Do we need a European security and defense union? The question of the European Union’s initiative comes up often. And people regularly chime in with the answer: that’s NATO’s responsibility. It’s no less important than the EU. And more often than not the question arises whether NATO should curb its penchant for expeditions (Afghanistan) and return to defending its own backyard (Europe).
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of the Social Democratic Party of Germany has now inserted himself into the debate with an article for Handelsblatt. And even though Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that it was not a government-issued text but merely the opinion of the foreign minister, it didn’t just fall from Mars. It illustrates a certain form of deliberation which should interest us.
Maas defines the EU vis-a-vis Trump’s America. Nay, more than that. Vis-a-vis an America that’s “values and interests” diverged from those of Europe well before Donald Trump and will continue to do so after he’s gone. He takes care not to come off as anti-American. He’s not calling for a “German way,” as Gerhard Schroeder did. He writes that, as a high school graduate, he traveled across the U.S. “with Paul Auster’s ‘New York Trilogy’ in my pocket and Bruce Springsteen’s music in my ears,” but that the cultural and political attraction has passed. It is necessary – for Europe and the EU – to draft a new “balanced partnership” with the U.S.
Maas uses the words balanced and fairness, as does Trump. Trump, however, uses them in reference to mutual trade, whereas Maas means European sovereignty. Europe should 1) take on its share of responsibility, 2) create a counterweight for when America crosses the red line and 3) apply its weight in places where America is retreating. Maas favors Germany’s increasing its defense expenditures. But the goal is a European security and defense union. And that’s where things get interesting.
This union is also intended to reclaim European sovereignty, by means of a digital tax, in areas where American concerns like Google and Apple are shipping their profits home from the EU. It’s intended to protect European firms doing business in Iran from American sanctions. And to organize payment channels independent of the U.S., a banking system and a European monetary fund. It’s a vision of a Europe that increasingly differs on matters of principle not only with America, but with the Anglo-Saxon world more generally; the expression Britain doesn’t appear in the entire text even once.