The NSA Scandal is Turning Germany and the U.S. Into Bickering 12-Year-Olds


Angela Merkel is infuriated. Just a day after Washington accused Germany of blasting the post-crisis recovery, the German Ministry of Economics harshly replied that the critique was incomprehensible. Furthermore, the Germans asked: What is undermining the recovery more — the American debt or the German economic success? While both countries are acting like 12-year-olds, little conflicts they make on a daily basis are jeopardizing trans-Atlantic relations.

The "open fire" between Merkel and Barack Obama started a week ago with German claims that NSA was continuously spying on the chancellor for about a decade. She delivered a stark message to the president: spying on friends is inadmissible. While there was little doubt the incident seriously damaged relations, seemed that the crisis would soon be over.

However, it was not. The day after Merkel talked to Obama, she participated in the European Council meeting, which decided to send a delegation from the EU Commission and the EU Parliament to the U.S. in order to investigate international espionage. Germany also sent a high-level delegation of the heads of their secret service to meet with NSA officials.

And Obama botched the entire issue. Just after Merkel accused him of spying, the statements from the White House went from: "No, we are not spying on the chancellor," to "We might have been spying on her, but we are not doing it now." This leaves the impression that Obama administration did not realize how important this issue is for the Germans, especially for Merkel, who herself comes from Eastern Germany (which was a notorious police state). Moreover, the silence from the White House has gone beyond irritating the Europeans to frustrating and angering them. It is their belief that Washington needs to respond seriously and comprehensively to the allegations, and transparently ensure that spying on friends is permanently terminated. 

There are many voices in Europe demanding to freeze the entire system of trans-Atlantic cooperation until the situation is resolved. Moreover, many call to immediately suspend negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty.  This treaty is of utter importance because it would boost employment and economic growth from North Carolina to North Rhine-Westphalia. It would also seal agreement on a data protection portfolio that should prevent a recurrence of the momentary rift.

Yet instead of resolving the misunderstanding, the two sides continue to accuse each other for other wrongdoings.  As the Wall Street Journal writes: "Employing unusually sharp language, the U.S. on Wednesday openly criticized Germany's economic policies and blamed the euro-zone powerhouse for dragging down its neighbors and the rest of the global economy." To make things more difficult, the IMF weighted in in support of the report. The Germans responded with something similar to "mind your own business." The sole fact that they've responded in this manner shows how angry everyone is getting.

The German economy had a huge surplus last year, even higher than China's. On the other side, the U.S. economy has not seen a budget surplus in a fairly long time. In this unstable economic and financial situation, it is very difficult to say with certainty what is the sustainable economic model, and spying allegations need to be addressed directly and transparently by Obama himself in order to calm down the Europeans. Moreover, the Europeans need to acknowledge that they are themselves engaged in spying. For the sake of the trans-Atlantic partnership, this silly accusation war needs to end immediately.