During his visit to Washington, DC, this past week, Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed the relevance of the transatlantic relationship to a new generation–a relationship which is “in no way as self-evident” to the current generation as it was for his. Appeals to common values sound empty to younger audiences, who question whether that is true or even relevant. Nonetheless, the “elderly couple”–Germany and the United States–may squabble from time to time, but they ultimately choose to resolve their problems together.
Steinmeier echoed President Obama’s State of the Union theme of “expanding opportunity” for all Americans. Many of the initiatives he listed are already part of the German-American dialogue, including ongoing discussions on social and economic policy. A newer initiative involves the transfer of lessons from Germany’s experience with a dual education model and apprenticeships, an issue that AICGS will continue to focus on in the coming year. Finally, he only briefly pointed out the role of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as the “single biggest lever of opportunity.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether TTIP will fall victim to the continuing impasse on data privacy and security issues. German officials have been frustrated with the lack of progress with their American colleagues ever since the NSA scandal broke in the news last summer. Steinmeier warned that this issue should not be allowed to fester, or permit the “logic of mistrust” to “contaminate” other areas of cooperation. Thus, he proposed a “Transatlantic Cyber Dialogue” first between the two governments—perhaps at a higher level than those that have already taken place—and then with business and civil society.
He did not flesh out what themes should be addressed by this Dialogue, yet AICGS has already taken the initiative on this topic. First, we invited business leaders from both countries to address the issue of cyber security at our November symposium, and we will bring together experts from government, business, and civil society for a workshop on March 12 to hash out the priorities for a German-American dialogue on cyber issues. It is important that the two countries continue to press forward on this in advance of Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Washington in early May.
The foreign minister tip-toed around the extremely tense situation in Ukraine, where Russian troops occupied strategic locations in Crimea this past week. While pointing out his own efforts, along with those of France and Poland, to negotiate an agreement just prior to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s flight from Kiev, Steinmeier gave no hint as to how the German government would respond to Russia’s intervention beyond suggesting that “Europe will take the diplomatic lead.” Germany remains the country with perhaps the deepest ties to Russia, but it is not clear whether Merkel is willing to risk sacrificing this leverage or her country’s substantial economic and energy interests with Russia in order to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.