By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Wiesbaden October 22 2015
Recently the author had the opportunity to attend a seminar in Bonn which featured David McAllister as speaker about the subject EU and USA –an actual evaluation of the transatlantic relations.Mc Allister, the former Minister President of the Federal State of Lower Saxony till 2014, is presently vice chairman of the European EVP (European People’s Party) in the European parliament as well as chairman of the EVP Delegation for relations with the United States and member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He presented a quite sober overview concerning the present debate within the EU, in light of the refugee crisis, which also was addressed publically by the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, during a conference in Passau. McAllister described shortly the present status of EU/US relations in light of the very controversial debate about the transatlantic free trade treaty.
Despite a massive propaganda in Germany and Europe to quickly conclude the transatlantic free trade treaty “TTIP”, there is a major unease among many German citizens about this treaty, which as McAllister underlined, almost plays no role in the Eastern European countries’ debate. The lack of transparency of the TTIP negotiations, the concern about data security, as the protest demonstration –approximately 200.000 demonstrators- illustrated in Berlin on the 10th of August, has revealed the polarization about TTIP within German society. According to McAllister, who qualifies this as a sign of anti-globalization and anti-America mood, the “window of time” to finalize the TTIP negotiations is relatively small and will only last till spring next year. 2016 is the year of presidential elections in the US, followed by presidential elections in France and Federal parliamentary elections in Germany in the year 2017.
There was a lively discussion which followed McAllister’s presentation. It made clear that among many senior strategic observers there is unease about the way in which the German Government is handling the refugee crisis. They see this as a potential “detonator” for the EU unless quick corrections are being made in the field of foreign diplomacy, security and the EU economy.
We are to blame for Moscow’s “reaction formation” in the Mideast
Exemplary are the contributions which were made by several senior discussants, among them a former Undersecretary who referred to German President Gauck’s recent visit in the US where the president urged the US government to show more solidarity and help the EU in the refugee question. The US which started many wars in the Mideast since 2001, has left behind a region in chaos, the observer stated, including several “failed states” (like Libya), out of which Millions of refugees are fleeing right now. The US government should offer the help of its sixth fleet in order to contain the activity of the smugglers of migrants. Another senior strategic observer and former State Secretary, who was well experienced in the handling of East and West relations, expressed his concern about the way in which the present Government under Chancellor Merkel is handling the refugee crisis. The German government, he stated, is essentially paying the price for what he called a “failed policy” vis-a-vis Russia, the most fatal consequences of which can be seen in the actual Mideast situation (Syria and Russia’s military intervention). “Our attitude concerning the Ukraine and Crimean crises as well as our harsh sanctions have provoked strong reactions in Moscow. We shouldn’t think that the Russians are so naive. What the Russians are now showing is a reaction formation, a revenge mood which can be witnessed both in some military and political elite circles”, the observer stated, underlining that this reaction formation will continue “as long as we uphold sanctions and our Ukraine policy.” In respect to the present refugee crisis the senior observer addressed himself to Berlin and Brussels, by rhetorically asking whether these governments “are conscious about the consequences, of their actual policy, which till the end of this year will have produced an influx of more than 1 Million refugees into Germany alone, followed in the next years by an even higher number of refugees increasing to up to 5 Million.” This, he said, would completely destabilize the situation in Germany and provoke chaos. Another senior discussant and military expert made reference to the recent investigation report concerning the crash of the Malaysian airline MH17 (July 2014) over Ukraine territory, a crash, which, as he put it, despite no evidence presented at the time, prompted the EU to impose harsh sanctions against Russians with extremely negative consequences. Why is it, he asked, that up to this day the US has not presented any evidence provided by Satellites, to shed light on the causes for this fatal crash.
EU commissioner Jean Claude Juncker demanding a more open dialogue with Russia
In the context of this informal background discussion it is worthwhile to take a look at an interview which was conducted in the Bavarian city of Passau, on the 8th of October, between EU Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker and ZDF journalist Udo van Kampen .The dialogue took place in the frame of the annual conference People in Europe 2015.
