US foreign policy looms over German election

(By Deutsche Welle) In Germany’s election, controversial US policies on surveillance and Syria have forced the candidates to walk a fine line on relations with Washington. But the US wants Berlin to play a bigger global leadership role.

At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg this month, major European nations such as France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain all signed a joint statement supporting the United States’ position on Syria. The document pointed the finger at the Assad regime as the likely culprit behind the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus and called for a “strong international response.”

But the signature of Europe’s largest economy and arguably most important political power, Germany, was noticeably absent from the joint statement.

Berlin hesitated and then ultimately signed the communiqué one day later. It’s an election year, and with the campaign now in its final leg before the vote on September 22, the center-left opposition is trying to breach Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly impregnable position in the polls. Even foreign policy, often a back-burner issue in elections, has become a point of campaign contention.

The issue of military strikes against Syria is not the first time that US policy has stirred up partisan recriminations in Germany’s election campaign. Reporting by newsmagazine Der Spiegel on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about US surveillance programs, and Berlin’s alleged involvement in them, has dogged Merkel for months now.

“It’s a fine line – the candidates can’t get too close to the US, especially on the NSA issue,” Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy, told DW. “On the other hand they can’t be seen as being too distant either, because the US is still one of German’s biggest economic partners. It’s still its major security partner.”

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US, EU debt crisis escalates in the face of political gridlock

(By Deutsche Welle) Long after the bailouts of Wall Street and Greece, the US and EU face an escalating debt crisis. Political gridlock on both sides of the Atlantic prevents the implementation of controversial but necessary solutions.

The United States and the European Union have faced a financial onslaught this summer as stock markets and credit ratings tumble due to declining confidence in the political will of Washington and Brussels to implement the controversial but necessary steps to reduce ballooning sovereign debt.

For the first time in history, the US – the world’s leading economy and only political superpower – has lost its AAA credit according to the rating agency Standard and Poor’s, indicating a deteriorating faith in America’s gridlocked political system and still stalled economy.

In Europe, a debt crisis that began in the peripheral states of Greece, Ireland and Portugal has spread dangerously close to core countries such as Italy and Spain, the eurozone’s fourth and fifth largest economies respectively, placing the very future of the European project in question.

The parallel escalation of the debt problems on both sides of the Atlantic has raised concerns that the global economy could slide back into recession.

“The underlying weaknesses that are also revealed by these crises …have something in common in terms of the difficulty of putting your fiscal house in order,” Jean Pisani-Ferry, director of the Brussels-based economic policy think tank Bruegel, told Deutsche Welle.

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US, EU seek consensus on securing cargo shipments from terrorists

(By Deutsche Welle) Washington views commercial cargo shipments as a potential source of terrorist attacks, if strict monitoring standards are not implemented. US Homeland Security chief Napolitano is in Europe to advocate the US position.

Washington does not currently plan to implement a congressional requirement that calls for every single container to be screened at its port of departure before shipping off for the United States, US Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano said as she toured Europe to discuss trans-Atlantic security cooperation.

“We believe the so-called 100 percent requirement is probably not the best way to go,” Napolitano said Wednesday in Rotterdam.

In the decade since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington has sought to implement its own stringent security standards at airports and commercial ports around the world in order to counter the perceived threat of another impending terrorist strike.

In reaction to this threat assessment, the US Congress passed a provision in 2007 that called for all containers to be screened at their ports of departure by 2012, sparking controversy in Europe.

Many European officials argued that the measure would have a direct impact on Europe’s internal market, unfairly diverting goods to ports that had implemented Washington’s security standards.

“Obviously the US feels much more threatened than the European Union,” Patryk Pawlak, an expert on homeland security issues in the US and EU, told Deutsche Welle.

Last October, British authorities intercepted a parcel bomb of Yemeni origin at the East Midlands airport. The explosive-filled computer printer ink cartridge was addressed to a Jewish synagogue in Chicago.

“The attempt with the ink cartridges for printers last year really shows that the European Union is a potential territory for the transit of such tools, so that’s why the US is trying to motivate the European side,” said Pawlak, a scholar at the Paris-based European Union Institute for Security Studies.

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US, Europe struggle to redefine partnership in a changing world

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama has called on America and Europe to renew their flagging global leadership. But the Atlantic partners first must redefine their relationship in the face of Arab uprisings and Asian strength.

In his address to the British Parliament, Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to take on a global leadership role by setting a democratic example to the rest of the world, even as the decade-long war in Afghanistan grinds on and a stubborn financial crisis worries both sides of the Atlantic.

Obama’s speech on Wednesday, the first by an American president in London’s 900-year-old Westminster Hall, was the keynote address of a European tour that led him from Ireland to Poland in a bid to inspire a renewed sense of purpose in a Western world demoralized by a wrenching start to the new millennium.

The trans-Atlantic partnership has survived the 10-year crisis that began with the September 11 attacks and ended with the near collapse of the global financial system. As a new decade dawns, Europe and the US are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their historic partnership is changing in response to revolts in the Arab world and stunning economic growth in Asia.

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‘Euro-pragmatic’ Berlin flexes muscles as EU debt crisis drags on

(By Deutsche Welle) Once considered the EU’s staunchest supporter, Germany is growing increasingly critical of its indebted neighbors. Buoyed by a strong economy, Berlin is shedding its timid stance and defending its interests.

During the Cold War, Germany felt strongly that its national interests were synonymous with those of a united Europe. Being part of Europe meant Berlin could exercise its sovereignty in the name of peace and reconciliation. But since reunification, political elites have become more willing to defend German interests, even if they conflict with broader EU goals.

“The opinion of the elites regarding Europe has completely changed,” Ulrike Guerot, with the Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, told Deutsche Welle.

That change has to do with European monetary union and the introduction of a shared currency, the euro. It was a crowning achievement of the once unimaginable reconciliation between diverse nations into a functioning European bloc.

But recently, the global financial crisis has exposed divisions between Europe’s increasingly jealous nation-states. And hopes for a deepening democratic union from Brussels to Bucharest have run up on the rocks of economic hardship.

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