Home / News / “Germany, Europe and the United States: A strategic partnership facing new challenges?” – Minister Heiko Maas

“Germany, Europe and the United States: A strategic partnership facing new challenges?” – Minister Heiko Maas

On April 1, 2019, the American Council on Germany hosted Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a discussion and luncheon. Below is the speech delivered by Minister Maas.

“It is to any young man’s advantage to have been in America, for then he can claim to have seen and got to know the world, and he knows what to think of people.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

That sentence is taken from a letter written almost 150 years ago by Isaac Schweitzer. The German-Jewish businessman had emigrated to America and was writing to his family back in Germany. I’m sure none of us here would contradict him.

Indeed, where could you find more proof for his claim than here in New York? No other city so completely embodies the cosmopolitan, globally responsible America in the minds of people across the globe:

  • It has been a melting pot for over 200 years; you can hear more than 200 different languages here – and not just at the UN.
  • It is a hub where global trends in culture and society are set, which is why on the premises where we are meeting today, we are building the German Academy New York – a laboratory for working on ideas for the future (A big thanks to the Academy hosting us today!).
  • But, of course, this city is also the New York of the East River, the UN headquarters – the home of peaceful cooperation among all nations based on human rights.

The fates of this city and of Europe have been connected for centuries.

That’s why I am deeply concerned to see this unique partnership, drifting apart on key issues.


Our joint effort to strengthen an international trading regime has been replaced by an EU-US trade conflict, which hangs over us like the sword of Damocles. It will leave all of us worse off.


we are grateful for our partnership within NATO, which has enabled us Europeans to enjoy security, stability and prosperity over the last 70 years.

But public debates about burden-sharing in NATO are generating uncertainty – at a time when Russia is trying to test our unity again and again.

Europeans know that we need to assume greater responsibility for our security. It lies in our own interest. That is why, in Germany, we have raised our defence spending by nearly 40 percent since 2014.

And our defence budget will continue to rise; by 2024, it will reach one point five percent of our GDP.

We are one of NATO’s largest troop contributors. And we stand by our commitments – as the framework nation for the enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania or by once again leading the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force this year.


We cannot ignore that our transatlantic consensus on shared values – has come off the rails. I am talking about the US and Europe’s long-standing commitment to a multilateral, rules-based world order.

When faced with a new order in which great-power rivalry is back on the agenda, our response shouldn’t be “My country first”. It should be a close alliance of all those committed to a rules-based international order.

That is certainly how we are responding to the current erosion of the international order. It would also be an important element of a new transatlantic bargain that many wise heads are calling for on both sides of the pond.

This is also about relations with China. How to deal with the rise of China is a strategic challenge that will shape the international agenda in the 21st century.

We need to deal with China’s political and economic influence around the world. The central issue is defending and protecting our rules-based order as embodied by international law, the global trade system, the human rights regime and international arms-control agreements.

We want and need good economic and political relations with China. But we are also aware that such relations will only last if they are fair – if we can agree on shared rules and standards. That is a goal we share, Americans and Europeans.

We should therefore pull together when we try to get China to accept greater responsibility as an international player and a leading economic power. That applies particularly with regard to Chinese competition and trading practices, Chinese investments and reform of the World Trade Organization.

We are interested in welcoming China as a constructive player in the reform of the multilateral system. For that to happen, China needs to respect the unity of the European Union and its core values. Germany, France and the EU made that very clear to President Xi Jinping in Paris just a few days ago.

Beyond China, we have long sought to make our relations with the countries of Asia as broad as possible – at both the national and EU levels. This has included negotiating EU free-trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region. The free-trade agreement with Japan, created a common economic area for more than 600 million people.

By such means, we are ensuring that our values and rules feed into global standards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn to the other strategic triangle, the US and Germany’s, or the EU’s, relations with Russia.

These relations have been growing more difficult since at least 2014. Russia has repeatedly called the rules-based international order into question – by illegally annexing Crimea, interfering in eastern Ukraine, tolerating the use of chemical weapons in Syria and violating the INF Treaty, which is so crucial to European security. A lot of trust has been lost.

In our view, the main aim is to get Russia back to upholding international rules. Russia is our largest neighbour. And as we see in nearly all international conflicts, solutions won’t work without Russia on side.

What this means is that we need to build our own capacity to respond effectively to Russia’s interference in elections, cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns. And we need to strenghten the capacities of our partners. The same goes for our capacity to respond to military threats. That’s also why we have German troops in Lithuania.

And let me reiterate one thing very clearly: for all the scaremongering, Nord Stream 2 will not make Germany dependent on Russia. We have alternative supply lines. Just last week, we decided in cabinet to improve the conditions for developing our LNG infrastructure. And we are working alongside the EU to safeguard the gas transit route through Ukraine.

If Russia breaks international rules, we need to call it out and issue a credible response. The EU has done so repeatedly, including by imposing sanctions.

However, such sanctions must be coupled with clear political objectives. They must be targeted, and they must be reversible.

We cannot accept sanctions which do not meet these criteria and which affect partners more than they affect Russia.

All the criticism of Russia does not mean that we don’t need dialogue, too. A dialogue to manage those difficult relations and prevent unintended escalation. That’s why we need not only the NATO-Russia Council, but also direct channels of communication between our militaries.

Above all else, however, we will continue our support for civil society in Russia and for strong ties at civil-society level. Russia’s isolation, self-imposed in many ways, would be dangerous. It cannot be in our interest.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you see, our strategic partnership is facing major challenges.

But, I firmly believe that there is still more that unites than divides us on the two sides of the Atlantic.

For us Germans, the history of our German-American relations will always be closely bound up with the great support that the US gave Germany on our way to democracy, liberty and the rule of law.

Earlier, I mentioned a letter that Isaac Schweitzer wrote to his family back in Germany. That letter is part of the “German Heritage in Letters” project, one of countless amazing projects being run as part of the Deutschlandjahr USA.

Under the motto “Wunderbar together” we want to foster dialogue between Germans and Americans. We want to shine a light on what we have in common. We want to reflect the many facets of our relations. Since October 2018, we have been working with more than 200 partners – including the ACG – to run projects in many towns across the US, and most especially in its heartland. Many of you are involved in this and we are extremely grateful for that!

For me, this is a key to the preservation of our transatlantic partnership.

This partnership is nourished by our commitment to democracy, the openness of our societies, our shared belief in political pluralism and the fair contest of ideas.

These are achievements we democracies can only defend and enjoy in concert with one another. For all our differences of opinion, Europe and America will be well advised to stick together. Together we can shape the future – come rain or come shine.

Thank you very much for inviting me here today.

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