By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The announcement by US President Trump to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran agreement (JCPOA) has sent shock waves, in May 2018, not only throughout Europe, but also in the Near- and Mid-east. The Europeans – German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron, as well as EU Foreign Secretary Federica Mogherini – unanimously rejected the aggressive US move which is openly directed against European strategic and commercial interests. US president Trump, together with National Security advisor Bolton as well as State Secretary Pompeo openly threatened the European companies to abide by the US move or else suffer economic sanctions.
In an unusual break of diplomatic protocol, the newly appointed US ambassador to Berlin, Grenelle, at the occasion of his inauguration sent messages via Twitter in which he threatened the German government as well as German business with sanctions, if they were to continue business in Iran. The aim of Trump’s strategic move is to declare war against those sectors in Europe that do business with Iran. With the same aggressive tone, Trump has blasted the German / Russian energy project Nord Stream II by openly expressing his disagreement and by threatening Russian and German firms with economic sanctions if they were to engage in this project. As result of the recent assaults a major crisis has erupted in the transatlantic community.
Despite the rhetorical “reassurance” from European governments that they continue to share the transatlantic values, the unilateral move by the US represents a major break away from the “civilizational western” and universal values (as the German Daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Daniel Deckers wrote in commenting Trump’s comparison of migrants to “animals”). All the moves announced by the US government indicate that the US wants to ruthlessly followi its own business interests to the detriment of Europe. The president who compared “migrants to animals” and who keeps humiliating European leaders such a Merkel, has been using a vulgar language and one of blackmail, which is coherent with the tradition that shaped his personality in the Seventies when he cooperated with his “mentor”, the infamous New York mobster lawyer Roy Cohn. His mask has dropped and the open question is whether the Europeans have the backbone and stamina to continue their newly formulated political course or whether – as many media comments already begin to suggest – they will submit to this “civilizational break”.
Merkel’s laudation at the occasion of Macron receiving the Charlemagne Award
The present clash of values which comes to the fore is expressed on the one side as a break with the tradition of “universal values” that up to this day has been an essential characteristic of European culture, that was shaped by the spirit of Charlemagne in the 8th century; on the other it stands in contrast to a purely egoistic ideal which conceives “power” in terms of “America first” and the “power of the stronger”- recently announced by the US government. What is at stake right now was dramatically made transparent during a ceremony in Aachen (11th May), when French President Macron received the Charlemagne award. The laudation was given by Merkel.
In reference to Aachen which in the 8th century was shaped by the “father of Europe” Emperor Charlemagne, who at that time transformed Aachen into a center that attracted scholars, translators, set into motion a scientific as well as cultural impulse for Europe.
Merkel reminded that we celebrate the 100dst anniversary of the end of the First World War (1914-1918) and that during that war as well as the one which succeeded, the II. World War, millions of young people died in the trenches, all having been betrayed and finally ending in the abyss. Looked at from this point of view, the founding fathers of Europe who laid the basis for the European unification, engaged in the enormous task to give back Europe its humanist soul. The Chancellor portrayed Macron as a “young, dynamic politician who has the capacity of creating enthusiasm in the young people”; a man who thinks that it’s up to the young generation to use its inspiration in order to give Europe a new shape and take the historic responsibility for reconstructing Europe and for defending the European values that are based on the “dignity of man”- the essence of European identity. Macron, Merkel said “knows where and how Europe must develop further and he brings in his capacity for creating enthusiasm for Europe. He knows that only a self- conscious France can give new impulse for the European idea. He reactivates the spiritual, philosophical and cultural roots of his fatherland.” She further emphasized that Macron underlines the importance of the cultural historical cohesion of Europe which was developed over the centuries in the good and in the bad. That he particularly emphasizes “Europe’s cultural identity” that of “philosophy, literature, languages, music, painting and architecture”- treasures which for centuries were exchanged by scholars and scientists across Europe and which cross fertilized the continent.
She pointed to the term of “European sovereignty” used by President Macron and underlined that she herself shares his view that a new impulse is needed for Europe based on a “broad innovation and investment strategy.” She referred to one example which is the founding of “five regional universities” which are located in the region of the federal State Baden Württemberg and the French “Grand Est” region.
As part of a common European strategy she underlined the need for a common European migration and asylum policy; a new Africa policy, as well as bringing ahead the European economic and currency and banking union, and a common foreign and security policy which should express itself in one voice. She referred to Germany and France’s engagement to solve the Ukraine conflict along the Normandy format. In reference to the fight around the Iran agreement she strongly emphasized that we find ourselves in a “very complicated situation. The escalation over the past hours (a reference to the US announcing its withdrawal from the Iran treaty E.H.) shows that we deal with a question of war or peace. I can only call upon the participants to show restraint.”
Macron: European Sovereignty
The French President outlined four principles that are “indispensable” for building a new Europe: In an allusion to the recent US unilateral withdrawl from the Iran agreement and its threat to sanction European business interests in Iran, he stated that “Europe is not weak and does not submit. Do we want to submit? Do we accept the rule of the other or of the tyranny of events or do we make the choice to decide for ourselves about ‘European sovereignty?’…. “Who will decide about our enterprises? Foreign governments, which organize it according to their rules?” “Who should decide on Europe’s commercial interests?” he asked. “Those who threaten us? Those who put a challenge in front of us by explaining that the international rules which they helped to establish, don’t mean anything anymore because they are no longer to their advantage?”
Macron: At stake is the defense of “international multilateralism”
Given the geopolitical challenges which Europe is facing, the French President emphasized that both he, Merkel and PM May had in line with him reconfirmed that “we want to build peace in the Mideast and stability.” At the same time he called for an “ambitious European policy for Africa.”
Warning of the temptation of radical nationalism and the attempt to divide Europe, he underlined that the only solution for the future is “European unity.” He strongly appealed to cut aside the prejudices which one can hear both in France and Germany against the respective neighboring country: while in Germany people claim that France only wants to live at the expense of Germany and Europe, there are people in France who claim that Germany wants to use France for its own advantage. “The unity between France and Germany is the condition in order to bring about the unity of Europe,” he stated.
According to Macron Europe is more than a Europe which functions according to “rules” and which in the past has been shaped by different succeeding empires (hegemonies). The key for the construction of Europe today and in the future is “solidarity”. (This term is strongly echoed in the recent Vatican document “Considerations for an ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic- financial system” that was published 17th of May by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. In respect to migration and finances Macron called for a particular “solidarity” which European countries should express, given that in Europe there are countries which today still have an youth unemployment rate at the level of 30/ 40 / 50%.” Similar to Chancellor Merkel, Macron reiterated that he believed that a more ambitious European budget is needed, a more coherent social Europe and a strong Eurozone which allows more investments and convergence for all states.
The French President made a strong plea in defense of the “civilian” Europe: the Europe with its cafes, its debates, universities, and its dialogue of ideas. “I believe in the strength of a democratic confrontation of ideas”, Macron stated. “That’s why I believe in the will of intelligence, the will of culture.” What is above all needed is the “intelligence and beautiful culture” in Europe, he said.. He suggested that we should “fight for a European Academy of culture, for European universities, for translations, for the circulation and the exchange of works of art and for having intellectual debates in all of Europe.” These ideas would be essential ideas for our societies and our youth and referred to Europe’s “capacity not to be fearful of the exchange of ideas.” It is that specific capacity to “look for dialogue about the universal and to mediate the universal.”