Passau is a city located along the three rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz. It is a city destined by its geographical location to function as a bridge between East and West. The citizens there during the last weeks have helped in a remarkable way the several thousands of refugees which have flooded the city. Juncker referred to a discussion which he had in Passau with the people who care for the refugees in some refugee camps and who, as he put it, often have a far a better and more realistic understanding what is at stake than the politicians.
Juncker pointed to the fact that in West Africa 5,8 Million are fleeing their countries, while Europe is surrounded with conflict zones from which all in all 25 Million people are fleeing. These are people who do not want to come to us, but they have no choice, Juncker said. The most often repeated sentence in Juncker’s interview was, that the politicians in the various EU countries, but particularly in Germany “must tell people the truth.” The truth being, “that we will have to live for a long time with this refugee crisis.“ He expressed his disappointment about the attitude of some Eastern European countries, which in September flatly rejected to take a solidarity share in accepting a quota system for distributing the refugees among the EU member states. He pointed to Lebanon, a country with a relatively small population, where 25% of the population are refugees; while in Europe refugees constitute only 0,1% of the European population. Juncker adamantly demanded the drawing up of a list of countries which are qualified as “countries of safe origin” which should include Turkey as well.
He furthermore challenged the EU to engage in a positive dialogue with Russian President Putin: “We must develop correct relations with Russia. We old Europeans who live on a territory of 5,1 Million square kilometers must compare this to Russia whose territory covers 17,5 million square kilometers”, and he urged Europe to take more political and strategic responsibility in the world, despite the fact that its part in World GDP has been shrinking from 20% at the beginning of the 20th century to 7%.
There is need for more unity within the EU and the necessity to create more secure external borders for the EU, including a revision of the “Frontex” principles (European Union Agency to protect the EU borders). This involves concrete measures like more efficient registration procedures at the external borders, a better protection of the borders, as well as deeper cooperation with Turkey to keep refugees where they are. According to Juncker the EU committed the grave mistake that it was not involved in finding constructive solutions for the settling of the different conflicts in the Mideast. At the same time he criticized that the Arab states, the USA and China have not shown any readiness to actively help Europe in settling the refugee crisis. This goes along with the demand for a more just quota system for the distribution of refugees, demanding more solidarity from certain Central and Eastern European states.
The demand for a new European Foreign and Security policy
In the interview Juncker pleaded for a new European foreign and security policy and underlined that “this subject must be looked at from a higher standpoint i.e. from a future economic perspective.” He referred to the “European development fund” that amounts to 315 billion Euro and underlined that this fund should be used for large scale investments in Europe. Juncker pointed to the devastating lack of public investments in Europe which is 17% lower (!) than it was in 2008. In Germany between 1991 and 2015 public and private investments shrank by 57%. In other words more European investments are needed for the modernization of European infrastructure and this constitutes a motor to economically handle the crisis more efficiently.
The EU Commissioner was very adamant in his demand to construct a better dialogue with Russia. “We must have better relations with Russia. Russia is an important factor in the Western Security architecture.” And he emphasized that former German Foreign Minister Genscher was correct in saying that there cannot be any security structure in Europe without Russia. Commentaries like the one made by President Obama who qualified Russia as a “regional power” were according to Juncker not very helpful – and actually destructive. “Russia wants to talk and negotiate with us on an equal footing. We can’t push them aside, because if we did, they would remind us who they are.”
EU Commission President Juncker further underlined that we can’t always judge “our relations to Russia from the perspective of the US.” We are geographically living close to Russia and our relations with Russia can’t be dictated by Washington. Similarly he stressed the need to get into closer cooperation with Turkey in solving the refugee crisis and also involve them in the search for future diplomatic solution in the Mideast and he put the recent Chancellor Merkel visit to Turkey in this context of trying to find a solution.
Looking back at the bloody two world wars and the immense efforts which Europe made in order to transform the continent of conflict into a continent of peace, Juncker made clear that there is reason to be proud of Europe. Germany, he said, needs help so as not to shoulder the entire refugee problem alone. For this we need a better functioning EU, not along the model of “United States of Europe.” “We don’t need Brussels to dictate the rules, but Europe can only function if it respects the national and regional cultural, political and economic specificities of the European Union member states.”