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German Diplomat warns of crisis in European Union after Brexit

By Daniel Johnston

Section: News

October 6, 2017

The former German diplomat Thomas Matussek gave a speech at Brandeis this past Monday evaluating the state of affairs in Europe. Matussek was the German ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2002 to 2006, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations in New York from 2006 to 2009, and the German ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011.

He believes Europe is in a crisis, mainly stemming from problems stemming from the euro, the 2015 refugee catastrophe, and the potential decrease in national security support from the United States. Matussek recommends that to be successful in the future Europe must work closer together, particularly on defense, and successfully negotiate Brexit.

“Across the Atlantic from here, it’s not a very pretty picture,” is how Matussek opened his talk, titled ‘Three Elections and a Brexit’ as an allusion to the movie ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’ Roughly two dozen members of the Brandeis community went to the Mandel Center for the Humanities to attend the event, most of them professors and graduate students.

While Matussek is largely content with the results of the recent European elections—in France, Germany and The Netherlands, he views the 2016 Brexit referendum as bringing upheaval to Europe. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously declared earlier this year after NATO and G7 meetings. “I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”

Matussek believes the biggest immediate reason for the European nationalistic trend is the refugee crisis. “All of a sudden, there was this onslaught of refugees, more than a million,” he explained. “When Angela Merkel said, ‘You all can come, and we cannot protect our borders anyway,’ this was a decision with very far-reaching consequences.” The former ambassador blames Merkel for “single-handedly creating” a German right-wing party. He claims her decision, taken without clear assurances for the future, led to Germans becoming fearful of foreigners and globalization. A similar situation took place all throughout Europe.

Another big disturbance to Europe, in Matussek’s view, is the evolving U.S. attitude towards international defense. “It’s quite clear that the body politic in America says, ‘Look, the Soviet threat is gone, the Iron Curtain has fallen, and we’re still paying the bulk of the security of the European countries. Why do we finance all these free riders?’ And I would say that is fair enough.” European countries have become less cooperative as they realize a potential future lack of U.S. support may force them to become increasingly self-reliant.

Matussek also points to complications arising from a currency union, such as the situation in developing Greece. “The euro, which was considered a unifying bond, is now driving us apart.” Europe has been providing Greece with liquidity on the promise they will institute reforms. “Now we’ve been doing this for the last seven years, an enormous amount of transfers have built up, and nothing much has changed.” A common currency causes issues when, as in the case of the euro, some of the member countries of the currency are at dissimilar points of economic development.

Germany’s former diplomat laid out steps Europe can take to improve its future prospects. First, he emphasized that it is crucial for Europe to band together. “Each and every European country, in a globalized world, is just too small and too insignificant to make a difference. So Europe can only act decisively and influence international developments if they do it together. Europe is a world power, but only a world power in integrated policies…When the European Trade Commissioner negotiates with the Chinese, with the Indians, they know he speaks for 450 million people. But on foreign security policy, we are the laughingstock of the community, because everybody goes their own way.”

A European army would be an efficiency upgrade for Europe, according to Matussek. “We have twenty-seven different systems, while the U.S. has only one…Is it really necessary that Estonia has an air force? Is it really necessary that Luxembourg has a navy?” He explained that Britain has long opposed the creation of a European army, and with their departure from the European Union (EU) faster movement towards shared defense could be on the horizon.

Matussek also thinks that Brussels, referring to the capital of the EU, should not be meddling unnecessarily in the internal affairs of member states. “Kick upstairs only issues that everyone understands can only be handled at a European level. For instance, exchange of information between the secret services…and leave the other stuff where they belong, closer to the people. Because a lot of the unease which you have in Catalonia or in Scotland etc. is because the central government and Europe is meddling in our affairs.”

A successful Brexit is crucial to the prosperity of Europe, Matussek argued. Having activated “Article 50” in March, Great Britain will cease to be a part of the EU in two years. Great Britain and the EU are currently trying to come to a compromise on the terms of the exit. The U.K. wants the privileges of internal markets that come from being in the EU, without having to be bound by the responsibilities that come from being in the union. “That is of course, in those clear terms, impossible.”

Matussek is concerned about the possibility of a deal not being reached. “All in all, you’re talking about 25,000 rules and regulations and laws which you’ll either have to rescind, or adapt, or make a derivative of, but obviously this can’t be done…The jury is still out. I can only say the risk that this thing falls off a cliff is still very high.”

Despite this, Matussek chose to strike an optimistic tone. To sum up the state of Europe, the German channeled an American author. “All in all, what I could say about Europe is what Mark Twain said about Wagner’s music: ‘It’s much better than it sounds.’”

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