German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Friday (17 February) the European Union must take on a bigger international role, saying the answer to crises from security to climate change was to stick together and stop relying on the United States.
The veteran member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and committed European said Europe had waited too long for the United States to act and make up for deficiencies in EU policy.
“It is high time that we think more about the international role of Europe, apart from all the homework we have to do within the EU,” he wrote in a column for the Funke media group on the first day of the international Munich Security Conference.
Germany, for decades haunted by its legacy of starting World War Two and the Holocaust, is gradually taking on a more active role, for example, by participating in more military missions abroad.
“More Americans are asking, not wrongly, and not just since the latest presidential election, whether duties and responsibilities are distributed appropriately in the transatlantic alliance,” he wrote.
US President Donald Trump has raised questions about his commitment to NATO and wants EU members, such as Germany, to increase defence spending.
During his presidential campaign, Trump hinted that the US may not intervene on behalf of NATO allies that had under-spent on defence. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis this week echoed the threat, albeit more diplomatically, saying the US may “moderate” its support for the alliance if its European partners did not increase spending.
Schäuble rejected retreating into nationalist or isolationist policies.
“The big questions of our time – whether about security, climate protection, migration or competition, are not answered by going it alone,” he wrote. “For us, German responsibility means acting together. The European Union is indispensable.”
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen last year joined France in calling for the establishment of a European security and defence union to complement NATO.
London has long opposed closer military ties between EU countries. But With the UK on its way out of the bloc, some countries are hopeful this could pave the way for deeper cooperation.