President Obama’s Berlin Visit

Security policy is seeing some convergence, but there are still major differences of opinion in economic policy

19/06/2013 five questions to Josef Braml

Five Questions, June 19, 2013

Category: Transatlantic Relations, Free Trade, United States of America, Federal Republic of Germany

“While we continue to fixate on the leader of the West, the US has shifted it’s attention toward Asia,” stated Josef Braml, resident fellow of the Transatlantic Relations Program at the German Council on Foreign Affairs (DGAP). The DGAP expert answers questions about the latest approaches to security policy, contentious issues in economic and trade politics, and the meaning of Obama’s visit to Germany.

What is the meaning of the American President’s visit to Berlin?

The visit is more important for Europeans, and especially for Germany, than it is for Americans. While we continue to fixate on the leader of the West, the US has shifted it’s attention toward Asia,, where more economic possibilities, but also more risks are anticipated. Europe can remain relevant for the USA if it helps to solve problems in other world regions. Whether we are capable, or willing, is another question.

How is the relationship at present between Berlin and Washington?

We are experiencing some convergence in security policy with Washington, because the idealized hopes of quick nation building have given way to a realistic appraisal of the challenges within specific countries. We are now either backing out with the US of operations in unstable states such as Afghanistan, or we are avoiding – but again, together, interference in Syria with our own military forces.

But with our economic policies, the contrast could not be greater. One side does something and the other judges it to be useless, or even counterproductive. Barack Obama will again urge Angela Merkel to stimulate the economy while Merkel will persist on her course of budget consolidation in order to reestablish Europe’s ability to act.

What are the most important themes in the relations between the two countries?

Above all, besides economic policy, it is trade policy, particularly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which tops their agenda. There are still a few big barriers to this project – on both sides of the Atlantic. While Europeans drag their heals on issues relating to agriculture and cultural policy, the US President will not be able to obtain the necessary trade promotion authority from Congress that would enable him to negotiate with executive power on an international level.

What can Obama do to step out of his 2008 shadow and that of the Kennedy visit in 1963?

Obama’s own shadow is bigger than that of Kennedy’s. He inspired great expectations that he could not fulfill. But that is due less to him as a person, and more a result of the enormous social and economic problems his country faces, which are weighing on the system so heavily as to cause a block-up. With the exception of security policy, where the President is very powerful, a president’s hands are tied. President Obama is constantly thwarted by Congress, in particular by the Republican dominated House of Representatives.

How important is Obama’s visit for the German elections?

If Winston Churchill was right, then one week is a very long time in an election. And we still have several weeks until election day; that is time for a many things to happen that might have a much bigger effect on voters.

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