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Ambassador Series

An Interview with Philip D. Murphy, U.S. Ambassador to Germany

Germany Phillip D. MurphyPhilip D. Murphy was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany in August 2009. On May 29, 2013, it was announced that Murphy was stepping down. From 1993 to 1997, Murphy was head of the Goldman Sachs’ Frankfurt Office, and from 1997 to 1999, he served as the President of Goldman Sachs (Asia). Murphy also served as the National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee between 2006 and 2009. He graduated from Harvard University with an A.B. in Economics and received his M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Politic: I will just begin with why you decided to join the Foreign Service?

I chose to come to Germany because I was asked to by President Obama; I’m a political appointee. I always thought that the Foreign Service was a great career path. I got lucky and I came to it late in my 50s, but I think it is a fantastic career to consider when you are younger, or somebody like you coming out of college.

The Politic: Before joining the Foreign Service you were in finance, right?

I was in banking, which I left in 2003. I spent a bunch of years just doing private philanthropy and investments and then I became the national finance chair for the Democratic National Committee to raise money for the party.

The Politic: Would you say that there was one experience or person in your life when you were in college or high school that piqued your interest in foreign affairs?

Foreign affairs is a civic responsibility. That would be my father, and it is an unusual choice because he was not somebody who was on-paper educated. He didn’t even graduate from high school. But he saw that my mother and all of us went to college, and I had the luck to go to Harvard — don’t hold that against me. I remember watching political elections with him. He and my mom helped out going door to door for John Kennedy when he was running for Congress. He was somebody who cared about issues and cared about politics and civic engagement and civic responsibility, and so there was an element of foreign affairs to that, but that really was the first taste of public service in my life.  I’d also give my colleagues in Goldman Sachs, who came from schools including Yale Law, a lot of credit.

The Politic: As far as your time in Germany, I know that exports from Europe are at an all-time low and that unemployment is high. In what area do you think that Germany can help Europe grow in terms of industry? German politicians, particularly Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, have been discussing the importance of helping youth prepare for jobs. What is your take on job creation? 

Europe and Germany are different pictures at the moment. If you look at the United States you have got an economy that is growing sort of 2.5 to 3 percent, unemployment is around 7.5 percent. In Europe, you have got basically an economy that is flat in terms of growth average, has unemployment of approximately 12 percent, but with huge dispersion within Europe. Germany would be far and away at the better end of that spectrum with an unemployment rate of around 5 percent, although there’s not a lot of growth in the economy.

There is a lot that can be done at the EU level and at the Eurozone level with all countries helping to get the countries that are really challenged through difficult circumstances, and Germany is doing a lot of that. Germany just hosted a summit last week on job creation in Europe. Chancellor Merkel did that with Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who came up with some good plans. The big debate in Europe, which I think is a false debate, is either fiscal consolidation or growth. And the reality is that Europe needs both: it needs fiscal consolidation and growth. Growth of course means growing your economy, raising tax revenues as a result, and lowering unemployment, and Europe needs to do that in particular with youth. Germany is a central player in each of those, there is no question about it. Germany is the biggest economy in Europe and it must and it is in fact playing a central role in both of those dramas. We, back in America, depend a lot on the European economy. There are deep ties between our two economies, so it’s in our interest, not just in Europe’s interest, that Europe consolidates and behaves more as one, particularly those countries that share the common currency.

The Politic: Could you speak to some of the other rising powers who also have strong trade with Germany, such as China and Russia, and how those trade relations may affect Germany in the future? Additionally, are there particular regions that are rapidly increasing their trade with Germany? 

Yes, Germany is the fourth largest economy in the world and the number-two export economy in the world, so it has deep ties with a lot of countries. First and foremost are Germany’s European neighbors, which means that the European crisis for the past several years, while it hasn’t been necessarily a German crisis, has impacted Germany enormously because Germany exports a lot of its goods to its neighbors. The United States is a big market in terms of investment, trade, and job creation, so that is a big bilateral relationship. By the way, you probably know that they are beginning negotiations this week on what will hopefully be a successful transatlantic trade and investment partnership, a big sort of trade agreement that will be great for both Europe and the U.S.

You also rightfully point out that Germany has a lot at stake with other countries.  China has an enormous commercial engagement with Germany. Russia is another important market for Germany. There is a lot of commercial engagement between Russia and Europe, and that trade relationship goes both ways because Russia has got a lot of energy to sell. Lastly, Germany has relations and lots of high aspirations for further developing its relationship with places like Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and others, so there is a lot going on. When your economy is as big as Germany’s is, you have got ties to a lot of different places.

The Politic: Regarding the bilateral trade deal that you were talking about, I know that the French government has expressed some concerns over the recent NSA leak, and I was wondering if you could just speak on this topic. It seems that Germany helped cool the issue and continue the negotiation process by ensuring that meetings started on time, but what is the general feeling right now in the German government about the NSA leak?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosting the G8 summit in Heiligendamm

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosting the G8 summit in Heiligendamm

People are quiet. This is a big issue in Germany. I have been out of Germany for the past four days, but I can tell you that when I left this was a big issue, as it should be. They are concerned, and they need to get some answers.  President Obama and his administration understand that completely. The chancellor and president spoke exclusively about this last week. The approach that we strongly favor is one where we do these steps in parallel because we need to start the trade and investment negotiations because there is just too much at stake. There is too much at stake to put that off because there are so many jobs created on both sides of the Atlantic, but at the same time we need to take things very seriously, not just between Germany and United States, but also between the EU and the United States. That doesn’t mean that one is less important or more important than the other. Europe is the home of our best allies, so when you have got a situation that is complicated like this and has caused some heartache between allies as close as Germany and America we have got to get these questions resolved very quickly. I am out of government now, but my gut tells me that is exactly what we’re going to do.

The Politic: Have you seen both Germany and the U.S. collaborating and moving toward a solution where everyone has the information that they want?

Yes.

The Politic: On a final note, do you know what you are doing next?

I do not. I have not made any plans. I held lots of fascinating conversations and heard many suggestions, but my wife and I live for our young children and we have decided we’re going to get them settled back in America.

Embassy of the United States to Germany: http://germany.usembassy.gov/

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Alessandra Powell

Alessandra Powell is a contributor to The Politic from New York, New York. Contact her at alessandra.powell@yale.edu.

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