Chancellor Merkel’s Financial Times Interview: Shaping a Way Ahead for Germany


By Robbin Laird

Recently, The Financial Times published an interview between their editor and their Berlin bureau chief and Chancellor Merkel.

It was interesting for both what it said and what it did not say about the challenges facing Germany and Europe in the period ahead.

Unlike President Macron, the Chancellor dealt with the defense and security challenges by embracing the evolution of NATO.  She argued that it was not “brain dead”: “NATO is alive and kicking.”

She also highlighted that the European Union needed to do more with regard to those challenges which are more European than trans-Atlantic in character.

This meant that a major part of her discussion encompassing defense revolved around how to deal with the United States and what her expectations were.

“An awareness of Germany’s and Europe’s interest in good relations with the United States has grown. Conversely, the United States’ need to look after Europe has declined. These relations are thus in our interest, and if they are in our interest, then naturally we need to play our part.”

She downplayed the Trump dynamic and embraced a broader interpretation of what was going on in trans-Atlantic affairs. She emphasized that with the end of the Cold War, the core focus of the United States had shifted globally.

And that Europe was no longer the center of attention for Americans, whether Trump or Obama was President.

But because Trump was clearly not interested in promoting multilateral answers to American interests, this meant that Europe, which has been built around multilateralism, needs to re-emphasize such capabilities in spite of President Trump’s actions.

“Europe is no longer, so to say, at the centre of world events. That is becoming increasingly clear. Europe’s former position at the frontline — you could say we were the interface of the cold war — came afterwards to an end. That’s why Europe needs to carve out its own geopolitical role and the United States’ focus on Europe is declining. That will be the case with any president.”

The emphasis of the new head of the European Commission, Merkel’s former Minister of Defence, has underscored that the Commission and Europe in that sense must become more “geopolitical.” And fortuitously for the Merkel agenda, Germany holds the Presidency in the second half of 2020, so this convergent view, or German view, will have significant weight in shaping initiatives for 2020.

“For our part, we plan to address two foreign-policy areas. One is the first summit between all EU member states and China that will take place in Leipzig, while the other is a summit in Brussels with the members of the African Union.

“Essentially, these two summits reflect priorities in our global relations. After all, the new president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has said that her commission should be geopolitical. I completely agree with this. And that’s why we will do a great deal of intensive groundwork on the topics to be debated at these summits.”

What she really does not address is the level of division within the European Union itself which poses the key question of whether or not the kind of agreement exists for the geopolitical initiatives she suggests.

Notably, with regard to China, the Chinese have really been very active in working their way into European economies in ways that are not focused on aiding and abetting European unity. And Russia clearly is a core generator of disunion in Europe rather than union, a subject not really discussed either.

She does deal with the question of whether the West as such continues to exist as such.

And underscores the importance of the Western model of democracy and its importance to Germany and to Europe.

She does underscore that authoritarian states clearly are contesting that model and its future.

“We need to face up to this rivalry between systems.”

She underscored the importance of China to the European economies but suggested that one can be a partner and rival at the same time.

In other words, she put a co-opetition concept at the heart of how she saw the way ahead for Germany within Europe dealing with the 21st century authoritarian powers.

But for this to work, Europe will need to work together effectively rather than seeing Russia and China work the gaps in Europe to their advantage, clearly a subject not raised in the interview per se.

With regard to European unity, she noted that such unity has prevailed with regard to dealing with Brexit and the departure of the UK from the European Union.

But shaping the future relationship with the UK, clearly might not see as much unity supporting the exit as sorting through its impact.

One aspect of the large contribution which the UK makes to the European budget will be gone, and the Chancellor notes that is “no walk in the park” dealing with the future budgets from this standpoint.

But the UK leaving the European Union could facilitate greater integration because an ‘ever close union’ was “never a concept of the UK’s EU membership.”

The central impact of Europe has been driven by its economy, and this clearly is facing significant challenges.

Germany as the key economy within Europe is facing fundamental challenges, including the future of its manufacturing exports.

How to shape a way ahead?

Her answer to this is to enhance Germany’s capability to play globally in the digital economy.

And to do so by enhancing Europe’s place in the global economy, which increasingly is based on digitalization and a reset in globalization.

“In my opinion, the great challenge — not for the large companies, but also for the many SMEs — is to understand what digital transformation will involve. It’s no longer enough to merely sell a product. One also needs to develop new products from the data on these products.”

“One needs to develop very different relations between customers and manufacturers. International firms are moving into these customer-manufacturer relations as intermediaries, that is, as a platform that mediates between clients and companies. If our companies don’t manage their own data but instead store it somewhere because they don’t have the possibilities to do so themselves, then what may happen is that we in Germany will increasingly become an extended workbench because we don’t participate in key areas of new value- added.”

She concludes by arguing that Germany and Europe can reshape their economies and to do so working with the authoritarian states as well as their global democratic partners.

“Do we in Germany and Europe want to dismantle all interconnected global supply chains…. because of this economic competition?

“Are we willing to say that we no longer want any global supply chains in which China is involved? Or do we believe that we’re strong enough to define rules by which we can continue to maintain such global supply chains? My experience is that we have benefited as a whole in Germany and Europe from these global supply chains. We don’t need to hide our light under a bushel.”

The featured photo shows President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in Berlin in March 2014. Photo: AFP

The source of this photo is the following story:

For the Macron interview and comments on that interview, please see the following:

President Macron’s Economist Interview: Reactions and Implications

Also, see:

The Libyan Conference in Berlin