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Grand coalition

Michael KniggeNovember 29, 2013

In its coalition agreement Germany’s prospective new government reaffirms the country's indispensible partnership with the US. But it also makes clear demands on Washington, writes DW's Michael Knigge.


The boilerplate statements are all there. The coalition deal reached by the Christian Democrats, its sister party the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democrats confirms the indispensible nature of the transatlantic partnership. It also proclaims that this unique relationship is based on the principles of shared values and interests and continues to serve as the pillar for freedom, security and liberty for all. That is an important and necessary message, particularly at a time when relations between Berlin and Washington are seriously strained.

It also happens to be true. Despite all the real, sometimes very fundamental, disagreements recently between both sides, the fact remains that Germany - aside from the EU - would be hard pressed to find a better partner in the world than the United States and vice versa.

This reaffirmation of a relationship seen as a pillar of German foreign policy does not preclude, but instead creates the necessary leeway for the grand coalition to drive home two key messages to the Obama administration.

Homework for Obama

First, the coalition partners make it clear that the US must do much more to try to mitigate the damage inflicted by the NSA scandal. Without explicitly mentioning the NSA scandal or spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, the coalition document (in German) states in its section on transatlantic relations that trust has been lost. The fact that this sentence comes right after affirming the centrality of the relationship shows that Berlin means business. That sentiment is compounded by Berlin's blunt demand that "we expect a clear commitment and appropriate measures by the US administration." Sending congressional backbenchers on a remorse trip to Berlin won't do the trick, is the nutshell message relayed by the grand coalition to Washington.

Knigge Michael DW Expert 2007
Michael Knigge, DW English

Germany's preferred option to deal with the fallout of the NSA scandal - a legally binding anti-spy pact - also resurfaces in the coalition deal, a fact that may cause some new headaches in Washington. And for good measure, the new government vows to press the EU to renegotiate the Safe Harbor and Swift agreements on data transfers with the US.

Goalposts for trade pact

Berlin's second key message to Washington concerns the planned transatlantic trade agreement (TTIP) and is good news for European citizens. While the new German government confirms its commitment to reach a broad trade and investment deal with the US, it sets clear goalposts for the framework.

It explicitly demands that the deal must preserve the high protection standards for consumer and social rights, data, environment and food safety in the EU and grant exceptions, e.g. for European media and culture. The coalition partners also state that the trade deal must guarantee existing parliamentary and legal rights, a de-facto nixing of the so-called investor-state dispute settlement which allows companies to sue governments outside the established court systems.

Summing up, the grand coalition has got off to good start on German-US relations with its governing document. It has struck the right balance. It has reaffirmed the continuing indispensability of the transatlantic partnership, but also assertively describes German interests and sentiments. That after all is what stable relationships are all about. Now the ball is in Obama's court.