Honeymoon is over: Growing resentment towards the US in Germany

  • Sal Ahmed
  • 27 Jan 2023

Faced with a declining economy amid multiple crises, Germany has shown first signs of going against US interests in Europe.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a question time at the Bundestag in Berlin on January 25, 2023. ( AA )

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s hesitance to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine was partly in line with a rising anti-American narrative in Germany.

The general view of the Germans on the street is that the Ukraine war has greatly benefited the US military-industrial complex and put Europe on a path of steep economic decline.  

The US’s relevance in Europe has long been threatened by European countries cosying up to Russia through gas, coal and oil supply and Russia’s billions flowing into European markets. 

Many in Germany believe that escalating the war in Ukraine serves to resurrect US influence in the region. Suddenly, several US military bases, previously lying idle, have sprung into action – the US’s relevance in the region has increased.

Scholz, who already heads a three-way coalition government, is weak at home and now likely to stand isolated even in Europe.

Berlin wants to lead an independent foreign policy, and Scholz is even happy to leave the French behind when it comes to German economic prosperity, his solo trip to China is a case in point. 

However, Scholz has to tread a fine line with Ukraine and Russia. 

At home, he has faced severe political opposition from both the right and left to further the cause of the Ukrainian war or provide heavy weapons to the Ukrainians.

Some politicians from the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, known for their pro-Russia stance, even visited the Russian-controlled Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. These politicians are well-known for their backing of maintaining good German-Russian relations, including scrapping sanctions against Russia – their party has been gaining electoral leverage in Germany.

While on the left, former Left Party chief Oskar Lafontaine has become the leading voice in opposing German inclusion in the Ukraine war. His latest book Ami, it’s time to go, calls on the US to leave the region. ‘Ami’ is a derogatory term for Americans.

He is highly critical of American military presence in Germany and the policies on NATO, which he says is impossible to regard as a defence organisation and only can be described as a tool for American geopolitical interests. 

Lafontaine has gone to the extent of saying that his country’s military aid to Ukraine shows how Germany is not an independent country but a vassal of the US. He argues that Europe needs to break with its submission to American interests and pave its own way.

His book reached the bestseller category in the same week. 

To counter the US’s ‘do more’ doctrine and Europe’s own pressure, Scholz played the delay-and-desist game. Expectations in Berlin were that Ukraine would quickly capitulate and relations with Russia would carry on as usual, but that hasn’t happened. And his decision to send Leopard tanks was ultimately made under extreme pressure from Germany’s allies.  

Germany finds itself between a deep recession and a desperate need to not aggravate the situation with Russia, leaving a window of possibility to improve relations in the future while not discrediting itself at NATO.

It all started with the ‘sabotage’ of the NordStream 2 pipeline, along which hung the hopes of Berlin that once the war in Ukraine was over, supplies of Russian gas would restart.

But soon after, a short video appeared on social media of a testy exchange between US President Joe Biden and a German journalist at a press conference, where the President claimed something to the effect that the US will not allow NordStream 2 to go ahead. This was sharply challenged by the German journalist, who said, “How can you control it, it’s not in your country,” to which Biden replied, “You’ll see.”

Many in Germany took that as a clear sign of the US provoking Europe and Russia into what they believe is in the apparent American interests.

Trade war 

Another reason for anti-American sentiments rising across Germany is the trade war which is likely to hit Germany’s economy hard.

The US President’s January 5 tweet, “Let’s make 2023 the year of buying American”, was a slap in the face of European leaders who see Biden’s policies, particularly the Inflation Reduction Act’ as a protectionist measure which will block European multinationals out of the lucrative American market.

Biden’s administration is set to provide a record $370 billion in new federal subsidies for electric vehicles, wind farms, batteries and other clean energy technologies. EU leaders are worried that the law could lure investment out of Europe and into the US.

These subsidies will discriminate against non-US companies, particularly at a time when Europe is suffering economically. The law will offer tax credits to US consumers for electric vehicles as long as 40 percent of raw materials in their batteries are extracted and processed in the US. That means European car makers will lose out in the US market. 

The broader effects of the Ukraine war and protectionist measures by the Biden administration have driven a wedge between the traditional West which is likely to test the unity of NATO in the near future.

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