Europe Is Not Just Moving Away From Trump, but From the United States

On June 14, the United States Senate overwhelming approved an extension of U.S. sanctions against Russia, which the Senate believes, has contributed to the destabilization of Syria and Ukraine and has interfered in the elections of other nations.

Juan Chingo

@JuanChingo | Paris

July 05, 2017

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On June 14, the United States Senate overwhelming approved an extension of U.S. sanctions against Russia, which the Senate believes, has contributed to the destabilization of Syria and Ukraine and has interfered in the elections of other nations. This hard line has been adopted primarily in order to make Moscow pay for its alleged cyber attack during the presidential campaign of 2016. The extension of these sanctions, now codified in law, limit President Trump’s ability to relax, suspend or cancel existing sanctions as he seeks a closer relationship with Russia. The U.S. Senate’s hard line stance appears set to be easily approved by the House of Representatives as well.

The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline at the center of the dispute

Various European nations are concerned about the impact that the U.S. Senate’s hard line may have on companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This project plans to transport Russian gas through the Baltic Sea direct to Germany and on to other European countries (while by-passing the three Baltic states and Poland). Nord Stream 2, which Poland has dubbed the Molotov-Ribbentrop 2 gas pipeline [1], will divert Siberian gas from existing onshore pipelines, in particular, the Yamal-Europe pipeline that runs through Belarus and Poland and the Trans-Siberian pipeline (the so-called “Brotherhood” pipeline) that runs through Ukraine to central Europe. Geopolitically, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline creates a special arrangement between Russia and Germany, undermines the security and economic interests of Eastern and central Europe, and leaves Ukraine open to blackmail from the Kremlin. Nord Stream 2 will be built by the Russian gas giant Gazprom, with five other big firms financing half of the 9.5 billion euro project: the French company Engie, the Anglo-Dutch company Shell, the Austrian OMV and the German Uniper and Wintershall (BASF).

In the midst of this dispute now dividing the countries of Europe, a new unexpected player has entered the scene: the United States. The text overwhelmingly approved by U.S. Senators not only allows for the imposition of “new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy”; but section 233 explicitly refers to the development of pipelines. While not expressly citing the controversial Nord Stream 2, it does specify that the president can impose sanctions on companies that invest in the construction of pipelines for the purposes of energy export. It will be up to the White House to decide whether or not to enforce these sanctions. As the Atlantic Council think tank explains: “If the Treasury Department uses this provision in an aggressive manner, it could threaten to punish any company that invests in Nord Stream 2” [2].

Incredibly, the Senate cited as the basis for its decision ... the threat that the Old Continent poses to US energy security. Their assessment is that “the United States Government should prioritize support for energy exports to the United States in order to create jobs and strengthen United States foreign policy”, as well as “help the allies of the United States” [3]. Le Monde then goes on to report that “with regards to Nord Stream 2, they know that US exports of shale gas, which began modestly in 2017, will seriously suffer in competition with Russian gas”. Engie CEO Isabelle Kocher says that this is just a way for the United States “to promote its own gas.” U.S. companies have tried to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) [4] to Europe in the wake of the softening of Obama administration sanctions. From the U.S.’s strategic point of view, the flow of cheap liquefied gas to Europe breaks the Russian Gazprom’s monopoly and forces it to lower prices, in the same way that shale oil from the U.S. is breaking the dominance of the OPEC crude oil prices and shifts the balance of power and dependence between the two great centers of energy raw material production internationally. Both Lithuania and Poland have already opened new port terminals for LNG imports. While gas from Gazprom is much cheaper, LNG has, in geostrategic terms, become cheap enough to completely alter the balance of power — despite the need to liquefy it, transport it in purpose built LNG tanker ships and convert it back to natural gas.

Ferocious response from Germany and Austria

In the name of the European Union, Germany and Austria have banded together in a ferocious response to the initiative of the U.S. Senate: “We cannot accept ... the threat of illegal extraterritorial sanctions against European companies that participate in the development of European energy supply!”, said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern in a hard-hitting joint statement. They point out that “The goal [of the amendment] is to secure jobs in the oil and gas industry in the USA” and add that “political sanctions should in no way be tied to economic interests.” The threat of the further deterioration in transatlantic relations is also alluded to: “To threaten companies from Germany, Austria and other European states with penalties on the U.S. market if they participate in natural gas projects such as Nord Stream 2 with Russia or finance them introduces a completely new and very negative quality into European-American relations.” Despite her usual caution, these statements were supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose spokesperson said that she shared “the same level of concern” and expressed “the same vehemence.”

A new era in U.S.-German relations

This is the latest diplomatic clash amid a climate of rising tension between Washington and Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently broke from her traditional dovish tone to declare that, after Trump decided to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, Europe can now no longer count on the U.S. as an ally. The leader of the Christian Democratic Union told an election rally in Munich that “the times when [Europe] could completely count on others are over to a certain extent … I have experienced this in the last few days”. Statements such as this reveal a move towards increased confrontation between Europe and the United States. Merkel essentially took aim at Trump and his administration at the end of May, and in effect placed herself on the side of Trump’s opponents in Washington D.C., including those in Congress. But the blow delivered by the anti-Russian sector of the U.S. “establishment” is one that is felt by its European allies hardest. The Germans are now not only denouncing Trump, but Washington as a whole. This leap in the transatlantic divide has taken on a truly structural and vicious character, which in turn strengthens Trump’s anti-European policy. For months, Washington has refused to back down on its criticisms of Berlin, which include the current German trade surplus and stark trade imbalance it has caused between the two countries, as well as Germany’s contribution to NATO, which Trump considers to be insufficient.

