Germans React to a “Year of Action” with Modest Support but Many are Unconvinced

Nicholas Iaquinto

Nicholas Iaquinto was previously the Communications Coordinator / Web Developer at AICGS.

In the days after the annual State of the Union address, Germans have been modestly supportive of U.S. President Barack Obama’s outline for a “Year of Action,” but some commentators have gone on to qualify this support with a critique of the administration’s lack of ambition after 2013’s setbacks. In this sense, German reactions to the president’s 2014 agenda have fallen broadly into two camps:

Modest Support for Proposed Social and Economic Policies

Applauding a step in the right direction on income inequality and pay equality, German observers have again played off the popular concept that Europe is far ahead of the United States on social and economic equality. Germans can also appreciate a well-placed “Mad Men” reference, but the broader sentiment can be summarized as follows:

A wage raise by an unbelievable 39 percent—at first, that sounds considerable. [But] compare these values with those in Germany, [and] the target raise is no longer that impressive. Converted into euros, the minimum wage will only be raised from 5.31 euros to 7.40 euros. In Germany, the Grand Coalition, by contrast, just resolved to enact a national minimum wage of 8.50 euro. ~Tina Kaiser, “Die grandiose Luftnummer des Barack ObamasDie Welt

And, this sentiment—that the president has not gone far enough—is the basis of the next, more critical category of reactions Germans have had to the SOTU and the president’s recent action in general.

Unconvinced by the Year of Action’s Lack of…Action

Calling the president “tired” and his agenda lacking, many commentators have criticized the SOTU’s level of exuberance, especially in contrast to the candidate Obama many Germans remember—renewing faith in America from a Berlin podium. Most critical of these was Ansgar Graw for die Welt:

He wants to do something for the economy, create jobs—jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs—he brings this word up 23 times. He wants to end income inequality—with Congress’ help or through his own [executive] powers, which the president has through legal Executive Orders. Those are the central messages of this speech in which Obama frames no new vision, yet still calls for a “Year of Action.” ~Ansgar Graw, “Obama verkündet ‘Jahr des Handelns’Die Welt

Although fewer critics have questioned the president’s ability to succeed in implementing his plans, this reaction reflects the broad feelings of disappointment Germans now hold. But these feelings are unsurprising after the president’s continual failure to allay German fears of electronic surveillance. This includes last weekend’s interview with ZDF, when the president did not rule out broad collection of Germans’ everyday telecommunications activity.

Where It Counts

So, yes, the president is catching up to what Europeans have long considered simple equality and respect. But the president is falling down on issues that impact Germans: foreign and security policy. This may be a symptom of the SOTU’s tradition as a domestically-focused event. But, for Germans, this does not excuse 2013’s disappointments, especially including the NSA scandal. And President Obama’s lack of enthusiasm makes it unlikely that he will distract from this sentiment anytime soon.

Read More

Die grandiose Luftnummer des Barack Obama (Welt)
Eine Rede ist noch keine Wende (Zeit)
Im Zweifel ohne den Kongress (FAZ)
Kann es Obama noch? (Zeit)
Obama backt nur noch kleine Brötchen (Welt)
Obama lässt Kongress links liegen (Spiegel)
Obama verkündet “Jahr des Handelns” (Welt)
Obama sendet Kampfansage an Blockierer im Kongress (Welt)
Obama will die Mittelklasse stärken (Handelsblatt)
Obama will mit “Jahr des Handelns” aus der Krise (Tagesspiegel)

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