The day before Washington's unfair, unjust and, above all else, illogical new sanctions against Turkey came into effect this side of the Atlantic, we witnessed something truly remarkable. On Aug. 12, Germany's Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier told German daily Bild am Sonntag, "Politics does not have the right to put at risk the jobs of steelworkers, car makers or aluminum casters."The minister went on by declaring that what we need instead is "world trade with reduced tariffs, less protectionism and open markets." Not surprisingly his comments immediately topped headlines in more than one publication; at once it was re-quoted on the website of Germany's leading news program tagesschau.de.
There we further learned that when put into perspective with recently modified import tariffs for goods from China, the European Union and now Turkey, Altmaier thinks that "this trade war slows down and destroys economic growth and leads to new uncertainties." Elaborating with regards to U.S. sanctions on Iran, the German minister said, "We will not let Washington dictate to us with what countries we have trade relations." In a nutshell: a leading representative of one of the key architects of modern Europe has declared recent economic policies as carried out by the United States as nothing less but a full blown trade war.
Now this is something out of the ordinary, to put it mildly.In a highly interesting analysis, "Europe: Rebalancing the U.S.-European Relationship," Ivo H. Daalder, who later on in his long-standing career would become the 20th Permanent Representative of the United States to NATO, wrote back in the year of 2000 that "good U.S.-European relations will not, however, continue automatically. Worries about the static nature of the alliance – characterized by continued U.S. dominance and European dependence, at least in the security area – in the face of fundamental world change are calling into question how long the current steady state of affairs can last."
Almost two decades thereafter we very clearly see the results of Daalder's assumptions as not simply a few isolated actors in Europe demand more independence from Washington but almost an entire political elite worries about continued dominance as exercised by Washington over Europe's own affairs. So would we – or perhaps the author in retrospective, too – say that the U.S. did not listen to early calls for a reformulating of relations, or that Europe hesitated until it was really too little too late, or in the case of recent sanctions, too much?
Besides, we should not fall into the anti-Americanism trap; today's expression of interest heard ever louder and louder in Europe to take matters into her own hands should under no condition be misinterpreted as being anti-America as such. It is more that many European leaders feel sidelined at best, at worst not taken seriously at all when it comes to how the current U.S. administration handles transatlantic as well as many bilateral affairs.
The absolute crucial part in this emerging wider picture is how Washington reacts from now on: does it see a more independent Europe as a threat? Does it fear to lose a vast geopolitical area of previously immense influence? Or does the current administration not care at all as long as they put America first? But if the two former hypotheses hold forth why neglect and even alienate a number of major allies and NATO partners?
World trade is no one way street
Granted, the Trump administration should know only too well how to engage in, and with, business. President Donald Trump in his previous role as extremely successful entrepreneur and financier would remember that as he wrote in one of his books "The Art of the Deal" that asking for something which is clearly over the top only works out to a very limited extent and that ultimately, every success story is based on two sides feeling equally happy and represented in any agreement signed.But running a national economy is not comparable to running a private company; and managing a national economy completely integrated into world markets is similarly not like managing a group of international branches of your own enterprise.
And here is the dilemma with sanctions replacing diplomacy: you as the individual entrepreneur can, from one minute until the other, stop trading with a supplier from a faraway country should you so decide. That is business after all. But you as a leading economy of the world cannot pull the plug out of a number of other national economies by putting their currencies at risk, by derailing their economies and by leading to hardship for those nation's populations.
Will Europe speak with one voice?
As this article is first and foremost about the wider U.S.-EU picture there is nevertheless of course a clear link with the increased import tariffs for aluminum and steel as well as the freezing of expected yet never proven assets of two Turkish ministers by Washington. So let us first mention Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Chancellor was quoted in Austria's Kleine Zeitung on Aug. 13 as saying that "Germany wants an economically prospering Turkey. This is in our own interest too… no one has any interest in an economic destabilization of Turkey."
Hence, no matter how one particular EU member state or for example Switzerland voicing concern, too, interprets Turkish domestic or foreign policies it appears to me as if declaring unfair sanctions for Turkey is seen as if sanctions would be declared towards the EU, too. There is a growing and already very strong show of verbal support aimed at helping Turkey to overcome the exchange rate crisis.
On the one hand, Turkey is seen as an important friend and ally, as a vital NATO member. The Turkish and German as well as European peoples get along together extremely well and did and continue to do so for many decades. Yet on the other hand there is a fear-factor inherent in this debate, too: the fear of and about that "we could be next." If the current volatile trend in U.S. trade and at times foreign policies in general continues and if what we discussed earlier on – the "America first" doctrine as basic policy making model – it does not seem unlikely that further increased tariffs on EU goods, or perhaps new sanctions on nations with which the EU prefers to deal instead of to isolating them, will convince that whilst not turning isolationist herself, the EU would better come up with a sound, logic and above all else united front.
If the Turkish lira fails due to external speculation plus unfair sanctions, who knows if one day in the future the European currency might be at risk, too? Or at least individual economies; we all remember Greece, we hear from Italy and then there was Spain.
As Ivo H. Daalder wrote in 2000 there is fundamental world change. Perhaps not always because it is intended – often as a reaction – but most definitely Europe and Turkey, too, seem to be better equipped to deal with it than their current American partners.
Nevertheless, the best deal of all, revisiting Donald Trump's "The Art of the Deal" one more time, would be to return to the art of diplomacy first. Turkey is ready, so is Europe. America is such a fine nation and should join in again, too. Then all sides involved can return to focus on what matters most – mutually beneficial cooperation.
* Political analyst, journalist