To put it another way, the bipartisan action of the United States Senate and the German government’s sharp response reveal that disputes between United States and Germany are not simply being intensified because of President Donald Trump, but in fact, have deep objective roots (which can be seen in examples as disparate as the potential collapse of Germany’s largest financial institution Deutsche Bank and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine). It should be noted that, since the shock of the G7 meeting, which Merkel left in disgust with the behavior of the U.S. president, the German government has systematically worked to expand global political and economic relations. After Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Berlin in early June, Merkel visited Argentina and Mexico, and the government organized the G20-Africa Partnership Conference in Berlin that same month.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has also criticized the recent action that, with the backing of the United States, Saudi Arabia has taken against Qatar, action which is aimed, above all, at Iran. In a statement, Gabriel defended the Qatari emirate and warned against a “Trumpification” of relations in the region. “President Trump’s recent giant military contracts with Gulf monarchies raise the risk of a new spiral in arms sales”. “This policy is completely wrong and is certainly not Germany’s policy” he added. Germany’s opposition to Trump and the US has intensified since the triumph of Emmanuel Macron in France, reviving the Franco-German axis and the discussion about the construction of a European army.

Toward global disorder

As we have said since Trump came to power, it is clear that a change in world politics with vast implications is taking place. Global relations and institutions established decades ago for the development of the capitalist world economy and policy are starting to crack. Trump’s attempts at the G7 and NATO summits to ensure better economic conditions for the United States vis-à-vis its European partners, and Germany in particular, have clearly backfired. Now, not even the prospect of bilateral tension overshadowing next month’s G20 Summit in Hamburg seems to be slowing down the veteran German Chancellor—Europe’s most powerful politician. On the contrary, in spite of Donald Trump’s declared protectionism, she wants to make further advances on trade liberalization during the G20 Summit.

Some American foreign policy analysts have described these events as an historic setback for Washington. Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of The National Interest says that: “Every American administration since 1945 has tried to work closely with Germany and NATO”, but that the U.S. under Trump is “pushing Merkel to create a German superpower” [5]. He added: “Now that France has elected Emmanuel Macron president, Merkel is moving to fashion a Franco-German axis that will pursue a common economic and military path. This will signal a significant diminution in American prestige and influence abroad. Imagine, for example, that Merkel decided to defy Trump’s push for sanctions and isolation of Iran by establishing trade ties with North Korea, including selling it weapons.”

We are not at this point yet. But Trump’s approach to Europe and elsewhere has been based on the idea that he can defy the rules of the game and take whatever he wants. The problem is that this is encouraging Germany to transform itself into Europe’s superpower and will inevitably pursue what it considers to be its own interests. After all, this is the country that invented the term “realpolitik.” The likelihood of this is real but as we have already said, and in contrast to Heilbrunn’s perspective, in our view, Trump has only accelerated these tendencies within the transatlantic relationship, tendencies that arose from the economic crisis in 2008 and increased during the Obama presidency. But unlike Trump, Obama was able to support U.S. interests with a special relationship with Merkel, even when this was at times contrary to German geo-economic interests, such as in the case of his controversial sanctions against Moscow.

It is clear that what we are seeing, above all, is the deconstruction of the transatlantic architecture. This is occurring for a number of reasons. Along with the offensive moves of Trumpism, there is also the growing opposition to Trump as well as the inconsistency of those opposed to him within Washington DC. At the same time, the enduring influence of the U.S. makes it difficult for Germany to assert its own leadership in Europe. The vacuum created by the deconstruction of this influence cannot be easily filled, even in the context of the exacerbated disorder that now characterizes Washington, a disorder arising from divisions within the elite. Both Germany and the European Union fall short of being able to fill this void. In this context, disorder in the U.S. can only lead to further world disorder.

Translation: Sean Robertson

This article was published both in French [http://www.revolutionpermanente.fr/L-Europe-s-eloigne-non-seulement-de-Trump-mais-aussi-des-Etats-Unis] at Révolution Permanente, the website of the Courant Communiste Révolutionnaire (CCR - Revoultionary Communist Current) of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA - New Anticapitalist Party), and Spanish [http://www.laizquierdadiario.com/Europa-se-aleja-no-solo-de-Trump-sino-de-EEUU] at La Izquierda Diario. The article above has been translated from the Spanish version.

Notes

[1] The Treaty of Nonaggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, colloquially known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, was signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by those two nations’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov. The pact was signed nine days before the Second World War began and included a reactionary division of the zones of influence in Eastern Europe. Stalin’s narrow-minded notion that this would prevent the Nazi regime from invading the Soviet Union was completely illusory.

[2] “Alemania acusa a EEUU de querer beneficiar a sus empresas con las sanciones a Rusia”, El País, 16/6/2017 [http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2017/06/15/actualidad/1497548830_862699.html].

[3] Cited in “La « guerre du gaz » sort des frontières de l’Europe”, Le Monde, 17/6/2017 [http://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2017/06/17/la-guerre-du-gaz-sort-des-frontieres-de-l-europe_5146185_3234.html].

[4] Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is natural gas that has been processed for transportation in liquid form. It is the best alternative to monetize reserves in remote areas, where it is not economical to bring the gas directly to market either by pipeline or electricity generation. The emergence of transported LNG means that gas prices reflect the global market. Supply from countries such as Australia and Indonesia, as well as Qatari exports, has led to an abundance of supply. In 2015, LNG replaced iron ore as the second most traded product in the world after crude oil. For some this is just the beginning. The International Energy Agency expects LNG to represent half of the world’s gas supply by 2040.

[5] “Is Trump Pushing Merkel to Create A German Superpower?”, The National Interest, 28/5/2017 [http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/trump-pushing-merkel-create-german-superpower-20892].




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