate 65 years of the constitution (Grundgesetz).

Kermani’s powerful speech [here, in German] focuses on the unique role played by the 1949 constitution in the German language area, “comparable maybe only to the Lutheran bible”. He shows how elegantly designed and politically consequential several parts of the Grundgesetz were at their time (and still are). Equality before the law, and between women and men, for example.

Overall, the speech makes an excellent case for what Germans call Verfassungspatriotismus: patriotism based on pride in our constitution. One aspect of the speech, however, was meant to provoke – and promptly led to criticism.

Kermani sharply criticized GG §16a, which deals with the right to asylum. The initially very short paragraph was amended in 1993, and now the right “is practically abolished” according to Kermani.

Others were quick to point out that Germany is in fact the European country receiving the most requests for asylum.

Considering that there might be more debates on this issue in the future, I collected some data from Eurostat. The table below shows:

  • the number of positive decisions on asylum requests per 100,000 inhabitants
  • the total number of positive asylum decisions 2008-2013

Asylum statistics

As you can see, Germany accepted 7.3 asylum seekers per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, but was clearly below the EU-28 average in earlier years. Germany was the #3 host country over the last six years. But others are much more generous: Sweden, Austria and recently Norway come to mind, as does tiny Cyprus. But the UK and France in particular have a far more generous record than Germany, both in total and in relative terms.

In case someone wants to play around more, here’s my quick and dirty data file (MS Excel). I recommend two Eurostat documents on the topic: Country-specific figures 1998-2011 (including information on how many requests were rejected versus accepted) and a brand new report on the 2013 developments. Both could help to create a more instructive comparison.

I’d also be interested in links to articles on this topic.

Putin, the Atlanticist

Putin wins a prize
Image credit: “Siggiko”

Since 1997, the American Academy in Berlin has awarded the annual Henry A. Kissinger Prize “in recognition of outstanding services to the transatlantic relationship.” Taken literally, this means that the next recipient can only be one person: Vladimir Putin.

Just a few weeks ago, even the most committed Atlanticists would not have predicted a spectacular comeback for NATO in 2014. At this year’s Munich Security Conference, often dubbed the transatlantic partnership’s “family meeting”, the mood was quite pessimistic. [My detailed conference report, in German, will appear in the next issue of the Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik.] The Europeans, and especially the Germans, were upset about the fact that Senator Kerry gave a speech about the “transatlantic renaissance” without mentioning the NSA affair at all. As some observers noted, the Americans “just don’t listen to us anymore, they only listen in.”

On the other hand, the U.S. representatives were frustrated that the Europeans were not eager to discuss other topics they deemed more relevant. Again, the old burden-sharing debate resurfaced – but with more urgency. In contrast to earlier debates, the U.S. administration has actually followed through and significantly reduced their troops in Europe while ramping up their forces in the Asia-Pacific (the “rebalancing” FKA “the pivot to Asia”). Quite symbolically, after 69 years, the last Abrams tanks left European soil in 2013, which many saw as a “historic moment”. [It should be noted, however, that a number of refurbished Abrams tanks have returned to Germany in 2014.]

Under Obama, the United States has made clear that it does not expect to lead every military mission the transatlantic partners undertake. In Libya, the Europeans had to realize that they lacked the capabilities to run an intense air campaign alone. In early 2013, when the Europeans discussed the crisis in Mali, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow, bluntly stated: “The US and NATO cannot be everywhere.”

In earlier years, U.S. politicians would have been furious if the Europeans had planned for an operation without the United States. But the new message was: Europe, it’s your job, get used to it. Yet, given that these debates were about “wars of choice” in a “post-interventionist era”, few Europeans pushed for a major overhaul of Europe’s defense planning – much to the dismay of Washington.

Waiting for the “transatlantic renaissance”

It didn’t help that a conversation between Victoria Nuland and a U.S. ambassador was leaked, in which the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs used the F-word in respect to the EU. Ironically, Nuland is one of the few remaining committed transatlanticists in Washington and had coined the notion of a “transatlantic renaissance”. Now, that whole concept seemed to be a non-starter.

Enter Vladimir Putin. Thanks to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threats from Moscow, the transatlantic partnership, and with it NATO, is back again.

With his actions in the past few weeks, Putin has actually provoked what he had successfully avoided for a long time: the rapid rapprochement of NATO members’ policies towards Russia. He might not have provided a “solution” to one of the core challenges in the internal debate about the Atlantic Alliance in the twenty-first century: How do we define our relations with Russia? But at the very least, he has made a new consensus among NATO member states much more likely. Continue reading Putin, the Atlanticist

Trade Agreement Trends

Three expansive and controversial trade agreements – the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – are currently in the negotiation or ratification stages. These three (with some overlap with the EU, US and Canada) involve some of the world’s biggest economies and, if successful, will implement rules that critics claim go far beyond traditional trade agreements. However, the fate of all three agreements remains uncertain. CETA still needs to be ratified by the EU parliament as well as 28 member states, while TTP and TTIP are bogged down in negotiations.

All these acronyms can get confusing, so, who is involved in these agreements and what are the points of contention?

Trans Pacific Partnership

The TTP began as a proposed agreement between Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei. In January 2008 the US joined negotiations, followed by Australia, Vietnam, Peru (2009) and Malaysia (2010) and Canada and Mexico (2012). In 2013 Japan entered negotiations and Taiwan, South Korea and even China have expressed interest. All told, these countries make up 40% of the world’s GDP.
Continue reading Trade Agreement Trends

Steinmeier on Transatlantic Relations

steinmeier-brookings

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.