Europe’s Anti-American Itch – POLITICO | Popgen Tech
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BERLIN – It has gotten cold in Europe, the economy is tanking and the natives are getting restless. There is only one answer: Blame America.
Pointing across the Atlantic has long been a favorite distraction tactic for Europe’s political elites when things get tough on the continent.
Whether it’s the war in Ukraine (Washington shouldn’t have expanded NATO), natural disasters (too many American SUVs fueling climate change) or the demise of French as a lingua franca (cultureless Hollywood), America is inevitably to blame.
In the latest installment of this tiresome tradition, European officials are trying to blame greedy Americans for the continent’s current funk, accusing them of placing the mighty dollar about everythingwho stooped so low to even benefit from the war in Ukraine.
“The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that benefits the most from this war is the US because they sell more gas and at higher prices, and because they sell more weapons,” a senior European official said . my POLITICO colleagues last week.
Sobriety, however, is not a quality one can safely attribute to the anonymous accuser.
Aside from the fact that Ukraine would have collapsed months ago if the US had not intervened, the direct impact of Russia’s war on America’s $26 trillion economy from the sale of natural gas and weapons is a drop in the bucket.
For one thing, the US exports less than 10 percent of its natural gas production. In 2021, the value of those exports was about $27 billion. While Europeans are understandably upset that their gas prices are four times what they are in the US, no one has told them to make themselves dependent on Russian gas or to shut down perfectly functioning nuclear power plants (in fact, Washington has for years long said not to ).
The accusation of alleged war profit from arms is no less hollow. Of the roughly $30 billion in military aid that the US has provided to Ukraine so far, most of the equipment has been donated.
While U.S. defense contractors benefit from the replacement of inventories and from increased demand for weapons among NATO allies, so should their European counterparts.
Yet therein lies the rub: European companies should benefit as much as Americans, but don’t. The main reason is that Europe has underinvested in its defense industry.
For example, Germany’s recent decision to purchase American F-35 fighter jets was driven by the simple fact that there are no European alternatives. A plan by France, Germany and Spain to develop a “future combat air system” was hatched in 2001 but has yet to get off the ground amid ongoing infighting.
Political resistance in several European states over arms exports further stalled the region’s arms industry.
Take the Leopard 2 main battle tank, made by Germany’s Krauss-Maffei and considered by many to be the world’s best. Despite that reputation, the Germans lost out to South Korea when NATO ally Poland recently ordered nearly 1,000 new tanks. While price was one factor, political uncertainty was another, according to a person familiar with the decision, citing Berlin’s decision to block the sale of infantry fighting vehicles and battle tanks to Ukraine.
Europe’s main boogeyman these days when it comes to the US involves a set of green subsidies introduced by the Biden administration that favor US companies.
One of French President Emmanuel Macron’s top priorities during his state visit to Washington this week will be to water down provisions in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a sweeping legislative initiative covering everything from climate to health. European officials describe it as a reincarnation of the Smoot-Hawley Act, a catalog of tariffs in Washington enacted in 1930 that historians blame for worsening the Great Depression.
The Europeans fear that the generous “Made in the USA” subsidies will undermine their industry and threaten a trade war.
The inconvenient truth, however, is that Europeans are struggling to get their own companies to invest at home because governments have placed more emphasis on subsidizing household gas bills than helping the region’s industry weather the crisis.
“Europe is not cost-competitive in many areas, especially when it comes to the cost of electricity and gas,” Thomas Schäfer, who runs the Volkswagen brand, said in a social media post slamming Europe’s industrial policy.
“If we do not succeed in quickly reducing energy prices in Germany and Europe, then investments in energy-intensive production, or for new battery cell factories, in Germany and across the EU will no longer be feasible,” he said.
Ask in Berlin’s government quarters what is really holding Germany’s economy back these days and the answer is clear.
“The US is pursuing a massive industrial policy with protectionist tendencies,” Lars Klingbeil, co-leader of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, told Die Welt last week. “It should not be that US economic policy targets us Europeans.”
The sad reality is that the Biden administration probably didn’t even consider Europe when it decided on the subsidies.
This fact alone should give Europeans pause.
The issue is not that Europe does not matter to the US, but rather that it does not matter as much as Europeans would like to believe.
When it comes to innovation, Europe is a desert. There is no European Apple, Google or Tesla. Indeed, Tesla’s market value is four times higher than the entire German car industry.
This is why it is hard not to conclude that Europe’s blame game is actually about something else – envy.
Despite America’s political divisions, the country has never been stronger in terms of its military power or its economic muscle.
Europe, meanwhile, has become more dependent on the US than it has been since the Cold War, a circumstance that fuels both resentment and the blame game.
In Germany, a book entitled “Ami, It’s time to go!” (Ami is German slang for Americans) became a bestseller. The author is Oskar Lafontaine, a former finance minister who once led the Social Democrats before breaking with the party.
“We must free ourselves from the tutelage of the US,” writes Lafontaine, describing America as the root of most evil and arguing that Europe must forge its own path.
Judging by the past century, Europeans would be wise to ignore him and accept that they have only themselves to blame for their current malaise.