On Monday, France and Germany each gathered all of their ambassadors for their annual meeting in Berlin and Paris. In their opening speeches, French President Emmanuel Macron and German foreign minister Heiko Maas delivered markedly synchronized messages. Faced with the prospect of “America first” across the Atlantic, both resolved to invest in building “a sovereign Europe” that can assert itself. And both talked about “new alliances” to breathe new life into a multilateral order under assault by Trump. A French president pushing for greater independence is nothing new. But a German foreign minister calling for “a new, balanced partnership with the U.S. in order to regain our own leeway” is unheard of. What makes Maas’ intervention even more remarkable is that beyond the standard talk about military capabilities, he discussed two concrete areas of action: developing payment systems independent of the dollar to give Europe financial sovereignty and building an “alliance of multilateralists.” “Where the U.S. crosses the line,” Maas said,“we Europeans must form a counterweight—as difficult as that can be. That is also what balance is about.” This approach seeks to protect Germany and Europe against hegemonic overreach on the part of the United States and other powers. It is a direct reaction to the U.S. decision to weaponize the rest of the world’s financial and technological dependence on the United States.
Maas’ and Macron’s push for European autonomy is a long shot. Lack of unity and political will within the EU could doom it from the outset (not least because many in Europe see Germany as a hegemon and want to balance against it). And U.S. efforts to divide Europeans and preempt their quest for autonomy might succeed. But it is the only sensible path to take if Europe wants to assert itself in a hostile world.
The Trump administration’s actions have shown Europeans their vulnerabilities as few other things have done. Europe has long regarded itself as strong when…