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The Politic Blog

Reconciliation at the G7 Summit

Two photos went viral after the G7 summit. The first showed President Obama raising a half-liter of (non-alcoholic) Bavarian beer to toast the German-American relationship. The second, set against a picturesque alpine backdrop, revealed a friendly moment between the President and Chancellor Angela Merkel: Obama, sitting easily on a bench and Merkel, gesturing, arms wide open with a slight grin. Taken together, the photos seemed to embody a spirit of reconciliation between the two leaders, whose relationship grew tense after it was revealed that NSA surveillance had been targeting the German Chancellor.

The relationship only rekindled out of necessity after the Russian invasion of Crimea as the two nations crafted and implemented strict sanctions against the Russian government. Merkel proved to be a key partner in ensuring the European Union’s cooperation. The economies of many EU member states are intimately linked with Russia’s, and many others depend on Russia at least partially as an energy supplier. The isolation of Russia depended, in no small part, on the Chancellor’s ability to maintain a united front in Europe. The summit, then, represents the final stage of reconciliation for President Obama and Chancellor Merkel.

But even as the two leaders seem to have revived their once-legendary rapport, the German public has still not forgiven the American government for the spying scandal, nor has it been convinced, as their Chancellor has, that Russia is truly the threat it has been made out to be. Accusations that Chancellor Merkel was being manipulated by the American security apparatus grew louder in April, when allegations surfaced that the German government had been spying on European allies for the NSA. Popular opposition to the American-supported Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, has widened the rift. Many Germans perceive the agreement as granting greater power to multinational corporations at the expense of small businesses and consumers by relaxing environmental regulations.

This, coupled with the long history and deep economic ties many Germans have with Russia and Eastern Europe, has served to erode German support for the once-venerated NATO alliance. In a recent Pew poll, most Germans said that they would not support military intervention on behalf of a NATO ally attacked by Russia. Yet at the same time, the German government played a key role at the G7 talks in reiterating its tough stance on Russian aggression. A majority of Germans now believe that Germany should seek greater autonomy from the U.S. in foreign policy and security.

Germany will have to make a decision in the near future about its place in the regional system that has dominated Europe since the Second World War. In the past decade, the nation has risen to become the leading economic power in the European Union. In the past year, it has been forced to become the dominant political force as well. Britain’s reluctance to become more integrated into the European Union largely guarantees German leadership within the EU for the near future. So far, this leadership has been reluctant. Germany has shunned an assertive role in the international system, ever alert to the echoes of the Third Reich. For a new generation of Germans, however, these echoes may not be enough to drown out the clamor for European direction. Germany may assume the role as part of the American-dominated NATO, or “Western” sphere, or as the voice of a united Europe, wholly separate from (though largely ideologically aligned with) American leadership.