End of US-Germany honeymoon exposes new rifts in old alliance （He Zhigao）
Donald Trump's first trip to Europe as US president failed to mollify the mounting tensions between the US and Europe, especially Germany. After the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "We Europeans must take our destiny into our own hands." Meanwhile, Trump called the Germans "very bad" for their vast trade surplus with the US.
Their spat quickly made headlines around the world and seemed to be an extension of the awkwardness generated when Trump refused to shake Merkel's hand during their first official meeting.
The US and Germany now denounce each other continuously and risk falling out of the community of democracies and entering a relationship featuring adversity and hostility. With more differences than consensuses, their bilateral ties have plunged to a record low point following their brief honeymoon period back in the Barack Obama era.
There is no denying that Washington and Berlin have indispensable differences. Though they remain important partners with each other, they must also manage a slew of discrepancies, notably their different attitudes toward climate change, trade policy, globalization and governance. In addition, both sides have bred discord on such issues as the massive influx of refugees and immigration.
At the NATO summit in Brussels late last month, Trump bashed his European allies for not fulfilling NATO's Article 5 clause. Trump's demand that European members meet their pledge to contribute two percent of national GDP to their defense budget annually by 2024 lies at the core of these vehement tussles. But Germany and the US still have wide divergences on how to use these funds, which the former believes should be used for crisis management, economic development and to buttress stability in weak nations while the latter wants the money to go toward weapon upgrades.
Furthermore, Merkel's speech serves as a signal to other EU member states, reminding them of the union's autonomy and authority. She also underlined that integration needs further development. For Berlin, Europe's priority position in NATO policies and improved cooperation and coordination between Washington and the EU within the NATO framework are the most critical issues of the day.
The EU Global Strategy entitled "Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe" unveiled a year ago highlights "The EU needs to be strengthened as a security community: European security and defense efforts should enable the EU to act autonomously while also contributing to and undertaking actions in cooperation with NATO." For instance, member states must "meet the collective commitment of 20 percent of defense budget spending devoted to the procurement of equipment and Research & Technology."
The White Paper on the Future of Europe released by the European Commission in March 2017 called for closer defense cooperation, demonstrating that Europe attaches great importance to the development of its own security strategy and avoids unilaterally relying on NATO. Nonetheless, this will likely give rise to another scenario: changes in US-German relations will trigger fluctuations in their respective ties with Russia and consequently mitigate the tensions between Washington and Moscow or between Berlin and Moscow.
Emmanuel Macron's victory in France has further convinced Merkel that a stronger France-Germany relationship is the cornerstone for the future development of European integration, particularly in the post-Brexit epoch. Central and eastern European countries also maintain different views toward transatlantic relations. In a recent speech, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis noted, "We highlighted the importance of a strong transatlantic relation." Given Moscow's implied threats on this issue, the Baltic states and Poland have repeatedly emphasized the importance of strong transatlantic ties.
Despite enlarged discrepancies within the EU, Berlin-Paris intimacy will in turn facilitate the development of the differentiated integration proposal by the European Commission. In addition, Merkel's remarks also provided a glimpse of her governing ideas and the policy claims of the German people. The upcoming September election stands as a serious test for her policies and also a chance to win herself more supporters. She has adopted similar US policies as her europhile rival Martin Schulz, which will gain more votes for her.
A strained US-German relationship is one of the new trends in the Western world, which has cast a shadow over US-EU ties. But behind this blurry shadow, we see the unity among core European countries and the development of differential integration.
（Contant He Zhigao：email@example.com）
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